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Reflective intentionality in experience-centric support

Knowledge-intensive functioning in supporting relationships at family-support services


The career of the future perspective of social case work, as an applied profession is becoming more and more important in both national and international scientific life. Its historic emergence, then development strived to call to life scientific demands with the construction of a complex working model, which resulted in the professionalism of direct human support (helping) with its system-based approach and the deepening of other analytic trends. H. Perlman’s problem-solving model (Perlman, 1957), which is based on systematic sequences and at the same time building and mobilizing resources, makes the assessment of effectiveness of practice-oriented social work nowadays more timely, for this model is central to case work. Objective factors, such as the problem of „returning client”, the adaptation difficulties of the approach perceived in the home country, or the often eagerly result-centric and at times mechanistic character of the model, also makes the assessment necessary. The central role of the model mentioned before refers to the profession determinism of social case work, to the working definition of the process of problem-solving and to its explanation. The model as implemented at home (i.e., at the national level) admittedly suffers from some problems, such as the increasing appearance of informative, administrative, and often bureaucratic activities instead of a complex case-supervision, or the impoverishment of the experience-centric function of case work. Experience is understood in the present context of the dissertation as firsthand (direct) knowledge of states, situations, events, emotions, or sensations, rather than as professional or personal knowledge. It is hard to talk about issues, such as (i) increasing self-effectiveness, (ii) personality development in the course of solving our life problems, or (iii) effectiveness of supporting cooperation, mobilizing already present or new resources, when the constant need for solving problems is pushed and forced in a hasty way. I firmly believe that effectiveness and some kind of satisfaction are totally absent from the social work of the 21st century. The latter two (effectiveness and satisfaction) would immensely contribute to the worthy positioning of the profession. I deal with the broader scope of this problem. I intend to make articulate practical and theoretical theses based on a rational summary of theoretical claims coming from neighboring disciplines of social sciences. These practical and theoretical theses, which are mostly bolstered by my own experience, may contribute to the development of social work as a practice-based profession. From the perspective of interactions with the client circle, the process of social work can be conceived of as a constructive cooperation which affects autogenous problem-solving or reproductivity – the latter as a higher-order function.

In the course of this developmental activity, the quality of the communicative scene is crucial from the perspective of the process of problem-solving and its evaluation. Professional communicative competences, such as introspection (ie., inner dialogue) and inter-personal communication as well as their harmonic balance build the mutual effectiveness and satisfaction, which should be foregrounded in professional practice. This gives rise to our profession-related self-knowledge, and thereby our communicative “self” in the profession will improve, and our professional and private relationships will become more and more effective with time.

I deem it important to explain the notion of intentionality when interpreting the system of mutual relations underlying communicative statements and other communicative speech acts in the supporting context. Goal attribution is regarded as a primary process, and especially its effect on the supporting process. The so-called “reflexive-intentionality”, which incorporates the recognition of the communicative intention and the relevant interpretations of statements, is indispensible in supporting interactions because through implementing and practicing reflexive intentionality superfluous wrong directions in supporting can be bypassed. Communicative deficit as manifested in supporting relationships stems from a difference between the adequate communicative proficiency of clients and supporters. This deficit results in an imbalanced situation whose resolution becomes one of the necessary result variables or indexes of a supporting relationship. Problems of the communicative situation (which are essentially interpretational discrepancies that derive from a discordance or imbalance of the supporting situation) have to be resolved with the help of a special method, reflexivity, which is used at the direct communication platform. In my view, reflexivity should be applied more frequently than it is nowadays used. Aspects of the change are participants of the supporting interaction: clients and professionals. It is the task of the profession as part of quality management to increase applied methodological efficacy which should be improved along timely challenges.


  1. What is the Problem?

The presence of items that support process-oriented client-centered operations in professional supporting relationships are as prevalent as the focus of the relationship-centered operation. Supporting becomes an experience-centered (cf. the use of experience in the present context) event from an event-governed process via its relations to the relationship itself, which serves as a basis. Experiences emerge from the clear interpretations of intentions, emotions, and thoughts of others, which all contribute to the success and efficacy of the supporting relationship.

I assume that mental representations of clients and their supporters in professional supporting relationships at family-support and childcare services are in disagreement regarding certain crucial focus points (attitude-intention pairs, cf. cognitive map). This disagreement points to a „cognitive discrepancy” of some degree. Highlighting the two aforementioned services out of other services is important because I emphasize the predominantly practice-oriented aspect of social work.

Differences in the cognitive profile of clients and their supporters stem from the absence of a strategic application of reflective intentionality. Supporters possess a relatively limited communicative inventory, especially in the domain of reflexive components, which also highlights a shortcoming of professional education. Reflexive components guide our attention to the qualitative aspects and results of the supporting relationship, such as satisfaction, willingness to cooperate, and problem-solving.

Differences in communicative proficiency reflect (innate or acquired) knowledge in the inventory of clients and their supporters that is relevant to problem-solving. Communicative deficit can be seen as a pre-station of the supporting relationship, which makes the conscious application of strategies in interactions and caring process indispensible. In my view, reflexivity should be deemed more important in the context of questioning.

It becomes indispensible to extend the evidence-based methodology of the classical social case work with communicative elements that emphasize the experience-centered approach, the qualitative variables of the development of the relationship, and at the same time providing a model for a relevant everyday assertive communication.


  1. Communicative competence in supporting

Communicative competence is evidently a key competence in the attribute profile of a professional supporter. This competence influences the personal efficacy of supporters immensely, and its aspects may outgrow certain regularities of direct everyday communication. Communicative competence, which incorporates the professional, interdisciplinary, and reflective communication, strives to embody professional efficacy.

Communicating means acting, being in harmony with our personality. Through this process we find secure shelter in language and spoken word. The main pillars of this sense of security are those communicative competences that we acquire in the course of our upbringing, or through social learning, and which we constantly extend or sophisticate in our lives in accord with our intentions. One of these intentions can be the acquisition of professional support which needs special sensitivity and attention to approach the lives and narrations of others. So, we have to be sensitive to the adequate reception of information, intentions, or emotions coming communicative channels. Through the process of this reception we ultimately arrive at a state of balance which is based on the interplay of empathy and a sense of security coming from the relationship itself. Supporting, thus, makes sense and gains objectives through this process. We will be able to articulate activities that inspire us to change. One of the most conspicuous virtues of the acquisition and cultivation of communicative competences is social networking and the consolidation of a confidential setting. These two are indispensible for the development of a supporting relationship. Sense of duty in the supporting context refers to a complex unit of those special communicative skills. Possessing these skills enables us to form and improve supporting work consciously. If we assume that social work is a mutually defined supporting relationship, by which I mean that supporters and clients make decisions or form representations based on the thoughts, speculations, or attributed intentions (henceforth: intentions) of the other person. These decisions, which can either be negative or positive, lead to change. The instrument of the explicit manifestation of intention is communication which becomes congruent in a supporting relationship only if the communicated statement couples with an intention that matches the content of that statement. The “supported” party, that is, the client feels secure in a forming relationship only if the professional portfolio or the authentic professional linguistic communication couples with the intention of willingness to support. The presence of these speech acts determine the building of every supporting relationship. The adequate interpretation of communicative intentions (intentions) is indispensible in those situations which group together along the sequence of events that determine the forming and development of the supporting relationship (e.g., the definition of the problem, or the recognition of cooperative or motivational intentions). These communicative intentions are manifested at the level of spoken language and/or meta-communication (cf. later, intentional sub-moduls, sub-systems). A professional supporter has to possess both refined antennas, or receptors, and perfect communicational abilities at the same time. Supporters have to know the games of inter-personal communication, especially those of client communication (Berne, 2008), and second, they have to apply the questioning techniques of therapies (Tomm, 1990). Being proficient at communication leads to success in the profession and also leads to an emerging positive self-image. One part of communicative competences in the profession incorporates only the acquisition of the own communicative competences that help one to form a relationship. The other part, which is equally important, encompasses methods of case communication and communication techniques which help maintain professional efficacy in both social pedagogy and social work. These methods help the problem-solving process and manage the problem itself and the persons involved in the problem. Competences of professional and interdisciplinary cooperation also have to be mentioned here; these further contribute to the extension of professional practice via the acquisition of practice-oriented knowledge of case management, and the acquisition of competences and skills. The third – and at the same time necessary – form of professional communicative competences is the acquisition of terminological communicative competence. This plays a vital role in the forming of profession-related identity and in the unfolding of a terminological culture, just like in other disciplines as well. Lastly but not least, the issues of reflexion and inner dialogue can be conceived of as inherent parts of profession-related communication. The prerequisite of dialogues that are free from time pressure or other disturbing factors is real empathic understanding in practice. The two fields or scenes of professional dialogues are, first, the so-called explorative or explicit “ask-and-answer” type of dialogues, and second, the reflexive or implicit “ask-and-answer” type of dialogues. The first one represents the objective discourse between clients and their supporters in the course of problem-unraveling, while the second one refers to the reflexions that unfold as a result of this process. These encompass the relevant profession-related experiences that are evoked and summed up in the supporter as the result of a self-reflexive inner “encounter”, or dialogue. These experiences serve the control of understanding. This inner dialogue becomes a determining factor as part of profession-related self-knowledge; the conscious implementation of the latter builds the basis of our sense of profession and identity without constructing a delusion. In the following, focus points of the communication techniques that foreground mutual reflexions are listed here:


  • Do you think that your problem has been understood? (behavioural reflexion)

  • What do you think will help the most understand your problem? (self-reflexion)

    /supporters ask from themselves: Am I able to accept his/her problem? Can I cope with it?/


  • Do you think I can help with your problem?

  • Do you think you can accept me as your supporter?

  • How could I comfort you?

  • What did you expect when you contacted me?

    /supporters from themselves: I am able to accept his/her person and along with his/her personality? Do I like him/her/


  • Do you think our cooperation is going in the good direction?

  • Do you have any specific reasons why you refused to fulfill my request?

  • Do you feel that you will happily come to the next session?

  • Can I help you in any way, so that our relationship is strengthened?

    /supporters from themselves: Am I able to accept our cooperation? Do I believe in the cooperation?/




  • Are you happy with the work accomplished together?

  • Are you happy with the results achieved so far?

    /supporters from themselves: Am I happy with the work together? Am I satisfied with myself, as a professional supporter?


  • What do you expect change from?

  • Do you have faith in change?

  • Have you experienced any change ever since our last meeting?

  • If yes, what could have triggered it?

  • Do you believe that I believe in you?/ Do you feel my trust?

    /Supporters from themselves: Am I able to accept the change? Do I believe in it?/


Behavioural- and self-reflexions in the form of statements:

I feel, as I see it, I am aware of your problem.

                                   He/she has accepted my person, he/she possesses every skill to…

He/she wants to cooperate with me/he/she believes in our cooperation…

                                   He/she believes in the change/you believe that I believe in you.


  1. Experience-based social case work

Change is multiplied by underlying individual experiences in the supporting relationship

Quality and versatility (ie., experiences) of the supporting relationship equally intensively determine the efficacy of the supporting work as the professional and technical know-how of the logical and process-based model of case work. The supporting relationship further provides an adequate model for everyday social relationships, and also for preserving and improving authentic and assertive communication, for it gives personal experiences from the support. Experience becomes the novel narrative of supporting function; this experience makes the participants of the supporting relationship motivated on the way towards the solution of the problem by continuously monitoring the emotional-cognitive contents (representations) of the participants through reflexions. These representations are defined, or if needed, defined again. State of experience refers to the system of intentions and attitudes that are related with the experience factor. Experience-centric case work is a mutually-defined supporting relationship. In the supporting relationship, both clients and supporters make positive or negative decisions (or pre-representations) towards change based on the beliefs that they construct from their congruent worlds that encompass thoughts, beliefs, and intentions.

„Experience-bank” = an intentional variable, or an individual representation that permeates the supporting relationship

Grice claims that mental contents conveyed through communication are essentially intentions underlying communication. In other words, in every communicative act the speaker intends to reach some effect with their statements, so that the other party can decipher the intended meaning (Grice, 1957:377-388). It is inevitable to interpret the communicative intentions (henceforth intentions) adequately in those situations that determine the development of a supporting relationship. These situations are embedded in the chain of events and experiences (e.g., the delineation and definition of the problem, the recognition of cooperative and motivational skills, which are surfaced through verbal or meta-communicative cues) that determine the supporting relationship.


Intentional focus-points that build the structural basis of the model

I call the system of the mutual (supporter-client) attitude-intention pairs as intentional sub-system. This sub-system is the system of motivational and generative factors that underly the supporting relationship. These sub-systems comprise intentions and attitudes that refer to the events and happenings of the supporting relationship. An intention-attitude pair always refers to one focus-point through the inverse relations of the pair, as illustrated below:

(Sa,Ci;Ca,Si), the notation system is defined as follows:


Sa=Ci ; Ca=Si

Ci= client’s intention

Ca= client’s attitude

Si= supporter’s  intention

Sa= supporter’s attitude


To illustrate:


Si= I think my client thinks that I give them every help to solve their problem.


Ca= I feel that my supporter gives me every help (that can be expected from him/her) to solve my problem.


 I call the cyclically (from session to session) emerging communicative situations as “foci” (focuses). Investigating these can help unravel the system of mental contents and attitudes in the emotional and cognitive world of both the client and the supporter.


The five levels of the intentional sub-systems in the communicative situations of supporting relationships are the following:

  1. relating to each other

  2. relating to the problem

  3. relating to the relationship itself

  4. relating to the satisfaction factor

  5. relating to the change factor




  • < > refers to the representation of each others’ congruent world (profession-related, human attitudes, knowledge, behaviour), mutual understanding, cognitive explanation of „feed- back” mechanisms, e.g., imagined supporting role, previous knowledge, expectations, etc.

    Problem focus: refers to the interpretation of the problematic situation or an imbalance. Problem-value relevance between client and supporter (who thinks what about the problem interpretation of the other person, or of the opinion about the problem situation).

  • Cooperation focus: refers to the interpretation of each others’ cooperative intentions, action-related or emotional interest, emotional representations.

  • Satisfaction focus: refers to the recognition of each others’ level of satisfaction.

  • Change focus: refers to the representation of faith in each other; the antipole of unsuccess is defined by the intentions and the representation of positive anticipation of the future.


    The system of mutual intentions in the focus of the five scenarios of relations help to define the outcome of the supporting relationship. These can be conceived of as the stages of the process by which improvement can get stuck and development can go astray:

    The five critical points are:     1.)        sympathy, acceptance

                                                   2.)        problem-consciousness

                                                   3.)        intention of cooperation

                                                   4.)        satisfaction

    5.)       change, faith in the future


    Efficacy of the professional relationship can be measured along the following two important aspects: so, it depends on

  • the success variables of communicative “intentionality” (deliberateness), meaning that every underlying emotion, thought, attitude on the level of the individual is verbalized and understood,


  • Summary of the Research

As a summary of the cognitive events of client-supporter relationships, an emphasis has been placed on the importance of cooperative techniques that improve intentionality. I think I have managed to underscore the importance of “reflexive intentionality” as a communicative technique in professional supporting relationships.

The research has highlighted interesting and at times enlightening aspects that are relevant to those working in the social profession. It has also underlined the following important priorities:  I assumed dissociative (independent) cognitive discrepancies in the operation of case work client-supporter relationships at family support centers and child care services. These discrepancies have been confirmed based on my results. The basis of this cognitive discrepancy were the judgments of the emotional and cognitive (system of intentions) states of the other person.:

  1. I have distinguished two categories of relationships based on the observation above: compatible supporting relationships, which model ideal relationships with their cognitive coherence, and incompatible supporting relationships, which show serious signs of cognitive discrepancy. Statistically speaking, these two categories are defined as the lowermost and the uppermost 1/3 of the entire sample.

  2. Compatibility is understood as a continuous cognitive variable which should develop in the course of the supporting relationship. The presence of client-supporter incompatibility did not come a surprise to me at the initial stage of forming relationships or relationships lasting only for a short period of time. Counter-intuitively, the dimension of time (how long clients and supporters have known each other, and how long they have been in the professional supporting relationship) proved to be process-independent.

  3. Based on the statistical results of the study, the temporal change of relationships did not significantly correlate with the process of compatibility, which confirmed my new hypotheses.

  4. Time as a process-independent variable is crucial because it highlights deficiencies in the supporting relationship. These deficiencies encompass cooperative techniques that help build the professional relationship. Clients were inclined to give higher scores systematically than their supporters. This observation rather points to the dislocation or distorted representation of self-image.

  5. The legitimity of the dimensions that encompass the focus points has been clarified with the help of the experience-based social case work model and has also been confirmed statistically. The questionnaire showed a very high Cronbach-coefficient together with positive correlations among the dimensions.

  6. The dimension of (both individual and collective) Satisfaction (specifically, the level of statisfaction) has been highlighted throughout the whole study. Its positive correlations with Change, with the development of the relationship, or with the strengthening of compatibility all show a positive high correlation with Satisfaction. This observation underscores the importance of the investigation of the individual dimensions and their improvement. Improving compatibility is crucial and necessary for success, efficacy, and satisfaction.

  7. Another measure of incompatibility is the investigation of difference between the theoretical constructs of attitude and intention as dispositions in Theory of Mind. Results of the study have shown that the higher the satisfaction scores are (ie., the extent of compatibility), the more stable the difference between attitude and intention can be measured. In other words, the image about the supporting relationship is more real (the image matches objective reality more).

  8. The attitude and intention scores were significantly different across the sample of supporters, while no such significant difference was revealed across the sample of clients. This finding clearly confirms the strategic necessity of “reflexive intentionality” for the circle of clients.

Target fields and focus points of reflexive intentionality based on the findings of the research:

Change: efforts and aspiration made towards solving the client’s problem, and their manifestation:

Question: Do you make/did you make adequate efforts towards solving your problem?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: What efforts did I make towards solving my problem?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: What efforts did my client make towards solving his/her problem?


Change: skills related to the coping strategies of the client’s present problem:

Question: Do you think you are able to cope with your present problem? Do you have enough force, experience, or knowledge to do this?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: Am I able to cope with my problem? Do I have enough force or experience to do this?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: Is my client able to cope with his/her problem? How can I strengthen him/her in doing so?


Relationship: Client’s sensitivity towards his/her problem, his/her interest in solving the problem:

Question: To what extent are you concerned with the solution of your own problem?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: Am I concerned with the solution of my own problem? What exactly makes me feel so, or makes me feel the absence of this?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: Is my client concerned with and interested in the solution of his/her own problem? What experiences of mine confirm this, or disconfirm this?


Person: Skills related to the empathic abilities of the client’s supporter:

Question: To what extent are you able to feel empathy with my feelings about your problem?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: I am able to understand and identify the feelings of my supporter? What kind of concrete experiences do I have concerning this?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: My client is able to identify with my feelings? When and in what situation have I felt this or similar before?


Problem: acceptance of the client’s own problem:

Question: Are you able to accept your own problem?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: Am I able to accept my own problem? What hinders me in accepting the problem?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: Is my client able to accept his/her own problem? If not, then what hinders him/her in doing so?


Person: The client’s congruent functioning (he/she always acts in accordance with his/her thoughts):

Question: Do you always and in every situation act in accordance with your thoughts?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: Do I feel that I always and in every situation act in accordance with my thoughts? Have I ever experienced the opposite in my life before?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: My client is always consequent and acts consistently concerning his/her thoughts? Have I ever experienced an opposite pattern before?


Satisfaction: satisfaction with the client’s accomplished tasks:

Question: Are you satisfied with your tasks accomplished so far?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: Can I be satisfied with my tasks that I have accomplished so far?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: My client may be satisfied with his/her tasks that he/she has accomplished so far?


Relationship: realization of the client’s empathic attention:

Question: Do you devote enough attention to me and the supporting relationship?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: Do I devote enough attention to my supporter and to our supporting relationship?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: My client devotes enough attention to me and to our supporting relationship?


Person: The client’s ability to develop:

Question: Are you an able client and one who is prone to improvement?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: To what extent do I regard myself as someone who is able to improve? Will I be able to develop in our supporting relationship? What strengthens me, and what hinders me in doing so?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: I regard my client as an able client, and one who is prone to develop? Is he/she able to develop in our relationship? What strengthens him/her, and what hinders him/her in doing so?


Person: the client’s previous knowledge about the supporting work:

Question: Are you aware of the process of supporting work?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: I am aware of the steps, the stages, and the objective of supporting work? Have I ever experienced this process?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: My client is aware of the process and objective of supporting work? How superficial or exact knowledge does he/she possess concerning the supporting work?


Satisfaction: Satisfaction with the results of our cooperation (collective satisfaction):

Question: Are we satisfied with the results of our cooperation?

Reflective dialogue of both the Client and the Supporter: Can we be satisfied with the results of our cooperation? Have we done everything possible, so that we can we be satisfied?


Change: client’s faith in change:

Question: Are you able to believe that the situation will change soon? Do you have faith in it?

Reflective dialogue of the Client: I am able to believe that my situation will soon change? What helps me, or hinders me in (not) believing this?

Reflective dialogue of the Supporter: My client is able to believe that his/her situation will soon change? Does anything help or hinder him/her?


Change: faith in our future (ie., the future of the supporting relationship, meaning collective efficacy and success):

Question: Are we able to believe that our future cooperation will be successful?

Reflective dialogue of both the Client and the Supporter: Can we still be successful in the future? Are we able to believe this? What strenghtens or hinders us in (not) believing this?

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