Trusting the Mistrusted: Norwegian Social Workers’ Strategies in Preventing Radicalization and Violent Extremism


  • Håvard Haugstvedt University of Stavanger


Violent Extremism, Radicalization, Prevention, Social Work, Trust


Social workers are a part of the wider counter-terrorism efforts in many European countries, such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Belgium. While there are several theoretical and discursive studies on social workers’ involvement in preventing violent extremism, few studies have explored and analyzed how these prevention workers understand radicalization and the strategies and approaches they employ. This paper addresses this research gap with findings from a qualitative study that utilized data from 17 individual in-depth interviews and two focus-group interviews of experienced social workers doing indicated prevention work against violent extremism in Norway. Goffman’s frame analysis and Weber and Carter’s theory on the construction of trust are applied to the findings. A thematic analysis found that, first, the participants frame radicalization cases in the same way they do other cases—as a social problem. Second, a two-way process of trust was revealed, as a critical component in their work is creating openings for dialogue about values and ideology. Contrary to other studies, this paper finds that social workers manage this work as close to “business as usual.” Also, it reveals that well-established strategies in social work, such as client-directed practice, Socratic questioning, and motivational interviewing, potentially play an important role in face-to-face prevention work against radicalization and violent extremism.


Aamodt, L. G. (2014). Den gode relasjonen. Revidert utgave. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.

Audet, C. T., & Everall. R. D. (2010). Therapist self-disclosure and the therapeutic relationship: A phenomenological study from the client perspective. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 38(3), 327–342. doi:10.1080/03069885.2010.482450

Biernacki, P., & Waldorf, D. (1981). Snowball sampling: Problems and techniques of chain referral sampling. Sociological Methods & Research, 10(2), 141–163.

Bjørgo, T., & Gjelsvik, I. M. (2015). Forskning på forebygging av radikalisering og voldelig ekstremisme: En kunnskapsstatus. Oslo: PHS Forskning.

Bjørgo, T., & Horgan, J. (2009). Leaving terrorism behind: Individual and collective disengagement. London: Routledge.

Blaikie, N. (2010). Designing social research. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Borum, R. (2011). Radicalization into violent extremism II: A review of conceptual models and empirical research. Journal of Strategic Security, 4(4), 37–62.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

Braun, J. D., Strunk, D. R., Sasso, K. E., & Cooper, A. (2015). Therapist use of Socratic questioning predicts session-to-session symptom change in cognitive therapy for depression. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 70, 32–37.

Carlsson, Y. (2017). Violent extremism: Prevention of a wicked problem—The role of local authorities (C-Rex Working Paper). Oslo: University of Oslo.

Carmi, E., & Gianfransesco, A. (2017). Serious case review: Siblings W and X. Identifying the strengths and gaps in multi-agency responses to vulnerable adolescents at risk of exploitation through radicalisation. Brighton & Hove Local Safeguarding Children Board. Retrieved from

Chisholm, T., & Coulter, A. (2017). Safeguarding and radicalisation (Research Report for Social Science in Government). Department of Education. Retrieved from

Christmann, K. (2012). Preventing religious radicalisation and violent extremism: A systematic review of the research evidence. Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. Retried from nt_data/file/396030/preventing-violent-extremism-systematic-review.pdf

Compelo, N., Oppetit, A., Neau, F., Cohen, D., & Bronsard, G. (2018). Who are the European youths willing to engage in radicalisation? European Psychiatry, 52, 1–14.

Dalgaard-Nielsen, A. (2013) Promoting exit from violent extremism: Themes and approaches. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 36(2), 99–115. doi:10.1080/1057610X.2013.747073

Dryden, M. (2017). Radicalisation: The last taboo in safeguarding and child protection? Assessing practitioner preparedness in preventing the radicalisation of looked-after children. Journal for Deradicalization, 13, 101–136.

Duncan, B., & Miller, S. D. (2000). The client’s theory of change: Consulting the client in the integrative process. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 10(2), 169–187.

Ferguson, N. (2016). Disengaging from terrorism: A Northern Irish experience. Journal for Deradicalization, 6, 1–23.

Gibson, M. F. (2012). Opening up: Therapist self-disclosure in theory, research, and practice. Clinical Social Work Journal, 40(3), 287–296. doi:10.1007/s10615-012-0391-4

Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gordon, R. (1983). An operational classification of disease prevention. Public Health Reports, 98, 107–109.

Guru, S. (2010). Social work and the “War on Terror.” British Journal of Social Work, 40, 272–289. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcn129

Guru, S. (2012). Under siege: Families of counter-terrorism. British Journal of Social Work, 42, 1151–1173. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcs089

Hemmingsen A.-S. (2015). An introduction to the Danish approach to countering and preventing extremism and radicalization (DIS Report No. 2015:15). Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS).

Hepworth, D. H. (1993). Managing manipulative behavior in the helping relationship. Social Work (Health Research Premium Collection), 38(6), 674.

Horgan, J. (2009). Walking away from terrorism: Accounts of disengagement from radical and extremist movements. London: Routledge.

International Federation of Social Workers. (2014). What is social work? Global definition of social work. Retrieved from

Knight, C. (2012). Social workers’ attitudes towards and engagement in self-disclosure. Journal of Clinical Social Work, 40, 297–306. doi:10.1007/s10615-012-0408-z

LaFree, G., Jensen, M., James, P. A., & Safer-Lichtenstein, A. (2018). Correlates of violent political extremism in the United States, 56(2), 233–268.

Levin, I. (2004). Hva er sosialt arbeid? Oslo: Universitetsforlaget AS.

Lid, S., Winsvold, M., Søholt, S., Hansen, S. J., Heierstad, G., & Klausen, J. E. (2016). Forebygging av radikalisering og voldelig ekstremisme. Hva er kommunenes rolle?

Oslo: Norsk institutt for By- og regionsforskning (NIBR).

Lloyd, C., King, R., & Chenoweth, L. (2002) Social work, stress and burnout: A review. Journal of Mental Health, 11(3), 255–265. doi:10.1080/09638230020023642

Lord, S. P., Sheng, E., Imel, Z. E., Baer, J., & Atkins, D. C. (2015). More than reflections: Empathy in motivational interviewing includes language style synchrony between therapist and client. Journal of Behaviour Therapy, 46(3), 296–303. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2014.11.002

Mattsson, C. (2018). Caught between the urgent and the comprehensible: Professionals’ understanding of violent extremism. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 11(1), 111–129. doi:10.1080/17539153.2017.1337327

McKendrick, D., & Finch, J. (2017). “Under heavy manners?” Social work, radicalisation, troubled families and non-linear war. British Journal of Social Work, 47(2), 308–324.

McLaren, H. (2007). Exploring the ethics of forewarning: Social workers, confidentiality and potential child abuse disclosures. Ethics and Social Welfare, 1(1), 22–40. doi:10.1080/17496530701237159.

Miller, S. D., Mee-Lee, D., Plum, B., & Hubble, M. A. (2005). Making treatment count: Client-directed, outcome-informed clinical work with problem drinkers. Psychotherapy in Australia, 11(4), 42–56.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2012). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Neumann, P. R. (2013). The trouble with radicalization. International Affairs, 89(4), 873–893.

Noor, M. & Halabi, S. (2018). Can we forgive a militant outgroup member? The role of perspective-taking. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 21(4), 246-255. doi:doi:10.1111/ajsp.12328

Norwegian Police Security Service. (2016). Temarapport: Hvilken bakgrunn har personer som frekventerer ekstreme islamistiske miljøer i Norge før de blir radikalisert? Ekstern rapport. Oslo: Den sentrale Enhet.

Norwegian Police Security Service. (2019). Threat assessment 2019. Oslo: Den sentrale Enhet.

Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security. (2014). Action plan against radicalisation and violent extremism. Oslo: Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security. (2015). Nasjonal veileder for forebygging av radikalisering og voldelig ekstremisme. Oslo: Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security. (2017). Regelverk – Tilskuddsordning for forebygging av radikalisering og voldelig ekstremisme 2017. Oslo: Ministry of Justice and Public Security. Retrieved from

O’Leary, P., Tsui, M.-S., & Ruch, G. (2013). The boundaries of the social work relationship revisited: Towards a connected, inclusive and dynamic conceptualisation. British Journal of Social Work, 43, 135–153. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcr181

Peschken, W., & Johnson, M. (1997). Therapist and client trust in the therapeutic relationship. Psychotherapy Research, 7(4), 439–447. doi:10.1080/10503309712331332133

Ponnert, L., & Svensson, K. (2016). Standardisation—The end of professional discretion? European Journal of Social Work, 19(3–4), 586–599.

Ponsot, A.-S., Autixier, C., & Madriaza, P. (2017). Factors facilitating the successful implementation of a prevention of violent radicalization intervention as identified by front-line practitioners. Journal for Deradicalization, 16, 1–33.

Radicalisation Awareness Network. (2017). Preventing radicalisation to terrorism and violent extremism: Approaches and practices (2017 ed.). European Commission: Radicalization Awareness Network.

Rink, A., & Sharma, K. (2018). The determinants of religious radicalization: Evidence from Kenya. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 62(6).

Sandrup, T., Weiss, N., Skiple, A., & Hofoss, E. (2018). Radikalisering. En studie av mobilisering, forebygging og rehabilitering. Forskningsfagligrapport 1, 2018. Kjeller: Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt.

Sedgwick, M. (2010). The concept of radicalization as a source of confusion. Terrorism and Political Violence, 22(4), 479–494.

Smith, C. (2001). Trust and confidence: Possibilities for social work in “high modernity.” The British Journal of Social Work, 31(2), 287–305.

Snow, D., & Benford, R. D. (1992). Master frames and cycles of protest. In A. Morris & C. Mueller (Eds.), Frontiers in social movement theory (pp. 133–155). New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Stanley, T., & Guru, S. (2015). Childhood radicalisation risk: An emerging practice issue. Practice, 27(5), 353–366. doi:10.1080/09503153.2015.1053858

Stanley, T., Guru, S., & Coppock, V. (2017) A risky time for Muslim families: professionalised counter-radicalisation networks. Journal of Social Work Practice, 31(4), 477–490. doi:10.1080/02650533.2017.1394829

Stanley, T., Guru, S., & Gupta, A. (2018). Working with PREVENT: Social work options for cases of “radicalisation risk.” Practice, 30(2), 131–146. doi:10.1080/09503153.2017.1414176

Stephansen, M. K. (2017). Barnevernet ruster seg mot ekstremisme. Retrieved from

Thulin, J., Kjellgren, C., & Nilsson, D. (2019). Children’s disclosure of physical abuse—the process of disclosing and the responses from social welfare workers. Child Care in Practice.

Traube, D. E., James, S., Zhang, J., & Landsverk, J. (2012). A national study of risk and protective factors for substance use among youth in the child welfare system. Addictive Behaviors, 37(5), 641–650. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2012.01.015

Turner, F. J., & Rowe, W. S. (2013). 101 social work clinical techniques. New York: Oxford University Press.

United Kingdom Department for Education. (2015). The prevent duty: Departmental advice for schools and childcare providers. Retrieved from

Van de Weert, A., & Eijkman, Q. A. M. (2018). Subjectivity in detection of radicalisation and violent extremism: A youth worker’s perspective. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression. doi:10.1080/19434472.2018.1457069

Vansteenkiste, M., & Sheldon, K. M. (2010). There’s nothing more practical than a good theory: Integrating motivational interviewing and self‐determination theory. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45(1), 63–82.

Webber, D., Babush, M., Schori-Eyal, N., Vazeou-Nieuwenhuis, A., Hettiarachchi, M., Bélanger, J., & Gelfand, M. J. (2018). The road to extremism: Field and experimental evidence that significance loss-induced need for closure fosters radicalization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(2), 270–285.

Weber, L., & Carter, A. I. (2003). The Social Construction of Trust. New York: Springer Science Business Media.

Weinstein, B., Levine, M., Kogan, N., Harkavay-Friedman, J., & Miller, J. M. (2000). Mental health professionals’ experiences reporting suspected child abuse and maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24(10), 1317–1328.

Wilkins, D. (2015). Balancing risk and protective factors: How do social workers and social work managers analyse referrals that may indicate children are at risk of significant harm. British Journal of Social Work (2015) 45, 395–411. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bctll4.

Yin, R. K. (2016). Qualitative research from start to finish (2nd ed.). London: Guildford Press.