social workers

The Role of Empathy and Trust in Social Work

The ability to respond correctly to clients’ concerns is one of the core responsibilities of social workers. In order to effectively respond to a variety of issues and problems, social workers must be able to comprehend and share the feelings of others, develop empathy skills, and establish trust with clients in order to encourage the sharing of personal struggles and the development of healthy relationships. According to Lazo & Vik (2014), empathy and trust are essential for social workers to engage with clients’ emotions, feel their experiences, demonstrate understanding of those emotions through openness, gestures, or expressions, as well as translating the client’s emotions into words and gestures for communication. In social work, trust encompasses the reliance on the integrity and assurance of honesty between the worker and the client. It is trust that fosters the development of confidence which eventually strengthens the bond between staff and clients. In this way, both individuals can interact openly, confiding in one another. The establishment of trusting relationships eventually becomes the pillar of benefit to service users (Smith, 2012). Additionally, trust ensures the provision of a moral good.

The Importance of Empathy in Social Work

An in-depth outlook on the social sphere reveals that empathy is essential at all times. Apparently, human beings are not naturally inclined to be aggressive, violent or exhibit selfishness. On the contrary, they are driven by the need for belonging, socialism, affection, and companionship. Social workers must show solidarity not only during times of frailty and inadequacies but also share the joy that comes with the client’s success. After all, empathy is entrenched in sharing a sensibility with another to enhance social cohesion (The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, 2010).

The Consequences of a Lack of Trust and Empathy

People will always need to feel comfort and the faith in what social workers will do for them. As such, the possible consequences for lack of trust and empathy directly translates to a failed social work purpose. These two elements are the foundation of social work, and in their absence, then open relationships cannot be developed, communication will be distorted, clients will confine their feelings due to mistrust and the workers will not be able to form robust, honest and confident relationships. Ultimately, provision of assistance to client needs will be impossible.


Lazo, D., & Vik, E. (2014). Reflections on empathy in social work practice – A qualitative study among Swedish social workers. Gävle: Gävle University.

Smith, C. (2012). Trust and confi dence: Making the moral case for social work. Social Work and Social Sciences Review, 11(3), 5-15.

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts. (2010, May 6). RSA ANIMATE: The Empathic Civilisation. Retrieved from YouTube:

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