Relationship-Based Social Work and Its Compatibility with the Person-Centred Approach: Principled versus Instrumental Perspectives. Overview of attention for . Despite its widespread adoption, how relationship-based practice is understood The focus was to learn about social workers' experiences of we emphasise their compatible and complementary characteristics (see the. Relationship-Based Social Work and Its Compatibility with the Person-Centred Approach: Principled versus Instrumental Perspectives. Add to My Bookmarks.
In the light of these definitions, it would seem reasonable to conclude that the implication of a relational approach to social work is that the social worker—service user relationship is viewed as a central and key component of bringing about change.
The role of, and the extent to which, the relationship between the social worker and service user is considered to be directly responsible for change is dependent upon the theoretical underpinnings that inform the nature and scope of the helping relationship.
As already noted, two relationship-based approaches are the psycho-dynamic and person-centred. Within the former category, the therapist is implicitly positioned as the expert, in possession of the power and control over the outcome of the encounter.
In the latter, the relationship is based on principles and values such as unconditional positive regard, mutuality and dialogue. Here, the therapist and the client have the potential for experiencing each other as full human beings where the client is considered the expert and is free to determine their chosen path and the outcomes of the encounter.
Thus, whether relationship-based practice in social work is defined from the stance of the psycho-dynamic or the person-centred approach is not a trivial issue. This presents a difficulty for social workers as they try to reconcile the tensions between holding true to the British Association of Social Work BASW values and fulfilling their responsibilities as experts in the assessment of the safety and capability of people to remain in control of their own lives.
For example, on the one hand, many social workers might feel most comfortable and consider themselves and their practice to fall into the latter category of person-centred relationship-based practice—that is to say, in holding true to the social work value of respect for service user autonomy, placing the meeting of needs as they are expressed by service users at the fore and where the relationship is the process whereby they facilitate the identification and understanding of these needs.
Whilst this model appreciates the complexity of working in a relationship-based approach, the epistemological position is one consistent with the psycho-analytic and systemic theory. However, it is important to recognise what this means from a meta-theoretical stance and how it differs from the person-centred approach. We argue that this is a rather narrow view of what relationship-based practice could be, but it is necessarily narrow due to the basic argument that social work practice is not able to hold true to the value and principle of respecting service users' autonomy and right to self-determination.
In the following sections, we will develop the above argument to show why it is not possible for contemporary social work to be grounded in the person-centred approach. Key concepts in person-centred theory As already noted, many social workers have aligned themselves philosophically with the person-centred approach.
While relationship-based practice has meant various things in social work over the years, it is this notion that lies at the heart of contemporary discussions within social work about relationship-based practice and of the social causes of mental distress Tew, that we will argue creates an ideological split.
Person-centred theory and social work have a shared history that is not always apparent, particularly in the current positioning of person-centred social work. Carl Rogers, the founder of person-centred therapy, was for a time based in Rochester, New York, and influenced by a number of practitioners under the guidance of Otto Rank. Two social workers, Jesse Taft and Frederick Allen, had been working using relationship therapy that was based on non-directive principles. KirschenbaumRogers's biographer, suggested that Jesse Taft was the person who probably had the greatest influence on the development of Rogers's theories.
Such was the significance of this influence, Ellingham suggested that the therapeutic casework carried out by Taft in the s and Rogers original form of the non-directive therapeutic approach were essentially one and the same. However, despite these origins of the person-centred approach and the seemingly close link with social work, we would argue there is now a serious misunderstanding of the relationship between the two.
Currently, it seems that, within the social work field e. However, to work in a truly person-centred way means that these relationship qualities are embraced for a specific theoretical reason. As such, and to avoid continuing the apparent confusion regarding the potential for a person-centred relational approach to social work, there is a need for a clear articulation of the theory underlying the person-centred approach.
The most important aspect of theory is the idea of the actualising tendency. Actualising tendency, the theoretical foundation stone of the person-centred approach, is the idea of human potentiality. The central theoretical construct is the actualising tendency.
The actualising tendency is a universal human motivation, which, given the right social—environmental conditions, results in growth, development and autonomy of the individual Rogers, In short, people are intrinsically motivated towards growth, development and autonomous and socially integrated functioning.
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But this motivation is moderated by extrinsic social—environmental factors. Thus, the term actualising tendency implies the tendency for people to proactively grow, develop and move towards autonomous and socially integrated functioning, when the social—environmental conditions are optimal.
However, when the social environment is not optimal, the tendency towards growth is thwarted so that people's development is distorted in ways that can result in the person moving towards a negative, socially destructive direction and typical of the many of the problem areas social workers encounter in engagement with service users.
It is unusual for people to experience such optimal social environments that they might be said to have self-actualised as fully functioning and so most people experience to a greater or lesser extent some degree of psychological dysfunctionality see Joseph and Worsley, Person-centred psychotherapy is based on the above theoretical understanding that people are intrinsically motivated to grow and develop in the direction of becoming more fully functioning, when the right social environmental conditions are present Rogers, In describing the right social environmental conditions, Rogers proposed that there were six necessary and sufficient relational conditions that, when present, led to constructive personality development.
Most social workers will, as noted above, be familiar with the three conditions of unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence, but it is important to note that there were six conditions that, taken together, described the facilitative social environment. The other three essential conditions are that there must also be psychological contact between the therapist and the client, the client must be in a state of incongruence and distressed in some way, and finally the communication to the client of the therapist's empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard must at least minimally be achieved.How to do Relationship-Based Social Work. Gillian Ruch 2012
Rogers paper on relational factors was an integrative statement of common factors thought to be both necessary and sufficient to promote therapeutic outcome. Thus, the person-centred practitioner endeavours to create a relational environment defined by the six conditions because it is this that is necessary to activate constructive personal change. The understanding is that the client is the expert on their own experience and needs and will develop in a socially constructive direction when these six relationship conditions are present.
Thus, the person-centred practitioner's sole task is to provide a growthful relationship on the understanding that the client will be facilitated in such a relationship to make new socially constructive choices about the direction of his or her life. As such, the person-centred practitioner adopts a non-directive attitude in which they have no pre-determined and specific outcomes or intentions for the service user to achieve. Rogers used the term non-directivity, but this term, which is often misunderstood, was clarified by Grantwho distinguished between principled non-directivity and instrumental non-directivity.
Whereas principled non-directivity refers to the therapist's ethical values of non-interference and respect for the self-determination of the other and is itself the goal of the therapist, instrumental non-directivity refers to a set of behaviours applied by the therapist to achieve a particular goal, such as building rapport or frustrating the client. As a result, this has meant that social workers who are claiming to be operating in a person-centred way within a relationship-based approach are, in effect, using the relationship instrumentally.
Using the relationship to facilitate engagement with the client in order to find out what the client wants, to develop rapport or to gain compliance with suggestions are all examples of instrumental practice in which the relationship has a utilitarian function. Below, we propose that social work has evolved to become overwhelmingly utilitarian such that person-centred practice as principled non-directivity is untenable.
Impact of the changing context of statutory social work practice As noted previously, Ruch et al. Despite Ruch et al. If the service user has not given something to the social worker, then the social worker, arguably, has no right to intervene upon it. Grant has referred to this in the person-centred field as working only with what is given with regard to empathically responding to the service user. Consider, for example, the following situation in which a social worker makes a home visit in response to reports that a seven-year-old child is potentially at risk.
The social worker needs to speak to the mother who is alleged to be feeling suicidal. The social worker begins by developing and building rapport and then asks the mother about her current suicidal intent and the mother states her intent is low, although her ideation is high. The mother feels ashamed at having to disclose these thoughts and feelings to the social worker and subsequently averts her gaze and fixes eye contact to another part of the room.
The social worker presses on with asking more questions about the service user's thoughts over the last two weeks and whether she has the means by which to commit suicide. She asks the mother to complete a simple suicide risk assessment form. The mother completes the measure and hands it back to the social worker.
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The social worker is sensitive but feels satisfied that, whilst the mother is probably depressed, she is not suicidal. The social worker returns to the office. There is a task to be completed and the relationship provides the context in which to carry out the more important social work task of assessing the level of risk of the mother's mental state for both herself and to the child.
More importantly, the content, process and nature of the interactions are provoked by the questioning of the social worker.
What is given by the client from the stance of being in a principled non-directive relationship is not considered. The social worker is, understandably, focused on completing the task.
In short, it is apparent that person-centred theoretical constructs have little or even no place within the contemporary models of relationship-based social work practice. In the example above, the social worker might need to make more of the situation and disregard what the service user had given in her communication due to the need to complete the assessment.
Nevertheless, it evokes responses that are relational and instinctive or embodied, rather than abstract and overly intellectual. Moving forward a couple of centuries, John Macmurray resurrected this concern about the relationship between reason and emotion, arguing that excessive rationality acts to marginalise the role of emotions in the human condition Fielding, Personal relations were also at the heart of Scottish psychotherapeutic thinking over the course of the 20th century Sharpe, Tronto draws on Scottish ideas of moral sentiment in her seminal work on care ethics, which has become an important strand in ethical thought across a range of academic and professional disciplines.
Care ethics Care ethics have become an influential strand of moral philosophy. Gilligan identified two different approaches to moral reasoning: Since then, interest has grown rapidly and the scope of care ethics has extended beyond individual relationships to inform political debate Held, Care ethics entails a shift in focus away from rules and rights towards responsibilities and relationships.
There is, therefore, no one way of doing RBP. Care ethics are proposed by Meagher and Parton as offering an alternative to dominant managerial modes of practice in social work. Relationship-based practice and policy Increasingly, RBP can be found to resonate with the direction of Scottish public policy set out in the report of the Christie Commission Scottish Government, For example, policies such as Getting it right for every child GIRFEC emphasise the need to hear the voice of children and families in a spirit of openness and trust.
However, it is not just in children and families policy that the Christie principles resonate. They are also apparent inter alia in the Carers Strategy, the National Clinical Strategy and Community Justice and Mental Health initiatives, to the extent that they are now spoken of as reflecting a particular Scottish approach to public services.
RBP thus, potentially, becomes a cornerstone of social policy, percolating, not just individual relationships but the ways in which workers across different professional disciplines and wider communities interact and relate with one another.
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Features of relationship-based practice RBP draws on psychodynamic ideas, most closely associated with Sigmund Freud and developed by others. These explain human personality and functioning in terms of conscious and unconscious desires and beliefs, feelings and emotions, based on life experiences, including early childhood.
While RBP does not require a sophisticated understanding of the psychology behind this, effective social work requires that a worker tune into the emotional world of a client and be able to communicate this understanding within the relationship. It also moves the concept of relationship beyond the individual to incorporate an awareness of contextual factors such as power, professional role, poverty, social exclusion and political ideology. A sense of purpose To stress the centrality of human relationships in social work is not to say that these are, in themselves, sufficient to ensure good practice.
Relationships are not intrinsically good or bad — they can be either. They exist in a mandated context and are formed for a particular purpose Ingram, — towards a client achieving positive change.
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But this is a challenge, partly because relationships are complicated and subject to a range of psychodynamic processes, which require that social workers understand and use themselves, centrally, within their work. Beckett and Horner tell us that change comes about through relationships. Even in situations where programmed interventions are employed, their impact is secondary to the social worker—client relationship Nicholson and Artze, Qualities of hope and expectancy that change will occur are also implicated in successful outcomes.
What clients want The literature gives clear messages of what clients value. Their conception of friendship identifies qualities of reciprocity of sharing aspects of oneself; of flexibility going the extra mile, perhaps through offering small gifts or maintaining contact out of hoursbut also straight talking. Kleipoedszus suggests that relationships can be forged through conflict; genuine engagement and negotiation rather than artificial sensitivity make it possible for workers to encourage and nurture change rather than demanding it.
Smith and colleagues identify the centrality of effective relationships even in work with involuntary clients. In all of this, everyday acts of care and recognition are more important than formal standards and procedural requirements.
Professionalism and relationships A renewed emphasis on relationships challenges many of the assumptions that have built up over what it is to be a professional. Professionalism is often associated with certainty, expertise and theoretical knowledge Brodie and colleagues, Noddingshowever, distinguishes between professionalism and professionalisation.
She suggests that the latter is the result of a codified and rule-bound conception of professionalism that derives from a quest for status. There is, however, little connection between such rule-bound professionalisation and positive outcomes. Indeed, it can create a distance between social workers and clients, that a more relational form of professionalism might work to reduce.
Murphy and colleagueson the other hand, suggest that the professional role significantly compromises the ability to form genuine relationships. Part of the difficulty in reconciling different understandings of professionalism is the tendency in the UK to conceive of separate personal and professional selves. Practice traditions such as social pedagogy introduce a third element, the private. This poses challenges for workers and for organisations that operate to a narrow understanding of what constitutes acceptable personal and professional boundaries Maidment, It is important to distinguish between boundaries, which are dynamic and can be deployed flexibly, and barriers, which are static and prioritise consistent application.
In practice, individual practitioners act in ways that might be thought to be subversive of practice norms Alexander and Charles, Coadyfor instance, offers examples of the kind of flexibility required in negotiating everyday care practices. One of the difficulties that can arise in increasingly managerial and regulated practice cultures, however, is a tendency to minimise the complexity of such boundary work and to operate fixed understandings of the lines between professional, personal and private domains.
This leaves workers vulnerable to disciplinary action should they cross externally determined boundaries McLaughlin, This is not fixed and, as we enter relationships, we draw upon what we feel is required to engage with others within a given context.
In social work, this is made more complex by the addition of professional values, roles and expectations. Hennessey argues that this balancing act should be explicit and not shied away from; rather, it should be harnessed and used to bring about change. Barnes and colleagues go further and underline the interdependence between social workers and service users, where both parties bring their own experiences and contexts to the encounter, laying the foundations for a trusting and dynamic relationship.
This requires a social worker to be able to develop a relationship that has a level of trust and which facilitates the sharing of emotions.
This may require a degree of emotional exposure in order to truly understand the feelings of another and be able to express this in a genuine and attuned manner. Transference and counter-transference A psychodynamic perspective can help social workers consider the impact of unconscious previous experiences within relationship building. The concept of transference reminds us that individuals can unconsciously transfer past feelings into the present.