How to build good relations between professionals and their clients?


The current migration crisis has brought new challenges to the field of social work. The culture that migrants carry with them greatly affects the way they perceive the world, behave, communicate and respond to proposed interventions. If a social worker wants his interventions to be effective, he must know not only the cultural characteristics of the refugee but also his or her own cultural heritage and its impact on the perception of the client.

Despite the fact that in Central Europe, the concept of a culturally competent practice of social work only begins to develop, it has been a relevant concept for several decades in other countries. Eileen Younghusband, the chairman of the International School of Social Work, wrote in 1966 in International Social Work Journal about intercultural aspects of social work as “the necessary daily routine of the social worker in direct contact with the client “(Younghusband, 1966). The necessity to perceive the migrant client as a whole person with all aspects – also the cultural background, is grounded in the principle of human rights and human dignity of the Code of Ethics in the social work of the International Association of Social Workers. Social Justice Principle of the Codex encompasses the commitment of a social worker to respect ethnic, cultural diversity in the environment they work (Ethics in Social Work, Statement of Principles, 2004). A social worker “treat each person with care and respect taking into account of individual differences, cultural, religious, national and ethnic diversity” (Code of Ethics for the Social Worker and Social Work Assistant of the Slovak Republic, 2015 ).

The need to develop the social worker’s intercultural competencies, his cultural sensitivity and the cultural competence in social work practice does not only refer to the asylum process, but to any social worker’s contact with a client with another cultural background – it is essential for a social worker to know the differences in cultures and to be able to respond appropriately in possible problem situations. A social worker should not only know the cultural background of the migrant, but he needs to be aware of the peculiarities of his / her own culture to perceive mutual differences and to be able to help the migrant to understand these differences competently.

If a social worker wants to effectively assess the differences in cultures, it is necessary to know what the term culture contains and from what dimensions are the national cultures composed. In order to understand these concepts, we refer to the concept of culture with a link to the Iceberg culture model and Hofstede ´s concept of national culture.

The Iceberg culture model developed by Hall in 1976 divides a particular culture into two parts. The external, or conscious, part of the culture is what we can see and it is the tip of the iceberg and includes behaviors and some beliefs. The internal, or subconscious, part of the culture is below the surface of a society and includes some beliefs and the values and thought patterns that underlie behavior. The culture is perceived as the set of heterogeneous elements which are either easy recognized and seen or they are not visible at all or they are very difficult recognized. An iceberg has only a small part above the surface, the bigger part of an iceberg is below a sea surface, which is invisible but forms strong foundations. Likewise, in culture, we can only see a few of its components at first glance, and the rest can only be found after longer research or longer stays in a particular cultural environment. Hall (1976) says that “Culture hides much more than it reveals and, strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants.”


Katarína Özger