JOURNAL ISSUE 7

2003/2004


SOCIAL WORKER'S IDENTITY BETWEEN CRITICAL AND RATIONAL UNDERSTANDING

Barbara Jung, Third Year Social Work Student, Germany


Contents

1. Introduction
2. Who is Winfried Ferchhoff?
3. Arguments of the current debate on professionalism
4. Three concepts of identity
5. Social - hermeneutic diagnosis as a suggestion of U. Uhlendorff
6. The never ending story?


1. Introduction

The discussion about professionalism in the field of social work boils down to one main question: What is the identity of social workers? What do social workers know and what abilities do they have? These two factors contribute to defining identity and are the basic questions asked of many professions and. Of course, society also wants to know if they are worthy of legitimization.

 

Reiner Wendt, a representative of Ecological Social Theory asks: How shall we create an identity of social work, if within the professional self-image each field of work explains itself as a special field of social work? The counseling, the clinical social service, the community social work.....all claim a specific identity. What do they have in common now? What kind of archetype can be given for an image of the social worker? How does a social worker see his or her own identity?

 

Dr. Heiko Kleve, a member of the DBSH suggests that the present identity is the identity of social work. The openness, fragility, and ambivalence is the character of social work. We should say good-bye to the image of a uniformly committed idealist. The sum under the bottom line is that we can't have a uniform identity - but if this is not possible, and the discussion won't stop, it will remain difficult to create a foundation of professionalism for a social worker.

 

Today, I want to present you one German representative of the discussion about the social worker's identity What he has to say is between critical and rational understandin.

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Ferchhoff is a researcher, who leads a discourse about the identity of social workers.


2. Who is "Wilfried Ferchhoff"?

 

• Born in 1948
• Study of 1973 Social work in Bielefeld
• Study of Sociology, History, Philosophy and Pedagogy
• Beginning of the 80’s - Professorship, Faculty of Pedagogy, Bielefeld
• Since the 70’s publications with B. Dewe
• Most popular publication: Professionalism of Social Work, (4th edition 2002) with B. Dewe
• Further subjects: patchwork youth, culture of youth
• Problem of Identity: Discourse at the level of disciplines but not in praxis
• His goal is a more offensive social work, whereby empirical results should become a part of practice



 

3. Arguments of the current debate of professionalism

 

a) What is one reason for the problem of Identity?
The dialog between theory and practice is insufficient. There exist empirical facts, but they are rarely applied to practice.

 

b) Since the 1970’s, the debate about professionalism, as it concerns identity, has been written in a one-sided and defective manner. The main aim was the improvement of the education at universities, of its competence and status. In regard to that, social work defined itself and was defined by others in comparison with other disciplines (Education, Adult Education) as a profession which was subordinated, without much influence.

 

c) Until now, it was not clear, if social work was, generally, a profession. Etzioni states that social work has been until now a semi-profession, just a declaration of facts and their development. In comparison with other professions, social work is fragmentary, heterogeneous, homeless, interdisciplinary – lacking an identity. Ferchhoff states that the comparison with other disciplines blocks the development that would lead to a successful concept of identity within the profession.

 

d) Throughout the discussion about professionalism, it has been forgoten to consider how much social competence is necessary for the practice of social work.

 

e) The critique of social work’s professionalism was actually a critique of experts and expertise. And, of course, it is clear that a long time ago the knowledge of an expert and the ability of his expertise to solve practical problems were overestimated.

 

f) The discussion about the conditions for professional competencies of abilities use in practice boiled down to insecurity, crisis. The aim was to bring more science into the daily life and rehabilitation of amateurish persons. (Bringing more science into the everyday practice of social work had little success.)The answer? The transformation of the model of automatic control, of automatic control of professions, taken from the United States couldn't work in Germany in regard to the latter’s distinct conditions.

 

What does automatic control mean? It is a kind of professional autonomy in the areas of work with the clients, and also within organizations which care about the adherence to professional rules and protect the profession from the critique of amateurs.

 

g) The discussion changed the subject with the aim to change the "Cinderella Image". The question was now how to reconstruct components of concrete professionalism in the basic activities of social work.

 

4. Three Concepts of Professionalism

Influenced by the history of the social worker's identity process Wilfried Ferchhoff developed three types of Identity.


The first type: The social worker as altruistic person.

(Product of the time of Alice Salomon, 1872 - until 1930)
The motivation of the social worker is oriented towards ethical principles. The personality of the social worker, the values and the view of his/her life are the foundations for these principles. To help is obligatory and a moral necessity. In this regard, the profession becomes a kind of calling. It is subjective and one which is not merely observant, but involved.
Its slogan could be: "I want just your best."
The social worker prefers emotionality, spontaneity, tales of life, trust, and relationship, as well as other, technological methods. He needs a competence in communication. However, it isn’t necessary to learn such skills because the social worker contains these qualities already within himself. Help doesn't need any explanation; it is a kind of Monopoly of Ethics. The history of the human being, of charity, tells us to help. The Monopoly of Ethics is a kind of unwritten law; it is the permission for social workers to help, to give comfort, to counsel, to educate. The strategies or approaches are based on experience.

How is the relationship between client and Social worker described?

 

It is a very close relationship full of acceptance, authenticity, warmth, personal devotion, passion and love. The social worker and client are not on the same level, however. The client is in a position of not knowing and depending upon the social worker.
The professional work is a kind of talent: you either have it or not!

 

The critique is:
• There are no methods, based on a concept of science.
• No discourse about what causes the problems for humans.
• In only relying on the existence of a knowledge based on experiences, the danger of social stereotypes exists. The knowledge isn't very different and exact; for example, in sociology, psychology, etc.


The second type: social engineer

This type is based on methods, techniques, analysis, rationality and science. Help is a kind of service with the aim of an outcome or product, in public institutions. The social worker is an expert for the clients.

Help isn't based on moral and ethical principles; it is more a right of every client and is much more expected, because institutions care about it. (Welfare for everybody.)
Various characteristics/indicators/factors which cause the client to get help are then standardized and reconstructed.

 

Methods are:
• Quality management
• Social management
• Case management

 

Third Type: The social worker as an hermeneutic person

Social worker and client work together as a team. They observe and interpret the biography, situations of conflicts and the environment of the client.

 

Methods are:
• Scientific observation
• Analysis
• A common interpretation
• Dialogue and Discourse
• Protection of Autonomy
• Process and Experiment
• Self Reflection
• Support of development
• A representative interpretation of past, presence and future.
• Empowerment


One principle of the hermeneutic tells us that life has an immanent sense of life. This sense isn't given by a God, but just because life exists. This explains the reason why help is necessary. In protecting the client, the social worker protects the sense of life.

The social worker needs a bit of everything - but how much is good, what would the client prefer?

5. A suggestion of Uhlendorff

Ferchhoff prefers the third type of Identity - the social worker as hermeneutic person.
Uhlendorff suggests utilizing for this type of identity, the social hermeneutic diagnosis in the process of help.

 

Why this kind of method?

 

On the one side Uhlendorff states that a diagnosis prevents cooperation between the client and a professional person. But there exist cases which are very difficult and in which cooperation and participation are hardly possible. The clients are, for example, youngsters with experiences in psychiatry and in crisis. Cases like this require a social hermeneutic diagnosis.

 

The social hermeneutic diagnosis:

The SHD asks: How has to be the environment in which the client can be supported in his development in his everyday life by the social worker?
The help shall take place in every day life and become a part of it. Also the social worker shall interact in the everyday life of the client.

 

The Methods
• An interview about life and future
• Based on voluntariness
• Create trust
• To bring the client to talk with fewer questions
• Interpretation of the case (case study) with (or without) a team

 

Final step:
• To check the hypothesis with the client and discuss it.
• To figure out a common view
• Repeat the process in six month


6. The never ending story?

In regard of the title I tried to give an answer if the identity of social workers is a never-ending story, and if so, why.

 

As you know, in the roman of Michael Ende, the critique was the loss of fantasy and stories after the age of Enlightenment. The result it that the story will not stop, and will continue to repeat the past. The never-ending story is a mirror of the past, but what does it mean for social workers in the future?

 

Which patterns will return in social work?

 

Do we want an end to discussion? Or is it, that we didn't notice there is an end, but that we don't like the result? And on this point, I close with the words of Heiko Kleve, who said: “The openness, fragility, ambivalence is the identity of social workers.”

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Copyright for the I.U.C. Journal of Social Work Theory and Practice is owned by the Social Work Program, Department of Social Relations and Services, Bemidji State University, Bemidji, Minnesota, USA. One copy may be made (printed) for personal use; teachers may make multiple copies for student use if the copies are made available to students without charge. Permission must be secured from the editors for sale of any copies of articles or for any commercial use of the material published in the Journal.
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