6 Phrases Every Social Worker Should Know

Improving your career in social work means being well-versed in key terms you will hear and use on a daily basis. Not only are you navigating the social terrain of a variety of individuals, but in the professional world, utilizing the appropriate vocabulary and definitions ensures that you have a firm understanding of the position.

NCU is sharing some phrases that our School of Social and Behavioral Science faculty believe are essential for every social worker to know. Whether you're conversing with a client about their progress or collaborating with colleagues, the language you use says a lot about your industry knowledge, which in turn reflects your overall capacity for a successful career. 

To help explain some of these phrases, Assistant Professor Emily Schmittel, from the Department of Marriage and Family Sciences, has offered to lend her expertise of the field. "Don't be afraid to ask questions," Schmittel encourages. "If you aren't sure what something means, be sure to raise your hand or to look it up on your own! While using clinical language demonstrates that you are professional and knowledgeable, also remember to keep your audience in mind."

That being said, here are 6 phrases every social worker should know:

1. Join the System

According to Schmittel, social workers must first establish a therapeutic bond with their clients. "They must 'join the system,' creating a safe place where clients can be vulnerable to discuss difficult experiences or make uncomfortable changes." With this understanding, social workers must also join with their client's entire system or network of people that are important to their care. "This includes family members, close friends, or other providers," Schmittel explains. "Social workers must consider the importance of strong relationships with other people in the client's system to create meaningful change." 

2. Privilege

Forming a therapeutic bond with a client relies heavily on the privilege that the social worker has based on their own race, ethnicity, economic status, and sexual orientation. "Social workers provide care to clients from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds," says Schmittel. "One's privilege will inherently affect the connection, especially how the social worker manages it. Clients who get a sense that the social worker is unaware of their privilege or inadvertently uses it as a way to harm them during therapy are likely to disengage from services." It's best for social workers to adopt a holistic approach to their depth of understanding, taking into consideration their understanding of themselves and how that translates to those who come from all walks of life. 

3. Trauma-sensitive

Schmittel notes that a major push in today's field is that interventions require a trauma-sensitive approach. "This means that the social worker considers how someone who has a history of experiencing traumatic events might have symptoms that will affect how they engage and respond to services." For example, a female survivor of domestic violence may have a hard time trusting a male social worker, so it is important to spend extra time creating a strong and safe therapeutic bond. 

Related Article: Top 10 Signs a Military Family May Consider Counseling

4. Recovery

"All providers in the mental health field need to be familiar with the concept of recovery," says Schmittel. This can apply to many symptoms and disorders, stressing the importance of understanding many different situations and methods of rehabilitation. "Someone may be in recovery for addiction or another mental illness such as depression," Schmittel explains. "It is important to note that we refer to a client as in recovery as opposed to recovered. This highlights that recovery is an ongoing process that a client engages in to manage a chronic illness with no planned expectation that the symptoms will cease. Therapists believe that recovery is most successful when it is client driven, the client utilizes a community of support, and there is a clear set of steps that have been identified as being effective for maintaining recovery."

5. Don't Work Harder than Your Client

This is another common phrase that social workers will hear from a supervisor during their training. "While any therapist can fall into working harder than their client, new therapists are often most likely to do this," says Schmittel. "Many times clients lack the motivation or the readiness to make changes, and therapists internalize this lack of change as 'I’m not doing enough.' Consequently, they do more research on new interventions, make an effort to word their questions more carefully, or become more forceful in their methods during a session." Unfortunately, this tactic is not only ineffective, but it can also create more resistance from clients over time. Schmittel wants new social workers to be mindful of their overall involvement and find a healthy balance. Doing so will improve their success in the field, while bolstering the client’s agency and autonomy to make their own lasting changes. 

6. Boundaries

Lastly, new social work trainees will hear their professors and supervisors emphasizing boundaries over and over again. "Boundaries refer to our personal limits on many areas, but often are used in reference to our space, time, and closeness to others," says Schmittel. "As therapists, we need to not only help our clients set boundaries, but also set our own boundaries." Setting your own boundaries creates a healthy work-life balance, while eliminating burn-out and showing clients what healthy boundaries look like. Common effects of not setting boundaries might be going too long over time in your sessions, running late to meet clients, showing signs of exhaustion, and feeling resentful towards others who cross boundaries.

NCU Prepares You for the Future

Professor Schmittel and NCU firmly believe in giving you the tools you need to be successful as a social worker. The Master of Social Work program offers extensive industry knowledge, spanning a variety of social service settings. Perspective students can gain hands-on experience that aligns with competencies from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). In addition, students who complete the program will be qualified to find employment in welfare agencies, non-profit organizations, medical facilities, and correctional institutions. 

Whether you pursue the Foundational track or the Advanced Standing track, both programs are specifically designed to meet industry standards, ensuring you that your education is one that prepares you for exceptional opportunities. 

To learn more about the Master of Social Work degree and other programs, feel free to contact the admission office and request more information by filling out the form below. 

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