Why Do Social Workers Need to Know About Engagement?

January 23, 2018


Engagement is a very likely topic to be included in the ASWB’s license exam questions. The need to engage your client at the beginning of a professional relationship is well understood and almost predictable. Yet, indicators of a need for engagement also may appear during any moment of your connection with a client.


Here’s an example: What do these three brief comments below have in common?


Mr. Smith complained that he has been through many, many drug programs and didn’t think this one would help him very much, either.


Mrs. Jones told her social worker that she was disappointed that they had assigned such a young person to help her. She wished she could work with social worker who had more experience, and be better prepared to understand her situation.


Mrs. Brown described her recent conflict with her husband and said, “I know nothing you can say will make a difference, that’s just how he is”.


They each express a strong feeling about their situation and may reveal a negative point of view about the status quo. These are moments when your ears should perk up. It’s an alert to a changing dynamic, shoving aside what you were discussing. They are moments which can occur at the beginning, middle, or end of a professional helping relationship, when a targeted response is required.


This process of connecting with the client is called “engagement”. You have choices as to how you can do this:


- You might offer a clarifying statement


- An acknowledgement of what you have just heard


- A description of the emotions being expressed


- Questions aimed at further exploring what was just said


All have the same goal: to come to a better mutual understanding of what the client just said. Always be wary of the impulse to jump over the need to leap to “fix” the problem. Be alert for test questions that illustrate this concept - they are sure to be included.

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