MTSU Social Work Department

SW 2630: Interviewing Skills

Worker-Centered Responses

Worker-centered responses give the social worker a chance to say what she thinks about the client's situation. They should not be used as frequently as client-centered responses in most situations but they are important and should be included as part of all interviews. Clients are involved in meetings with social workers because they or somebody feels they need our help. They can figure out a lot of what they need by effective listening and client-centered leads and questions, but it is always true that the worker's perspective is a valuable part of the interview. You are working with your client; both of you are doing the work, so you need to state your perspective as a part of the process.

Like many of the other ideas in this course, this material comes originally from a wonderful book, The Helping Interview by Alfred Benjamin. I have added to and changed his ideas to reflect my own philosophy, but the substance of this discussion should be credited to him.

The first three worker-centered responses are very similar. They all provide ways to say something positive about a client and/or his situation. One or more of these should be used in all interviews. It is important that they be genuine and this is one of the challenges of the social work profession: to say genuinely positive things about all clients. There are some people who have done things that we do not like at all, but we still need to find something which we respect, something which is worthwhile about them, and speak to that. This is essential to gain your client's trust and build an effective relationship.

1. Assurance. This is an affirmation about the present. It is a way of showing support for something the client is saying, thinking or doing. "I like that idea," and "You're right," are ways of providing assurance.

2. Reassurance. This is similar to assurance, but the focus is on the past. "That's OK. People make mistakes. It seems to be working out for the better." is an example of reassurance.

3. Encouragement. This involves the future. It says that you have a positive opinion about something that has not happened yet. "I know you can do it!" is an example.

These uses of positive reinforcement are good tools to help build your client's self esteem and your relationship. Like all responses, they should be used when you are being genuine. Don't tell a client that you like what they are doing when you do not. They should be used regularly but not overused. You are trying to reward people, not convince them of something that is impossible to believe.

4. Suggestion. There are times when the client needs to consider a new alternative. We use suggestion as a way to help people think about their choices or to help them become aware of new possibilites. We often make suggestions when clients ask for them or when they ask for advice. It may well be good to make suggestions before we give advice.

5. Advice. There are even times when clients need advice. Certainly not every client and certainly not very often. There are social workers and other helping professionals who never give advice and who think that it is wrong to tell clients what to do. My own opinion is that there are times, such as crises, when people need advice, and that social workers must respond to human needs. You will decide for yourself if or when advice is appropriate. If you do give advice, be careful. It is very hard to know what is right for another human being.

6. Urging. I think of urging in two ways, one appropriate and the other not. If I am urging a client to do something that I am sure that he or she really wants to do, sort of like being a cheerleader, than I can see it working. If I am pushing a client to do something that I or others want the client to do, I am probable making a mistake and pushing the client away from me and the helping process. Be a cheerleader; don't push.

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