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

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Textbooks
  • Conducting Research

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Social Work Interviewing
Pa Der Vang, Ronald Rooney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0046


Social work interviews are purposeful conversations between practitioners and clients designed to facilitate cooperative working relationships by focusing on needs, wants, problems, resources, and solutions. They include attention to both verbal and nonverbal expression (listening, responding, body positioning, facial expressions, and gestures). Skills utilized are also influenced by setting and purpose. For example, the skills used in interviewing a child who might have experienced abuse are different from those used with a person experiencing substance abuse. Level of voluntarism, and hence relative control over the agenda for the session, is a key factor. Treatment approaches also have accompanying interview techniques that are influenced by the goals and philosophies of those approaches. However, it has been suggested that there are common underlying factors in the interaction of clients and practitioners that may supersede theoretical differences, including building rapport and engaging the client in the interview process. Social work, counseling, psychotherapy, and other helping professions are closely related in regard to the interviewing skills and techniques they all draw on.

Introductory Works

These introductory works provide the reader with general information about interviewing in social work. Older publications have built the foundation for social work interviewing by delineating the social work aspect of interviewing, which is strengths based, emphasizes the client’s self-determination, and is a collaborative effort between the client and the helper (Kadushin and Kadushin 1997; Maple 1985; Maple 1998; Schubert 1982). Active listening is not just hearing the client, but is a skill that allows the practitioner to understand the client’s message free of biases and preconceived notions about client problems (Nugent and Halvorsen 1995). Empathy is one component in social work interviewing where the interviewer is able to relate to the client’s experience (Gerdes and Segal 2009). When the client’s perspective is validated, the client is more apt to participate in the interview and the subsequent goal and intervention planning. Cameron and Keenan 2010 elaborates on social work interviewing as a method that utilizes interviewing practices similar to those of other pursuits but may be distinguished by the relationship aspect of the interview that trickles into a collaborative helper-and-client relationship. Corey 2009 discusses several helping theoretical models, such as the solution- focused approach and the narrative approach. Each model suggests different methods of interviewing.

  • Cameron, Mark, and Elizabeth Keenan. 2010. The common factors model: Implications for transtheoretical clinical social work practice. Social Work 55.1: 63–73.

    This transtheoretical model suggests that there are common factors, or conditions and processes, underlying theoretical approaches. Those factors include network, helper, client, relationship, and practice strategies. Available online

  • Corey, Gerald. 2009. Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. 8th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

    This text covers several models of counseling and therapy that serve as guides for social work interviews. Practitioners whose practice is driven by a specific model will tailor their interview to the theoretical framework and strategies suggested in each model.

  • Gerdes, Karen, and Elizabeth A. Segal. 2009. A social work model of empathy. Advances in Social Work 10.2: 114–127.

    The ability to convey empathy is a primary skill in social work. Empathy demonstrates the practitioner’s ability to relate to and understand the client’s experience. Empathy builds rapport and collaboration with the client. For these reasons, the use of empathy in the interview is crucial. This article discusses the use of affects that refer to nonverbals and expressions by the interviewer. These include affective responses, cognitive responses resultant from affect, and deciding on which affective action to take on the part of the interviewer.

  • Kadushin, Alfred, and Goldie Kadushin. 1997. The social work interview: A guide for human service professionals. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    A main objective of the social work interview is to engage the client in dealing effectively with problematic social situations. Communication skills and listening skills are basic skills in interviewing. Included in the text are different types of interviewing questions, nonverbal communication skills, cross-cultural interviewing, and working with involuntary clients.

  • Maple, Frank. 1985. Dynamic interviewing: An introduction to counseling. Sage Human Services Guides 41. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

    This older text provides techniques for interviewing for those in the helping professions. It describes a goal-focused, short-term interviewing method aimed at changing interaction patterns in the client’s life. The text also includes materials for working with couples and groups.

  • Maple, Frank. 1998. Goal-focused interviewing. Sage Human Services Guides 73. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Goal-focused interviewing focuses on collaboration with the client, and on seeking solutions and strengths rather than deficits in the client’s life. This text includes transcripts of client interviews in exercises asking the reader to choose appropriate interventions for each case.

  • Nugent, William R., and Helene Halvorson. 1995. Testing the effects of active listening. Research on Social Work Practice 5.2: 152–177.

    DOI: 10.1177/104973159500500202

    This article examines the affective impact of active listening in social work practice. Active listening and empathetic listening are discussed. Active listening is a primary skill in effective interviewing that has an important influence on the outcomes of interviews. Available online to subscribers.

  • Schubert, Margaret. 1982. Interviewing in social work practice: An introduction. New York: Council on Social Work Education.

    This older text provides a basic foundation for interviewing in social work, including basic social work skills for developing rapport and collaboration with the client.

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