80 Preparation 2. The Importance of Nonverbal Communication The social worker must communicate an attitude of caring about and being emotionally with the client. Social workers convey interest, curiosity, concern, and caring through numerous nonverbal and verbal behaviors. By paying close attention and responding to a person’s nonverbal cues (e.g., eye contact, posture, and facial expressions) and manner of speaking (e.g., vocal qualities), the social worker demonstrates empathy. The worker observes and listens for discrepancies between clients’ nonverbal and verbal behavior, as well as between the manner of speaking and the verbal content of speech. Similarly, the worker uses posture, gestures, facial expressions, and manner of speak- ing to show attentiveness, and maintains eye contact during discussions of taboo and painful material. Finally, empathic practitioners create a welcom- ing atmosphere in their offices by adding plants and pictures and providing alternative seating arrangements. 3. Trauma-Informed Considerations In any setting where there is the possibility that a client’s present difficulties reflect past or current trauma exposure, social workers must be particu- larly attuned when engaging in anticipatory empathy. Survivors of trauma exposure are likely to experience their social world—including those of us in the helping professions—as unsafe, and to be mistrustful of both themselves and others. A sense of powerlessness and loss of control also are common. Anticipatory empathy through a trauma-informed lens also requires the worker to attend to four considerations: 1. Workers consider the possibility—but do not presume—that the current stressors that brought clients to them, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, reflect underlying exposure to past trauma. 2. The worker anticipates that clients’ reluctance to engage may reflect generalized feelings of mistrust resulting from past trauma. 3. In the initial encounter, clients may not volunteer their trauma history because they do not see the connection between the past and the present, are embarrassed by or reluctant to discuss past trauma due to its associated pain, or are unable to sufficiently recall the trauma. 4. Workers must use empathy skills to engage clients who potentially are trauma survivors in a way that creates safety and trust, promotes honest discussion, and is empowering.
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