Essential Skills Social Workers Need
Social work is a multi-faceted career. Working with humans and their behaviors is challenging, rewarding, and complex all at the same time. Successful social workers can develop long-term professional lives where no two days are the same. They benefit from job security and attractive remuneration on top of other benefits.
Professionals need more than a degree education to carve out a successful path in social work. They need various core job skills that form the foundation of their professional practice. Here are five critical skills and attributes of leading social workers:
- Active Listening
- Time Management
Skill #1: Empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings and even share those feelings. Being empathetic allows people to put themselves “in another person’s shoes.”
Empathy and emotional intelligence allow you to connect with your clients as a social worker. Those skills help you see beyond what clients tell you and begin to decipher their motivations and the root causes of their problems.
Empathy does not necessarily mean sympathy. Sympathizing means sharing those feelings and perhaps feeling pity or sorrow for someone. On the other hand, empathy stops tuning into the client’s perceptions and emotions. Based on this deep understanding, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) decide on the best approach to help and support.
Without empathy, it is almost impossible for social workers to connect with their clients and support them as needed.
Skill #2: Boundary Setting
Setting boundaries is equally essential for social workers as empathy. Distinguishing their personal and professional lives benefits most people, but it is especially critical when your career revolves around helping others.
How does boundary setting work? Draw a clear line between your personal and your professional life. Successful social workers leave their emotions at the door when assessing their clients. They do their best to focus solely on the client’s issues and how they can help that client resolve them.
Clients seek support from social workers when they struggle with behavioral and mental health challenges. Those challenges are illnesses like physical illnesses. Their treatment should not be affected by the therapist’s personal feelings.
When social workers feel they cannot treat a client without letting personal feelings affect their sessions, they may need to consider recommending a colleague. After all, the sessions need to be focused on the patient’s wellbeing.
Boundary setting also applies to a therapist’s availability and working hours. More about that is below.
Skill #3: Active Listening
The relationship between social workers and their clients can be best described as a therapeutic alliance. Far from being a friendship, the connection nonetheless runs more profound than most people’s relationship, for example, with their bank manager.
Active listening is the key to establishing this connection or alliance. Successful social workers concentrate on their clients and what they have to say. It allows them to ask pertinent questions based on what the client shared. Most social workers will also paraphrase and summarize what they have heard.
Those techniques help gain the client’s trust and show respect for their situation. Ideally, active listening lets the client know they are being seen and understood. Active listening requires focus and energy. It is one of the critical skills that distinguish leading social workers.
Skill #4: Patience
Humans are complex creatures, and their behaviors are driven and influenced by many factors. Changing those behaviors and replacing detrimental routines with more beneficial alternatives takes time.
Social workers will see their clients adopt a new behavior only to relapse into old habits during the following week or month. Like any job that involves working with people rather than machines, social work requires patience.
Most clients require several sessions with their therapist before they start changing existing behaviors. Once those changes have been triggered, social workers continue to support their clients, helping them deal with challenges or relapses into unproductive behavioral patterns.
Skill #5: Time Management
Time management can be more challenging for social workers than many people think at first sight. Like other professions, many social workers started working online as the coronavirus pandemic hit. Scheduling client sessions through telehealth counseling might have seemed obvious, but many found it too easy to overload their schedule.
Sustainable time management for social workers means scheduling breaks. Whether someone needs a break to stand up from their desk and stretch or they need to gather their thoughts, it is worth considering planning a short vacation during a long session, too. Children and seniors may struggle to concentrate for an entire hour of counseling. A five or ten-minute break can make a big difference.
Working with a platform like TrueCare allows social workers to remain firmly in control of their schedule. Rather than having to take on more and more clients, LCSWs choose their workload and schedule their sessions depending on their own and their clients’ needs. It is an excellent way of managing their schedule, setting boundaries, and building a sustainable career in social work.