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An Introduction to Use of Self in Field Placement

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An Introduction to Use of Self in Field Placement

Contributed by Heath B. Walters
As the child welfare field coordinator at Lewis Clark State College, I have the honor of attending an annual child welfare
conference where many of my students present their research on issues that affect child welfare in the State of Idaho.
One of my duties at this conference is to introduce our institution’s student presenters, which includes a quick
description of their internship placements and a few positive notes on what I have enjoyed about supervising their field
placements during the previous year. As I introduced one of my students this year, I praised the student regarding her
unique ability to use her personality and sense of humor to set families at ease and to build relationships and rapport with
clients. Due to the fact that this student came from a lower socioeconomic background where she had to face many
obstacles in her own life before returning to college and getting her BSW, she was able to draw from her own feelings
and experiences to develop empathy and understanding for clients and the situations they found themselves in. The
student was employing “use of self” in her social work field placement. {mosgoogle right}
The term “use of self” is sometimes confusing for both social work students and the discipline of social
work at large. Social workers believe they know what it means when they hear the term, but they have a hard time
defining and describing the term when pressed. The use of self in social work practice is the combining of knowledge,
values, and skills gained in social work education with aspects of one’s personal self, including personality traits,
belief systems, life experiences, and cultural heritage (Dewane, 2006). It is the use of self that enables social workers to
strive for authenticity and genuineness with the clients we serve, while at the same time honoring the values and ethics
we so highly value in social work practice. In an effort to explain the use of self to my child welfare interns and other
students, I will often use their micro skills coursework as an example of how use of self looks in professional practice.
When I teach interviewing skills, each student is exposed to the same basic skill set (e.g., paraphrasing, summarization,
responding to content, feeling, and meaning). However, no student’s use of this skill set is exactly the same,
because these skills are manifested through the individual student’s personality, relational skills, and
developmental capacity. What I have found in the classroom, as well as when I am supervising field placements, is that
successful students have not only mastered the skill set taught in social work practice courses, but have also mastered
the integration of their social work skills with their authentic selves.
To integrate the authentic self into the skills required for your social work field placement, it may be helpful to view the
use of self from five different perspectives: Use of Personality, Use of Belief System, Use of Relational Dynamics, Use of
Anxiety, and Use of Self Disclosure (Dewane, 2006). Through analyzing each of the constructs and their application to
your daily practice, you will begin to discover the unique attributes that will enable you to relate to clients in a more
authentic manner and contribute to the field of social work in a way that is uniquely reflective of you.
One of the most important aspects you bring to social work practice is your personality. Although fundamental to social
work practice, the social worker’s theoretical orientation and mastery of skills appear to have the least impact on
client satisfaction when compared to the social worker’s authenticity and how they use personality traits as a
therapeutic tool (Edwards & Bess, 1998; Baldwin, 2000). What is important regarding authenticity is to reflect your
“real self” at all times. If you accidentally run into your client while shopping for groceries or at the park on
the weekend, the client should be able to engage with the same person he or she met during your last home visit. In
other words, social workers need to take time to fully understand who they are as individuals, as well as their identities as
professional social workers, in order to holistically integrate these two roles.
The first step toward this authentic integration is taking time for personal discovery. Making a list of your most prominent
personality traits and identifying how these traits can help you relate to clients, as well as limit your efficacy, is a helpful
exercise. A second exercise that may prompt personal discovery is identifying what first attracted you to the field of social
work and analyzing your motivation for choosing social work as a career. What need did becoming a social worker meet
in your life? Was it a healthy need, and how does this need affect your work with clients and families? In addition,
individual and group therapy can also be effective tools for understanding your personality traits and how these traits
affect your relationships with others.
Belief System
A second aspect of self that has an impact on social work practice is your belief system. Belief systems do not
necessarily have to be religious or spiritual in nature. Instead, belief systems can be a method for understanding,
organizing, and making sense of the world around us. Often, social work students will hear this referred to as their
“worldview.” It is important for social work students to take time and assess their personal views of the
world. What do I believe about the nature of humankind? How do I explain pain and suffering? What is the meaning of
life? By exploring our personal values and beliefs through these kinds of questions, we are able to understand our
individual perspectives of life and the world around us. Through defining our worldview, we are better able to understand
the congruence between our personal philosophies and the values and ethics of the social work profession, as well as
those of our clients. A disconcerting error that many social workers make when beginning social work practice is to
impose their own values upon the client and failing to honor self-determination. This mistake often happens because the
social worker has not clearly defined his or her own values and beliefs, and unconsciously projects his or her worldview
onto the client’s presenting concern. Social workers may also hold too rigidly to their own values and fail to
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Written by tusksowk

April 7, 2010 at 12:25 pm

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