Engagement Strategy

Subject: Media
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 7
Word count: 1757
Topics: Advertising, Communication, Marketing

Obstacles in Engaging the Client

The client in this case is a 25 year old Saudi college student who has been put on an academic probation and has been encouraged to seek mental health counseling through the college counseling centre. The client is a Muslim and comes to the centre wearing a hijab and dressed in long sleeves and long pants despite the warm temperature. Her major problem is that classmates judge her for her religious beliefs and she debates going to live with her grandparents in Saudi Arabia where she can be around like minded people. She feels that she will always be lonely because Americans do not treat her fairly.  It is quite evident that  there will be some obstacles in engaging this client because she comes from a different social, cultural, religious and ethnic background (Jacobsen, 2013, p. 1). The following are some of the major engagement obstacles:

The Language Obstacle

Since the client is from Saudi Arabia and is not fluent in English, it will be a challenge to effectively communicate to each other considering the fact that social worker is an English speaker and the client only speaks English as a second language. There are some messages that the social worker may try to pass across and the client may not get them properly because of their poor English. According to Staudt, Lodato and Hickman (2012, p. 215), communication is critical in any type of engagement and in this case linguistic challenges may end up being a major obstacle. Both verbal and non-verbal communication is important in a counseling session and failure to understand each other makes engagement difficult. For example, the client in case avoids making eye contact during engagement and this is normally a major obstacle when it comes to counseling (Staudt, Lodato & Hickman, 2012, p. 216). 

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Divergent Cultural Views

In this case, the client is from an Islamic background and their way of viewing issues is influenced in a great way by the Arabic or Islamic culture. On the other hand, the social worker is from a western culture that is completely different from the Islamic culture and therefore the two may find it difficult to understand each other. For instance, the client’s views and perspectives about life are defined by Islamic beliefs and practices while on the other hand the client is not familiar with the Islamic culture. It is always difficult to empathize with a client when you do not understand their religious and cultural beliefs (Staudt, Lodato & Hickman, 2012, p. 213). 

Lack of Trust

This is another major obstacle in client engagement because the client may not be free to open up to the social worker and provide private and sensitive information that might help the counselor to know their problem and come up with an appropriate solution. It might be difficult for a client to trust a person from a different cultural and religious background while some clients just find it difficult to trust a stranger (Staudt, Lodato & Hickman, 2012, p. 213). 

Clinical Counter Transference 

According to Betan et al. (2005, p. 890), clinical Countertranference occurs when a therapy client unconsciously influences the emotions of a social worker, therapist or clinical practitioner. This is normally a reaction to transference where the psychotherapist transfers his or her emotions and feelings to a client. In most instances, this phenomenon is normally unconscious and the therapist may sometimes not realize that they are going through countertranference. When left unchecked, clinical counter transference can disrupt psychological treatment because it s a phenomenon that is potentially problematic (Betan et al., 2005, p. 890). 

My clinical countertranference   when working with this client is that I might find myself doing a lot of self-disclosure because of what happened to my Muslim classmate during my college days. My friend ended up dropping out of college because of discrimination and unfair treatment from fellow students and the school administration. Personally, I feel very emotional when handling cases of harassment and discrimination because I was also harassed because of my obese condition when I was in primary. These memories come to me unconsciously when I am handling clients that are victims of discrimination and harassment. I end up empathizing with such clients more deeply as compared to other clients. I find myself sharing my experiences with such clients as my way of showing solidarity with them. 

Previously, there are many instances where I spent a lot of time on self-disclosure instead of helping the client. I am more likely to be very interested in this client’s case because she reminds me of my Muslim friend in college that went through a similar experience and the fact that I had been discriminated as a child because I was obese. I am more likely to exhibit outrage and become over-involved in the case because of my previous experiences. Apart from being a social work, I am a human rights activist with a special interest in fighting for the rights of Minorities. My Muslim college friend used to also wear a hijab, long sleeves and long pants and therefore this client is very similar to her because they are both Muslims and dress in a similar style.

Literature about Engagement with the Client

The main aim of social work is to apply various interventions to improve a client’s situation but this cannot happen without proper engagement between the therapist and the client. Building rapport with the client is an important aspect of engagement with a client and the subsequent helping relationship with the patient.  The only way to facilitate a helping process is to engage the client in a true dialogue (Jacobsen, 2013, p. 27). Interactive conversations help the client to understand their problems and concerns and in this case mutual learning is encouraged by contribution from each party. In order to make progress in the helping relationship; both the client and the social worker should listen attentively to each other to ensure that they do not miss anything (Jacobsen, 2013, p. 31). Furthermore, the helping process can only flow when the two parties to allow mutual influencing. Clients can be very helpful in the treatment process when the therapist allows them to have some level of influence. The main focus of the helping process should be outcomes, results or accomplishments and it is therefore possible for a client to find answers to their problems when the social worker acts as catalyst. 

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Moreover, a client normally feels valued respected when the social worker empathizes with the client by listening to them, relating to their situation and generally turning into the client both psychologically and physically (Gerdes & Segal, 2011, p. 141). The worker can show an empathic presence through both non-behavioral and behavior acts when engaging with the client.  The clients end up assessing their own situation when the worker asks them some sensitive question during the initial part of the session. The beginning session should involve identifying and addressing the concerns of a client to ensure that the feel comfortable as soon as possible. Non-verbal communication in listening provides useful insights into self-perceptions; communicate crucial messages related to the helping relationship, modifies verbal messages, communicates emotions and at the same time helps to regulate conversations (Birkenmaier,  Berg-Weger & Dewees, 2013, p. 67). The genuineness in the helping can be determined by facial expressions, eye related behaviors, voice related behaviors and bodily related behaviors.  The social worker’s genuine presence in a counseling session and this is normally indicated by non-verbal behavior.  Some of the most important non-verbal skills that a social worker can apply during his or her engagement with a client include appearing relaxed and natural, maintaining eye contact, leaning towards the clients in the course of the conversation, adopting an open posture and finally facing the patient squarely. According to Gerdes and Segal (2011, p. 142), clients are normally very sensitive to the external attributes of a social worker ad their general presentation. For any counseling session to be effective, it is important for the worker to organize their listening based on the client’s agenda. Through active listening, the worker can find out a lot of things about the client such as their goals and intentions, their points of view about the situation, and their personal interpretation of the issue at hand (Staudt, Lodato & Hickman, 2012, p. 217).  Effective client engagement can be inhibited in great way by inadequate or inactive listening tendencies such as tape-recording listening, partial listening or non-listening (Staudt, Lodato & Hickman, 2012, p. 212). In addition to that, the social worker should remain neutral in the course of the engagements by avoiding any attempts to impose on the client their personal, political or religious views. The engagement process is not as easy as some people might think because it requires special skills on the side of the social worker for the entire process to be successful. 

Strategy to Engage the Client

In this case, I will be able to engage the client through rapport building, and application of the most effective client engagement skills such as neutrality, empathy, client assessment and supportive skills.  To begin with, I will try to build a good working relationship with the client through an assessment interview in order to learn about her strengths, goals of treatment, coping strategies and past experiences (Jacobsen, 2013, p. 132). Second, I will use my supportive skills and ensure that I am the initial support system for the client. I will try my level best to support the client through empathy, emotional support and social support to ensure that the outcomes of this engagement are long-lasting and the best. In order to validate my client’s feelings, it will be important for me to be empathetic (Gerdes & Segal, 2011, p. 142). This will show that I am genuine in my listening and will also enable me to accept my client’s plight. Since I come from a different religious and cultural background, it will be important for me to be neutral in our conversation in order to limit instances of countertransference and transference as much as possible. In order to build a strong rapport and therapeutic relationship with my client, it will be important to for me to be non-judgmental, empathize with her situation, assess her needs accurately, and help her identify alternative support systems apart from offering my own support (Staudt, Lodato & Hickman, 2012, p. 213). The client should be treated with utmost respect because one of the reasons why she has come for help is that she has always been treated unfairly. 

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  1. Betan, E. et al. (2005). Countertransference Phenomena and Personality Pathology in Clinical Practice: An Empirical Investigation. Am J Psychiatry, 162:890–898.
  2. Birkenmaier, J., Berg-Weger, M., & Dewees, M. P. (2013). Individual engagement. The practice of generalist social work, 3rd ed. (pp. 67- 97). New York: Routledge.
  3. Gerdes, K., & Segal, E. (2011). Importance of empathy for social work practice: integrating new science. Social Work, 56(2), 141-148
  4. Jacobsen, C. (2013). Social Workers Reflect on Engagement with Involuntary Clients. (2013). Master of Social Work Clinical Research Papers, 198:1-32. 
  5. Staudt, M., Lodato, G., & Hickman, C.R. (2012). Therapists talk about the engagement process. Community Mental Health, 48, 212-218.
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