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Within the area of social work, I will be looking at communication in social work and attachments. This essay will summarise the article: “Communication and social work from an attachment perspective” written by Jim Walker and published by the Journal of Social Work Practice, 2008. Communicating effectively is vital in social work practice and enhances the social workers ability to provide the best support for the service user. This essay will conclude by reflecting on the academic skills acquired and developed through undertaking this module.
In this article, Walker explores the ability to communicate and the importance of communication within social work. Walker begins by writing about communication between the infant and its primary care-giver. Early on, he addresses three key concepts, formed by attachment researchers; “attunement (the co-ordination of affective states), rupture (the lapse of mutual co-ordination) and repair (the reestablishment of co-ordination under new conditions) in relationships” (Solomon, 2003).
This is a repeated system of communication that can encourage an infant to regulate emotions, reform negative to positive effects and boost reconnection. Walker states that couple therapists have noticed that “rupture” is unavoidable, but the communication strength is shown within any relationship when there is enough resilience to “repair”. (Solomon, 2003). The “repair” process often requires the caregiver to “attune” and acknowledge the feelings of the infant caused by the “rupture”. Cozolino argues that our patterns of communicating will be largely shaped by early experiences with our primary carers.
The article suggests that in order to communicate effectively, the individual must be resilient enough to accept the rupture in all communication. If early experiences were insufficient, the individual is likely to feel negative when disruption happens. Everyone will feel and react differently to a rupture in communication. Walker suggests that inter-agency communication with negative dynamics will strengthen these emotions. A social worker experiencing a rupture in communication may lack resilience to be able to tolerate this disruption. In child protection work, primitive feelings can be evoked and encourage reflective function. Fonagy claims reflective function comprises of “a self-reflective and an inter-personal component”. He defines it as “the ability to think flexibly about thoughts and feelings in both oneself and others” (Fonagy, 1999). Walker notes that reflective function is more than the ability to be empathetic; it also consists of self- awareness of processes, thoughts and feelings.
In social work practice, experiences of rupture can be talked through and processed with the service user. Due to service user’s vulnerability, it is likely that they have experienced “rupture without repair”. Therefore, is important for social workers to understand this process so that the service user can feel understood and listened to. Social workers themselves can also experience rupture, whether that be within a personal relationship, with a service user or even professional relationships. Continuous rupture in communication can lead to negative emotions. Therefore, talking through these feelings can enable the social worker and the service user to become more resilient and improve their communication skills. Walker writes “if social workers can become more aware of their client’s capacity for reflective function it can help them to become more sensitive to possible ruptures in their relationship with them”. This can aid the social worker in assessing risk and understanding the individuals’ needs.
This relates to person-centered care; where the individual is supported in developing their confidence, skills and knowledge in order to manage and make informed decisions about their care and health (BASW, 2014).
Bowlby’s attachment theory suggests that those who feel safe and secure are more likely to maintain reflective function when stressed. This has come from secure attachments in early relationships i.e. that of the infant and primary care-giver. Walker concludes his article by recognising that stress is likely to impair reflective function and the individuals’ ability to deal with ruptures in communication within relationships.
Relating to professional practice:
There are several forms of communication throughout the world. In social work practice, it is important for social workers to be aware of these forms of communication, as well as being able to communicate effectively, as stated in the Health and Care Professional Council’s 15 generic standards of proficiency (HCPC, 2018).
In terms of attachment, it is important to note that theoretical approaches can be used and are used to inform understanding around communication and its several forms. These theories provide a foundation and reasoning around individuals communication skills.
One theory to be considered is the behaviorist theory. This theory demonstrates how individuals learn through observation and imitation. Skinner (1957) claimed that infants acquire language through “behaviorist reinforcement principles” by correlating words and sounds with meanings and objects.
Within communication, there are several components; these include, first order skills and second order skills (Koprowska, 2000). First order skills are direct communication which includes paralanguage. Paralanguage is comprised of the tone, pitch, volume and speed of the speech, but also, silence, hesitation, gestures, facial expressions and body language. This aspect of communication is often subconscious, and the individual is often unaware. However, paralanguage can be controlled through self-awareness and practice. Second order skills involve planning communication, metacommunication, observing interactions, paying attention to feedback and reviewing of past experiences. Metacommunication is about how a piece of information is intended to be interpreted. The way that information is conveyed can affect its interpretation. Social workers must use first order and second order skills to enhance their ability to communicate effectively with a service user and other professionals.
During the course of the first term, the task of a short conversation with a service user was provided. In order to prepare for this assessment, a communications week was held in which I was taught: several types of communication, communication skills, emotional competence and evaluating communication. This enhanced my learning and understanding of communication.
Through academic skills, I have learned many useful skills to use in practice. One of the most vital skills I have acquired is active listening. The skill of active listening involves hearing, attending, understanding and remembering. It is used in social work to encourage engagement with the service user and empowerment of the service user (Moss, 2017). Another important skill in social work is reflection. Reflection is a method of understanding an individuals’ actions and behaviors; it requires thought and consideration around feelings, actions, experiences and responses (Fook 2015). Reflection is important for learning and understanding (Moon, 2004). There are two types of reflection: reflecting on action and reflecting in action. Reflecting on action takes place after the event and refers to retrospective thinking, analysis and evaluation. Reflecting in action takes place during the event and refers to the thinking, analysis and evaluation at the time of the event.
Through reading this article and researching around the topic, I have learned the importance of reflection and the concept reflective function, developed by Fonagy. I have been able to enhance my reflective skills which can aid my learning and can be put into practice.
As part of the course, by building knowledge and skills, the task of a group presentation was given. For the purpose of reflection, Gibbs (1988) model will be used. A group of three, including myself was created. We discussed several options for a topic, including mental health, but eventually settled on youth crime; specifically, the causes and prevention of youth crime. Between three, the tasks were divided equally, and research commenced.
It was discovered that youth offending statistics are declining, and prevention is vastly improving with the use of local groups and youth offending teams within the United Kingdom.
I was nervous to present in front of a large group and worried that something would go wrong.
This experience was both positive and negative. Positive because the task enabled me to use research skills that I’ve been taught. I have built my confidence, and improved self-awareness of my appearance, behaviors and body language. The negatives of this experience were the organisation of the presentation and the anxiety about presenting.
This situation enabled me to work in a team with new people on a topic that we all knew little about, which is relevant to social work practice. As a social worker, in the future, I will be working in teams with other professionals, where the situation or needs of the service user will be initially unknown. This task gave some insight into inter-agency working and how difficult it can be to maintain the communication with all members of the team and be able to provide all the information needed within a short time. Upon reflection, improvements could have been made. With limited time given, the preparation for the presentation was also limited. This is a vital area to improve because within social work practice, there is almost always limited time for issues to be addressed and paperwork to be done. If more preparation and practice was put into this presentation, then I would have felt much more confident about it. If this situation were to rise again, I would be much more equipped. In future, I will organise my group much quicker, set meetings with my group rather than just doing each part separately and bringing it together at the end, I would rehearse and practice the presentation with the team, so that I could feel confident and I’d choose a topic with more depth and interest.
- Cozolino, L. (2002) The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, W.W. Norton
- Fonagy, P. (1999) Transgenerational Consistencies of Attachment: A New Theory. Available online at Psyche Matters.
- Fook, J. 2015. Reflective practice and critical reflection. In: Lishman, J ed. Handbook for Practice Learning in Social Work and Social Care. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 440- 454
- Hcpc. 2018. The standards of proficiency for social workers in England. [Online]. [26 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.hcpc-uk.org/standards/standards-of-proficiency/social-workers-in-england/
- Koprowska, J (2014). Communication and Interpersonal Skills in Social Work. (4th ed.). England: SAGE/Learning Matters.
- Moon J (2004) Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice Routledge
- Moss, B (2017). Communication Skills in Health and Social Care. (4th ed.). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
- Skinner, B. (1957). Verbal behaviour. London: Methuen.
- Solomon, M. (2003) ‘Connection, disruption, repair: treating the effects of attachment trauma on intimate relationships’, in Healing Trauma, eds M. Solomon & D. Siegel, W.W. Norton and Co.
- The British Association of Social Workers. 2014. BASW. [Online]. [28 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.basw.co.uk/resources/person-centred-care-made-simple
- Walker, J. 2008. Communication and social work from an attachment perspective. Journal of Social Work Practice. 22(1), pp. 5-13.
- Knott C & Scragg T (2013) Reflective Practice in Social Work Sage/ Learning Matters
- ———- GIBBS REFELCTIVE CYCLE REFERENCE
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