How do Social Work Students Develop their Professional Identity?
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Professional socialisation is a key aspect of social work pre-qualifying training and the final practice placement has long been viewed as one of the most crucial elements of social work training, in enabling students to transfer learning on the course into practice (Parker, 2007). Whilst there has been substantial research into how students develop their skills in social work education, very few studies have focused upon the student’s development of professional identity and the process of professional socialisation (Valutis, Rubin and Bell, 2012). This study explores this gap, particularly the impact of the placement supervisor and agency context upon the student’s development of professional identity.
An autobiographical style and social constructionist approach is employed by the author, alongside the use of a theoretical lens which incorporates Bourdieu’s (1993) work, particularly the concept of ‘Habitus’, Jenkins’ (2008) use of three orders concerning ‘Social Identity’, and the work of Lave and Holland (2001) regarding ‘History in Person’. The data was generated from semi-structured interviews with final year postgraduate students and placement supervisors. These narratives were analysed through the use of grounded theory (Charmaz, 2014).
The findings of this study contributes four main areas to the understanding of how professional identity is developed. Firstly, the importance of prior and current personal experiences in the development of professional identity, especially first-hand service user experience. Secondly the value of informal reflective spaces to discuss identity, particularly with peers. Thirdly the significance of the student establishing a reciprocal relationship with their placement supervisor. Finally, the impact of the agency/placement environment upon the student and their supervisor in supporting this process of professional socialisation. Further research of a longitudinal nature is proposed by the author, to include a wider range of students and supervisors in order to build upon this understanding of professional identity development and how to best support the professional socialisation process.