My biggest lesson this week: There is always a way to kindly phrase things when you do not want to or cannot hear “no.” We must respect a client’s right to self-determination, but some situations require some good-intentioned assertiveness.
In an effort to build rapport, I am maybe not as assertive as I could be in sessions with clients.
“Is that ok?” “If it’s alright with you, ____”
Sometimes it works fine! (ie You don’t want to play this game? That’s cool with me. I respect that.) I think that this works to build rapport, and I suspect others do the same.
Other times it’s not so good (as I learned this week):
- When you need to call your supervisor during a session (maybe the client expressed suicidal ideation)
- Or when you need to give a needed resource (ie mental health hotline, suicide hotline)
- You need a conversation to stop for the sake of a client (like in a family session)
It is key to respect a client’s right to self-determination. However, if you do not show some assertiveness, your client can tell you no. Still, be kind and remember they still may say no.
How I learned this week
I spoke to a supervisor this week about how I asked a client for permission to call my supervisor. The client said no, so I didn’t do it.
BUT I NEEDED TO.
That supervisor then walked me through how SHE would tell, not ask.
- Explain how confidentiality works.
- Tell them that safety is most important.
- Explain that to keep my client safe, I sometimes need to talk to my supervisor because I may not know what to do.
- Tell the client that, for my own concerns, I will be calling my supervisor
- (emphasis that the call is about me wanting to get help, not something the client did)
Honestly, there have been many situations throughout my social work journey in which I struggled to be assertive. I recognize that clients may already feel a power imbalance, and I want to show them they have power. (Click here to check out the book by Afaupe about power in another article. Very impactful.)
This week I had to be assertive in other ways as well:
- “I will be sending you the number for the suicide hotline”
- “I think it is best for _____ to return to class. It’s clear that this has been a lot for her. We can continue afterward.”
- “I need to be clear that I cannot tell you what ___ has said when I spoke to them.”
As I continue throughout my career, I hope I learn to know when it is okay to ask questions and when not to.
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