Saturday, February 4, 2012

Engagement and the Social Work Process

There is a process in social work - it is not linear, it is cyclical or spiral:

Engagement - Assessment & Mental Status Exam - Diagnostic Formulation - Goal Setting & Treatment Planning - Intervention(s) that are evidence-based (whenever possible) and culturally responsive - Evaluation & Progress Monitoring - Termination.

Every step is connected to the rest and some occur in tandem throughout the social worker-client relationship.

The social work licensing exam in California is based on this framework and yet many MSW students have never heard of it.  I didn't know about the social work process until I was five years post-masters.  It is my professional mission to change that. 

The first element in the framework is engagement.  It is critical to having a relationship.  It is often called "building rapport" but it is much deeper than that, it is "building trust and connection" and that process never ends in a relationship.  Indeed, it is not a relationship unless there is sufficient trust.

How does trust develop between two people?  Most of our cues are non-verbal - eye contact, smile, proximity, mirrored movements, and matched tones.

There is also the warmth that radiates from our heart when we open ourselves up to connect.  In an empathy workshop lead by my good friend, Karen Sorensen, she asked us to think about a person we love dearly (I imagined my daughter) and to hold their image in our mind and allow our heart to open.  I felt my heart open wide and radiate warmth.  Then she asked us to talk to the person sitting next to us with our heart open like this. We had to describe the loved one that we chose to conjure.  I was in tears talking about my girl.  Love is like that sometimes.

Since then, I have tried to open my heart whether my audience is an auditorium of teachers, a classroom of master's level students or a fourth grade boy that is shut down.

Inherently shy and analytical, I still have so much to learn about empathy, trust, feelings (my own and those of others), relationships and engagement.  Now I trust the process. It's getting better all the time.

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