UNIVERSITY OF WINDSOR
SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK
47-304 (03) Professional Communication in Generalist Social Work Practice
Dr. Wilfred Gallant
INITIAL INTERVIEW INFROMATION FROM STUDENT/CLIENT
I AM ------------------- YEARS OF AGE.
MY NATIONALITY IS ----------------------------------------------(Cultural Background)
I AM CONCERNED ABOUT ---------------------------.
THESE ARE MY PREDOMINANT ISSUES------------------------------------------------
THIS IS MY ---------------------------------- CONTACT WITH THIS AGENCY (i.e.
first, second, etc., etc.)
PS: ALLOW THE CLIENT’S PROBLEM TO DETERMINE WHAT AGENCY
YOU WOULD MOST LIKELY BE FUNCITONING FROM.
HAVE STUDENT/CLIENT PROVIDE A SCENARIO THAT IS
SUBSTANTIALLY CREDABLE AND THAT PROVIDES ENOUGH
INFORMATION TO ASSIST THE STUDENT/WORKER.
Key Areas of Concentration for Ch. 5
The skill of preparatory arranging involves logistical preparation for a first meeting. It
includes scheduling an appointment, ensuring that there is adequate time and privacy, and
organizing the physical environment.
Some clients are allergic to perfumes or colognes and react adversely to such scents.
Do clients have a comfortable place to sit when they arrive for the final interview?
Preparatory empathy involves "putting oneself in the client's shoes and trying to view
the world through the client's eyes" (Shulman, 1984, p. 22). You try to "get in touch
with the feelings and concerns that the client may bring to the helping encounter”
(Shulman, 1992, p. 56). Even before an initial face-to-face meeting, anticipatory em-
pathy heightens your sensitivity to the prospective client's possible agenda, thoughts,
feelings about himself or herself, the presenting issue, and the situation. THIS WILL
HOLD TRUE FOR YOUR FINAL AUDIO TAPE INTERVIEW. AT THIS POINT
YOU CAN TAKE ALL THE KEY THEMES FROM THE LAST FEW
INTERVIEWS AND BEGIN THE FINAL INTERVIEW WITH A CAPSULE FORM
OF WHAT THE STUDENT/CLIENT HAS PRESENTED SO FAR. Through
preparatory empathy, you try to anticipate the client's subjective experience related to
seeking or receiving social service. You put yourself in the other's shoes so you gain
increased appreciation for the client's motivation for the contact, thoughts, and feelings
about engaging an authority figure, and potential issues related to the client's sex, stage
of life, culture, ethnic background, and socioeconomic status.
Preparatory empathy regarding cultural aspects is especially important.
Members of some cultural groups may be ambivalent or conflicted about visiting a
social worker. Preparatory empathy involves trying to experience what the client may
be thinking and feeling as this interview begins. Preparatory empathy is therefore
always tentative, always preliminary, and always subject to immediate change based
on the client's actual communications. Even when your preparatory empathy proves to
be inaccurate, however, it is a productive activity because it enhances your readiness to
listen carefully to the client when you finally do meet in person.
By empathizing in advance, you increase the likelihood that you will approach
the prospective client as a unique human being with all of the complexity that
entails. A major challenge in this form of anticipatory empathy, however, is resisting
the temptation to narrow your view of the person so that it becomes more of a fixed
stereotype than an open set of possibilities.
In addition to preparatory empathy, you should also engage briefly in preparatory self- exploration before
meeting with clients or prospective clients. Preparatory self exploration is a form of self-analysis or
introspection through which you, a human being who happens to be a social worker, identify how you
might be affected by your interaction with this particular person, this specific issue of concern, and
this unique situation. In self-exploring, you would ask yourself questions such as "How am I likely to
feel about this individual or family? How are the cultural and demographic similarities or differences
between us likely to affect me? Given what I know about the issue and situation, what personal
reactions might I expect to experience?"
The purpose of this skill is to identify the potential effects of your own personal history, characteristics,
needs, biases, emotional tender spots, and behavioural patterns. Self-exploration helps you to bring into
conscious focus those aspects of your personal self that might affect the nature and quality of your social
work services to a particular client.
Preparatory self-exploration also involves identifying other personal factors that may affect your readiness
to provide service. For example, there may be extraneous factors unrelated to the particular client that
might influence you personally. If you have a splitting headache, are dealing with the break-up of a
significant relationship, are in the process of repairing your furnace, have just lost out on an opportunity for
promotion, did not sleep last night, or are worried about a family member of your own, the quality of your
service might be affected. Identifying these factors and their effects on you constitutes the first step toward
managing them so that they do not interfere with the high-quality professional service that all clients
When, through preparatory self-exploration, you have identified personal factors that might affect your
ability to provide high-quality service to a prospective client, you attempt to manage or contain them. As
part of this centering process, you ask yourself, "What can I do to ready myself personally before the
meeting begins?" Centering involves organizing your personal thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations
so that they do not interfere with the performance of your professional obligations and delivery of social
services. Depending on the personal factors involved, centering might include various kinds of activities.
Among the more common are brief stress-management exercises intended to reduce emotional reactivity
and promote self-control. Among the useful stress-reducing activities are positive self-talk, visualization,
muscular relaxation, journal writing, and brief meditation.
BEFORE YOUR LAST AUDIO RECORDED INTERVIEW, YOU MIGHT DO SOME TIME OF
MEDITATION, BREATH RELAXATION, ETC. ETC. AND EXPLAIN HOW THIS MIGHT HAVE
BEEN HELPFUL TO YOU.
Because first impressions are so important, the initial face-to-face contact often affects
all future encounters. The beginning portion of each subsequent interview tends to
influence the course of those meetings as well.
The purpose of this assignment is to help you develop proficiency in the beginning skills in
terms of the following goals.
You should be able to demonstrate proficiency in the following:
Describing initial purpose
Discussing policy and ethical factors
Ability to assess proficiency in the beginning skills
Competent use of the beginning skills helps ensure that meetings are positive and
productive. An effective beginning results when you and the prospective client ac-
complish the purpose for which you first meet (e.g., information gathering, information
giving, assessment forming, or change making) and reach some mutual conclusion con-
cerning a next step in the process (e.g., conclude your relationship, continue to work
together, or arrange for service from another professional or agency).
Typically, you make contact with prospective clients in one of two ways: "(1) The
individual, family, or group may reach out for help with a problem they have identified as
being beyond their means of solution; or (2) a community source may identify an
individual, a family, or a group as having a serious problem threatening the welfare of
themselves or others (a vulnerable person or group) and request that the social worker
intervene to solve that problem" (Compton & Galaway, 1994, p. 346). During the early
part of a first meeting, you generally hope to facilitate an exchange of introductions,
establish a tentative direction or purpose for the meeting, outline the usual expectations of
clients, describe the policies and ethical principles that might apply during this and future
encounters, and ensure that the prospective client understands the parameters within
which the interview takes place. This is a crucial part of the beginning process because it
addresses your legal and ethical obligations with respect to informed consent.
Commonly, at this point in the process, you give the prospective client an overview of
relevant agency policies, as well as information about pertinent laws and ethical
principles. The prospective client can thus understand the context within which helping
endeavours take place. Throughout the beginning phase, you should frequently seek
feedback concerning information discussed. Prospective clients sometimes need
additional clarification about complex or confusing policies and principles.
The beginning skills are commonly used quite extensively during the first few
meetings with clients. Use some of them in initial professional encounters with other
people as well. Just as you are with clients, you should be clear about purposes and ex-
pectations when meeting with referral sources, colleagues from your own or other
agencies, government officials, parents, and others with whom you interact as part of
your professional responsibilities. Several beginning skills are also used during the early
portions of later encounters. The beginning skills include (1) introducing yourself, (2)
seeking introductions, (3) describing initial purpose, (4) orienting clients, (5) discussing
policy and ethical factors, and (6) seeking feedback.
At the beginning of any first interview, be sure to identify yourself by full name and
profession, and by agency or departmental affiliation. For example, at the beginning of a
meeting in the agency where he works, a social worker might say as he holds out his hand
in greeting, "Hello Mr. or Mrs. Adabu. I'm Dan Majors. I'm a student social worker here
at the (name agency). " [Based on what type of help the student/worker is seeking.]
"And you're Mr. Nesbit? Is that right? Am I pronouncing your name correctly?" Then
ask how the person prefers to be addressed (Miss, Ms., Mrs., Mr., Reverend, first name,
Describing Initial Purpose
As part of the process of preparing for a meeting (see Chapter 5), you identify a tenta-
tive general purpose (Schwartz, 1976, pp. 188-190; Shulman, 1992, pp. 79-101) for the
meeting. Especially in initial meetings, new clients tend to look to you, as the profes-
sional person in an authority role, for leadership. Therefore, you should clearly and suc-
cinctly describe your view of the purpose for the meeting. [YOUR ROLE IS TO
ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND THE STUDENT/WORKER AND TO
COMMUNICATE REFLECTIVE RESPONSES WHICH MAKE THE CLIENT FEEL
PRIZED, VALUED AND APPRECIATED. THE DEPTH OF YOUR REFLECTIVE
RESPONSES WILL ENCOURAGE THE CLIENT TOWARD FURTHER SELF-
EXPLORATION AND SELF-DISCLOSURE. Without some beginning guidance from
you, prospective clients are likely to feel even more uncertain about a process that is
usually quite stress provoking. By tentatively sharing a general purpose, clients usually
feel a sense of relief, as they conclude that you do, in fact, know what you are doing.
During the beginning phase of the working relationship, many clients are quite un-
certain about what is expected of them. Certain aspects of the anxiety and ambiguity may
be the result of cultural factors, but others may be associated with potential vulnerability.
Prospective clients are certainly concerned about the issues that led to the contact, but
many are also worried that they may not be able to do what is needed to address them
(Garvin & Scabury, 1997, pp. 80-82). In particular, prospective clients may be confused
about how they may help you, the social worker, best help them. Ambiguity about what
they are "supposed to do" is probably associated with the relatively high discontinuation
or dropout rates of clients generally, and particularly members of minority groups (Sue,
You might attempt to orient an individual client in the following way:
ORIENTING CLIENTS (INDIVIDUAL)
You can best help in this process by sharing your thoughts and feelings as freely and as
fully as you possibly can. Please ask questions when you do not understand, offer
suggestions about what might work better, and give feedback about what helps and what
doesn't. Finally, you can be helpful in this process by trying as hard as you can to take the
steps that we plan together. If we work together as a team, there's a good chance we'll be
able to resolve the issues that prompted this visit.
In orienting clients, recognize that expectations necessarily vary according to the
reasons clients seek or receive social work services. They also differ according to the
agency setting, its mission and programs, and the composition of the client system, its
size and the ages, capabilities, and motivations of its members. As you can imagine, the
expectations for an adult male client about to begin an intensive, three-month therapeutic
and educational group experience for men who batter women would be quite dissimilar
from those for an 8-year-old child who witnessed her father shoot and kill her mother.
Discussing Policy and Ethical Factors
An extremely important beginning skill involves discussing potentially relevant
legal, policy, and ethical factors. Understanding the ground rules is a critical element in
developing an authentic, honest, and trusting relationship. This constitutes part of the in-
formed consent process and is an essential element of professional service. Failure to
discuss relevant policy and ethical factors may be grounds for malpractice action.
As a professional social worker, you are bound by certain guidelines in the per-
formance of your duties (see Chapter 3). Some of these originate with the agency with
which you are affiliated (e.g., agency policies and procedures), others are promulgated by
the social work profession (e.g., ethical codes and standards), and still others are
formulated by governmental bodies (e.g., laws and regulations). Clients have a right to
be informed of the policies and ethical principles that may apply to them. Many agencies
wisely provide prospective clients with brochures and other publications describing
relevant policies. Box 6.2 shows a sample document that social workers might provide to
prospective clients and use in guiding the discussion of policy and ethical issues.
However, some clients do not or cannot truly understand the full meaning of such written
material. You should therefore discuss key policies with most, if not all, prospective
As a general guideline, whatever clients say during sessions remains confidential among
agency personnel. There are, however, a few exceptions. If a client wants the agency to
provide information to another person or agency (for example, to a medical doctor), he or she
may sign a Release of Information form specifying which information to transfer and to
whom. Also, as required by law, indications of possible child abuse or neglect will be
reported to child protection authorities. Similarly, evidence that a person represents a danger
to himself or herself or to others will not be considered confidential. Action will be taken to
protect the lives of the persons involved. In potentially life-threatening circumstances, the
value of human life takes precedence over that of confidentiality.
The agency operates, on a sliding fee basis. This means that the cost of each individual
or family session varies according to clients' ability to pay: the higher the family income, the
higher the cost - to a maximum of $55.00 per session. Group sessions are lower.
Reimbursement from insurance companies, where applicable, is the responsibility of the
client, but agency staff will help clients complete the necessary claim forms.
If a scheduled meeting must be cancelled, the agency should be notified at least one day
before the appointment
In this agency, we have a procedure for expressing concerns about the nature and quality
of the services clients receive. If, for any reason whatsoever, you are uncertain about or
dissatisfied with the services you receive, please discuss it with your social worker. If you do
not receive an adequate explanation, if the service remains unsatisfactory, or if you feel
uncomfortable talking directly with your social worker about the issue, please contact our
agency's client representative, Ms. Sheila Cordula in Room 21 (telephone 789-5432). She
will attempt to address your concerns.
Suppose, for example, an adult male client assumes that everything he says to you
will remain confidential. During a counselling session, he tells you that he often uses a
wire coat hanger to "discipline" his 2-year-old child. Operating on the assumption of
absolute confidentiality," he is likely to feel profoundly betrayed when you report to local
child-protection authorities what he told you about the "spankings."
Social workers, of course, tend to be heavily invested in protecting children from
abuse and may sometimes wonder if discussion of policy and ethical factors may un-
necessarily inhibit people from revealing information. Although such discussion prob-
ably has little adverse effect on communications, some social workers believe that it does
and consequently skim over policies that might provoke client anxiety. A few may even
avoid them altogether. These are risky practices that not only clearly endanger the basic
rights of clients, they also place social workers who use them at risk of malpractice
action, and may in the long-run reduce the likelihood of learning about reportable
activities such as child abuse. If consumers conclude that social workers cannot be
trusted to tell the whole truth or keep promises, they may well avoid seeking professional
In discussing relevant policy and ethical factors, however, you would consider several
aspects of the person-issue-situation, including the relative urgency of a situation, timing,
and context. Suppose, for example, you serve as a social worker in the emergency room
of a hospital. An ambulance delivers a young child who has been severely injured in an
automobile accident. When the visibly distraught parents arrive, you would obviously
defer discussion of policy and ethical factors while you provide information about their
child and try to comfort them. In such instances, their immediate needs take precedence
over your obligation to discuss policies. Actually, all the social work skills need to be
considered within the context of the person-issue-situation. Often, a skill applicable in
one circumstance is completely inappropriate in another. Because social work practice is
a professional rather than a technical endeavour, you continually make judgments about
how to best use your self and your social work skills.
The key points of this chapter have already been posted in “Class Notes”.
Created on 18/03/2007 9:22:00 AM