What is Human Relationship in Social Work

Human relationship in social work is vital. This is because we work closely with individuals within the community and professionals from other backgrounds.

Sometimes, the relevance of human relationship goes unnoticed YET, it is the building block of the social work profession and our ability to make an impact.

What is the relationship-based approach?

human relationship

Relationship based approach in social work emphasises professional relationship as the medium through which the social worker can engage with and intervene in the complexity of an individual’s internal and external worlds.

This relationship-based approach is not straightforward. There are things to think about around power dynamics and dilemmas of the social worker/service user relationship.

For instance,

  • Can a social worker be friends with an individual they support within the community?
  • Can a social worker accept gifts of appreciation from an individual they support?
  • What happens if this gift is rejected due to organisation policies?
  • Will this impact on the social worker/service user relationship?
  • Will the service user feel unheard or perhaps misunderstood?

In relationship building, there are other issues such as risks not being fully understood or situations where people’s true intentions or motives are not being recognised.

What are the qualities of a good social worker?

relationship based social work

Qualities of a good social worker include professionalism, excellent communication skills, relationship building skills and values such as respect, integrity and competence.

Biestek (1961) highlighted seven principles of casework. Two of which are (skills) the ability to purposefully express feelings and controlled emotional involvement.

According to Biestek (1961) out of the seven principles, there are five values. I agree these are values every social worker must have.

  • acceptance
  • self-determination
  • confidentiality
  • individualisation (seeing each individual as unique)
  • a nonjudgmental attitude.

How do social workers build relationships with clients?

values in social work

  1. Building relationships with individuals start with respect and rapport building.
  2. When rapport is established, individuals feel that they can be open, trust and rely on you to do what you say you will do to support them.
  3. Empathy is also important as you are able to put yourself in the individual’s ‘shoes’ and understand their world. It paves the way for a social worker to look beyond stereotypical views and judgements. Instead, people are seen as individuals with strengths and abilities.
  4. Focusing on positive attributes in a person enables you to form good relationships. You can also put in effective interventions by working together.

Why are relationships important in social work?

human relationship building in social work

In social work, it is important to identify the strengths and assets of an individual. To do so, you need to form a relationship with the person.

As human beings, we rely on relationships to survive and flourish. When we are born, the early attachments we form in relationships with others help nurture us emotionally. These relationships are vital in shaping the rest of our lives.

Unfortunately, some people may experience insecure attachments and have very little trust in others. It is important that social workers identify where there is such a need and work on forming trusting relationships and rapport building during initial contact.

Our role is that of interdependence and relationship building is a fundamental aspect. When relationships are not formed or broken, it creates negative outcomes for the individual and in most cases the social worker as well.

What are boundaries in social work?

Social work boundaries refer to professional boundaries when helping social workers and upholding the standards of the social work profession.

Boundaries are essential in social work practice as the role is built on human relationships.

relationship building in social work

How to set healthy boundaries in  social work

What do you do when a person you support keeps calling you or contact you after office hours? Or perhaps the person keeps wanting to extend a meeting beyond what you have agreed to.

In the beginning of an initial contact, you should describe the deliverable and the social worker–service user relationship. For instance, you can make them aware that they can call you anytime before 9am–5pm or send you a text message.

You can add that if you are not able to pick up, you will respond  as soon as possible. That way you are giving them a sense of security and that you are there for them.

Types of boundaries to set

professional boundaries in social work

Consider emotional boundaries

Remember, you are separate from the people you are supporting. Practice mindfulness to gain a moment to ground yourself so you are able to focus on your next client or on what you want to do in the day. Here’s how to start mindfulness through meditation.

Check in with individuals to find out how they felt during an assessment. That way you will be able to reflect.

Boundaries around tasks

Follow through on tasks or actions you have agreed with the individual you are supporting.

Avoid taking on the rescuer role

Avoid a situation where you feel that you need to continually save the individual you are supporting.

This leads to exhaustion, burnout, anxiety and lack of sleep and eats into your personal life.

It creates a co-dependent relationship which ultimately does not benefit the individual. This co-dependency has been explored in detail by Karpman: Drama triangle theory.

Educate on how you work

Letting people know how you work earlier on in the relationship is very useful. If you are clear on your communication about your policies on how you work, there will be less room for misunderstanding later.

Enforce your policies and boundaries – If you find that the boundaries you have set is not working, you must address them quickly and early.

The key is to be kind but firm.

Why do you need to set boundaries in social work?

social work boundaries

Social work involves forming and sustaining relationships with individuals within the society.

As a result, it is vital that social workers establish professional boundaries with individuals.

Establishing healthy clear boundaries is crucial when it comes to managing expectations, managing your time, and keeping your SANITY.

What motivates a social worker?

There are many factors that may influence motivation in social work.

However, in my role as a social worker, I realise that when I focus too much on paperwork and follow the ‘tick box’ approach, I fail to connect with the people I support. This is because the focus shifts from the ‘person’.

Certainly not one-size-fits-all, and as a result, personalisation should be the core of social work practice. When I relax and enjoy the process of supporting people, I feel I get more done while offering a more personalised approach.

Before you go

In my view, the best social workers are not those who use the A – Z in social work encyclopedia but those who show that individuals are unique and important.

Spend time with the people you support and build human relationships based on trust. When trust is build in a working relationship, there is the likelihood that people will feel safe, issues can be explored in detail and this can lead to sucessful outcomes.

This way people can get the best results from your support and you will be able to put in the right intervention to meet identified needs.




human relationship in social work

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