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Social Work Counseling Techniques

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Every social worker uses techniques that are favorable to her or his personality. Generally, all social workers are trained in a few key skills, transferable over agencies and geography. These are primarily relational skills, vital for helping clients achieve the goals they set with the social worker. Techniques vary, depending on their application. One uses different methods with an individual client or group than in the process of community organizing.

Starting at the Beginning

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Social workers are those who are devoted to helping people function as well as they can in their own environments and changing environments to make that possible. When a social worker first meets a counseling client, there is an initial period of establishing the working relationship. The social worker builds trust by actively listening, asking responsive questions and following up with comments the client makes. The counselor and client both agree: We will work together for change. This is called the beginning phase.

Working Through the Middle

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As trust is established, the real “work” gets done. The social worker may employ methods of psychotherapy which involve the client talking through questions, concerns or circumstances in which the social worker gives feedback, continues asking responsive questions, and helps the client “hear his or her own thoughts” by reframing back to the client what he or she shared. Techniques such as role-playing, representative drawing, or reframing are helpful tools the social worker uses. Other skills that help clients learn to manage their feelings are reaching inside of silences, displaying understanding of the client’s feelings and modeling by the social worker sharing his or her feelings. Social workers also employ techniques such as partializing concerns, to help break down a complex problem into more manageable pieces, or supporting a client by extending permission in areas that were seen as “taboo” for the client.

Transitioning to the End

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As the work between social worker and client is finishing, the social worker will employ methods to help transition the client to new experiences such as closing the relationship, celebratory activities and looking back over the process through talking, memory books, timeline drawings or other creative tools to help the client remember the skills he or she now possesses. These closure activities prepare the client to move into new environments more successfully as a result of the sense of support from the counseling experience.

  • The Skills of Helping Individuals, Families, Groups, and Communities; Lawrence Shulman; 1999
  • Techniques and Guidelines for Social Work Practice, 8th Edition; Bradford W. Sheafor; 2007

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