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The Use of Self in Social Work

As an intern at Vatsalya Adult Medical Day Care, assisting marginalized and discriminated elderly of diverse ethnic backgrounds, I understand that professional social work involves the use of self and the desire to help others. In addition to an individualistic self, existing in isolation, there is a relational self that is “acquired through and defined in the context of relationships” (Ganzer, 2007, p. 118). A social worker’s role and personality affect the way he/she responds to professional challenges (Laureate Education, 2013). The relationships between professional and personal values are complex and create a unique identity of a social worker (Osteen, 2011). In the following paper, I will discuss the use of self during my field education experience and describe any potential boundary challenges at my placement agency.

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I often encounter situations where geriatric social workers integrate the use of self into their work with elderly residents and families. Self might be utilized as an instrument allowing to replace the status of an individualistic expert with the role of an active participant in patients’ experiences (Ganzer, 2007). I observed the application of the technique at my agency when one of the social workers supported a disabled minority resident with mid-stage dementia and depression who could not recognize his spouse.

Using the self, my colleague demonstrated her person-centered approach, professional skills, values, empathy, and sense of humor to understand the patient’s concerns, preserve his dignity, re-introduce him to his wife, and achieve effective communication. The social worker successfully performed the micro-level roles of a case manager, counselor, and networker, which helped to improve the client’s relationship with his family and alleviate frustration with limited mental and physical abilities. From this experience, I learned about the impact of personality, background, and micro skills on social work practice. As an African American, I believe in dignity, respect, advocacy, and empowerment folder peopleple, so the educational experience confirmed my personal values that I will use to address my clients’ needs.

Boundary challenges refer to the potential conflicts between one’s professional duties and personal relationships or values. While personal experience is a vital part of the use of self, I should be cautious not to disclose inappropriate information about myself and protect the confidentiality of clients outside of the workplace. Formal introduction and basic information about the social worker’s educational and professional background are sufficient to establish a rapport and earn clients’ trust.

Moreover, it might be challenging to support a proper working relationship with a resident when there is a need to express empathy and support in a difficult situation. Inappropriate dual relationships might lead to an extra focus on the well-being of a particular client and unintentional neglect of others, which can result in complaints and licensing board investigations (Garthwait, 2017). Looking after self is another potential boundary challenge that may arise while dealing with illness, suffering, or death of a patient. My field placement agency provides care for mentally and physically disabled older adults, so I should be able to effectively manage stress and negative emotions to relief the psychological burden of patients’ illnesses.

Therefore, the use of self is an important aspect of a social worker’s professionalism. The example from my learning experience demonstrated the positive impact of the approach on a client’s well-being, dignity, and family relationships. However, boundary challenges related to the overlapping professional duties and personal beliefs need to be addressed to prevent potential complaints. Thus, social workers should be able to combine personal and professional values for the efficient use of self in practice.


Ganzer, C. (2007). The use of self from a relational perspective. Clinical Social Work Journal, 35(2), 117–123.

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Garthwait, C. L. (2017). The social work practicum: A guide and workbook for students (7th ed.). Pearson.

Laureate Education. (Producer). (2013). Use of self. Web.

Osteen, P. J. (2011). Motivations, values, and conflict resolution: Students’ integration of personal and professional identities. Journal of Social Work Education, 47(3), 423–444.

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