Social Workers’ Reflections on the Therapeutic Encounter With Elder Abuse and Neglect

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The aim of this qualitative study was to explore social workers’ reflections on their experience of the therapeutic encounter with victims and perpetrators of elder abuse and neglect. The research questions were as follows: How do social workers tune themselves toward the therapeutic encounter with elder abuse? How do they position themselves vis-à-vis the clients? How do social workers describe the meaning of the intervention both for the clients and for themselves? What is the added value of the therapeutic encounter in this field for the social workers? Participants were 17 experienced women social workers, who worked with abusers and with abused and neglected older adults in Israel. Data were collected via in-depth semi-structured interviews, which were later transcribed and content analyzed. Two main themes emerged from the findings, emphasizing two key aspects of the social workers’ reflective process experienced during the therapeutic encounter: (a) focus on the client: “This is the journey of their lives”—reflection on the therapeutic “journey”; (b) focus on the social worker’s inner and professional world: “‘There is nothing to be done’ is no longer in my vocabulary”—a personal and professional maturation process. The social workers expressed a positive attitude toward their elder clients. A unique dialogue developed in the therapeutic encounter, whereby the social workers considered any change as valuable if it allowed the elders a sense of control and self-worth, whereas the social workers were enriched by the elders’ life experience, and matured both personally and professionally. Thus, both sides benefited from this reciprocal relationship. Implications for further research and practice are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3102-3124
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number20
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by a grant from the Association for the Planning and Development of Services for the Aged in Israel (JDC-ESHEL).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2016.


  • domestic violence
  • elder abuse
  • intervention/treatment
  • vicarious trauma
  • violence exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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