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Theses Doctoral

Client Perception of the Relationship as a Function of Worker-Client Cognitive Styles

Greene, Martin A.

The basic conceptual idea of this study is that interaction between the personal characteristics of the worker and of the client is a major factor in determining the quality of the casework relationship. Workers possessing differing personal characteristics will have differential success in
forming relationships with clients possessing differing personal characteristics.

The influence of a specific personal characteristic, cognitive style, was investigated. Cognitive style, manifested perceptually as field-dependence--field-independence, is a salient dimension influencing characteristic modes of functioning in a diversity of areas.

The major hypothesis was that clients would perceive the relationship as being relatively more positive when their cognitive styles were congruent with their workers' cognitive styles than when they were incongruent. Since differences in relationship levels were viewed as being strictly a function of interaction, the individual styles of the workers and the individual styles of the clients were not expected to have an influence. These hypotheses are derived from previous. studies which suggest that persons having
similar cognitive styles are able to communicate more effectively and form more positive relationships than persons having dissimilar styles.

A second portion of the study dealt with the association between cognitive styles and worker's choice of treatment techniques. Prior studies suggest that differential treatment methods are appropriate for clients having differing cognitive styles. The evidence suggests that field-dependent
persons with their global cognitive orientation seek external structure whereas field-independent persons with their discrete cognitive orientation prefer to structure their own experiences. This led to the hypothesis that there would be a significant difference between the choice of treatment
methods employed by workers when treating clients having differing cognitive styles. With field-dependent clients, workers would place relatively more emphasis on supportive techniques. With field-independent clients, workers would place relatively more emphasis on techniques that promote self-awareness.

The data were collected in five offices of two family service agencies. The sample consisted of twenty-two experienced caseworkers and fifty-one of their clients, women experiencing interpersonal problems. Workers' and
clients' scores on the Embedded Figures Test and evaluations of figure drawings were used to measure cognitive style. Client perception of the relationship was evaluated through the use of the Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory. This provided measures of worker regard, empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness, as well as a total score. It was administered individually to each client immediately following the fifth interview. Classification of casework method was derived from worker judgments of the techniques considered most significant in achieving casework goals with each client.

All of the hypotheses received mild but consistently significant support from the data when the Embedded Figures Test was used as the measure of cognitive style. Client perception of regard, empathy, genuineness, and the total relationship were significantly more positive when worker-
client cognitive styles were congruent than when they were incongruent. As predicted, the interaction effects were the only significant effects. Differences in worker styles and differences in client styles did not have independent effects on relationship levels. There was a significant difference between the choice of methods workers considered to be most
influential in achieving casework goals with clients having differing cognitive styles. With field-dependent clients, workers placed relatively more emphasis on supportive techniques and with field-independent clients, workers placed relatively more emphasis on techniques that promote self-awareness. In addition, although not stated as an hypothesis, it was found that field-independent clients showed, as
anticipated, greater specificity in differentiating relationship qualities than did field-dependent clients.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Whiteman, Martin
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 4, 2015
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