In the field of social work there are five core cardinal values that have been created by the National Association of Social Workers. These values reflect the ethical principles which include the access to resources, dignity and worth, interpersonal relationships, integrity, and the value of competence.
One core value principle that I would like to explore in this paper is the value of interpersonal relationships. In the field of social work, the interpersonal relationships that are created and maintained are crucial for well-being. This is because the value of a connection or relationship between two people can affect the way a social worker may relate to their clients and may have an influence on the effort that the social worker is willing to put in to improve their client’s quality of life.
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To have an interpersonal relationship with a client is to have a secure bond between the social worker and client that incorporates particular boundaries that are formed through social and cultural influences. To create an interpersonal relationship, the client must feel fully accepted for who they are, the struggles they are facing, and they help that they might need. For a client to feel comfortable working alongside a social worker and disclosing personal information, they must first establish a sense of trust in the good will and helpful intent (Hepworth et al, 2017).
Rather than the social worker taking a professional role and asserting their authority, they should use their own personal goodwill and interpersonal relationship to respond to their client to facilitate positive outcomes. To engage in an interpersonal relationship a social worker should focus on relating to their clients through the use of expressions, care, concern, and a drive to improve their client’s quality of life. For example, if a social worker was working with a child who has been abused by both of their parents and had an unstable background.
The child may not trust the social worker, and therefore interpersonal skills such as actively listening, empathizing, understanding, positive non-verbal communication, communicating ideas, needs, beliefs and opinions, mediation, and a sense of relatability all need to come into play before the child will feel comfortable expressing his/her deep emotions and personal problems. By using these particular skills, a social worker can begin to relate to the client, build common interests and goals, and the client will find a sense of security, belonging, and confidence within the social worker which strengthens the interpersonal relationship, maintains trust and heightens respect
In social work, there are also five key ethical principles that accompany the core values. These principles are self-determination, informed consent, professional boundaries and confidentiality. An important aspect to interpersonal relationships is professional boundaries. Boundaries are put in place to create clear lines of dissimilarity and exist purely to protect the social worker and the client. They help to avoid conflict of interests and helps to imply the notion that the relationship between the client and social worker is not social (Hepworth et al, 2017).
The NASW addresses these social work boundaries through six different provisions that all address boundaries. The Code of Ethics creates the outline for boundaries, however the social worker is responsible for implementing those boundaries based upon the unique aspects of each client relationship and how they want to decipher those boundaries.
An example of a professional boundary would be if a social worker was working with a family who they had a particularly good interpersonal relationship with asked them to a family BBQ. Despite seeing a great potential friendship with the family, a social worker to wants to maintain professional boundaries would have to kindly reject the invitation to the family BBQ in order to separate private life from professional life, and also to protect the social worker and the client from consequences of neglecting the ethical principles
Importance Within the Social Work Practice
Interpersonal relationships are so important in social work practice because it enables social workers to engage meaningfully with their clients (Cournoyer, 1991). They are essential for the well-being, and we can use the relationship as a way of creating a change. The value of a relation between a social worker and a client needs to be strong and positive and have a quality that is able to be acted upon in order to create a better life for the client (Hepworth et al, 2017).
Establishing a good interpersonal relationship means demonstrating powerful verbal communication. Words have such a great impact and the appropriate response can make clients feel understood and valued. By using appropriate language catered to each client, a social worker can portray a genuine feeling of respect, non-judgment and warmth towards the client. Non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions, voice tone, eye contact and posture can all support or contradict verbal communication.
This is an important factor in interpersonal relationships because it can portray what is not spoken. Empathy is important to social work because social workers must show a sense of sensitivity in a manner that makes the client feel respected and cared for (Essays, 2013). Interpersonal relationships are important between a social worker and their client because it establishes moral and emotional obligations, improves trust and empathy which is needed to relate to one another, and improves the bond between them both which increases the chances of sharing ‘pure’ common values (Eisenstadt & Roniger, 1999)
Professional boundaries in social work is extremely important because they maintain and preserve a healthy, working relationship. Not only do they help avoid certain scenarios in which a social worker’s profession may be compromised, but they also keep the client’s values and interests as the main focal point of the relationship. When a boundary is made and followed, a social worker may feel more confident helping their client more freely and can maintain focus on their client’s goals.
Setting and maintaining professional boundaries is crucial to be able to obtain an effective career in social work. A professional may make judgements everyday based on the boundaries they have created with their clients, which not only affects themselves but all their colleagues, clients, and loved ones (NASW, 2008). Boundaries are important in social work because it is important to protect the therapeutic process of the client because it symbolizes the limits of the profession.
The interpersonal relationship a social work shares with a client is strictly professional and not a friendship. Boundaries also protect the clients from exploitation because the clients are defenseless and at their most vulnerable state, and social workers are expected to protect them from future harm. Most importantly, a clear boundary is needed for the protection of the social worker from liability. If a social worker oversteps the boundaries, they could be accused of negligence and subjected to a malpractice suit (Dewane, 2010).
To avoid conflicts in values and beliefs, it’s important that a social worker recognizes their own personal values and to be aware when they are different to either societal norms or a client’s values. As a student wanting to enter the social work profession, I firmly stand by the core cardinal values of social work and have some values of my own. Aligning with the core value of dignity and worth, a personal value that I am most passionate about is respect. I believe that it’s extremely important to appreciate a client’s opinions and understand their perspective.
If you respect your client and value their individuality, you will earn their trust and earn their respect in return. In terms of interpersonal relationships, another personal value I believe in is honesty. It paves the way to a greater intimacy with a client and lets them know that you are confident in your opinions which is another way of creating trust. Not only does it create a higher quality of relationship, but it also eliminates the stress that resonates with dishonesty. Honesty creates a relaxed environment which is healthier for both the social work and the client in a professional setting.
Despite aligning with this value, I think it also might create some discomfort when creating professional boundaries, because there are some thoughts and opinions that are able to be shared, and some honest opinions that a social worker might keep to themselves in order to keep the peace with the client and maintain a healthy relationship. Not expressing or acting upon these honesties may create discrepancies. I think that the value of being able to understand diversity is extremely important because it means you can highlight and acknowledge your own prejudices to understand the complex differences in people’s perspectives, identities and points of views.
By acknowledging your own prejudices, you are more understanding of diversity and it’s easier to let people ‘be different’. Self-determination is also another personal value I carry because you need to be able to have the willpower and drive to promote social justice, and to identify the rights and the needs that a client is entitled to. Self-determination is also important from the client perspective because if they did not have the desire to seek change, help from the social worker would be significantly harder and no goals would be obtained or achieved.
Another personal value that I hold is that is important to be caring. Being able to display kindness and concern for your clients and enables you to understand the type of help that your client needs. Without caring for your client, an interpersonal relationship cannot form. Social work is dependent on offering help to people in need, and without the kind and caring characteristic one should hold, the ability to make a positive difference is withdrawn from the profession.
Integrity, along with responsibility is another crucial personal value that I believe in because as a social worker you are responsible for the overall improvement of your client. It’s a social worker’s responsibility to provide for their client, and to stand up for their morals and integrity. It is also important to highlight that a social worker is required to assist their client in a responsible manner that abides by the values, principles, and standards of social work.
Being responsible also ties in with knowledge. I think it’s important for a social worker to have wisdom and knowledge because they need to understand the complexity of social work and use their resources in a responsible manner to gain the most out of their service. By showing intuition and using their knowledge, social workers can respond and reflect quicker, and are more inclined to make good ethical decisions without pre-existing solutions that may not relate to every individual case in social work.
Resolving Conflicts Between Personal and Professional Values
In social work, personal values and professional values can sometimes cause conflict and resolving these may be strenuous and problematic. Personal values can many times change as the social work develops as an individual, however professional values are rigid and not personal to the individual.
In the social work profession, personal and professional values usually complement each other, however sometimes they can contradict one another. There may be a situation where a social worker acts on professional values and makes a plan based off what they ought to do, instead of doing what they want to do due to conflict with their personal values. A social may encounter ethical dilemmas that create disagreement between personal and professional values.
As an example, Steve comes from a low-income background and recently lost custody over his two children due to false allegations from his ex-wife. He recently turned to alcoholism which does not put him in good standings to gain custody over his children again and has been referred to a social worker for help. Upon looking at his records, it is also important to highlight that he has a sexual assault record.
This case would create a conflict between my personal beliefs and professional beliefs because my strong opinions about sexual abuse and assault may create a barrier to being able to empathize with Steve. My opinion of not wanting to provide help to a perpetrator of such nature would be a form of oppression by not providing a service to a human in need. If I decided to not work with Steve, it would be conflicting with the cardinal values of social work, denying him access to resources, not having dignity and seeing his worth as a human being, and not treating him in a fair and respectful manner.
By overcoming this conflict, as a practitioner I would focus more on his custody battle and alcoholism in order to try and understand his sexual assault history. In order to escape the perceived judgments and condemnation it’s important to reflect upon dignity and worth and interpersonal relationships in order to try and attain an understanding of what Steve is experiencing and understand his physiological functioning. For this, as a social worker I would need to accept him for who he is and reaffirm individuality and self-worth.
Without imposing my own values on Steve, I would retain my own separateness and individuality and see Steve as someone in need and understand his difficulties whilst searching for solutions that will help Steve gain the custody of his children. When working with ethical dilemmas, I think that it’s easy to see where personal values may become a problem, but it’s a social worker’s duty to look past those values to see the bigger picture, and see the client as an individual for who they are, and have the empathy and compassion in order to provide a service and improve their quality of life.
In social work, it is important to consider the five core cardinal values and key ethical principles when working with clients. Having a strong interpersonal relationship with a client is important to the profession of social work because it allows the client to be able to trust feel comfortable disclosing personal information. Active listening, empathizing, understanding, mediating and non-verbal communication are all important to establish a good interpersonal relationship which is an important way for creating change.
Through a professional interpersonal relationship, a client can feel a sense of respect, non-judgment and warmth, and establishes a moral and emotional obligation which essentially promotes trust and empathy which is needed to relate to one another. Regarding ethical principles, professional boundaries are put into place to assert clear cut lines of dissimilarity and protect both the social worker and the client.
Professionals make decisions and judgements based off boundaries which enables them to focus solely on the client’s values and are implemented to protect the client from exploitable, protection of the social worker from liability, and to protect the therapeutic process of the client. My personal values very much align with the cardinal values of social work, however a personal value that may cause discomfort is honesty because a social worker wants to maintain trust with their client at all times but being dishonest for ethical reasons may compromise their relationship and distrust and disassociation from the client may occur.
As a social worker there will be times in the profession where personal values may cause conflict with professional values. It’s important to understand what is best for the client, and to not impose personal values in any given situation. It’s crucial to understand a client’s circumstance and to portray empathy and acceptance. Without building a solid interpersonal relationship it’s hard to relate to the client, and therefore the social worker will be unable to understand the cause of the problem that goes against personal values.
Overall, it’s important to maintain a secure professional interpersonal relationship with a client, however it’s also important to create boundaries and understand that there are rules and limits to those relationships that need to exist to maintain a happy and productive medium with the client. Cardinal values and ethical principles all play a part in maintaining a healthy interpersonal relationship and create guidelines on where to set boundaries.