Human beings are social animals and creation of relationships among each other is a common practice. People of various status and responsibilities have various relationships in the society. It should be noted that in the human services field, worker client relationships are unavoidable. As Alexander and Charles (2009) state, social workers consider the relationship built between the workers and clients as being the foundation of their work. In this regard, a lot of importance is attached on the relationships with clients.
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Consequently, social workers are expected to essentially and not incidentally establish relationships with their clients (Leslie, 2012). As a result, professional standards have outlined the expected relationship that should exist between social workers and clients. Nevertheless, it should be noted that professional requirements for worker client relationships are explicitly different from what is actually witnessed when workers are practicing.
There are two types of relationships that can be witnessed between a worker and a client and these are professional relationship and personal relationship. Personal relationship refers to the type of relationship that exists between people who know each other on individual grounds. This can be friends, society members or business associates (Alexander & Charles, 2009).
There are no guidelines on how people should conduct themselves in personal relationships. As a result, nobody gives emphasis on who should benefit from this kind of relationship. In this regard, this type of relationship can be exploitative or parasitic where one party only seeks to gain from the other party. Moreover, there are no restrictions on what can be done or what cannot be done in a personal relationship (Leslie, 2012). Consequently, people are free to take their relationship to a level that best serves their interests.
On the other hand, professional relationship is a type of relationship which exists between a client and a worker for the sole purpose of service delivery. According to Alexander and Charles (2009), the interactions that prevail in this type of relationship are restricted by the professional guidelines, code of conduct and practice theory of workers. In many professions, workers are restricted from having other types of relationships with their clients apart from the worker client relationship (Alexander & Charles, 2009).
It is important to note that the sole reason for this restriction is to protect the client from exploitation especially due to power difference that exists. These guidelines are supposed to ensure that objectivity is observed and the client gains from the relationship. Therefore, professional relationships are differentiated from other types of relationships. Multiple relationships between workers and clients are as a result of non-observance of these rules by workers.
It is however important to note that there is a thin line between professional and personal relationships. According to Dawson (2000), social workers often find themselves in situations where the relationship between them and their clients crosses the boundaries of professional relationships while practicing.
While social workers are expected to maintain their professional code of conduct, it should be noted that they are human beings and should conduct themselves as such in the society (Dawson, 2000). The matter gets complicated when the society in which the social workers operate is small and remote. This is because it is difficult to avoid other types of relationships in this kind of the society.
Therefore, dual relationships are also becoming increasingly unavoidable in the course of offering human services. Leslie (2012) argues that dual relationships are motivated by the fact that it is practically impossible to avoid personal relationships with all clients that a worker meets in the course of practice. The crux of the matter is that it is difficult to prevent dual relationship from slipping into exploitative relationships.
Professional relationship focuses on the condition of the worker doing the sole worker of providing service to the client. The client is supposed to be the main benefactor of the relationship (Dawson, 2000).
However, some professions like family and marriage therapists need confidence from the client for effective service delivery. In this regard, dual relationship is very crucial in enhancing client confidence. Therefore, though workers are professionally taught to uphold their code of conduct regarding professional relationship, in practice this is difficult to achieve.
Previous studies have shown that clients have the power of directing not only the events that take place between the worker and the client, but also the relationship that will prevail between the two. Increased encounter between any given worker and a particular client has the potential of leading to dual relationship (Lesilie, 2012). Due to this reason, various workers in the human service field are advocating for some flexibility regarding the relationship that can prevail between a worker and a client.
While each profession has goals that should be achieved, the point of contention is whether these goals can be achieved without dual relationship coming into focus. Some practitioners in the human service field have argued that the rules placed regarding relationship with clients impose mechanical ways of interacting and they are not realistic (Alexander & Charles, 2009).
The way therapists, psychologists and other social workers perceive a problem in the society depends on their relationship with members of the society, which emphasizes dual relationship. Moreover, service delivery can be more effective if workers in a given organization establish a personal relationship with each other (Dawson, 2000). Above all, increased personal relationship ensures information sharing which leads to effective service delivery.
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It is, therefore, critical that flexibility be admitted into rules guiding professional relationships. Of importance to note, however, is the fact that the dual relationships are to be restricted to non-sexual relationships. Alexander and Charles (2009) argue that sexual relationships are highly prone to exploitation and it would be unfair for a worker to have sexual relationship with a client. Nevertheless, not all dual relationships are exploitative given the fact that other dual relationships have benefits both to the worker and the client (Dawson, 2000).
Better understanding of the environment in which a client lives is very crucial in enhancing service offered by any human services worker (Morrison, 2002). As far as interorganizational relationships are concerned, taking relationship further than just administrative relationship helps in advancing the quality of service delivery (Leslie, 2012). In this regard, workers from different organizations will need to have a personal relationship on top of their professional relationship in order effectively achieve organizational goals.
It should, however, be noted that dual relationships are complex to handle. The extent to which a worker should limit his or her dual relationship with a client is not obvious. Nonetheless, controlling how people should relate with one another mostly lead to increased gap between them which is not necessarily beneficial.
Alexander, C. & Charles, G. (2009). Caring, Mutuality and Reciprocity in Social-Client Relationships: Rethinking Principles of Practice. Journal of Social Work, 9(1), 5-22.
Dawson, R. (2000). Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships: The Future of Professional Services. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Leslie, R. (2012). Commentary: Human Service Delivery and Interorganizational Relationships. Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 35(1), 136-138.