Friday, April 26, 2013


The relationship between a client and a social worker is one that is highly professional and can be intensely personal at the same time.  Navigating the boundaries of this relationship can be challenging as a result, but that's not really what I want to get into in this post.

In our involvement with clients, we are sometimes witness to or even participants in some of the most intensely personal moments in a client's life.  And while we may be clear on our role (let's hope we're all up to date on our ethical practices) what can be less clear is how to feel about being a part of these moments.

Today I took a client and his cat to the vet.  He was having the cat put down.  It would have been better if he had a friend or family member to give him a ride and offer support, but there was no one else but me.  The client was very accepting of the fact that this was the right thing to do for his pet who has been sick and suffering, but was obviously still heartbroken to have to go through it.

On the trips to and from, we talked about how he was feeling, his plans for getting through the rest of the day, who he could call for support.  We joked about things to lighten the mood, and he told me happy stories about when he first got the kitten.

I was happy that I was able to support him today, and he didn't have to go through this difficult experience alone.  At the same time, I felt really - weird about being a part of this event.

I love animals, but this was not my cat.  I'm not much of the weepy type, so I wasn't personally upset that the cat had to go.  I like and respect my client, but we're not friends.  I'm not personally invested in how he feels about this loss.  I care and I sincerely hope to see him come through this experience okay, but that's it.  What was upsetting to me was that my presence at this occasion meant a lot more to the client than it did to me.  He deserved to have real love and support today, and all he had was my empathy.

These are the limits of our engagement with clients. If I had cared more, if I had become personally affected, that would be a whole other problem.  So this is one of the challenges, especially if providing long term support to clients, that we inevitably face.  How can we encourage and support clients to develop real loving caring relationships which are not so lopsided?  Which don't involve someone who is being paid to care (that sounds cold, but hey)?  And how do we as workers debrief when we feel too little as opposed to too much?