What is in the social work toolkit?
Firstly, for us to know how to help better, we need to know what is within our own personal social work tool kit. Secondly, by knowing what is in it, we can then see what we can do to supplement it.
As social workers, each of us are unique. This means that we have our own toolkit, just as every superhero has his own superpower. In this article, I want to share about common tools that we share in our social work tool kit, and how we might be able to upgrade some of those tools that we have.
A listening ear
As a young social worker, I often made the mistake of thinking that I had to have an answer for every client’s question. Rather than listening to hear, I listened to respond. I was deeply uncomfortable with silence and only wanted to solve the client’s problem.
Slowly, I began to realise that sometimes, clients just wanted a listening ear. They weren’t ready for their problem to be solved. Often, they wanted someone to hear them out. Sometimes, they just wanted a vent to let out their frustrations.
Importantly, they weren’t there to be lectured by me on what they should do.
Today, rather than trying to think of an answer, why not simply listen to hear the client? If the client wants an answer, start by reflecting back what she has said. ‘I hear you say that…’
As social workers, we are often taught to empathise. We are taught to step into the client’s shoes, and feel what they feel. However, as ____ argues in his book Radical Empathy, empathy can be dangerous. We feel with the client, rather than feeling for the client. This can affect our judgment and increase our bias.
Rather, being able to respond in compassion helps us to maintain professional detachment from the client, whilst allowing us to attend to the clients’ feelings. Being able to respond with warmth, and to allow the client to know that there is someone walking with him through his difficulties, helps.
Furthermore, it helps you by preventing vicarious trauma and countertransference by relating too deeply with the client’s emotions.
Amidst caring for others, we often forget to care for ourselves. Self-care is an important quality for social workers. As a young social work student, I used to find myself worrying about my clients. I wouldn’t know how they would be the next day, especially for those who had disclosed prior thoughts of self-harm. I was scared.
However, it was not until I saw a therapist that I began to learn how to find ‘help for the helper’. Self-care is not selfish. Over the course of social work, we will inevitably suffer cuts and wounds in the form of disappointments, rebukes from our supervisors, and failures in our work. Having an emotional first-aid kit helps us to apply a band-aid and salve to these cuts we suffer.
Guy Winch, shares many of these self-care strategies in his book Emotional First Aid. I would recommend it for those who haven’t read it!
Often, each of us has our own preferred style of working in social work. Some of us might prefer the relationship-based approach, whilst others might prefer the solution-focused brief therapy. Based on your preferred style, you have a different tool to face the struggles clients have. Being aware of the tool you use is important.
Knowing how to adapt our tools to the relevant problem is vital. Rather than treating everything like a nail, knowing how to adapt and adjust our approach to the problem helps us to attain greater efficacy with our clients.
Sometimes, children social workers like to bring worksheets along with them, filled with different exercises for children to do. One of the most common is the ‘Three Houses’ technique. However, sometimes, it can be overused. Having a variety of physical tools we can use is helpful to bringing a freshness to our work with children. If we were always using the same tools, we would be bored ourselves!
Personally, I would recommend the International Futures Forum (IFF) kit bag (I don’t get any extra commission for doing this!). Developed by social work practitioners and researchers in Scotland, this toolkit features the use of finger puppets, calming aromas, and cards to encourage children to speak about their feelings.
I have used it to great effect many times, and hope you will too!
In conclusion, our social work tool kit is unique to each of us. We might have different tools, but we have the same purpose – to help. Being aware of your tools, and knowing how you are using them, is the first step towards using them better.