Stressful Encounters with Social Work Clients: A Descriptive Account Based on Critical Incidents Academic Article uri icon


  • This article presents the findings of an analysis of 130 critical incidents reported by social workers in Israel. Almost all the incidents turned out to be upsetting events that caused the writers a great deal of pain, frustration, and self-doubt. Content analysis yielded four main categories of incidents or events: (1) client hostility and aggression toward the worker, (2) client behaviors that violated the unwritten rules of the profession or the workers' expectations, (3) inherent professional dilemmas, and (4) workers' personal issues. Although the events may not be typical of worker-client interactions, they tend to undermine the workers' professional confidence and color their entire work experience. Recommendations are made for training that better prepares social workers for the difficult situations they may encounter and for supervision that helps them to deal with such situations more effectively.

publication date

  • January 1, 2011