Threatening Experiences in Social Work

Bodies and emotions in tense and threatening situations

This study investigates the experiences of social workers with tense and threatening situations in homeless shelters of the Salvation Army in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Clients intimidated and threatened social workers verbally, damaged property and, in some cases, physically assaulted them. The study is based on qualitative analyses of 18 interviews.

Findings: Social workers reported that such situations have intense emotional, bodily and mental impact. Their main concern is to manage overwhelming bodily manifestations of fear and tension to maintain work-related comportment.We demonstrate that social workers use emotion/body work in their attempts to control their own and their clients’ emotions. We also found that social workers’  motion/body work is informed and supported by feeling rules that revolve around their identity as professionals. Being a professional social worker means to be in control of the situation and to regard the aggression and violence of clients from a distanced, sociologized perspective. Finally, social workers note the longer term emotional consequences of their experiences, but also of their  motion/body work, in the sense that some of them become habituated to violence.

Applications: The study concludes that more systematic attention should be given to the motion/body’ work of social workers who are exposed to tense and threatening situations, in both academic studies and current prevention policies and practices. While the former tend to offer a disembodied view of work place violence, the latter do not give sufficient attention to sharing and reflection on the emotional and bodily experiences among social workers.

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Header afbeelding: bron: Wikipedia Commons

Icon afbeelding: bron: Wikipedia Commons