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A new study by sociologists Laura Keesman and Don Weenink investigates the experiences of social workers with tense and threatening situations in homeless shelters of the Salvation Army in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Clients intimidated and threatened social workers verbally, damaged property and, in some cases, physically assaulted them. The study is based on qualitative analyses of 18 interviews.

Delving into intense emotional, physical and mental experiences, in a very detailed manner, required the researchers to be sensitive, reflexive and caring as the topic of violence is extremely delicate. Such an attitude helped to discover that social workers feel they have insufficient means to express their experiences.

Importantly, the question arises whether and how organizations that offer social services enable their employees to cope with violent interactions. The main concern of the workers was to manage overwhelming bodily manifestations of fear and tension to maintain work-related comportment. Current prevention policies and practices are certainly lacking according to social workers themselves; for example, they do not learn de-escalating techniques.

How can organizations that offer social services help their employees to cope with violence, and prevent the – much documented – negative psychosocial consequences of experiencing violence like burn-out and anxiety? By means of interviewing the employees, Keesman and Weenink show that more systematic attention should be given to the ‘emotion/body' work of social workers who are exposed to tense and threatening situations, in both academic studies and current prevention policies and practices. Read the whole article here. 

The reserachers are both members of our programme group cultural sociology and part of the Group Violence Research project. 

Ms L.D. (Laura) Keesman

Laura Keesman

dr. D. (Don) Weenink

Don Weenink

Programme group Cultural Sociology