University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Looking at the stars: a visual phenomenological study of empathy in social work practice with children

Ayling, Peter ORCID: (2019) Looking at the stars: a visual phenomenological study of empathy in social work practice with children. In: Joint Social Work Education Conference, 9-10 September 2019, Liverpool. (Unpublished)

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Context of study: This presentation will highlight initial findings from a doctoral research study which seeks to capture the lived experience of social workers in their use of empathy and their emotional responses to the children with whom they work.
Method: The project utilises a multi method exploratory approach integrating visual research methods and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), to extend participants’ exploration of their own experiences. This innovative study design seeks to support participants to reflect on their practice and emotions through the use of an image creation task, using small world objects and symbols as a trigger point for a semi-structured interview process. Visual methodologies have been proposed as particularly useful when exploring complex, multi-dimensional experiences such as emotions (Kara, 2015).
Sample: Using a purposive, non-random sampling method, 11 participants were recruited from 2 Children’s Services departments in England during the summer of 2018. The study aims to compare the experiences of 3 participants completing their ASYE and 8 experienced (3 years qualified) social workers, within a variety of children and families contexts.
Data analysis: The Data analysis is ongoing at time of submission. Data includes both visual images created by the participants, recorded in the form of photographs and the textual data from interview transcripts. A thematic analysis of the visual data has been undertaken following guidelines by Rose (2016) to allow exploration of both individual symbols used and the thematic content of images produced by participants. Textual data analysis has utilised IPA (Smith, Flowers & Larkin, 2009) as a framework to explore the lived emotional experiences of participants within their work with children.
Findings: Early findings from the study will be presented, using both key visual themes and the themes emerging from the IPA textual analysis. Themes include:
Focus on the child’s emotion: workers’ awareness of and response to children’s emotions; the nature of empathic responses and the impact of practice context; putting children’s emotion into wider context;
Focus on the worker’s emotion: emotional self-regulation and self-awareness; the emotional impact of removing children from home; sustaining relationships with distressed children; the role of touch and authenticity; ending relationships
Focus on emotions within organisations: feeling rules within organisations, sources of support within organisations; managers as emotional containers; managing defences creatively.
The implications for social work education and post qualifying training will be considered.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Divisions: College of Health, Life and Environmental Sciences > School of Allied Health and Community
Depositing User: Peter Ayling
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2022 13:55
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2022 13:55

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