What are the 7 things social workers train clients to do when empowering them to exercise control over their life circumstances?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The reality of empowerment takes on different forms.  Language is created to communicate different ways of creating the same reality of clients who no longer feel victimized by the circumstances of their lives.  One critical aspect of this understanding is that empowerment means a sense of control:

"(Empowerment) suggests a sense of control over one's life in personality, cognition, and motivation. It expresses itself at the level of feelings, at the level of ideas about self worth, at the level of being able to make a difference in the world around us... We all have it as a potential." (Rappaport, J.: The power of empowerment language, Social Policy, 15, 1985. p. 15-21).

This means that social workers who teach empowerment deliver to their clients the path to gaining control over themselves and their lives.  One way in which this can happen is by ensuring that the client sees themselves as an agent of change.  Being an agent of change means that the client possesses power in different forms over their own being in the world.  They can "make a difference" through their actions, and this happens as a result of individual agency.

Another critical aspect to empowerment is that the client is instructed to believe that there are resources and other avenues to help them gain some semblance of control or power to the conditions that envelop them.  These resources assist the client in their struggles.  

Helping clients to see that the social worker is an instrument of help is vital. Social workers help to instruct their clients that they are not fragmented and isolated.  Rather, they are there to help their clients address what causes them to feel a lack of power.  The social worker develops the relationship with their client that they are "their" client and source of assistance.  This partnership and relationship is critical to being able to help the client develop problem solving approaches that can help them.  

Assisting the client in taking "the risk" to help them only happens as a result of this relationship.  Risks can only be taken when there is trust.  Teaching the client of the value in this trust to take risks is a critical aspect in the relationship between both.   In teaching the client that the client's agency is the most important element to their being, clients learn that their self- determination is the single most critical aspect in empowering their clients.  Out of this self- determination, change happens and being able to instruct clients of this reality is critical to all client- social worker relationships.  

From this, social workers can assist their clients in developing empowerment through acknowledging the condition of others.  In being able to forge solidarity with others, developing networks of mutual support, social workers empower their clients by helping them see that they are not alone and rather a part of a larger network in which exercising control over life circumstances is a critical element to being in the world.

Finally, social workers train clients to avoid falling into the trap of negative thinking that serves to isolate them from others.  Social workers recognize that mental strength is critical.  Being able to help their clients develop the framework of positive thought that will enable them to avoid the trap of lacking power is critical.  In teaching clients the value of positive thoughts and avoiding slipping back into the feelings of helplessness that often encounter a perceived reality of lacking control, the social worker establishes a pattern that will assist their clients for a sustained duration.

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