Imágenes de páginas


Elizabeth H. Dexter, Director of Social Service, Board of
Education, Newark, New Jersey

Personality is the case worker's stock in trade. The personal element which she introduces into her contacts is essential for the development of the rapport that must be established if she is to gain a real understanding of the client's problem and work out with him a new orientation. The interplay of her personality and of her client's forms the medium of her work and sets in operation the case work process of disintegrating the present situation for the purpose of reintegrating it on a new and better level. Her entrance into the case precipitates this process, and because she herself becomes a part of the experiment, she cannot deal with her clients as laboratory material, and must take into account her own reactions as part of the total reaction that requires constant testing.

Case work technique embraces the knowledge of certain sciences and what may be termed case work crafts, but the reason why that technique is still intangible and unformulated is that its essence rests on the worker's personality. Her insight into the motivations not only of others, but of herself, determines what she sees, how she sees it, and how she deals with it. None of us can take for granted the accuracy of our understanding. It can be maintained only by self-examination, which should continue throughout the treatment of the case. In short, since the case worker is part of the case work situation, she has to keep as persistent track of herself as she does of her clients.

The social worker is often accused of entering social work from motives that would be disconcerting were they recognized. This is equally true of the motives that lead to the choice of any profession. The urge is the same: the seeking of satisfaction which in itself is an essentially healthy motive. The important consideration becomes the sort of satisfaction one is looking for, since this will not only determine whether the job is a healthy or an unhealthy experience for the worker, but will determine the quality of her work.

Certainly the choice of a case work career calls for no apology, for it offers an exceptionally rich and constructive experience. The case worker has an opportunity to become acquainted with every aspect of life. She sees life as a whole, becomes aware of its underlying forces, and with a more realistic understanding can view it with detachment. If personal development comes from meeting reality, certainly the case worker, alert to the realities that abound in case work, has every chance for personal growth. It is only in literature that one gets an opportunity to extend one's personal boundaries to anything like the same degree, and social work has the advantage over literature of affording a much more active participation.

Like any other profession, social work may be used as a refuge. Through it

the social worker may escape the pressure of her own life, fling herself into the lives of others, and, in her effort to meet their problems, enjoy a sense of solving her own. The desire for flight may divorce her from her own life, which seemed perhaps a dull, uninteresting affair. The isolation she may have felt in her own social setting is relieved, for now she shares immediately the intimacies of other people's lives. She is exposed to all kinds of human emergencies, and in handling them becomes the central figure. A sense of security lacking in her own emotional life comes from the knowledge that her clients find her necessary and look to her for help out of their difficulties. She has a sense of belonging which is gratifying. Now, the danger of this is that she may come to live her personal life exclusively in her work, with the result that she does not cultivate those re-w sources of her own which give her detachment and perspective. She may overwork, more from choice than necessity, although at the time she does not recognize this. She allows herself to assume responsibilities which professionally she wants her clients to assume, gradually becomes possessive of her cases because she has allowed her clients to drift into dependency upon her until they and she believe they cannot get on without her. This is a stage of intoxication through which most case workers pass. It is the stage where work becomes a personal matter, and the worker looks to it for emotional satisfaction that should come from other sources. The natural result is that she takes disappointment and failure personally. The physician expects cases of partial success and failure as well as of complete recovery. He deals with physical disease, and the case worker, with human relationships where the play of her personality is essential, although her attitude should become as impersonal as his. This is possible only by her coming to see her job in proper relation to her life as a whole.

One of the common motives that enter into the choice of social work as a career is a curiosity about life and a desire to solve those mysteries that are unconsciously disturbing to the worker. Unless she subordinates this curiosity to the practical ends of understanding, she is likely to investigate for investigation's sake, sacrifice contacts necessary for treatment in her drive to get facts, and be arrested in her growth because her emphasis on investigation robs her of the time and interest she should put into treatment. The young worker, especially, is likely to enjoy the detective rôle, and often fails to realize that investigating private lives is legitimate only if the results of investigation can be made of use to her clients. She will struggle to verify rumors of her client's jail sentence ten years previous, although that fact cannot affect the present situation. She will be inclined to amass a great deal of such information and do little with it because she has a sense of final accomplishment in having run down a fact to its lair. On the other hand, the worker who has little curiosity about her clients will probably be unable to reach the intimacy with them essential to any real discussion of their problems. Her apparent lack of curiosity may spring from a feeling that close questioning means unwarranted intrusion into her client's privacy. Her scruple arises, perhaps, from a sensitiveness to any discussion of


her own affairs, and instead of using this sensitiveness to guide her investigation, she evades the investigation.

The worker who feels no sense of control of her own life may seek reassurance in social work by trying to help manage the lives of her clients. Because she is animated by a hope that life can be dominated and its difficulties permanently solved, she is upset by the unexpected and baffled by the perversities of events in case work. She loses faith and wonders if social work is worth while because she has found it impossible to control the fate of those with whom she deals. Her difficulty arises from her failure to recognize case work limitations and the unruliness of reality itself.

The worker who feels little identification with her clients and is unable to bridge the gulf between herself and them is likely to have a feeling of superiority and look upon them as a different order of being. She regards their problems as peculiar to their social setting, or she is inclined to minimize their difficulties by converting them into humorous anecdotes. By ignoring the significance of their lives she may be trying to deny the painful reality of her own. All of these problems of attitude in the young worker need to be recognized by those responsible for giving her a case work philosophy.

Human relationships depend upon our ability to identify ourselves with one another. This is the only basis for understanding. We cannot all be delinquent girls nor deserting fathers, but by understanding their motives and recognizing the same motives in ourselves, we can appreciate their problems and understand their behavior. Without identification the case worker cannot get the emotional significance of her client's experiences or reach any real understanding of his problem.

Personal prejudices are the usual barrier to identification. If the worker has religious bias or racial prejudice she will be confused in her handling of cases involving these issues, for in reacting to her prejudice she will lose sight of the client as a unique individual and not understand the painful situation that confronts him. If she has been brought up with narrow ideas on sex, she will find it difficult to accept the sex irregularities that crop up in her cases. Most of us pride ourselves on being free of prejudice, but how free are we? Doesn't each of us consider some one thing as beyond the pale? The judge is outraged by the youngster who bawls his mother out in court because to him respect to mother is the essential virtue. There is the school teacher who showed considerable understanding of a child who was involved in a rather serious offense, and at the same time was extremely intolerant of another youngster for telling a defensive lie she more or less forced upon him. "The one thing I can't forgive," she explained, "is lying. My father early taught me to respect the truth." There is the probation officer who considers the father who deserts a hopeless character. It might be diverting if each of us should declare his notion of the unpardonable sin, or, if we deny any such bias, describe our ideals, for they would serve the same purpose. We would find similarity in this exchange of ideas, but probably

also difference of opinion. And it might also be worth while to trace back these prejudices or ideals to their source, which we would probably find is an identification from which we have not broken away.

Since identification is at the basis of case work, as of all human relationships, it is essential for the case worker to recognize it as a mechanism that must be controlled. Otherwise it operates unconsciously and she is unaware of the need to guard against the prejudiced view it may give her. Her control will depend upon her objective attitudes and her ability to distinguish for her clients and for herself the reality issues otherwise obscured by subjective factors. The worker who allows herself to become entirely absorbed in her work is motivated by complete identification with her clients. She lives their lives, suffers their pain, is concerned with every detail of their existence. She becomes her client, and by this move loses the most valuable contribution she has to give, namely, her objective attitude toward his problem. She sees the problem only through his eyes, overestimating his justifications and overlooking his bias; or, as the situation unfolds, she identifies herself first with one member of the family and then another, mistaking these shifts for impartiality. Her perspective on the case is distorted to the degree to which she remains identified with any part of the situation, for she will be as blind as is her client to the reality issues, and unable effectively to help him work out of his entanglement because she has allowed herself to become entangled too. She has gone over to his subjective position instead of withdrawing to a vantage point where she would have the perspective of which he is at present incapable. She must be able to see beyond him and understand him as part of the whole situation if she is to succeed in giving him that objectivity which will enable him to manage himself more successfully.

In the family situation, perhaps the person with whom we most easily identify ourselves is the mother. This may be because it is the apparent failure of the father that brings the case to the agency, and also because his work takes him out of the home much of the time, leaving less opportunity for contacts with him. Furthermore, most social workers are women, and perhaps more likely to be familiar with the mother's experiences and know what she is reacting to. The chances are, however, that identification with mother would be equally common were all social workers men. The mother appeal is always strong, and this makes it necessary for the worker to be sure she is equally successful in getting the point of view of the other members of the family. We are very much drawn to the mother who is sacrificing herself for her family, and may expect the growing boys and girls to do the same, whereas their selfishness may be an entirely desirable phase of their adolescent urge for independence. We may appeal to the young delinquent on the score of his mother's anxiety and love for him, to show his manhood by taking the place of the absent father, although appeals of this sort can only intensify his adolescent conflict. Furthermore, it justifies the mother in fostering his dependence on her and increases the problem that confronts her in the need of relinquishing her hold on him.

On the other hand, the worker's sympathy may lie completely with the child, whom she sees with surprising regularity as oppressed and denied, and in her handling of the case she endeavors to fit the environment exclusively to his needs. When the parents fail to give him the leeway she considers due him she may lose sympathy with them and handle their attitudes so badly that she fails to help the child. In planning for his future she may weave in some of her own ideals. If she prizes education she may expect parents to make unwarranted sacrifices in favor of their children's schooling, or expect youngsters to crave education as an end in itself. When the bright child insists on dropping school to go to work she feels personally disappointed in him. In her identification she may completely lose sight of the actual problem, as occurred in the case of a fifteen-year-old crippled girl who aroused the sympathy of everyone who came in contact with her. Her father died in her infancy, and since the death of her mother, three or four years ago, several social workers had become deeply interested in her. The child's adjustment depended upon weaning her from her desire to be cared for and helping her to accept her physical disability as something that still did not exclude economic independence. The circumstances of her life were so appealing, however, that mother substitutes sprang up on all sides, and one worker after another, with the best intentions, failed to be of any real help because each was playing into the child's problem by giving her reason to feel that her disability would always win her affection and support.

If the identification mechanism breaks down anywhere it is perhaps likely to fail in our attempt to understand the father's problem. His working hours make it difficult to see him frequently, and other factors seem to operate against the worker's establishing with him as successful contacts as with the other members of the family. Perhaps she is too much inclined to look upon him as the person who should adjust to his responsibilities. Her identification with him may be too slight to enable her to reach an understanding of the emotional difficulties that lie back of his attitudes and his behavior. When he assumes the authoritative rôle and is oversevere in the discipline of the children she may blame him, not realizing that this may be the only standard he has known, and forgetting that she can change his attitude only by appreciating his emotional background. She is likely to discuss freely with the mother subjects she hesitates to take up with him. Her attitude toward him is less objective, less adult. This results in her failure to see the family problem in all its aspects, and may cause her to evolve plans that cannot mean permanent solution.

The worker's attitudes are reflected not only in her identification with the case work situation, but in her handling of the relationship established between herself and the individual members of the family. Her status as a professional person immediately places her in a position of authority in the eyes of the client, and the relationship takes on the emotional coloring of a parent-child situation. To this situation both client and worker will react. The client turns to the work

« AnteriorContinuar »