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Social Work Interviewing Skills

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Social workers use interviews to establish rapport with clients, learn new information, and help clients work toward addressing or resolving their challenges. Although conversations might feel natural or have a casual tone, social workers have objectives and goals when interviewing clients. Interweaving those goals with more typical conversation protocols takes skill. Polishing skills associated with social work interviews could lead to more effective time with clients.

Encouraging Expansion

Some clients might need encouragement during interviews with social workers. Encouragement can take the form of nonverbal cuing; for example, you might allow a few seconds of silence when a client finishes a statement, according to Middle Tennessee State University. If she wishes, she might provide additional information. Small comments, such as “Yes,” or “Mm-hm,” can let the client know you’re listening without interrupting her stream of thought. Restating your understanding of a client’s statement can also encourage expansion. After listening to your restatement, a client might come to a realization or decide to further clarify your understanding of what she has said.

Interviewing Resistant Clients

Not all clients welcome interviews with social workers. People might be hostile, angry or shy when discussing their personal lives or problems. Another skill associated with social work interviews includes demonstrating respect and patience for individuals, since they’re going through a hard time. Social workers continue the interview as if things were going well, and avoid taking expressions of anger or hostility personally, according to Middle Tennessee State University.

Repertoire of Questions

Social workers should draw on different types of questions for effective interviewing, according to Thomas O'Hare in "Essential Skills of Social Work Practice." Open-ended questions encourage a conversational flow, allowing clients to use initial questions as starting points to branch off into their topics of interest. Closed-ended questions will typically elicit a shorter response, but these can help social workers access a specific answer when a client is wandering. For example, a social worker working with a person struggling with alcoholism might ask, “So, how many drinks did you have this weekend?” if the client struggled to answer the question, “How did it go this weekend?”

Assessing with Purpose

Social work interviews also require skills associated with assessment. During initial phases of the interview, the social worker actively listens while the client shares her thoughts, feelings and concerns. During the assessment phase, the social worker and client work together to begin organizing the information into categories in order to identify common themes, according to the University of Maryland. Examining the categories, the social worker and client can then begin to develop a tentative plan of action to move forward with the identified challenges.


Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.

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