Relationship Based Practice

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Relationship based practice past and present and its knowledge foundations in the contemporary curriculum

Harlow, Elizabeth (2012-07-02)

Published in 1957, Biestek’s text The Casework Relationship might be described as a social work classic. According to Biesteck, social science formed the foundations for practice. Whilst sociology was valued, it was psychoanalytic and humanist psychology that appeared to be of greatest significance. Biestek drew on psychological knowledge as a means of understanding others, but personal reflection was also considered to be crucial: put another way, in order to understand others, a practitioner had to understand him or herself. It was scientific knowledge, as well as a deep understanding of the self, that enabled practitioners to build purposeful relationships with clients or service users. Biestek emphasised relationship as essential to humanity: relationships were seen as the most crucial component of our existence and the main source of our happiness. In terms of social work, it was by means of the practitioner – client relationship that problems were resolved. With the cultural change of the 1960s, Biestek’s work became an edifice of another era. Whilst Howe (2008) suggests that enclaves of relationship based casework have continued over the years, of late there has been a more evident promotion of this approach (see Hennessey 2011; Munro 2011 and Ruch et al. 2010). Concerned as this conference is with the question of whether developments in social work are evolving or revolving, this theory based paper draws on evidence from the literature, and compares relationship based practice of the past with relationship based practice of the present. In acknowledging the particular contribution of psychology to this approach, the paper will include a brief reflection on the place of this discipline in the newly emerging curriculum.


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