Attributes of case work relationship
Case Work relationship goes much beyond merely a friendly relationship between the case worker and the client. Clients bring into the case work relationship their feelings, attitudes and behaviour which they have experienced with others.
The client therefore tends to react to the case work situation in a manner derived from his/her personal experiences. Case Work focusses on understanding the client, his/her psychosocial needs and making a ‘contact’ to build the relationship. If this contact is to be of any value at all, the client must have confidence in the worker’s good faith and the worker must have respect for the client as an individual.
It is the responsibility of the case worker to establish this relationship. This professional relationship is formed with the purpose of developing in the client a personally satisfying and socially useful life. It is the individualized purpose which is unique to every relationship and is set to be achieved in each case. The conscious purposive and deliberate efforts to develop a helping relationship comprises of the following attributes:
1. Warmth: Warmth connotes some positive, lively, outgoing interest in another person
(or object or activity), a spontaneous reaching out to take in another with pleasure
or compassion (Perlman: 1979). By exhibiting an open, ‘warm’ attitude, case worker is able to convey to the client his/her openness and concern to understand the client’s problem, client’s attitudes and sharing of experiences. Warmth is demonstrated by the worker when he/she attends to the client with attention, listens patiently, gives confidence and conveys an understanding of the client’s problem.
2. Empathy: Empathy means feeling with and into another person, being able to get into the other person’s shoes ((Perlman: 1979). It may occur spontaneously or may be a carefully learnt ‘listening with the third year’ and responding in tune to the other person. Empathy involves looking at a situation/ case from another person’s perspective. Through empathy, the case worker is able to convey to the client his/ her understanding of client’s problem with accuracy and ‘oneness’. Empathy is different from sympathy which gives a bond of feeling of being helped by another person. The case worker conveys sympathy by saying statements such as ‘I understand how you feel’, “I can feel that you are feeling sad and upset’.
Empathy is leading one self to another to feel into and take in the moment’s essence of the other. By feeling case worker’s empathy, the client feels understood and important. It may be noted here that empathy does not mean the loss of objectivity. Case Worker in a professional relationship with the client, remains objective by being aware of his/her own emotional and reactive responses to persons and situations.
3. Genuineness: To be genuine and congruent, the case worker relies on his/her own moment to moment felt experiences in the relationship with the client. To be genuine is to free of pretension. It is to have a sense of wholeness of being put together, of knowing who and what one is, what one’s guiding values are, and as a result of being on fairly good terms with oneself. Genuineness is the product of life experiences that make it possible to be self observant, self aware and self accepting of strengths and limitations (Perlman: 1979).
A genuine and congruent relationship consists of a consistent and honest openness and behaviour matching with the verbalized intentions and values of social work. For example, a school social worker is asked about contacts of an adoption agency regarding which she/
he may not be aware of. It would be honest and genuine on the part of the worker to be frank and admit to the client about his/her lack of information. If possible, the worker may however, assure the client of making an effort to seek information about the agency and getting back to the client within a stipulated time. The worker must also then get back to the client or give a source of contact that may provide the requisite information.
4. Authority: Authority is an essential element of case worker client relationship. Authority has been referred to by Perlman (1979) as ‘ableness’ to be used for the client and not over or against the client. Authority in a case work relationship does not mean domination or willful imposition. Client has the right to accept, reject or modify advice given by the worker. Authority rather conveys the meaning of carrying those rights and powers that are inherent in special knowledge and are vested in special functions (Perlman: 1957). Having authority does not make the worker superior to the client. It rather implies that the case worker possess the expertise in understanding, assessing and dealing with the problem faced by the client. Authority is that of knowledge and expertise. The Client goes to a worker in need of help who has the authority of knowledge and skills, someone who knows more than him/her.
Hand in gloves with authority comes the responsibility to be borne by the case worker. The responsibility is to make judgements on the basis of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. For example, let us take up a case of a man who fears that his wife is trying to kill him. He cites several incidents to the worker to prove that his wife was conspiring to end his life. On meeting the client’s wife, the worker finds her to be a fairly reasonable and objective person who might not plot her husband’s murder. Thus, on the basis of assessment of the client’s expression of feelings, behaviour and gaining facts of his environment, the worker gains a wholistic understanding of the client’s life situation. The worker draws up the conclusion that the client is suffering form delusions and needs psychiatrist’s help.
Here, the worker has every authority to refer the client to a psychiatrist and it is also his/her moral responsibility as a professional not to continue with the case if she/he feels that the client’s problems would be best handled by another expert. Thus, authority and responsibility go hand in hand.
5. Transference and Counter Transference: The most frequently encountered necessity to ‘work’ a relationship occurs with the phenomenon called transference or transference reactions. To any emotionally charged relationship, each of us bring conscious and unconscious feelings and attitudes that originally arose in or still belong to the earlier important relationships (Perlman: 1957). For example, in case work with an adolescent girl to help her regarding her career options, the worker listens to the girl’s aspirations and dilemmas. The worker helps her to draw a choice of careers helping her to keep in mind her aptitude as well as preferences and also arranges for her visit to a nearby vocational training centre.
In such a case, what may happen is that the girl may begin to feel toward the worker as she felt towards her mother/grandmother when she was young. The degree of emotional satisfaction which the client gets from such a relationship is far beyond the realistic limits of the case worker-client relationship. It may be remembered that the client who approaches the agency often feels helpless and inadequate for not being able to tackle his/her own problem. Due to this, the clients are prone to transfer irrational elements into the relationship and want to regress, desiring to have parental nurture and parental domination. These however, are damaging to the client since it can tempt the client to stay in an unrealistic, infantile dependence instead of moving towards self reliance in the relationship.