June 15

How to say goodbye as a social worker

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How do you say goodbye as a social worker? The truth is that one day, we will all come to the end of our work with our clients. Learning how to navigate endings is a crucial way of ensuring that clients are not traumatised by the end of your work with them. For clients who have experienced difficult struggles in their lives, your presence might have been comforting. You might have been the first person to listen to them. You might even have been their first ‘friend’.

Yet saying goodbyes are often difficult because there are many boundaries we should not cross as social workers. For example, some social work agencies frown on hugs and gifts to clients. They might start a disciplinary procedure if you flout any of these rules. What then can you do to say goodbye as a social worker?

Saying goodbye and farewell, and seeing the backs of people for the last time

I remember the first time I said goodbye to my clients after my first placement. It was difficult because I had established great relationships with them. I had brought them to art galleries, exhibitions, and trips. We had laughed and joked together. Saying goodbye was really difficult. No matter what social work model you use, saying goodbye is part of being human.

But sometimes, these are the necessary endings in life we need to go through. Saying good goodbyes are necessary qualities of great social workers.

To say better goodbyes as a social worker, here are some ways you can use.

Write a farewell card.

By leaving behind a farewell card, you leave behind a piece of yourself with the client. Whenever the client thinks of you, they can take out the card you’ve written for them.

In this card, write down how you have been proud of the client’s progress and the changes they have made during your work together. Also, celebrate the client as a person. What are the qualities you have seen? What are the attributes you have seen?

Have a closing session.

In your last session with your client, ask the client to reflect on the progress he or she has made during the time with you. Ask him what he is proud of. Ask him what he has learnt.

Take the time to also talk about what you have learnt from him. You can share about how you have been very proud of the hard work he has put in to change some of the very difficult things in his life.

Lastly, always leave an open route back to the agency. Many times, clients might think that the end of your intervention signals the end of their interaction with the agency. You can remind them that whenever they need, they can come back to the agency again.

how to say goodbye as social worker
Saying goodbye with a smile

Introduce them to the colleague who will be taking over the case.

You might be leaving for another job. But the work with the client is not finished. Introducing the client to the colleague who will be continuing to help is basic respect for the client’s needs. Rather than expecting him to immediately warm to the new social worker, it helps to have a joint introduction to your colleague.

This helps to reduce the initial awkwardness that might result from a rushed introduction to the new social worker. Encourage the new social worker to introduce himself/herself, talking about something interesting about their personality. This makes them more approachable.

Chopping and changing social workers in the middle of a client’s journey is never ideal. But sometimes, it happens. We need to know how to help our client to navigate this change.

examples of leadership in social work

Refer them to useful resources.

When you say goodbye to a client, you need to ensure that there are good support systems that are in place. This can involve a list of useful numbers they can call whenever they feel down, such as The Samaritans.

This can also include different centres they can drop in at to get help again. This might be specific to their area of need.

Saying goodbye is often difficult. But when we follow these steps, it makes it easier for both parties to part on good terms. Know that goodbyes are often not the end, but the beginning of a better journey for the client, and for you.

I hope this helps you understand how to say goodbye as a social worker.

Useful resource

Necessary Endings, by Henry Cloud

Changes that Heal, by Henry Cloud


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