Interviewing in Social Work

Interviewing is an essential part of social work. According to the definition of the United Nations, social service is an "organized activity that aims at helping to achieve a mutual adjustment of individuals and their social environment." The Model Statute Social Workers' Licensing Act defines social work as "the professional activity of helping individuals, groups, or communities enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning and creating societal conditions favorable to this goal."

Social workers spend most of their time interviewing people, which is why it is a crucial skill in social work. Social workers should have certain technical skills and knowledge of the characteristics and patterns of social work interview. They should know how to commence and put an end, to evaluate where the emphasis should be placed.

Generally, an interview is referred to as a conversation whose goal is agreed and accepted by the parties. Interviews allow participants to exchange not only views, but also emotions and attitudes. The parties can interact face-to-face and make an impression via verbal and non-verbal communication. In fact, the deliberate end to which an interview is held is what separates it from a simple conversation.

A social work interview can be defined as an interview concerned with social work content, scheduled to achieve social work purposes, and taking place primarily in social work settings.

Social workers can interview people for various reasons, including:

- Help a mother decide to place her child in day care

- Advise a family whether to put an elderly relative into a nursing home

- Recommend more effective discipline techniques for parents

- Help recovered alcoholics re-establish in society

- Assist adolescents on probation

- Help a mother of young children who has been injured in car accident

Social agencies may even send their employees to visit families and figure out a way to assist them. Helping the interviewee understand and define the issue, realize the reason for their meeting and start making steps to the solution, is also part of the social workers' job. This process is also a means to an end.

Generally, interviewing in social work concerns troubled people or people in trouble. Social work interview is distinguished from the other public interviews by its concern with the unique person or group of people. Social work interviews discuss private and highly emotional issues. They pay much attention to personal interaction and put the emphasis on feelings and attitudes. Objective factual data is of lesser concern.

Interviewing in social work follows a particular pattern:

- Social workers encourage the participation of clients and the development of the interview in line with the clients' preferences.

- Social workers aim to minimize standardization and maximize individuality of content.

- Social workers have no planned interview agenda and try to keep their control of the interview to a minimum.

Some social work interviews require the coverage of certain uniform content. For instance, an adoption interview would suggest coverage of motivation and child preference. The social worker should also establish the status of a couple's marital relations and experience with children.

Social work interviews are typically lengthy and they do not focus on a single part of a person's life. It is considered that the more personal details of a client's life are uncovered, the stronger connection with the social worker is established, paving the way to a more effective interaction. Besides, interviewing in social work does not follow strict and firm rules regarding professional technology.

Some interviews are more problematic than other. Sometimes there are cross-cultural differences between interviewer and interviewee which hamper the interaction. Special interviewing skills are necessary in cases of sexual abuse, especially if the victim is a child.

There are three basic purposes of social work interviews: information gathering or a social study; assessment or understanding of the problem; and therapeutic or providing a solution to the problem.

Social workers need to raise information about a person's life in order to understand his or hers relation to a stressful situation, which may be troubling the client. The knowledge and understanding of a client's problem is indispensable for its solution. Through an assessment interview social workers aim to gather selective information in order to make a decision. Therapeutic interviews are aimed at altering the client or their social situation, and sometimes both. The purpose of therapy is to increase the effectiveness of the client's social functioning.

Interviewing in Social Work: Selected full-text books and articles

The Social Work Interview: A Guide for Human Service Professionals
Alfred Kadushin; Goldie Kadushin.
Columbia University Press, 1997 (4th edition)
Basic Interviewing: A Practical Guide for Counselors and Clinicians
Michel Hersen; Vincent B. Van Hasselt.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Psychiatric Interviewing: The Art of Understanding
Shawn Christopher Shea; Meg Maloney.
W. B. Saunders, 1998 (2nd edition)
Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People for Change
William R. Miller; Rollnick Stephen.
Guilford Press, 2002 (2nd edition)
A Guide to Interviewing Children: Essential Skills for Counsellors, Police, Lawyers and Social Workers
J. Clare Wilson; Martine Powell.
Allen & Unwin, 2001
Social Work with Children and Their Families: Pragmatic Foundations
Christopher G. Petr.
Oxford University Press, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "How to Combat Adultcentrism When Engaging and Interviewing Young Children" begins on p. 93; "How to Combat Adultcentrism When Engaging and Interviewing Adolescents" begins on p. 103
Memory and Suggestibility in the Forensic Interview
Mitchell L. Eisen; Jodi A. Quas; Gail S. Goodman.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Listening for the Communicative Signals of Humor, Narratives, and Self-Disclosure in the Family Caregiver Interview
Sparks, Lisa; Travis, Shirley S.; Thompson, Sharlene R.
Health and Social Work, Vol. 30, No. 4, November 2005
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Effects of an Intensive Training and Feedback Program on Police and Social Workers' Investigative Interviews of Children
Price, Heather L.; Roberts, Kim P.
Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, Vol. 43, No. 3, July 2011
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Solution-Focused Interviewing with Child Protective Services Clients
Corcoran, Jacqueline.
Child Welfare, Vol. 78, No. 4, July/August 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Motivational Interviewing: An Intervention Tool for Child Welfare Case Workers Working with Substance-Abusing Parents
Hohman, Melinda M.
Child Welfare, Vol. 77, No. 3, May/June 1998
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
An Introduction to Constructivism for Social Workers
David D. V. Fisher.
Praeger Publishers, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Constructivist Interviewing Techniques"
Questions
Witkin, Stanley L.
Social Work, Vol. 44, No. 3, May 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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