Assessment Methods and Techniques
The purpose of a specific assessment must be clear. Assessment is not to be done for assessment’s sake or beyond the disclosed purposes in informed consent. Social workers are bound by the NASW Code of Ethics (section 1.07 (a)) to respect client privacy, which means a social worker should never seek information out of curiosity or just because. The purpose of the specific assessment will drive the information sought. For example, if the assessment is court ordered to determine safety of a home, pending the return of children removed due to abuse or neglect issues, assessment will focus on safety, parenting, stress factors, coping skills, drugs and alcohol, attendance or completion of court ordered treatment and extended family supports. Great importance may be put on verifying information with secondary sources (records of attending treatment, drug tests, speaking with family). In another example, if the assessment is voluntary with an adult seeking treatment for depression, the assessment may include standardized depression inventory (i.e. Beck Depression Inventory) in addition to the clinical interview, with less requirement for external sources to verify the information given.
Many forms of recording assessment information are possible. One may use evidenced-based, user-led, form-led, standardized assessments or non-standardized assessment tools. Regardless of the type used, accountability is important. Evidenced-based practice is important because it allows the client and social worker to track change, and most payers, whether private insurance, publicly funded agencies, not-for-profit agencies, military medicine or other funding, a demonstration of progress is required for reimbursement. Evidenced-based techniques can be used with a variety of theoretical orientations; the issue is measuring behavior, mood or attitude and its subsequent changes.
Assessment done with an evidenced-based approach will expedite the setting of goals and treatment planning.
The assessment process should engage the client in the therapeutic process, creating a working therapeutic alliance on which to base treatment. The client has to feel comfortable enough to share the issues surrounding their presenting complaint and the issues that may have bearing on treatment planning, though they may not be the focus on treatment. The best way to engage the client is through rapport building throughout the assessment process.
It is important to listen actively, attending to both what is and is not said, as well as the client’s body language. Responding with full attention, reflecting what is being said and the deeper understanding of the client’s situation based on the client’s report, clinician observations and information gathered during assessment will assist in the rapport building process. Making culturally sensitive introductions and using the client’s preferred name during the session will also aid at putting the client at ease.
During the assessment session, it is important to check in with the client, either directly or indirectly, and to provide validation or normalize feelings, as appropriate. This technique allows the clinician to clarify the information and emotion shared, while also letting the client know he or she is being understood. If inconsistencies are present, addressing them can also be helpful but should be done with respect.
Assessing the clients communication patterns, as in neurolinguistic programming, can also be a useful tool in increasing rapport, individualizing the communication response, assessing the individuals subjective experience and empowering the individuals requisite skills to work together in the therapeutic alliance.
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