In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Microskills

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works

Social Work Microskills
Allan E. Barsky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0017


The term “microskills” refers to specific competencies for communicating effectively with others. Professional education for social workers, mental health practitioners, and other helping professionals often includes microskill training to provide developing professionals with the essential building blocks for counseling, therapy, advocacy, mediation, and other methods of intervention. The earliest social work textbooks on microskills referred to them as interviewing skills. More-recent textbooks have recognized that interpersonal communication skills, or competencies, are useful not only for interviewing individuals but also for social work with individuals, families, groups, communities, and other social systems. Microskills education teaches professionals to develop a high sense of self-awareness and awareness of others so they can employ their skills in a conscious, purposeful manner. Microskills education typically begins with teaching basic communication skills, such as paraphrasing, reflecting feelings, summarizing, asking open and closed questions, providing factual information, using minimal prompts, and using body language and facial expressions to demonstrate listening and interest in what the other person is communicating. More-advanced microskills include reframing, interpreting, constructively confronting, and purposeful self-disclosure. Professionals may also learn dysfunctional interpersonal behaviors to avoid, such as advice giving, band-aiding, dominating, and sympathizing. Microskills may be used when working with individuals, families, groups, organizations, or communities.

Introductory Works

The following resources provide overviews of microskills and the interviewing process. For three of the classic social work textbooks on interviewing, see Benjamin 1981, Garrett 1995, or Kadushin and Kadushin 2013. New interviewing and microskills textbooks have appeared in abundance in the early 21st century. For a more recent exploration of microskills in social work, see Trevithick 2012. A number of introductions to microskills that are not specific to social work, though they include relevant examples and demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of microskills, are also available, including Cameron 2008, Edenborough 2002, and Poorman 2003. Brew and Altekruse 2006 highlights the importance of learning what types of behaviors to avoid, as well as what types of behaviors that helping professionals should seek to demonstrate when interacting with clients.

  • Benjamin, Alfred. 1981. The helping interview. 3d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Third edition of a classic introduction to interviewing, this book is concise and contains the basics of microskills and the process of interviewing.

  • Brew, Leah, and Michael K. Altekruse. 2006. Building the relationship: Common errors in helping. Belmont, CA: Cengage.

    Practical manual introduces microskills to novice helping professionals. Companion video demonstrates use of constructive skills as well as interviewing behaviors to avoid, such as asking too-many questions, giving advice, being social instead of therapeutic, and reflecting at a superficial level.

  • Cameron, Helen. 2008. The counseling interview: A guide for the helping professions. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Practical guide on the interviewing process written by an Australian educator; includes plain-language descriptions of processes and skills as well as helpful examples of how to implement various skills in different stages of the helping process. Not specific to social work, though it includes social work perspectives such as the strengths perspective and the biopsychosocial-spiritual model.

  • Edenborough, Robert. 2002. Effective interviewing: A handbook of skills and techniques. 2d ed. London: Kogan.

    Written for an audience of nursing students, the material in this book translates easily to social work and other “caring” professions. Focuses on four themes throughout the book: recipient of care, professional role, clinical decision making, and communication. Demonstrates how deliberate use of microskills needs to be made in the context of these themes.

  • Garrett, Annette. 1995. Garrett’s interviewing: Its principles and methods. 4th ed. Milwaukee, WI: Families International,

    Originally published in 1942; revised by Susan Donner and Phebe Sessions. Written by one of the leading social work educators, this classic textbook on interviewing still holds up in terms of its content and accessibility for novice social workers. Also available in Braille.

  • Kadushin, Alfred, and Goldie Kadushin. 2013. The social work interview: A guide for human service professionals. 5th ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    In-depth treatment of the interviewing process, including how to apply skills in various contexts of human service work, including counseling, recruitment, and research. Includes material on work with specific cultural groups and diverse client systems, including the deaf and involuntary clients.

  • Poorman, Paula B. 2003. Microskills and theoretical foundations for professional helpers. Boston: Pearson.

    In addition to presenting students with microskills, this textbook focuses on how to integrate theory with practice and practice skills. Although this textbook is not specific to social work, it covers contexts of practice that fit well with social work.

  • Trevithick, Pamela. 2012. Social work skills and knowledge: A practice handbook. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    British social work author presents plain-language explanations of social work roles, contexts of practice, social work perspectives, practice models, and core social work skills. Includes material on interviewing children and other specific populations. Excellent case examples.

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