Prior to the meeting, the social worker had an opportunity to gather some insights about Jon, a 12-year old middle school student who was having some trouble at school. His teacher, Ms. Smith, reported that Jon was sleeping during her lesson and reacted rather rudely to the teacher disturbing him from his nap on the desk. He told her to leave him alone and quickly left the classroom at the end of the lesson. On the recording, the social worker informs Jon that she knows about the trouble in class Jon is experiencing. The background information report implied that Jon was having problems with his academic performance as he was barely passing any classes. The recording also indicates that the social worker is aware of Jon’s poor grades (based on the questions she asks). Moreover, the social worker knew that Jon moved over the summer, which led to her suspicions about the impact this move had had on him. On the recording, the social worker asks Jon about his living situation in order to confirm her prediction that the boy lives with his mother, brother, and grandmother.
Based on the information she received from the teachers, Jon tended to be in a bad mood ever since the school year started. Therefore, although unsure whether or not her suspicions were true, the social worker was somewhat convinced that Jon’s behavior is the result of personal troubles and financial issues in his family. Another important fact the social worker was aware of prior to her first interview with Jon is his passion for music. On the recording, it is evident that the social worker knows about Jon’s involvement in the music club. Thus, once she realizes how much the termination of the club has affected Jon, the social worker assures the boy that she knows of some music activities organized by the YMCA. Hence, the social worker had time beforehand in order to research music clubs by YMCA or any other organization she worked closely with.
The first step in the preparation process I would take is identifying the need for counseling. Based on the information about a potential client gathered from a variety of sources, it is important to decide whether the person requires my help or not (Indira Gandhi National Open University, 2017). In this case, the teacher requested my assistance due to the troubling behavior of one of her students. Thus, the teacher reporting the incident that had happened in class is enough for me to schedule a meeting with the student.
My role, as a school social worker, is to react to teachers’ concerns about their students’ behavioral problems in class, especially if they hinder the academic performance of said students. Therefore, my rationale for the interview is clearly defined: I need to meet with a male middle-school student who seems to struggle with discipline (sleeping in class) and performance (barely passing any of his classes) in class. Identifying the need for a meeting helps me to establish the goals for the first interview (Indira Gandhi National Open University, 2017). The primary objectives of my initial interview with Jon is to establish a positive relationship with him, piece together information about him that may be missing from my file, and uncover possible problems that led to troubling behavior.
It is exceptionally important for a social worker to select a suitable place for the meeting (Indira Gandhi National Open University, 2017). The client needs feel comfortable in a new environment, which is why I would choose my office as a place for conducting the first interview. It is free of distractions such as unsettling sights and sounds, and minimizes possible interruptions. The next step is scheduling a time, so that it is mutually convenient for the student and me. I cannot interfere with Jon’s academic progress by pulling him from classes or taking an opportunity to spend breaks with his friends by claiming one of them for our meeting. Therefore, the best time to schedule the initial interview would be right after Jon’s classes end. I would notify Jon of our meeting well in advance and inform him of the reason for it. In order for the session to be client-centered, Jon needs time to prepare for the meeting (Indira Gandhi National Open University, 2017). Thus, I have to let him know beforehand why, when, and where the meeting would take place.
The first meeting can be effective only if I prepare thoroughly and review all the information pertinent to the client. Social workers must gather as many facts and observations about the client as possible prior to the first meeting in order to identify possible problems and formulate the main points of discussion during the interview (Indira Gandhi National Open University, 2017). I cannot structure the interview or prepare the necessary questions if I do not have any insights into Jon as a student (a friend and a son as well). In order to gain them, a solid background check has to be done. It is important to go through Jon’s school records to find out more about his grades and possible disciplinary referrals in the past. In addition, a crucial part of the preparation process is interviewing Jon’s teachers, particularly the one who has requested I meet with him. All of these steps would help me to collect a file on Jon, which would, in turn, guide me through the initial interview.
The next step in the preparation process is structuring the interview by outlining its main components. Based on the obtained information, I would determine the main points of discussion and their order. In order to prepare for opening the interview, I would have to go over the reason for the meeting, my aims, and role, which the client could ask me for. To make it easier for the student to progress through the stages of the interview, I would identify Jon’s possible questions and comments and think of my responses/reactions (Indira Gandhi National Open University, 2017). Although a social worker never knows exactly how the first meeting will go, it is crucial to have an outline for the interview in order to organize it properly and increase the chance of positive outcomes.
Another important aspect of the preparation process is the selection of the interview approach. There are a variety of ways to conduct an interview: directive, non-directive, or a unique combination of the two (Ebimgbo, 2019). As a social worker, I have to choose the strategy that best suits the client and the situation. In Jon’s case, I would focus on asking non-directive questions in order to gain insight into his thought process and decision-making patterns (Ebimgbo, 2019). Using both non-directive (open-ended) and directive (require a precise answer) questions is the most suitable approach to get an in-depth understanding of Jon’s issues.
The first skill, which is crucial to discuss, is opening an interview with an introduction. Ms. Smith expertly explains her role as a social worker and the reason for the meeting. While it is great that Ms. Smith does that, it would have been better to inform Jon of the rationale for the session in advance in order to give him a bit of time to prepare, so that he could feel more comfortable prior to entering Ms. Smith’s office. Another mistake worth of acknowledgement is the social worker’s failure to address the aim of the interview in the opening section of the meeting. According to Prout and Wadkins (2014), clearly identifying the session’s objectives serves as an important tool to make it easier for the student to progress through all the stages of the interview.
One of the first tasks a social worker needs to familiarize themselves with is the discussion of ethics. It is important for the client to understand the moral and professional principles guiding the practice of the counselor (Brintzenhofeszoc & Gilbert, 2017). Based on the process recording, Ms. Smith explains to Jon that everything they talk about in their meeting remains confidential unless Ms. Smith believes Jon is going to harm himself or others. Ms. Smith clearly tells the boy “everything you [Jon] tell me is between you and me” and emphasizes the importance of this statement by repeating it.
Based on the aforementioned tasks, it is evident that seeking clarification is an essential skill for counselors in the interview process. Ms. Smith manages to ask a variety of questions to help Jon understand the content of their discussion (e.g. “Do you have any questions about that?,” “Is it easier to understand now?,” etc.). In addition, Ms. Smith uses clarifying questions throughout the session to gain insight into Jon’s problems at home, which affect his behavior at school. Regarding the questions used by Ms. Smith in the interview, there were virtually no hypothetical/behavioral questions. By focusing on a past scenario, which requires the client to describe how they would react to it, the social worker can help the client gain perspectives into the options available to them in the present and the future (Ebimgbo, 2019). Adding behavioral questions to the interview would help Ms. Smith get Jon to generate relevant information for future assessments.
The middle stage of Ms. Smith’s interview with Jon is the discussion of issues, which involves two main tasks: establishing a helpful climate and building rapport. When it comes to the first task, it is integral for the efficient interview process to include practices aimed at making the client feel comfortable and safe (Prout & Wadkins, 2014). Ms. Smith does just that by assuring Jon from the very beginning that he is “not in trouble.” She also adds that their meeting might be “a good idea,” so Jon does not have to worry too much about it. Another important aspect of establishing a positive climate is addressing confidentiality of the initial session and any of the ones that might follow (Brintzenhofeszoc & Gilbert, 2017). As for the closing stage of the meeting, Ms. Smith manages to keep the atmosphere welcoming by asking Jon whether he wants to meet again rather than demanding him to do that.
In terms of establishing a relationship with the client, Ms. Smith is an exemplary counselor, in my opinion. In order to establish a helpful relationship, she takes the intuitive in the initial interview and invest time/energy in developing a climate “built on trust, mutual respect, free and open communication, and understanding in general of what the counseling process involves” (Indira Gandhi National Open University, 2017, p. 51). Ms. Smith uses a number of techniques to relieve tension in her communication with Jon. An example of that would be her focus on discussing music with the boy. Based on the gathered information, she knows that music is Jon’s passion, which is why talking about it alleviates his anxiety and stress. The various factors that are integral to the establishment of a helpful relationship include positive regard, empathy, and openness. Thus, Ms. Smith utilizes “communication skills, the ability to identify and reflect client’s feelings, and the ability to identify and gain insights into the clients concerns and needs” (Indira Gandhi National Open University, 2017, p. 51). The quality of the counselor-client interaction impacts the outcomes of the counseling process, which is why Ms. Smith utilizes a variety of practices that contribute to the development of a satisfactory relationship.
One of the most important tasks Ms. Smith engages in is building rapport. Establishing a relationship where people feel like they can relate to one another creates trust between the client and the social worker, which leads to a more open discussion (Marais & van der Merwe, 2016). Ms. Smith uses various methods to build rapport, including emotional mirroring, non-judgmental attitude, and inviting behavior. She finds a good balance of emphasizing with Jon without being overly emotional, which would seem disingenuous. Ms. Smith understands that the student will not open up if he feels like he is being judged, which is why she never blames Jon for his poor grades or sleeping in class. The social worker displays inviting behavior through the use of specific language (e.g. “Why don’t you sit over here?,” “You are not in trouble,” etc.).
It is crucial to mention the significance of well-developed communication skills in the counseling process. Interviewing the client for the first time, in particular, requires effective communication, which involves the use of simple words and complete sentences, making pauses, supporting ideas with intonation, as well as structuring the main points in a logical manner. Marais and van der Merwe (2016) acknowledge the importance of open communication in ensuring the client is engaged in the interviewing process. Ms. Smith manages to effective communication techniques, which results in Jon agreeing to meet with her again. As for non-verbal communication, it is impossible to determine whether Ms. Smith engaged in practices such as maintaining eye contact, using suitable gestures, or incorporating the right facial expressions by listening to the audio.
The last task worth talking about is closing the session in an appropriate way. Ebimgbo (2019) notes that “the manner in which an interview is ended is crucial for a sustained professional relationship” (p. 74). Ms. Smith does not rush to end the meeting. Instead, she gradually directs the interview towards a discussion of the next session. She politely asks Jon whether he wants to meet again and schedules a time, which is mutually convenient. Although the interview ends successfully, it would be better for Ms. Smith to allocate a couple of minutes to summarize the content of the session.
Brintzenhofeszoc, K., & Gilbert, C. (2017). Social workers have an obligation to all patients regarding confidentiality…however, for some patients, the obligation is greater. Social Work in Healthcare, 56(9), 779-793.
Ebimgbo, S. O. (2019). Interviewing and counseling as social work tools. In Social work in Nigeria: Book of readings (pp.70 – 83). U of Nigeria Press.
Indira Gandhi National Open University (2017). Unit-3. Counselling process: Counselling interview and counselling relationship. eGyanKosh. Web.
Marais, C., & van der Merwe, M. (2016). Relationship building during the initial phase of social work intervention with child clients in a rural area. Social Work, 52(2), 145-166.
Prout, T. A., & Wadkins, M. J. (2014). Essential interviewing and counseling skills: An integrated approach to practice. Springer.