We then challenge the assumption that relationship-based social work founded on to supporting the development of autonomous, free beings that this causes . As already stated, relationship-based practice is not a new phenomenon (Ruch, ). Relationships are central to social work practice but are shaped by the of the biggest challenges you will face is being able to simultaneously focus in. explores how current social work practice can be understood in the Rising to the challenge of working in relationship-based . preventative practices dwindle and risk averse interventions result in removal of children.
We then challenge the assumption that relationship-based social work founded on the person-centred approach legitimately supports service users' ability and capacity towards self-determination. Our challenge is based on the premise that the person-centred approach is defined by principled non-directive practice.
On this basis, we conclude that a person-centred relationship-based approach to contemporary social work is untenable. Person-centred approachactualising tendencynon-directivitysocial work Introduction Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in the professional and academic discourse in the concept of social work as a relationship-based approach to helping Ruch et al.
This is reflected most recently and arguably most influentially with the publication of the Interim Report of the Monro Committee into Child Protection Monro, At first glance, it seems reasonable to emphasise the social worker and service user relationship as intrinsic to successful practice. As such, the turn towards a relational approach has highlighted the need to provide a clarification as to what can and cannot be considered a valid and genuine relational approach to social work.
Social workers often align themselves philosophically with the person-centred approach originally developed by Carl Rogers in the s and s. For instance, Wilson, Ruch, Lymbery and Cooper refer to the therapeutic relationship conditions of empathy, unconditional positive regard and genuineness described by Rogers as essential communication skills for carrying out good-quality social work practice. As such, it might be assumed that social work is a person-centred practice.
However, the aim of this paper is to show that the epistemological position of person-centred theory is largely incompatible with social work practice.
First, we provide a detailed introduction to the key concepts in person-centred theory. This will present a challenge to the understanding that person-centred psychology can be integrated into social work practices and expose a major ideological split between person-centred psychology and contemporary statutory social work practice.
Second, the impact of the changing context of statutory social work practice will be explored through a discussion of the effects of risk management, managerialism, bureaucratisation, consumerism and individualisation upon the social work profession.
The implications for social work practice are considered. Third, in light of the above, the central issue of whether it is possible to have a truly person-centred approach to social work practice is discussed, concluding that principled person-centred relationships can have no place in an instrumental relationship-based approach to practice as is common in contemporary social work.
Within the fields of counselling, psychology and psychotherapy, relationship-based approaches to personal change are widely used. However, there are a variety of relationship-based approaches. Two of the main approaches to relationship-based practice are those derived from psycho-dynamic and person-centred understandings, respectively, of human nature and personal change Joseph, On the surface, each of these approaches may look similar in practice insofar as they involve two or more people talking, with one person labelled as the helper and the other as the person being helped.
However, as we will go on to show, each of these forms of relationship-based practice is based on different and mutually exclusive fundamental theoretical assumptions Joseph and Linley, Consequently, there are a number of theoretical questions to be answered regarding the compatibility of some relationship-based approaches with social work principles and with the reality of social work roles and tasks. For example, social work practice broadly relates to the help provided by professionals to enable people to live with greater success in realising their potential within the communities they live by being focussed on finding solutions to their problems.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Relationship-based practice: emergent themes in social work literature | Iriss
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.
Ruch illustrates this with an example of previous negative experiences of parenting being transferred by some service users into the relationship with their social worker. This dynamic can often be difficult to understand and manage and social workers can, in turn, find themselves reacting unconsciously, in a process known as counter-transference.
Equally, social workers need to be mindful of their own unconscious transference and how that may impact on dynamics within relationships they form. Such dynamics can be powerful and frightening, but can also be hugely helpful for social workers in understanding the inner worlds of service users and themselves. In turn this can lead to more positive relationship building Agass, Emotional intelligence Ingram highlights the role of emotional intelligence as a trait and skill that can help social workers manage the emotional complexities of practice.
Emotional intelligence can be briefly defined as the ability of an individual to: Such capacities are crucial for RBP, as they underline the existence and importance of emotions as a stream of information within social work relationships and practice Munro, Reflection and reflexivity Reflection has a long and important role in social work education and practice Knott and Scragg, Social workers are encouraged from the point of entry onto qualifying programmes to engage in reflective processes, which help unpick the feelings, thoughts and actions present in practice.
The concept of reflexivity takes this personal reflection further through consideration of what the worker themselves bring to a situation. This includes their own assumptions, preconceptions or bias — and also through encouraging the examination of wider factors such as power, culture and social exclusion. This sits very comfortably with previous discussions about self-knowledge and emotional intelligence and is a crucial element of the professional infrastructure required for RBP.
Opportunities for reflection This need for reflection requires opportunities, relationships and environments that are conducive and safe for social workers to explore the complexities of practice. These conditions should be characterised by trust, openness and should resist the urge to rush for clarity and resolution Cornish, The most familiar forum for such reflection in social work is within the supervisory relationship, which often has a dual function of support and management.
There are, however, other opportunities for reflection. For example, social workers cite the informal support of colleagues as crucial, as it can allow for prompt, unrecorded explorations of practice with someone who may have similar experiences and challenges Ingram, This need not require any formal structure and is a process that, as humans, we engage in to a greater of lesser extent to examine our thoughts and actions.
In RBP this is, simply, a prerequisite. Future implications for social work The foregoing discussion highlights the central importance of social work relationships; they are, arguably, the defining characteristic of the profession. While many might agree with this assertion on a surface level, few, perhaps, have thought through its implications. RBP collides with and poses a fundamental challenge to managerial approaches to social work, foregrounding relationships, in all their ambiguity and messiness, above the bureaucratic, instrumental and ostensibly rational foundations of contemporary practice.
Embracing RBP would call for a radical shift in how worker-client relationships are conceived, opening up possibilities for a greater ethical symmetry between worker and client Lynch,recognising agency and balancing power between fellow human subjects.
It might also prompt the deconstruction of current terminology Smith and Smith,replacing words like boundary, compliance, delivery, intervention and outcome with those of association, help, friendship, love and compassion. References Agass D Countertransference, supervision and the reflection process. Oxford Review of Education. Routledge Halvorsen A What counts in child protection and welfare? Relationship-based social work practice in austere times. Random House Horney K Neurosis and human growth.
Norton Ingram R Locating emotional intelligence at the heart of social work practice. Critical Publishing Morrison T Emotional intelligence, emotion and social work: Constable Ruch G Relationship-based and reflective practice in contemporary child care social work. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9, Scottish Government Christie Review Commission on the future delivery of public services.