136 Helping with Maladaptive Relationship and Communication Patterns A variety of interrelated factors can lead to maladaptive interpersonal pat- terns between workers and clients. When these maladaptive processes surface, they undermine—if not completely negate—the work. Therefore, they must be recognized, identified, and directly addressed. 2. Sources of Maladaptive Patterns Numerous factors can lead to interpersonal obstacles. The agency’s conception of its function and purpose and its organizational structure, culture, and policies, as well as federal, state, and local laws and third-party reimbursements, can contrib- ute to interpersonal stress. As representatives of organizations and the profession of social work, workers are vested with authority, and this—coupled with the asso- ciated power—are potential sources of interpersonal obstacles. Interpersonal stress between workers and clients arises when workers avoid acknowledging the power they hold and clients’ feelings about this, or they use their power in punitive ways. Professional socialization can lead workers to be overly formal in their work, which stiffens their approach and undermines their spontaneity and genuine- ness. This can result in detachment from clients, becoming yet another source of interpersonal stress. Still another source of difficulty is the potential discrepancy between agen- cies’ and clients’ goals. This discrepancy often reflects the “should versus is” distinction. Similarly, differences between client and worker expectations can create interpersonal stress. For example, a client may seek advice and direction, while the worker might want to use a cognitive or psychodynamic approach instead. These discrepancies result in struggles for control in the worker-client relationship, resulting in maladaptive communication and relationship patterns. Above and beyond the specific focus of our work, our reactions to our clients—and theirs to us—are always present as we engage with one another. There are times when our reactions and those of our clients create disruptions in the working relationship. Transference refers to client reactions and responses that reflect unre- solved issues in their relationships and experiences with others. Because social workers are likely to be caught off guard and be confused by these reactions, they may experience them as unfair and unwarranted, which may lead to defensiveness. Countertransference refers to comparable reactions that workers have to clients. Yet another source of interpersonal obstacles between workers and clients are taboo concerns such as sexuality, death and dying, and grief. When the cli- ent, the worker, or both seek to avoid dealing with these issues, both the work and the relationship are jeopardized. Clients’ experiences with trauma often reflect taboo concerns like sexual abuse and involve extremely painful reactions
(c) 2023 Columbia University Press. All Rights reserved.