Compassionate Competence: A New Model for Social Work Practice

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A natural progression of the profession.

I am undergraduate social worker, located in tropical Australia. Firstly, i am schooled in social work informed by critical post modernism, secondly, the recontextualization of virtuous qualities, including compassion is welcome, and inevitable. It is simply keeping the values and the discourse of the profession inline with the movements of larger spheres of spirituality.

I am very surprised, somewhat disheartened, by some of the attitudes expressed by persons i consider colleges. If you are still adhering too modernist, grand-theory informed practice, i urge you too adopt critical post modernism as your theoretical framework- update your knowledge, and swiftly move too locate competence in this area). In my nation of Australia, Social Workers are not conservatives, and we are most certainly not agents of the state apparatus. Virtues, ethics, morality and the values stipulated by the International Federation of Social Workers - are intrinsic elements of the profession. Representing qualities a practitioner brings; having themselves already transcended the ideological and political influences of their social environment. It is from this vantage point- qualities like compassion are axiomatic.

Remember- you are advocates for social change- Yet, a brief overview of some of the comments here- and all you can see is a regurgitating of second hand values- both political, managerial, and ideological in origin.

It is impossible too provide advocacy, emancipation or engage in successful anti oppressive practice- if you are reproducing the same narrative; acting upon second hand values, giving away your professional power in the process. Most of this comes from too many colleges having not given the time, and critical reflection that is involved in order for their own experience of praxis- Theory, which would allow for an experiential truth too arise WITHIN YOU. These are insights privileged too us from sociology and critical post modernism.

Transcend the political first; sociocultural influences, class, gender, forces of mangeralism, neoliberalism, globalisation- become aware that you are adopting values top-down; rather then locating the values that are already central too the profession; and virtuous qualities; spiritual qualities- including, compassion, love, unity, feeling a inner sense of 'calling' or 'purpose' - will be right there waiting for you. That is your purpose.

You are tasked with helping others awaken from their myriad of oppressive constructs and second hand values which are unconsciously internalized- and which shape their lived experience. I view clients through the same lens a social anthropologist would, out in the field. You should be ACUTELY aware and critically reflecting of your own values; especially values which you are inflicting onto clients.

Moreover, cynicism has no home in social work.

Dean more than 8 years ago

Compassion and Empathy go Together

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Marian....sometimes we don't hear the "Call" because it seems social workers are too busy labeling and supporting the drugging of our Clients. Listening means to me that all of our senses, nerves, emotions and organs are involved in our engagement with our clients as is their interaction. Unfortunately, our social workers are supporting psychiatry and psychology with their absence of compassion and empathy. The empathic connection and relationship begins with a hug and encouragement and not the 50 minute hour. Also, must require a self care plan for both the professional and client so we are not charlatans and can't practice what we Teach. Time to say goodbye to psychiatry and psychology and listen more closely with our whole being. Our mission for injured warriors and families returning from the wars introduces our health approach that incorporates empathy, compassion, dignity and respect...we are called to support them without drugs, labels and best practices.

gerald vest, ACSW/LISW/LMT more than 8 years ago


It's ashamed "Compassion Competence" has to be taught or the Social Worker reminded that such a thing exists. I have been a Social Worker for 30 years and never once ever think, "do I need to be compassionate?" Unfortunate. The writer states " I also wanted to be compassionate (the colorful side of social work)". The colorful side of social work? That is the basis of an interaction with any other human being.

Len more than 8 years ago

A breath of fresh air

I quite enjoyed this article. The concept of having "compassionate competence" really resonates with me. The notion of being culturally competent has always bothered me. I believe that we can be culturally aware but to be culturally competent seems to me to imply that we possess the knowledge about the intricacies of all cultures globally and I would like to meet the person who does. "Compassionate competence" seems to embrace my practice and philosophy and allows room for me to always be learning and curious about those with whom I have the privilege to meet.

Audrey Morrison more than 8 years ago

Compassionate Competence

I agree with the article writer and with Audrey. I use the term Cultural Sensitivity with my students.

Don Bowen more than 8 years ago

Absolutely beautiful.

I, too, have been considering social work practice as an educator and as a practitioner in a deeper, more meaningful manner - a more compassionate manner. I was quite transformed by a conference on Compassion and Resiliency at Tulane University, School of Social Work in May 2013 at which the Dalai Lama was the keynote speaker. Recently, in collaboration with colleagues from the health sciences, I received a grant for a feasibility study to establish a Center on Compassion, Recovery, and Resiliency at my university and to conduct a fall symposium on integrative health education and services from a recovery/resiliency framework and by extension, a more compassionate framework. I thank you for this article!

Nadine Bean more than 8 years ago

Compassionate Competence

I love the title of this and commend you for capturing it! I share your passion of personal faith backing my chosen profession. I was truly called into social work as a junior in high school.
It has been said, "I don't care about what you know until I know how much you care," and I feel that is a perfect complement to your concept of compassionate competence. Thank you so much for sharing!

Angela Hopkins, LMSW, BSW more than 8 years ago

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