Do social workers have to like their clients?

Social workers must hide their emotions in the cause of non-judgemental practice. But they don’t have to “like” their clients

I have a problem with one of my clients. It’s not his benefits. They are sorted and maximised, his accommodation is fine and he has not relapsed for over a year. So what’s the problem?

I can’t stand the guy. He always seems to call when I am on my way to make a coffee, he tells awful jokes and then laughs at them himself and would it kill him to buy a handkerchief ?

This particular situation is a hypothetical one but this is a situation I have come across a few times in my career.

I am not talking about the service users I have dealt with who do bad things and hurt other people. Suspending judgement on such clients is as instinctual to social workers as a dog shaking itself when it gets out of water.

The client I am talking about is a blameless individual who for some reason I cannot take to at all. Much as I try to suspend any personal feelings there are particular clients I could do without calling after I have spent my lunch hour on hold with British Gas.

I am sure this is not a one-way process. I can accept, good egg that I am, that I am probably not everybody’s cup of tea. Many of my clients have taken the step of telling me they do not like me, sometimes in quite florid language.

The question is whether there is anything wrong with this? I would say not. Social workers are human beings. You cannot choose who you fall in love with and by the same measure you cannot choose to like somebody when your emotions tell you that this is not a person you would choose to spend your time with. It is not unpleasant or unkind to not particularly like someone, it’s just part of the human experience.

So where does this leave unconditional positive regard? Can you show that to a person you do not really like. I think it is perfectly possible. If anything it is easier because a good social worker is self aware and able to work with the emotions the person may engender in them. If anything, my liberal social worker guilt tends to lead me to spending more time with these clients. How irritating is that?

Peter Corser, is a social worker working in the Midlands

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