Dominant practice models for social work were originally developed and intended for work with voluntary clients. The professional literature indicates that use of these models with involuntary clients often alienates rather than engages. This article describes the use of solution-focused interviewing as a way to engage involuntary and mandated clients. A conversation with a court-ordered client is presented and analyzed to demonstrate how practitioners can begin the co-construction of cooperation with mandated clients through adopting a not-knowing posture, focusing on and amplifying what clients want and client strengths and successes, and asking relationship questions to generate possibilities for change specific to the mandated context. The ethical implications of this noncoercive, nonconfrontational approach are addressed, along with its implications for a view of how clients change.
Key words: co-construction; engagement; mandated clients; motivational congruence; solution-focused therapy
If there is to be a place for social work in the social welfare system, the profession must make ... an academic commitment to the development of improved practice models for social work with mandated clients.
E. D. Hutchison (1987, p. 595)
The term "mandated client" evokes strong and predictable reactions from practitioners, most of them negative. Ask practitioners for word associations with this term and they reply: "resistant," "difficult," "uncooperative," "negative," "full of attitude," "in denial," and "often hostile." These associations are alarming because it is likely that the majority of clients seen by social workers in public agencies are mandated, or at least to some degree involuntary (Ivanoff, Blythe, & Tripodi, 1994; Rooney, 1992).
There is no relationship between the frequency with which practitioners see mandated clients and the number of articles and books devoted to discussing practice with them. This is not surprising because the field's practice procedures have been developed assuming that practitioners work with voluntary clients (Ivanoffet al., 1994). The prevailing paradigm in the field directs practitioners first to engage clients through active listening and empathy and, once trust and cooperation are building, move to problem assessment and intervention. This paradigm assumes that clients have chosen to get help and, although possibly anxious and uncertain about changing, are motivated to figure out their problems so that they can be solved.
This paradigm often does not apply to mandated clients, who frequently see practitioners against their wills, believe that "the system" has made errors and has its own interests at heart, and do not believe that they need help. They frequently view contacts with practitioners as unwanted intrusions into their lives and the remedies recommended to them as meaningless or harmful (Miller, 1991). Ivanoff et al.(1994) pointed to research that indicates that mandated clients often do not respond to warmth, genuineness, and empathy and were not likely to own their problems--especially as the mandating agent perceived them. Consequently, these authors like others (Cingolani, 1984; Hartman & Reynolds, 1987; Hutchison, 1987; Milgram & Rubin, 1992; Rooney, 1992; Slonim-Nevo, 1996) indicated that work with mandated clients commonly breaks down right from the Outset at "engagement."
Cingolani (1984) was one of the first to write that working with mandated clients requires a different practice model. She suggested working from a social conflict model that assumes the client and the mandating agent have potentially conflicting interests and different definitions of the mandated situation. She suggested that the practitioner assume no responsibility to resolve the conflicting views of the mandating agent and client, but function as a negotiator who acknowledges and respects the reality and right of clients to make choices about what to do in their circumstances. …