Case Studies / Activities


The chapter focuses on the importance of therapeutic relationships with service users and the centrality of self-awareness and use of self by social work practitioners. In this activity we want you to undertake some broader thinking around the theme of relationships with service users and to consider some of the challenges that might occur in practice situations. To inform your thinking you may wish to read an article by Claudia Dewane (2010) by following this link:  Although Dewane’s article is based on social work in an American context it highlights several issues of relevance, particularly for social workers practising in rural contexts. Consider how you might respond in the scenarios described below. You may wish to discuss these situations with other students or colleagues to see if their response is different and, if so, discuss why that might be the case. Be aware of any age, gender, religious or cultural factors that might impact on your reactions/responses. How do you think your response will impact on the therapeutic relationship with the service user?

  1. You have been working with an older woman for around two months assisting her to consider the support she requires to maintain living at home. You visit the service user at home and have a long discussion about what is going well and what is more difficult. You discuss plans which can be put in place to address the difficulties; however, towards the end of your meeting the service user becomes very upset. She is extremely tearful and says that she feels ‘it is all falling apart’. The service user is sitting adjacent to you. Do you think it is appropriate to console and reassure the service user by placing your hand on hers or your hand on her shoulder?
  2. You are working in a community project which is attended mainly by young people who have learning disabilities. One of the service users with whom you get on well with has just returned from holiday. He is very excited about his trip and tells you what a great time he had. He says he has a present for you and hands you a stick of rock. Do you take the present?
  3. You have just started working with a young mum who has sole care of her two under-school age children. She has been referred to your team because her oldest child has complex disabilities. Other professionals involved with the family have described her as a good mum who is always trying to do the best for her children; but there are a number of concerns about her ability to cope particularly as finances are always tight. On your first visit to the family home you notice immediately how much of a struggle life must be; the house is sparsely furnished and many basic items of daily living are missing. The service user offers you a cup of tea and when you accept she returns with both with the tea and a rather expensive looking cake. She says she bought the cake especially for your visit. Would you eat the cake? Would you discuss with the service user the financial impact that buying the cake has had?
  4. You are attending the wedding reception of a family friend. When you arrive you find that you are seated on a table with the groom’s cousin who is also one of your service users. You were unaware of this connection prior to attending the event. How do you manage this situation?