In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Working with Non-Voluntary and Mandated Clients

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Transtheoretical Stages of Change Model
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Solution-Focused Therapy

Social Work Working with Non-Voluntary and Mandated Clients
Jacqueline Corcoran
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0005


Social work’s traditional commitment to impoverished, socially diverse, and otherwise vulnerable and oppressed populations means that, as a by-product, social workers often work with people who have been ordered by the courts to retain their services. Authors in the field have noted that the majority of clients seen by social workers in public agencies are mandated, or at least to some degree involuntary in that they are pressured to attend services by partners, spouses, supervisors, or under some threat of future punishment. Unfortunately, many models of helping are built on the notion of a person voluntarily seeking services and one who is motivated to change behavior. Certain values of social work are also more difficult to enact with mandated clients, such as self-determination (they would prefer not to engage in services) and confidentiality (the courts might require assessment of progress). Court-ordered populations are involved with the criminal justice system in which debate, confrontation, and punishment are primary approaches. However, social work values, such as the dignity and worth of the individual and the importance of relationships, dictate that we take a more humanistic approach.

Introductory Works

Despite the prevalence of work with mandated populations, surprisingly little has been written in the field. The following entries refer to resources that deal specifically with this topic. Rooney is the recognized social work expert on working with mandated and nonvoluntary clients. Rooney 2009 retains a task-centered approach but with the addition of motivational interviewing and edited chapters on work with involuntary populations, such as perpetrators of domestic violence, and in settings such as corrections and child welfare. Ivanoff, et al. 1994 is another text devoted to work with mandated clients. In many respects, Rooney 2009 and Ivanoff, et al. 1994 share approaches, acknowledging the realities of direct practice with mandated populations, but offering strategies on how to work in a respectful, collaborative, and productive way, offering choices and minimizing confrontation except in non-negotiable matters. De Jong and Berg 2001 describes these writers as having used “congruence as a strategy to increase compliance,” that is, they have sought to bring the client along to the helper’s position. De Jong and Berg contrast their solution-focused approach, in which nonvoluntary clients come up with their own goals and solutions to problems, while helpers avoid the use of advice or confrontation (even in its gentler forms). Barsky 2010 focuses on the ways in which ethics and values in social work relate to problem areas in which clients are mandanted to participate in services.

  • Barksy, A. 2010. Ethics and values in social work: An integrated approach for a comprehensive curriculum. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A recent comprehensive text with three chapters (on mental health, child welfare, and criminal justice) that relate to ways in which to preserve ethics and value in the face of clients mandated to attend services.

  • de Jong, P., and I. K. Berg. 2001. Co-constructing cooperation with mandated clients. Social Work 46.4: 361–374.

    DOI: 10.1093/sw/46.4.361

    This article describes the use of solution-focused techniques with nonvoluntary clients.

  • Ivanoff, A., B. Blythe, and T. Tripodi. 1994. Involuntary clients in social work practice: A research-based approach. Modern Applications of Social Work. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

    Uses the problem-solving process as a framework for work with involuntary clients. Has special sections on criminal justice, child welfare, and mental health populations.

  • Rooney, Ronald. 2009. Strategies for work with involuntary clients. 2d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    This dense volume takes the reader through the legal and ethical requirements of work with mandated clients and the initial contact, operating under a task-centered approach to practice, with the addition, in this updated edition, of motivational interviewing.

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