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“Hope is an essential experience of the human condition.” (Clark & Hoffler, 2015)
The world nowadays can be a cynical place. The introduction of the internet and the rising dominance of social media has meant we face a 24-hour news cycle. There’s no respite from the updates about the latest tragedy or scandal, whether local or international. We’re bombarded with tweets, notifications and programmes that remind us of the negative aspects of our society. As such, it can be very hard to maintain a sense of optimism or positivity; but within social work, the quality of hope plays a very important role. Social work is about facilitating change for a vulnerable or at-risk person during a particular situation or time in their life. Therefore, in order for this to be possible, the service user has to believe that positive change is possible; a condition which requires hope.
Hope theory can be subdivided into four categories (Hanson, 2009):
1) Goals that are important to the service user but are not certain to be attained, providing an anchor to the hope.
2) Pathway thoughts, which are the routes taken to achieve goals and the perceived ability to create these pathways
3) Agency thoughts, as the motivation to follow through with the routes
4) Barriers which block success and test the service user’s willingness to give up or adapt
Despite common associations of hope with a sense of religious faith, they are not conjoined ideologies. One does not need a sense of religion in order to have hope. By having hope in your life, you are simply opening yourself up to the possibilities of good things happening to you or because of you. It can apply to so many areas of day-to-day life and can help an individual have a level of confidence and inner strength. Perhaps you’d like to overcome a mental health issue, or you want to secure a new job; having a hopeful approach will give you a more “go-get-it” approach. Having a goal you’re passionate about but that isn’t 100% secure gives you a drive to achieve it. You fight for something if you think you *can* get it and you know you want it. Practitioners shouldn’t forget the value of this simple principle. At our core, humans aren’t always as complex as we like to think. It’s at times the simple driving forces that move us forward and help us create positive changes.
Although hope is just an intangible sentiment, it can affect your chances of success. Research has shown that vulnerable people respond in different ways to social work intervention naturally, however when hope is fostered and developed, other benefits are noted for both the person’s health and psychological well-being. A study of students after 9/11 highlighted a reduction in anxiety and depression where the presence of hope and spiritual meaning had been found. Essentially, when studied, we learn that hope is a good thing to have.
Hope can also grow in a compounding way. It’s developed in many people by successfully dealing with difficulties in the past; so, if a service user is able to feel the smallest glimmer that helps them succeed, it’ll increase exponentially. It plays a role in sustaining a service user down a more positive path in life; which is the long-term goal for any of us really. We want to help the people we work with to find safe homes, maintain stable relationships, achieve successful employment, develop good mental health and stay as positive members of society.
While social workers have a lot of tools and techniques at their disposal, the importance of inspiring hope in the service users they work with should not be underestimated. No matter the area of social work you focus on or where in the country you’re based, as a practitioner you should be capable of making the individual you’re working with, feel like a better experience is possible. Help your service users understand the structure to hope theory and how it can be fostered; involving it in the sense of goal setting and planning.
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