Richards, Sally, Ruch, Gillian and Trevithick, Pamela
Communication skills training for practice: the ethical dilemma for social work education
Social Work Education, 24, (4), . (doi:10.1080/02615470500238678).
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A recent review of the literature on the learning and teaching of communication skills revealed that little attention has been paid to the appropriateness of communication skills training for the contemporary social work environment. Current approaches to skills teaching in social work education emphasise the development of empathy within the context of a ‘helping relationship’. The disparity between this model of social work and contemporary expectations, that social workers seek to understand and categorise individuals primarily through bureaucratic procedures, causes confusion and difficulty for students. As social work educators we face an ethical dilemma. Should we teach students to communicate in a way that conforms to the priorities and pressures of current practice? Or should we retain the focus on inter-personal skills and on engaging with the worlds of service users?
In this paper we examine the disparity between social work as conceived within communication skills training and as practised in the current UK context. We consider the implications for social work education and conclude with suggestions for developing communication skills teaching in ways that equip students to engage with the ‘realities’ of practice and to challenge the shortcomings encountered.
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