In teaching my introductory courses to social work, I devote time to the topic of establishing rapport with clients. This is the engagement phase of the case management process. It is a critically important part of the therapist/client relationship. This is the phase where the social worker, hopefully, develops an open communication channel with his/her client. The goal is to create a safe and trusting atmosphere for the client in which she/he feels free to express her/himself.
Not all clients, however, are willing to participate in the engagement phase. Some individuals are reluctant to discuss sensitive issues or concerns with “strangers.” Some need space; some need time.
That’s when I share some of my experiences with my classes about working with such clients. As a hospice social worker in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I once visited with a patient who would not speak with me for the first twenty minutes of the home visit. Although I followed all the techniques I had learned in my social work classes, nothing worked – until I noticed a picture on the wall. It was a photograph of the client playing his trombone with a group of other musicians in the 1940s. Once I inquired about it, my patient was only too glad to remember the happy moments of his time with the band and his beloved trombone.
I tell my students to be persistent but respectful – to look for ways to engage, to develop rapport.
Hospice 101: Rapport
When the textbook guidelines fall short and Mrs. Lopez
who is dying at home does not respond to warm smiles
or active listening eyes, you could leave-
or you could ask about the picture on the wall,
the woman in pirouette poetry,
the elegant ballerina.
When Mr. Krakowski tells you he doesn’t have
anything else to say, you could leave-
or you could savor his craft of intricacy,
the exquisitely carved wood of the wine rack
he stares at in awe as if seeing it for the first time.
When Dr. O., the botanist, tells you not today,
that she’d rather rest her eyes, you could leave-
or you could describe her garden’s purple majesty,
its royal scent, its noble medicine.
Kenney, R. (2016). Hospice 101: rapport. In National Poetry Contest for Social Workers (p. 56). Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press.