Dr. Judith C. Heitzman, Ph.D., LCSW

Kent School of Social Work
Social Work 677 - Advanced Social Work Practice III

Dr. Judy Heitzman has the task of preparing graduate school social work students for their future careers. She used her participation in the PT-FLC to design an assignment "to augment the active listening and assessment skills of graduate school social work students who are engaging in a relationship with clients in a practice setting." She wrote this assignment "in response to feedback from field practicum supervisors who have historically expressed concern about the lack of assessment skills demonstrated by inexperienced social work students." While most of us define "normalcy" through our own experiences and lenses, social worker practice students must develop "the ability to hear clients’ experiences and ask questions that elicit the clients’ life experiences without contaminating the clients’ responses."

The students' job is twofold: to gather information for assessing clients, and to actively listen in the present moment to the conversation with clients.

—Dr. Judith Heitzman

Students begin this "round robin" activity by forming a circle around the instructor, who presents an overview of a client case. The instructor, in this case Heitzman, then takes on the role of one of the clients, answering questions with information from the case. Students begin to ask open-ended questions, soliciting as much information from the "client" as possible. However, the instructor-client gives out information only when explicitly asked to do so. Students practice asking open-ended questions which successfully elicit information from clients.

As preparation for this activity, Heitzman assigned students to read and summarize two articles on "active listening" earlier in the semester, including one on active listening in the field of social work and one on active listening in the classroom. At the end of this "round robin" activity, Dr. Heitzman asked students to write a one-minute paper about their experience and to share their observations with their classmates.

In their feedback through the one-minute paper and class discussion, students acknowledged the frustration of thinking of a good open-ended question only to have that same question "taken" by another student before their turn. Dr. Heitzman explains that "this phenomenon manifests the issue of social workers’ ‘having an agenda’ rather than listening to the conversation and creating questions that flow from the conversation with clients. Another frequent issue is that some students have difficulty in limiting themselves to one question at a time. Students also noted the need to stay focused and in the present moment with clients."

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