Critical Thinking and Interpersonal Dispositions in Those Commencing Social Work Training

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  1. Michael Sheppard1,* and
  2. Marian Charles2

  1. 1University of Plymouth—School of Health Professionals, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK

  2. 2University of Nottingham—Dept of Sociology and Social Policy, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK
  1. *Correspondence to Professor Michael Sheppard, School of Health Professions, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK.
    E-mail: m.sheppard{at}
  • Accepted August 2014.


The capacities for critical thinking and making and sustaining relationships have been, in theoretical writing, two longstanding
pillars of our understanding of the nature of social work. This is reflected in both expectations for practice standards and
writing, both contemporary and that which goes back decades. Research has long confirmed the theoretical emphasis on the importance
of relationships to practice, while some more recent research has done the same for critical thinking. While a central feature
is social work’s concern for practitioners’ capabilities in these respects, implying particular standards, there has yet been
no attempt to measure these features. This article, drawing on firmly established, widely used instruments, seeks to measure
critical thinking and interpersonal dispositions in cohorts of master’s candidates and undergraduates at two universities.
Findings show these cohorts to be better at some than other facets of critical thinking, to emphasise more some interpersonal
dispositions (those relating to interpersonal responsiveness) than others and that master’s students perform significantly
better in critical thinking than undergraduates. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Key words

  • Critical reflection
  • expertise
  • reflective practice

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