Social Work Theory Summary
From “A Multitheory Perspective for Practice
By Frank Turner in “Social Work Treatment” p. 652-656
Psychoanalytic Theory. This theory is probably the most influential yet most criticized theory in social work practice. Its influence has been pervasive, universal, and continuing. The real-life problems created by transference, developmental fixations, and regressions are a frequent reality in current practice and many can only be addressed from this theoretical perspective. Although many systems stress a more present-focused orientation, large numbers of clients, in seeking a more comfortable and less alienated self-concept, want to understand their emotional and developmental history from this perspective.
Functional Theory. This theory, once considered passe, continues to influence current practice. It focuses on the client's internal resources and the healthy and functioning components of personality. It is important to keep in focus the fact that the setting in which treatment is provided is a particular aspect of the client's significant environment and how the use of structure, time, and available resources can be helpful. This approach to practice has been and continues to be particularly helpful in situations where authority is a predominant aspect of the presenting situation or setting.
Gestalt Theory. In addition to being a therapeutic system, Gestalt is also a popular movement. It is an approach to therapy that urges therapists to be free to be themselves, to be innovative, creative, and imaginative in working with clients. It is an approach that is very well suited to clients interested in a total and integrated sense of self and use of self. It aims at helping clients achieve close conscious contact with self and life.
Cognitive Theory. This cluster of theories is strongly influencing practice in an overall fashion by giving more importance to our rational abilities. In a specific way' these theories are useful In those situations where our objective is to help people think about and plan appropriate solutions. In these situations the focus is on responsibility, ability, and effective use of one's executive capacities to deal with the present and to function better in the future.
Behaviour Modification. These theories of learning and the extensive range of related behavioral techniques have provided practitioners with a wide range of resources for achieving specific changes in clients. In addition to an increased understanding of the processes involved in the acquiring and modification of general behavioral traits, learning theory has particular relevance for helping clients alter specific problem areas of functioning without having to understand the origins or interconnections between behaviors. In this way a man who can alter his eating habits to improve his health and thus continue working can be significantly better off without his having to understand why he was overeating.
Meditation. This is probably the approach to practice that has been given the least attention by the field in general. It has much to offer many clients in both a general and a specific way. It is useful for those essentially intact Individuals experiencing confusion about themselves, their contact with their external world, and their place in the universe. In this way it is similar to existentialism. Further, it is quite useful for persons who very much want to achieve a greater sense of self-mastery and more disciplined approach to life.
Existential. This is not a system of therapy as such but rather a basis for understanding oneself, others, and the human condition, and some derived implications that follow for the therapeutic process. Probably all of us as members of the helping professions are partially influenced by existential thinking and these influences carry over into our practice. In addition there are specific practice situations where an existential perspective helps us to understand clients and to develop a helping perspective. There appears to be an increasing number of persons whose problems revolve around questions of their own identity and sense of alienation. For these an existential perspective is indeed helpful.
Communication Theory. This cluster of theories, concerned with the way in which humans transmit and receive information, is an essential general knowledge base for social workers in all areas of practice. Too, these concepts can be of particular assistance in keeping the therapeutic process open and effective. These concepts have had considerable impact on the treatment of marital pairs and families.
Problem Solving. Like task-centered, this long-standing theory emphasizes the use of our own problem-solving processes in seeking to understand the client and the reality in which he or she functions and to partialize the situation into manageable goals related to the nature of the setting involved. It is a particularly useful framework to help avoid diffuse and unfocussed intervention goals.
Task Centered. This system, like crisis intervention, focuses on brief, time-limited intervention. It is particularly useful in situations when a parsimonious use of resources is essential. It is also useful in cases where the goal is to maximize the client's involvement in the therapeutic process, and to enhance their autonomy. It requires both practitioners and clients to focus on the setting of clear, identified, and attainable goals. This latter quality can be of particular importance to some clients as an additional learning experience beyond the original problem.
Crisis Theory. This theory provides a useful framework in which to understand the dynamics and expected behavior of persons experiencing various life traumas. It provides a basis for swift assessment of clients and the setting of discrete objectives and procedures for diagnosed crises. It is both an orientation to the dynamics of crises as well as a well-tested set of strategies to reduce the impact of the crises and return the client to at least the same level or an even higher level of psychosocial functioning.
Neurolinguistics. This is probably the least well known of the systems. It represents a unique approach to social work practice that directly takes into account neurological aspects of communications and uses these both diagnostically and therapeutically. It is a positive approach to practice that stresses a wish to help persons enhance their practice not to supplement one approach with another. It appears to be most useful with intact clients capable of introspection and ready use of their inner images.
Ego Psychology. In ego psychology the therapeutic focus is on both the conscious and unconscious components of the personality as well as on the client's external reality. It is particularly useful in situations where growth and movement for the client require an understanding of self, patterns of behaviour, and their derivatives. Many clients both want and need to be understood in developmental terms and can be greatly helped by a sensitive understanding of their personality and its developmental history.
Client Centered Treatment. Although this system was for a long time scarcely acknowledged in social work literature, it is useful, like others in this group, in situations where the goal is to help clients regroup their own personality resources, and to accept and come to terms with themselves in a positive way to more effectively pursue established life goals satisfactorily.
Family Theory. In addition to providing a theoretical and therapeutic base for dealing with family-related situations, family theory has also been useful in understanding and managing individual problems in clarifying the extent to which such problems are related to family issues. Family treatment is in great demand in all areas of practice to respond to the complex and prevalent problems in current family life.
Transactional Analysis. Like Gestalt theory, Transactional Analysis is a popular movement. It appeals and is useful to persons who do not see themselves or want to be seen as needful of or recipients of traditional psychotherapy. It is health-oriented and emphasizes the positive; The system stresses the responsibility to decide on the kind of person the client wants to be and on the kind of relationships he or she wishes to have with others. It places great importance on working with groups, a modality that is attractive to many clients.
Psychosocial. This system has a broad spectrum of applicability in that it focuses on the critical relationships between persons and their significant environment and the interaction between the two. It is most useful in cases where the goal is to help the client both to understand issues of personality and how these effects are effected by societal realities, and to seek solutions in both the person and the environment.
System. Social work practitioners have long sought a theory such as systems that would provide a framework, so critical to social work practice, for understanding and ordering the multifaceted milieux in which our clients function. In particular, it is useful in those multiproblem situations involving a complex interaction of stress-producing significant environments.
Role Theory. We meet many clients in our caseloads whose problems are stress-related to an inability to cope with complex role sets or because they cannot deal appropriately with role transitions in their lives, such as being newly married or separated, ill, or retired. Role theory has proven highly useful in helping people sort out role-related situations, understand them, and better order their life priorities.
Feminism Theory. As our society has become more conscious of the complex and frequently unfair and unjust ways that we respond to women, and the effects this has on self-image and functioning, a growing body of relevant therapeutic theory is emerging. This theory is useful in situations when women are seeking to get a better understanding of themselves and their potential, and to find strategies to help set and achieve appropriate life, personal, and career goals.
Marxist Theory. As with systems theory, Marxist thinking gives an orientation to broader society, its operation, and its impact on individuals, families, and groups. As such it is not yet a system of therapy but a perspective from which therapy can begin. It provides some parameters within which treatment objectives can be developed. Its basic premises would not be acceptable to many clients and this could be counterproductive in such situations.
Life Model. Sometimes called an ecological perspective, this system provides a basis for helping the client understand and make use of the potential for growth in themselves and their broad environment. It is particularly useful in those cases met so frequently where the problems are heavily influenced by issues arising from interfacing systems and subsystems.