Social Work Empowerment Theory

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As an undergrad social work student at University of Texas-Arlington we are taught how to become a generalist social worker. Becoming a generalist social worker will provide us with a broad range of skills to work with micro, mezzo and macro groups from all different ethnicities, ages, and religions. Professors here at UTA teach us many different models and theories that we can use as tools to work with our clients or groups successfully.

A newer social work perspective that I would like to discuss in this paper is the empowerment approach. The empowerment theory gained legitimacy as a paradigm back in 1981 by Julian Rappaport who discussed this paradigm in his Presidential Address at the American Psychological Association. He stated, "Empowerment is the mechanism by which people, organizations, and communities gain mastery over their lives" (Cummings pg.141). This statement provided the foundation for the empowerment approach that we as social workers use. Since Rappaport's introduction, the empowerment concept has taken shape and acquired meaning primarily through the work of social theorists, rather than practitioners. To clarify empowerment further, a great definition by social worker and professor Lawrence Shulman states in his book The Skills of Helping, "the empowerment process involves engaging the client, family, group, or community in developing strengths to personally and politically cope more effectively with those systems that are important to them"(Shulman pg.18).

Today the empowerment approach has been researched and proved to be an effective tool to helping individuals and groups. For example, alcoholics who attend meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous have shared feelings about how these peer-led workshops and discussion groups they attend have greatly enhanced their self-worth and helpfulness. The dignity to be able to not only help themselves to stop drinking but also help another alcoholic individual who is struggling as well is proved great satisfaction. This satisfaction in helping others is reciprocated by the other peers in the group thus empowering both individuals and improving chances for a change and self-worth.

Looking back at my life I remember certain tough situations that I had struggled with and how the empowerment process helped me. A big influence towards my empowerment of myself was my parents, in many different events during my life they helped me help myself. One situation in particular that jumps right out at me was when I was 18 years old looking for my first apartment. After looking around at numerous apartments for nearly a month I had decided on three that I really liked. Problem of being a young guy just out of high school, it was tough finding an apartment owner of a decent complex to rent to me, even if I had met all the legal and financial requirements to move in. It was extremely aggravating, and I began to feel helpless and powerless with no clue what to do, so I turned to my family for support.

Instead of my parents making it easy and signing for the apartment in their name while I lived there, they helped me with a better approach that enabled me to empower myself so that the owners and managers of theses apartment complexes could not discriminate against me because of my age. My parents acted as a broker, and gave me the phone number to the local tenant union so I could get a form that is used to take the proper legal action. It turned out that a week later after handing my form into the tenant union, all three of the apartments that had previously denied me because of "no credit history" offered me an apartment. I was more ecstatic than ever, I felt like I just hit the winning shot in a basketball game. I felt so powerful that I thought- "hey, what's next?" - I could have tackled anything.

From my experiences using the empowerment approach, it had worked for me, but not in all my tough situations. As a social worker, we must realize who the client is, what...
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