Emotions are everywhere but no one talks about them

November 26th 2020
By Louise O’Connor


Everyone experiences emotions. We might use different words but we all know what it feels like to be sad or joyful, angry, anxious or empathic. Social work practice is full of emotions but there’s been surprisingly limited research in this area. Where do emotions fit in the social work profession? How do practitioners think about their emotions? And do emotions have a value or function in everyday professional practice? These are some of the questions I explored in my PhD research.

One of the interesting findings was that the ways in which emotions are understood and thought about are both problematic and complicated.  As one participant said – “Emotions are everywhere but no one talks about them.”

Some social workers find they are caught in a double bind where emotions are a really important part of how they work, but at the same time they fear being judged negatively for even having or acknowledging emotions. And yet, my study showed that ‘emotion practices’ were crucially important, not just in developing working relationships or responding to trauma, but also in how social workers made sense of complex and difficult situations in their assessments and supervision.

If you want to know more about my research, which used observations, interviews and diaries get in touch on louise.oconnor@rhul.ac.uk