Reflecting upon past experience is a vital capability for all social work professionals to develop improved communication skills, commend ourselves for what went well, enhance future performance, and continuing professional development. Reflection also allows social workers to link theory to practice.
There are several reflective models such as Rolfe et al. reflective model, Gibbs reflective cycle and Kolb reflective model. For this example reflective log, I will use Gibbs reflective piece to unpick the learning gained.
Taking into account my learning at the onset of my social work placement, this reflective piece is to show how I have progressed and developed as a professional. Consideration will also be given to areas for development.
Context of reflection
In this reflective log, I will focus on the social work
PCF domain 5: Critical Reflection and Analysis
Task: Closing relationships with service users.
Team X is part of the Adult Care Services within X county council, which is a statutory agency. It supports adults over the age of 18 who have a learning disability by signposting individuals with care and support needs to the relevant resources.
The team is multidisciplinary and made up of social workers, community care officers, nurses and other medical professions.
To be eligible for services, an adult over the age of 18 must have a learning disability which should have occurred before adulthood. The individual must also meet the eligibility criteria as detailed under the Care Act 2014.
Their work involves interagency working (service providers and the police), the provision of care and support, provision of preventative services or information and advice to service users.
My role within the team involved assessing the needs of adults with learning disabilities, identifying their needs, and setting up a care and support plan to meet their needs. This process involves building a trusting and professional relationship with the service users.
At the end of my 70 day placement, I planned a face-to-face meeting with service user X and explained how she will be supported by another social worker once I leave.
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Reflection on social work placement
Before the placement, I recognised I had a lot to learn nevertheless; I knew there were resources available for me to refer to when on placement. Such resources could help keep my knowledge up to date in line with the various social work theories and relevant legislations. Besides, I believed in the abilities of my PE to guide me through my placement journey.
I feel that my social work knowledge and skills have improved massively. In addition, I believe that I fully utilised the opportunity that I was given by making good use of supervision, the knowledge base of other team members and resources. I have learned a lot of social work ethics and values and how to handle the dilemmas that I may encounter in my day to day practice.
While working on cases, I built relationships with other team members and service users, and I am sad to lose those relationships. I developed a respectful, empathic, reliable and professional relationship with service users. I felt that working in this way would help address the service users’ needs as much as possible. However, as my 70-day placement was ending, it was important for me to make service user X aware of my departure and I must admit that it was difficult to say goodbye.
X is a young lady with learning disability and lives in supported living accommodation. I carried out reviews with X to identify whether her needs are being met and outcomes achieved. X wished to have a change in day centre and this was considered in her care and support plan.
The ultimate aim of my involvement with X was for her to be empowered. When I first met with X, I clarified that I was a student social worker on placement and had clear objectives set within a limited time-frame.
Throughout my encounter with X, I ensured that I did not make promises or give false reassurances about what I can deliver. This was to prevent blurring of professional boundaries and to prevent the creation of unrealistic expectations.
I felt that having an abrupt end to this relationship may cause emotional damage to X. Hence; I went out and formally said goodbye to her. This was to ensure that there were no feelings of loss or abandonment. It was important for me to do this with X because she has experienced losses in the past and found it difficult to cope.
Upon reflection, I realised that X was not as attached as I thought she would be and this made it easier for her to accept that I was leaving. However, I felt I was more attached to her and felt a feeling of great loss and although I would like to maintain contact after placement; I am mindful that this could be damaging to both X and I. Maintaining such a relationship could foster a culture of dependency and lead to breaches of the code of practice.
Looking back on this placement, I feel that I have learned a lot of skills and also learned to be creative. I am pleased with myself for the knowledge that I have gained within the last five months and will continue to use the skills gained in my next placement.
In the future, I will be more aware of the fact that my personal experiences of endings may affect the way I work. I will also continue to develop relationships that are effective for the purpose that is it meant to serve. Ensuring the relationship is supportive rather than reliant.
Theories and methods
Termination refers to the process of formally ending a social worker–service user affiliation in a helping relationship (Parker, 2000). While working within the area of learning disabilities, I developed healthy relationships with service users. I protected the rights and promoted the interests of the service users and their carers by practicing in an anti-discriminative and anti-oppressive manner. By adhering to the Equality Act 2010 I ensured that X was treated without discrimination.
To aid me in developing a helping relationship with the service users, I used the Rogerian approach in my practice. Carl Rogers emphasised that the attitudinal qualities of a practitioner should include empathy, authenticity, and respect. With many disciplines adopting the Rogerian approach, it has lead towards a nondirective, empathic approach that empowers and motivates the service user (Coulshed & Orme, 2012).
During my encounter with X, I showed unconditional positive regard and was empathic in my approach by being warm and accepting. I also built a non-judgemental relationship.
Carl Rogers’ theory is also supported by Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs theory which emphasise that one must satisfy lower level basic needs such as acceptance, before progressing on to meet higher-level growth needs. He further highlighted that once these needs have been reasonably satisfied; one may reach the highest level called self-actualisation. In identifying and meeting the needs of service users, I was adhering to the statutory requirements as outlined in the Care Act 2014.
However, theorists like Sigmund Freud have said that for self-actualisation to be achieved a person needs direct help to solve their problems and focus should be on the problem, not the person. Parker (2000) also states that good helping comes from the identity and integrity of the helper, and this means that the helper (practitioner) should be authentic, and this can help form a good working relationship. I remained authentic in my dealings with X and did not make unrealistic promises.
A task centred approach was also used as the focus of the relationship between X and I was one of partnership. I supported X to identify problems and difficulties that she is facing. We made an agreement as to how the issues identified could be resolved. X made it clear in one of her reviews that she wanted support in meeting up with her birth parents and this was a priority. I supported X to contact her birth parents.
Brief solution-focused therapy was also relevant as X was empowered to come up with solutions to her problems. X was seen as the expert of her own situation and her own needs. I asked questions that drew on X’s skills and strengths and it enabled X to see how she could use her own skills to achieve her goals. X wants to be able to travel within the community on her own and her self-determination is a strength that can be used to ensure that this happens.
According to the loss and endings theory, endings can be mutual, forced or unilateral. I will consider my endings with X as forced. However, it was planned and handled sensitively in order to prevent untold emotional damage to X. If endings are handled insensitively, the experience can prove traumatic for the service user, leading to feelings of loss and abandonment.
Relationship difficulties may be understood in terms of ‘attachment theory’, which attempts to explain ‘the many forms of emotional distress and personality disturbance, including anxiety, anger, depression, and emotional detachment, to which unwilling separation and loss give rise’. X had experienced exclusion in the past and has had people come in and out of her life so I was conscious of the insecurities that she may have.
The relevant parts of the code of practice that should be upheld are respecting service users’ needs and dignity, supporting their rights to control their lives, and establishing and maintaining the trust and confidence of service users. Not maintaining a healthy professional relationship could threaten the safety of all involved the value of the codes of practice and ultimately undermines the status of the profession.
The social worker – service user relationship can be viewed as a two-way process in which both parties affect each other and, ideally, where both parties learn and change within this process.
As practitioners, every encounter with service users—and others—offers an opportunity to build on and to extend our knowledge base and expertise. For service users, it means that the way we approach the range of problems for which our help is sought—in terms of our knowledge base, skills and personal qualities we bring to our role—can act as a turning point. It can give rise to a new or renewed sense of hope and optimism about the future and the part that people can play in shaping their lives (Trevithick, 2000, p. 4).
On the other hand, professional relationships that are over-focused on ‘techniques’ in a detached and mechanistic way, or that fail to respond to the service user’s real needs, can reinforce doubts and fears, generate mistrust, increase anxieties, deepen defences. This can make it more difficult for service users to seek help in the future or to approach that help with a sense of confidence (Salzberger-Wittenberg, 1970, p. 166).
Coulshed, V. & Orme, J. (2012). Social Work Practice. 5th
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Howe, D. (1998). Relationship-based thinking and practice in social work, Journal of Social Work Practice 16 (2), pp 45 – 46.
Hudson, B. L. & Sheldon, B. (2000). The cognitive- behavioural approach in: M. Davies (Ed.) Encyclopaedia of Social Work (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
Salzberger – Wittenberg, I. (1970) Psycho-Analytic Insight, and Relationships (London, Routledge).
Trevithick, P. (2000) Social Work Skills: a Practice Handbook (Buckingham, Open University Press).