Theses Doctoral

Trust in the Professional Relationship from the Perspective of Social Workers

Rohde, Jean

This study explored trust in the professional relationship from the perspective of social workers employed in a large voluntary mental health agency. Its purpose was to provide a systematic understanding of social workers' judgments of the function of trust in the professional helping process. Barber's (1983) theoretical formulations provided the framework within which this study examined social workers' understanding of the significance of trust in the professional relationship and the relative importance of professional competence and commitment to serving clients' best interests in the development of trust.

The study's questionnaire was completed by 118 social workers in 18 community-based programs, with supplemental information gathered by interviews with 25 social workers in these and other settings. Variables of interest included demographic and agency practice data as well as social workers' judgments about various components of trust as measured by a series of Likert scale response items.

Findings indicated that social workers judged professional commitment to serving clients' best interests to be significantly more important than competence in three aspects of the helping process: development of client trust, client cooperation with workers' suggestions or recommendations, and client decisions regarding transfers to other professionals.

A factor analysis of data resulted in the identification of four trust-related factors: match, or fit, between client and worker; clients' emotional/attitudinal system; case status; and, political/economic conditions.

A one-way analysis of variance indicated no significant differences in social workers' judgments of the importance of competence and commitment in relation to workers' agency practices. Correlational analysis of data also indicated weak relationships among variables.

Findings suggest that social workers perceive trust development as related to the interplay among client, worker, agency, and public policy variables. Although workers may see themselves, to some extent, as active agents in the generation of trust, they emphasize the importance of client-centered factors, such as, clinical diagnosis, in the development of trust in the professional relationship.

Further research is needed to compare respondents' judgments about the development of trust with perceptions held by clients, social workers in other fields of practice, and/or professionals in other disciplines.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
McGowan, Brenda G.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 22, 2015