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Empowering Vs. Enable Clients - Social Workology

Empowering Vs. Enable Clients

Empower Clients Through Social Work

Social work is a delicate balance of empowering vs. enabling. It’s an aspect of social working that workers must evaluate and reevaluate at every turn and transition in client work. Where is that line? When does helping turn toxic? Are you empowering clients through social work?

Supports in Action

Social workers must evaluate these types of supports consistently, without being punitive or punishing those who are using the service as intended. There are a few criteria that I assess. 1) How is this helping my client? 2) What barriers will be presented if they do not have this support? 3) Is this service/support keeping my client from become self-sufficient? The first two are pretty easy to evaluate. Identify the barriers is the easy part of our job. We see a problem and we see a solution. What is a little harder to identify is the complications created by the solutions.

An Example

For example, bus passes come to mind. My program provides bus passes to clients. We justify it by staying that it helps clients obtain employment, education, and well-being. Without these bus passes, my clients wouldn’t be able to secure employment or get to school. We provide the bus pass monthly and they either use it as it’s intended or they don’t.

In addressing the first area, 1) by providing the monthly bus pass helped my client get a job, get to work, and to medical appointments without having to find money on their own. It tackled the main barrier of transportation. 2) Without the bus pass, my client would need to come up with their own money to get to school and work. Some days, they may not be able to attend if they don’t have money to ride the bus. Lastly, we address the hard one by looking that the entire picture. 3) Yes, we are making it easier for them to get to their required activities but at what point are we making them dependent on us to provide transportation?

All cases are different but in a recent case, my client was able to get some stable income from their job after about a month. During month 2, we talked about budgeting for their own transportation. While they would have liked my program to pay forever, they understood that they had enough income to pay for it on their own.

Empowering my Client

We worked together to make a plan. I suggested next month, then they suggest paying for 6 more months. After getting creative around our planning, we decided to decrease support slowly. For the 1st month, my program would pay 75% of the cost, 50% in 2nd, and 25% the 3rd. On the 4th month, they would pay for it on their own. This is where working WITH your client is so important. If they have buy-in with the plan, they are much more likely to work towards the end goal. This is empowering clients through social work.

If you love them let them go… and hope that they can do it on their own

There are many different fields but very few social workers are connected to their clients for a lifetime. At some point, they have to do it on their own. Like parents, we hope that we can equip them with enough skills to make it without us. Social workers need to consistently be evaluating if the services/supports are empowering their client or they are enabling them towards dependence on long term intervention.



As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I often view the world through this lens. Social work shapes how I interact and understand every part of my life. Through social justice, policy, and even my own parenting, I am guided to view the world as a social worker.

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