On any given day social workers interact with individuals, couples, and groups during some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. I have often thought about the courage and strength it takes to meet someone you do not know and share intimate secrets, struggles, challenges or shameful moments with, in the hope that this stranger can assist them in getting through a difficult time.
When a client shows up for therapy it is a monumental strength that social workers cannot take for granted. Building a therapeutic relationship often takes place the minute a new client makes the initial phone call to connect with a clinician. In choosing to make that connection, both the client and the social worker are about to embark on a tenuous journey of give and take as both look to see if the relationship will be a good fit. Creating rapport does not just come from spoken words but also through a clinician’s body language, voice tone, using appropriate cues, interactions and the ability to be empathetic. Empathy is a critical concept that social workers need to ensure is both genuinely and visibly available for their clients at the appropriate times during therapy. Before it can be asked of a client to set goals, for example, or challenge a client later in the therapy process, the relationship that is formed is the most important piece that will lead a client to achieve their goals.
Empathy, according to Merriam-Webster is defined as, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, social workers need to be able to convey genuine and sincere emotion and communication when clients are baring their souls. Showing empathy does not mean you will have a full understanding of your client’s personal feelings but rather an opportunity to show and share your concern that you understand how their situation affects them. The impact that genuine empathy can have on a client can be monumental and facilitate healing and self-efficacy. Mastering the concept of empathy requires time, dedication and a genuine desire to give of yourself in a professional way.
As a social worker moves from student to professional there is significant importance in becoming credentialed with either an LCSW or LMSW. Becoming credentialed not only shows your commitment to the profession, it enables you to share educational and experiential knowledge with your clients with information that has been gathered over time and with continued training. For individuals interested in working more with agencies (e.g., government, non-profits, etc.), being a credentialed social worker allows you to bring in your expertise in the field when it comes to integrating the “human element” to a variety of situations because you are trained with extensive understanding of issues like person in the environment, family structures, addictions, mental health, laws, etc. Going through the process of preparing for your LCSW exam can better help you understand the complexities of our work and allow you to demonstrate to the field at large you are competent to practice in the field. It may also allow you to have a better understanding of where your “niche” is in the field so you can showcase personal talents and know where you can make the most positive impact on those you serve.
Authored by: Tanya DePeiza LCSW