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Seven Principles of the Social Work Relationship

Revisiting Felix Biestek

G Dumbrill

on 24 August 2013

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Transcript of Seven Principles of the Social Work Relationship

seven prin les of the social work


Felix Biestek (1912-1994) was a Jesuit Priest who was also a social work professor. Felix wrote a book called "the casework relationship" which was translated into six languages and became what the New York Times said was an "academic best seller" which sold 100,000 copies in English alone, or 100,001 if you count my copy!

Not many people remember Biestek nowadays, but in all modern introductory social work texts I hear echos of good old Felix. So rather than teach in echo's, I thought I would share Biestek himself with you, after which we can move onto more modern thoughts.

The part of Biestek's work I want to share is his seven principles for social work relationships. Wikipedia has a good description of these in their Felix Biestek entry, so I have reproduced parts of that entry with minor modifications (to get rid of the gendered language).
The seven principles are:

Purposeful expression of feeling
Controlled emotional involvement
Non-judgmental attitude
Self determination (of the client)

"Individualization: The recognition of each client as a unique individual. This is based on the need and right of each human being to be treated as an individual and not just as a typical member of a category or a group" (from Wikipedia)

I (Gary Dumbrill) would add, however, that one has to be careful here, the above is based on western individualism. Social work has been notorius for failing to understand Indigenous (and other) peoples in the content of a community or Nation and has thereby stripped away context and trampled on collective rights. Also social work MUST see "individual" troubles in a broader social contect. So although this principle remains important - carefully think through how, when and if to apply it.

"Purposeful expression of
feelings: The recognition of the
client’s need to express his [or her] feelings
freely, especially negative feelings. The worker
listens purposefully, neither discouraging nor condemning the expression of these feelings. To deny a client the opportunity to express [her or] his feelings, [her or] his fears, hopes, hostility, etc. is a refusal to deal with the total person. In social work,
it is believed that every problem or request for help has an emotional component, and that the client has a need and right to express it." (from
Wikipedia with modifications)

emotional involvement:
The worker’s sensitivity to
the client’s feelings, an
understanding of the meaning of these feelings, and a purposeful, appropriate response. The worker’s response is not only verbal; it is also nonverbal. The worker becomes “involved” emotionally by sensing and responding to feelings. The involvement is “controlled” by the self-discipline of the worker, the purpose of the case, and other factors. This principle is one of the key
principles in social work"
"Acceptance: The worker perceives and deals with the client as he really is, including his strengths and weaknesses, his positive and negative feelings, his constructive and destructive attitudes and behaviour, while maintaining and communicating a sense of the client’s innate dignity and personal worth. Acceptance does not mean approval. The object of acceptance is not “the good”, but “the real”. The acceptance, which the client perceives, permits him to reveal himself fully, without damage to his sense of dignity" (Wikipedia)
"Nonjudgmental attitude: The non-judgmental attitude is based on the belief that social work does not include assigning guilt or innocence. If the client fears blame and judgment, he will not talk about himself. Not only blame, but also praise and approval, are examples of a judgmental attitude. Blame and praise may have the same effect on a client: to hide a part of himself so as not to be judged." (Wikipedia)
"Client self-determination: The recognition of the right and the need of the client to have freedom in making his own choices and decisions in the social work process. The worker does not take responsibility for the client, does not persuade in a controlling way, and does not manipulate the client to make decisions to conform to the worker’s preferences. (The client’s right to self-determination may be limited by the client’s capacity for decision-making, by civil and moral law, and by the function of the agency)." (Wikipedia)
"Confidentiality is the preservation of private information concerning the client,
which is disclosed within the
professional relationship, or is
received from other sources in
the course of working with a
client. (The client’s right to
confidentiality is not
absolute. There are
situations in which
another right or duty is
greater than the client’s
right to confidentiality)."

Thanks for watching
Gary Dumbrill
r e m e m b e r i n g f e l i x b i e s t e k' s
a presentation by gary dumbrill
Full transcript