How David Rock's SCARF Model Can Enhance Social Work Practice in Aotearoa New Zealand
Social work is a profession that aims to promote social change and empowerment for individuals, groups and communities who face various challenges and difficulties in their lives. Social workers need to be able to engage effectively with diverse people and situations, and to use their knowledge and skills to help them achieve their goals and aspirations.
However, social work practice is not always easy or straightforward. Sometimes, social workers may encounter resistance, conflict, misunderstanding or mistrust from the people they work with or from other professionals or stakeholders. These situations can trigger negative emotions and reactions that can affect the quality and outcome of the social work intervention.
How can social workers overcome these challenges and enhance their practice? One possible way is to use David Rock's SCARF model as a framework for understanding and influencing human behaviour in social situations.
What is the SCARF model?
The SCARF model was developed by David Rock, an expert on neuroscience of leadership, in 2008. He proposed that there are five key domains that influence our behaviour in social situations: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. These domains activate the same threat and reward responses in our brain that we rely on for physical survival.
When we perceive a threat to any of these domains, our brain reacts with a fight-or-flight response, releasing cortisol (the stress hormone) that reduces our ability to think creatively, collaboratively and rationally. We may experience fear, anger, anxiety or defensiveness, and we may avoid or resist the situation or the person who triggered the threat.
On the other hand, when we perceive a reward in any of these domains, our brain reacts with a approach response, releasing dopamine (the happy hormone) that enhances our ability to think positively, productively and proactively. We may experience joy, satisfaction, confidence or curiosity, and we may seek out more opportunities to engage with the situation or the person who triggered the reward.
The SCARF model can help us understand why we behave the way we do in social situations, and how we can influence others by minimizing their threat response and maximizing their reward response.
How can the SCARF model enhance social work practice in Aotearoa New Zealand?
Social work practice in Aotearoa New Zealand is guided by the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi), which recognises the partnership between Tangata Whenua (the indigenous people) and Tauiwi (the non-indigenous people). Social workers need to respect and uphold the rights and interests of both parties, as well as those of other diverse groups and communities in the country.
The SCARF model can provide a useful tool for social workers to engage effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds, worldviews and experiences. By applying the SCARF model to their practice, social workers can:
- Status: Acknowledge and affirm the strengths, skills and achievements of the people they work with, without making them feel inferior or superior to others. For example, social workers can use positive feedback, praise, recognition or appreciation to boost the status of their clients or colleagues.
- Certainty: Provide clear and consistent information and expectations about the social work process, goals and outcomes, without making them feel confused or uncertain about what is happening or what will happen next. For example, social workers can use informed consent, contracts, plans or reviews to increase the certainty of their clients or colleagues.
- Autonomy: Involve and empower the people they work with in making decisions and taking actions that affect their lives, without making them feel controlled or coerced by others. For example, social workers can use participatory methods, options or choices to enhance the autonomy of their clients or colleagues.
- Relatedness: Build trust and rapport with the people they work with by showing empathy, compassion and respect for their feelings, needs and perspectives, without making them feel isolated or alienated from others. For example, social workers can use active listening, validation or support to strengthen the relatedness of their clients or colleagues.
- Fairness: Ensure justice and equity for the people they work with by addressing any issues of discrimination, oppression or exploitation that they may face or witness, without making them feel unfairly treated or disadvantaged by others. For example, social workers can use advocacy, mediation or negotiation to promote the fairness of their clients or colleagues.
By using the SCARF model as a guide for their practice, social workers can create a positive and productive environment for themselves and the people they work with, where they can feel safe, valued, confident, connected and respected. This can lead to better outcomes and impacts for individuals, groups and communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- Rock, D. (2008). SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. NeuroLeadership Journal, 1, 1-9.
- The World of Work Project. (2019). David Rock's SCARF model: Social threats in the world of work. https://worldofwork.io/2019/07/david-rocks-scarf-model/