92 Beginnings 4. Collecting Relevant Information Workers will use a combination of open-ended and closed-ended questions to collect information from clients. Open-ended questions invite clients “to tell their story” in their own way, relying upon minimal verbal encouragers. To encourage clients to openly share needed information, the worker must communicate interest, warmth, and acceptance both verbally and nonverbally. Workers also must look for and be prepared to point out discrepancies between what clients say and what they mean. In many settings, workers will need to collect information in a more structured way due to time limits or other agency constraints. In this context, particularly, workers may have to preface their questions by explaining the reasons for asking them. Even when clients have sought assistance, they may require the worker’s guidance regarding the information that is needed to decide upon a course of action. Clients—either intentionally or unintentionally—may lose focus, which requires the worker to redirect the discussion and, when needed, identify and directly address signs of avoidance. In order for the worker to achieve an accurate understanding of clients’ situ- ations, the worker may need to rephrase and reframe their comments. Workers also ensure that they have an accurate understanding by raising taboo topics (if necessary), tolerate and reach for the meaning of silence, summarize clients’ concerns and life issues, and ask for feedback. 5. Displaying an Understanding of Clients’ Feelings Clients can be open and honest only if their worker has created a climate in which they feel understood. This begins in the first session, when the worker is collecting the information needed to be helpful. Workers must be simultane- ously responsive—empathizing with clients—and systematic—collecting the needed information. Students often have difficulty appreciating this, assuming that they must either empathize with their clients or obtain information. Core empathy skills include acknowledging and verbalizing clients’ feelings, making supportive statements, and validating, legitimizing, and universalizing client feelings and they are used in conjunction with those that assist clients in telling their stories and answering questions, redirecting the client, and linking clients’ feelings to presenting problems. Because many clients—particularly in the beginning phase, when they do not know the worker and are unsure of the worker’s trustworthiness—may be reluctant to disclose their feelings or may be unaware of them, workers often need to be more proactive and reach for clients’ feelings, putting them into
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