New Technique Helps Social Workers Overcome Biases

By Mary Beth Spina

Release Date: March 14, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A University at Buffalo researcher and her colleague at Barry College have developed a new technique to improve social workers' effectiveness by enabling them to recognize their individual biases and those they make about clients.

Through a one-day, intensive course developed by Barbara Rittner, Ph.D., UB assistant professor of social work, and Manuel Nakanishi, Ph.D., an associate professor of social work at Barry College in Miami, social workers can identify and examine their own cultural and social attitudes and those judgments they may make about clients.

Unconscious biases of social workers can lead to incorrect assumptions about clients, sabotaging successful case outcomes, says Rittner.

"Each social worker and client is unique in background, culturally learned behavior and attitudes," she says.

"The theory and information presented in our teaching course is injected throughout the social-work curriculum," she explains. But the brief, intensive course clarifies and enhances salient points so social workers are more aware of how they may "pigeon-hole" clients and themselves.

In an increasingly diverse America, it is becoming more important that individuals understand that each person with whom they interact is like themselves, as well as different, she notes. "They must resist the temptation to 'group,' to unconsciously assign others to groups based on gender, sex, race, national origin, education or other factors.

"This is true whether or not one is involved in social work," Rittner emphasizes.

She says that pre- and post-course evaluations have demonstrated the course is an effective teaching tool. Long-term effects of the course on social workers' attitudes are being evaluated at Louisiana State University.

Rittner and Nakanishi presented their technique recently at the annual meeting of the Council on Social Work Education and the Georgia Association for the Advancement of Social Work.