I have recently worked with two social workers; both of whom were nurses before switching to our profession. Comparing the two roles helped me understand more about the skills social workers are best at in their professional activities. Nurses, for example, can administer medications, take blood samples, and perform many kinds of objective tests to support a doctor in diagnosing an illness.
So, what do we have in our social work toolbox?
Our primary tool is the design and performance of a thorough and skilled assessment. This includes gathering information through observation as well as posing carefully selected questions. We then analyze and form a meaningful way of understanding the full picture of what the client has been experiencing; now and in the past. Occasionally, we may use some standardized test instruments, like a mental status exam or a symptom inventory, but for the most part we rely on knowledge of normal and abnormal development and behavior to draw our conclusions.
Assessment is the heart of what we do before we intervene. It’s not surprising that assessment is the topic of many questions on the ASWB exams. This topic can take many forms on the exam and it’s useful to recognize.
Here are two examples of different forms you may encounter. The concept being illustrated is “obsessive-compulsive disorder”; the questions, though, are demonstrating the need to perform an assessment before proceeding:
New client or first session: A new client, Joshua was concerned about his chronic troubles at work, rarely being able to finish his work on time, being too focused on details and fearing he would miss correcting all the errors. The social worker should first:
A) Explore the specific details of this behavior and the impact it has on his work, as well as in other aspects of his life.
B) Suggest ways he can complete his work in the time allotted.
C) Recommend that he meet with his boss to try to review and loosen the time demands on his work completion.
D) Suggest he discuss with his peers how they are able to manage their time and work output.
Current client with a new issue: Sylvia had been working with the social worker after her recent divorce. She became very upset several months into their work together when the social worker asked her if she could change her customary appointment time to a different day of the week. The social worker was surprised at the intensity of Sylvia’s reaction. To best respond she:
A) Reassured Sylvia that this would not be likely to happen very often.
B) Asked questions to better understand the meaning and feelings connected to her reaction.
C) Suggested to Sylvia that they return to work on the issues of the divorce.
D) Expressed surprise that Sylvia was so troubled by this request.
These are not the only versions of how the process of assessment may be presented on the test, but these can give you a good idea of how a single concept, in this case “assessment” can be presented in many different forms. Keep a look out for them! You can find more sample questions on Passitpro’s forum page.
(Answers: Joshua "A", Sylvia "B")
Idelle Datlof, LISW-S is the founder Passitpro which offers Online preparation tools for social workers across the U.S. You can learn more and read more blog posts like this one at: passitpro.com