Building rapport requires the use of interpersonal skills that express to a client that the practitioner is there to help.
Social work is a heavily process-oriented helping profession. Individuals in this field are required to engage with their clients in ways that other professions are not. In order to discover how best to proceed with the helping process, it is essential that social work practitioners have good relationships with clients. More than 33% of the factors that lead to effective outcomes are related to facilitating a therapeutic relationship (Freedman, 2017, Slide 3). Building rapport requires the use of interpersonal skills that express to a client that the practitioner is there to help.
My SOWK 311 course, Generalist Practice I: Introduction to Social Work Practice taught me interpersonal skills used to develop rapport including empathy, authenticity, reflection, questions that facilitate closed-ended and open-ended responses, concreteness, and focusing. Through the use of empathic communication, both verbal and nonverbal, a social worker can accurately interpret and reflect back to a client what the client is going through. Authenticity, or genuineness, refers to when a practitioner relates to a client in a natural, sincere, spontaneous, and open manner. Authenticity may involve the use of self-disclosure, which a social worker does when it will be beneficial for the client. Some ways that social workers may express that they are responding authentically include when they share feelings at varying depths, when they describe situations in neutral and descriptive terms and when they identify the impact of the situation on the client. Reflective responses can be reflective of content or of affect and can be shown through paraphrasing, reframing, clarifying and probing. Close-ended questions help structure the dialogue and interaction, while open-ended questions can be used when a practitioner is looking for more depth in information that a client provided. When seeking concreteness, a practitioner is understanding perceptions, clarifying vague or unfamiliar terms and exploring the basis of conclusions. By selecting topics for exploration and exploring those topics in depth, a practitioner can effectively provide and maintain a focus for interaction. These skills of interviewing are used in the generalist practice components of engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation.
In SOWK 341: Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Individual Development Across the Life Span, the signature assignment was to interview an individual over the age of sixty-five about the different stages in their life and analyze how they developed through the lens of two different theories. This paper is my within-the-classroom artifact and pages seven through twelve describe the content discussed in the interview. I used closed-ended questions to gather the demographic information of the interviewee and open-ended questions when I sought a better understanding of a life experience that the interviewee mentioned. The interview process reflected the empathetic and authentic nature required of building a relationship with someone, even if for one encounter, to allow the interviewee to feel comfortable with self-disclosure.
My beyond-the-classroom experience, an internship at Columbia High School (CHS) with Communities In Schools (CIS), also gave me the opportunity to apply the skills of interviewing, that I had learned in my courses to engage, assess, intervene and evaluate with the
students that I worked with. Engaging with students began with the assessment process, which included completing an annual Needs Assessment with my students. This document, my beyond-the-classroom artifact, assesses a student’s individual and familial risk factors along with their protective factors. The purpose of completing this document was to gauge where students stood in regard to risk and protective factors to provide a better understanding of what may be inhibiting a student’s optimal performance in school. While the Needs Assessment is a form that students could complete on their own, administering the assessment through a one-on-one interview process allowed for me to form relationships with the students. The form provided prompts and through the use of close-ended and open-ended questions, I was able to guide the discussion to better understand my students and their situations. I responded to students with reflective statements, not only so that they would know that I was actively listening but also to ensure that I had a proper understanding of what they were saying.
I realized the importance of using interpersonal skills to build a relationship with my students when I felt that they viewed me only as someone who made sure they did their work. Students in my caseload would come to me for academic support, but would go to my supervisor for everything else. It is important that they feel comfortable to speak on other matters because it is often there where the barriers lie. At first, I was determined to help them with school through the academic aspect in hopes that they would grow comfortable with me to discuss other matters. Through the use of interpersonal skills, I was able to build a relationship with students that fostered the helping process. It is important to use interpersonal skills to build a therapeutic relationship with clients because without it, the element of trust would be missing. Without mutual trust, the helping process cannot proceed.