5 Tips for a Good Social Worker/Patient Relationship

While performing social work, you will be assisting clients who are struggling with a variety of issues, such as poverty, mental illness and other personal problems. Helping your clients to function in society requires ongoing interaction. Clearly defined boundaries will help you perform your job and uphold the standards of the profession.

Establish Clear Rules of Contact

During the first meeting, provide your clients with a list of numbers to call during the day, after hours and in case of an emergency. These numbers may include your office and an answering service as well as local community support organizations and emergency services. This prevents your clients from exclusively relying on your assistance around the clock for every situation. Always provide your professional phone number, email and office address. Refrain from giving out your personal emails, cell numbers and home address as well as contacting clients on social media because it may lead to an unprofessional interpersonal dynamic.

Establish Clear Physical Boundaries

Your behavior is one of the most effective ways to establish professional boundaries. You should set the standard for meetings with clients. While physical contact may be appropriate when dealing with children or the elderly, it is important that you do not touch clients in an inappropriate manner. While you may believe that holding a client’s hand or hugging shows compassion, these gestures may make some clients feel uncomfortable. A client may also see physical contact as an indication of a closer personal relationship. Avoid physical contact, if you feel that it may cause psychological harm.

Build Professional Rapport

It is important to build a trusting professional relationship with your clients. Many variables can influence whether they accept you as someone who can assist them. The goal is building a strong therapeutic relationship. You can do this by accurately accessing their needs, showing empathy for their unique situations and helping them identify the support system that meets their needs in a nonjudgmental manner. Acting as your client’s advocate and validating their feelings without imposing your own personal, political or religious views builds a trusting relationship regardless of the type of client you are trying to help.

Avoid Dual Relationships

It is important that you avoid conflicts of interest. A dual relationship is a situation where you interact with clients in a setting separate from your professional work. There is a chance that you will meet clients outside of work, such as at a grocery store, gym or church. In these cases, be polite, but limit the extent of your social contact. The more time that you spend with a client outside of work, the greater the chance that there will be a breach of professional boundaries. You should never have an intimate relationship with a current or former client.

Maintain Professional Behavior

You should dress appropriately, as your style of dress is also a signal to your clients. Revealing outfits can create a detrimental interpersonal dynamic between you and the client. Use appropriate language at all times. Avoid the use of profanity, derogatory comments, insults and slurs even if your clients use this type of language. Do not discuss your personal life. Relaying personal and intimate details to a client may confuse the client about the nature of your relationship. Clients benefit more from your professional expertise than your personal experiences. Professional interpersonal behavior helps establish and maintain appropriate boundaries during client meetings.

Because social work requires interpersonal interactions, it is important that you establish and maintain professional boundaries when dealing with clients. Your professionalism will help you build trust, which will enable you to assist your clients more effectively.