Summer Institute Week 2: Recipe for a social worker

4th August 2015

Is there an exact recipe for developing an effective social worker?

I’m not sure there is but I certainly think that developing self- awareness, reflexivity, critical thinking and curiosity for social work practice are key components in professional training.
This week we’ve been teaching in collaboration with our colleagues from the Institute of Family Therapy.  The main emphasis of the Summer Institute in week 2 has therefore been on beginning the process of building these important skills.

A big focus has been developing assessment skills and emphasising the value of not rigidly holding onto an initial hypothesis. We have stressed the importance of critical reflection on self, on values and on developing anti-discriminatory practice. In addition, we’ve highlighted the need to develop a compassionate and empathic communication style as another key skill necessary for effective social work practice.
As a result Frontline participants are having to examine their own values, assumptions, biases and prejudices, as well as realising that there are no formulaic answers in social work practice. This is tough stuff and I think student social workers often find these to be challenging concepts to consider.

Nevertheless, the sessions have encouraged Frontline participants to understand the importance of recognising these uncertainties in social work practice. The teaching sessions have also illustrated the need to develop multiple hypotheses, and shown that critical reflection of your own formulations and assessments is vital to developing such hypotheses. As such, the art of playing ’devil’s advocate’ has been one of the skills we’ve been supporting them to develop.

Of course, early on in social work education this type of approach to teaching can create a desire for students to seek out safety and certainty in hard facts and knowledge. But whilst we’re encouraging them to apply evidence based research and knowledge to practice, we are very much emphasising that, by its very essence, we are dealing with complexities and human beings that need our respect, empathy and understanding. Referring participants to the stories of service user’s experiences keeps them grounded in what is important.

We are never going to get an exact recipe for effective social work practitioners, yet developing curiosity, reflexivity and a willingness to work with uncertainty will undoubtedly be key ingredients.