Stigmatization in Social Work: Comparative Collective Case Study of Social Workers in Sweden and the United States


  • Ivy Krull Emmanuel College
  • Camilla Carpholt Umeå universitet
  • Björn Blom Umeå universitet


Stigmatisation, Self-perception of Work, Culture, Cross-national, Profession of Social Work


This paper investigates how social workers in Sweden and the United States perceive the impact of social stigma, based on their experiences within a social service job. This is important because when social workers feel stigmatized (defined in this context as describing or regarding something, such as a characteristic or group of people in a way that shows strong disapproval (Merriam-Webster, n.d.)), they can affect clients negatively, i.e. poorer quality of interventions/results. Comparison of feelings of stigmatization among social workers in these distinct cultures enabled us to study how values, social policies and institutions influence stigmatization processes. Focus group data shows significant differences between Sweden and the U.S. regarding: 1) how social workers experience their society‘s view of social work, 2) what society’s view of social work means for social workers’ self-perception, 3) how social workers experience their society‘s views of clients, 4) what society’s view of clients means for social workers’ client work. Differences are mainly due to dissimilarities between the programs and institutions within each system. Findings indicate that promotion of the dignity and worth of people requires social workers to also experience dignity and worth in their professional role.