If Social Work and Customer Service Had a Child . . .

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If Social Work and Customer Service Had a Child . . .

If Social Work and Customer Service Had a Child . . .

I always felt that if social work and great customer service training merged, it would create a wonderful child; a fully trained social worker who is able to provide excellent service through simple communication and listening skills which demonstrate the client is being listened to and supported. I arrived at this conclusion several years ago while working in a crisis shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Prior to changing the world, I was a customer service rep who endured numerous training hours of how to treat a customer, especially when they’re irate

The conclusion was rather evident as I observed fellow social workers dismissing the needs and concerns of the shelter residents. The subtle invalidation, quick dismissive responses, the lack of eye contact, referring the “problem” to others; the list was endless and very disheartening. Adding fuel to the fire, fellow social workers would at times argue with the resident during moments of crisis and add to their heightened state of alarm. I was perplexed by the antagonizing behavior of fellow staff members and recall having numerous discussions with others about how I wished these two professions would combine so that we can better serve the women and children entering through our gates.  In recent years I have discovered these two professions have merged and have a child together; it’s called Trauma Informed Care.

What is Trauma Informed Care?

Trauma Informed Care is an in-depth understanding of how traumatic experiences impact the individual’s ability to reason, respond, and how stress reactions create different outcomes (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2014). This is wildly fascinating as we now have tangible evidence supporting the necessity of how social workers and other helping professions must exercise mindful engagement with their clients.

Working with this particular population, training about trauma impacts is greatly desired. What we now know about trauma is that everyone responds differently due to numerous factors like personal characteristics, the type of event, socioeconomic factors, and cultural considerations (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2014). These varying components influence the individual’s behavior, emotions, and choices. When providing services, staff should keep this in mind as well as practice two main ideas that will help increase collaboration and reduce the client’s desire to fight or flight.

Here are some steps we can use when working with clients to build rapport (or the therapeutic relationship).
  • Trust
  • Care
  • Curiosity

The first is to establish trust with the client. Women entering shelter have lost nearly everything – the relationship with their abuser, clothing, a private home, cars, monetary support; the list is endless. They are entering an unfamiliar environment with strangers who may hurt them again, who may take the only items they have, or disclose their information to their abuser and compromise their safety. Trust building is paramount and staff can create this by simply acknowledging their story; by actively listening, asking good questions and responding effectively.

Secondly, staff should display genuine care and curiosity about their client. Attempting to understand their story and the events that happened to them (not only the traumatic ones), will help the client experience real concern about their life and who they are as a person, not just by their trauma alone. These sound very simplistic in nature, but the impact will help the client recover with the goal that she may be able to hear her own voice once again or for the very first time (Gentry, Baranowsky & Rhoton, 2017).

My desire has come to fruition – social service meets customer service and as they say, “The rest is history.”

Register for a training with Arizona Trauma Institute to learn more about Trauma Informed Care.

Author: Michelle Cox

You can find Michelle at The Resiliency Factor


Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2014). Trauma-informed care in behavioral health.
Retrieved September 28, 2017 from

Gentry, J. E., Baranowsky, A. B. and Rhoton, R. (2017), Trauma Competency: An Active
Ingredients Approach to Treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Counseling
& Development, 95: 279–287. doi:10.1002/jcad.12142

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