Relationship-based Practice in Social Work: The Use of Self for Help

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 872 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Words: 872|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Table of contents

  1. The Use of 'Self' in Social Work Practice
  2. Conclusion
  3. Reference

This essay studies the use and importance of relationship-based practice (RBP) in social work, which Trevithick describes at the heart of social work. The analysis of two theories, person-centred practice and use of self, demonstrates how these aid RBP. Reflection of how I apply these theories within an interview with a Service User and Carer Group (SUCG) member helps demonstrate their effectiveness. To structure my reflection, I use Borton's reflective model, 'what,' 'so what,' and 'now what'.

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The Use of 'Self' in Social Work Practice

The significance of RBP is widely recognised, and many researchers believe the ability to build relationships is central to the role of social work. RBP seeks to understand the uniqueness of a person's circumstances, behaviour, and past experiences. RBP also considers the impact of broader interpersonal relationships and social contexts on an individual. Many governmental law and policy documents state the need for strong professional relationships in social care. For example, the government's working policy document, a Strengths-Based Approach, promotes person-centred relationship-based practice, stating that interactions need to consider the individual, life, and circumstances. BASW's Professional Capabilities Framework also promotes the importance of RBP. It asserts that a social worker needs to 'demonstrate the ability to engage with people, and the potential to build compassionate, effective relationships'.

The use of self is a skill that complements RBP and enables a social worker to practice reflectively with awareness and competence. The use of self requires self-awareness of one's hidden personality traits. According to Dewane, 'the use of self in social work practice is the combining of knowledge, values, and skills gained in social work education with aspects of oneself, including personality traits, belief systems, life experiences, and cultural heritage.' Research by Howe demonstrates that the use of self directly influences the quality of social work relationship practice outcomes more than any other specific technique.

I have used Borton's three-stage reflective model, 'what,' 'so what,' and 'what next, to reflect on how I applied the 'use of self' in my interview with the SUCG member. Regarding 'what' I did, I thought about my personality traits and identified how I could use these to help create a positive relationship with the SUCG member. I recognised that I possess the ability to listen carefully and emphasise with a person. To utilise these skills, I planned not to bombard the person with too many questions, so they had time to speak. I also planned to use more open questions,' because they help learn more about a person, as they elicit more expansive answers'. To build empathy, I intended to use Rogers's advice of putting yourself in the person's shoes. Roger argues that you cannot fully understand another person's emotions until you put yourself in their shoes.

In my reflection of 'so what,' in the interview, the use of open questions enabled me to gather a good amount of information. During the interview, I tried to put myself in the SUCG member's shoes. When he shared his worries about caring for his twins, I thought about how I would feel in this situation and realised that wider family support is required, which I offered to him. The interview feedback I received confirmed that I gave the SUCG member time to speak and explored various areas where the family needed assistance. When I watched the recording of my interview, I noticed that I tended to look away a lot. I recognised that I needed to improve my eye contact. Egan believes that maintaining good eye contact facilitates a helping relationship.

Regarding 'what next,' I plan to continue to build upon the 'use of self' so that I can be as authentic as possible with service users. I will be more self-aware of using better eye-contact, which will improve my ability to read a person's body language. I will also be conscious of adapting my eye contact when working with people from different cultures. Koprowska finds that the degree of eye contact considered socially acceptable varies significantly within different cultures.


In conclusion, relationship-based practice in social work plays a pivotal role in achieving positive outcomes for clients and promoting their overall well-being. This approach emphasizes the significance of establishing genuine, empathetic, and empowering connections between social workers and their clients. By building trust and rapport, social workers can create a safe and supportive environment where clients feel heard, respected, and understood.


  1. Doel, M. (2017). Relationship-based social work: Getting to the heart of practice. Routledge.

  2. Howe, D. (2008). The emotionally intelligent social worker. Palgrave Macmillan.

  3. Jordan, M., & Hinds, J. (Eds.). (2016). Relationship-based research in social work: Understanding practice research. Routledge.

  4. Karvinen-Niinikoski, S., & Saarinen, A. (2017). The significance of relationships in social work: A literature review. European Journal of Social Work, 20(4), 544-554.

  5. Lietz, C. A., & Zayas, L. E. (2010). Evaluating qualitative research for social work practitioners. Advances in Social Work, 11(2), 188-202.

  6. Morrison, T., & Wonnacott, J. (2017). Relationship-based practice and the social worker: A case study from front-line practice. Practice, 29(2), 81-97.

  7. Ruch, G. (Ed.). (2010). Relationship-based social work: A critical appraisal. Routledge.

  8. Ruch, G., Turney, D., & Ward, A. (2010). Relationship-based social work: Getting to the heart of practice (2nd ed.). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

  9. Saleebey, D. (2012). The strengths perspective in social work practice (6th ed.). Pearson.

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  10. Trevithick, P. (2012). Social work skills and knowledge: A practice handbook (3rd ed.). Open University Press.

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Relationship-Based Practice in Social Work: the Use of Self for Help. (2023, August 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 3, 2023, from
“Relationship-Based Practice in Social Work: the Use of Self for Help.” GradesFixer, 14 Aug. 2023,
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