Case Western Reserve University
Ecological Systems Theory
Just like most professions, Social Work is a profession that relies heavenly on theory to determine what approach to take when working to achieve specific goals. One of the most challenging roles of a social worker is learning how to determine what theory to apply when dealing with certain aspects of the profession. This is especially true when it comes to understanding the complexities of human needs. Despite previous theories, Urie Bronfenbreener’s ecological systems theory continues to be one of the most comprehensive theories used to better understand human needs. That is why it has become increasingly important to be able to recognize the key concepts of the ecological systems theory and to be able to identify what characteristics set this theory apart from other theories. Once this level of competence is achieve, workers should be able to identify what kind of problems and/or clients this theory would be helpful with. This skill can only be mastered by understanding every detail of the ecological systems theory. Discussion
According to Hepworth, Rooney, Dewberry Rooney, Strom-Gottfried, and Larsen (2010), the ecological systems theory suggests that individual engagement with other human beings (niche) and systems within the environment (habitat) are two of the most influential factors that determine human needs. This is because both factors reciprocally influence each other (2010). For instance, a change in a person’s environment typically changes the kind of people that person interacts with and the type of resources that person has access to. If I decided to move from the projects to the suburbs, I would be exposed to a new community. My new community will allow me to network with people who I might not have had the opportunity to network with when I lived in the projects. My move from the projects to the suburbs could also provide me with access to more resources such as libraries and jobs. A change in a person’s niche or habitat can be positive or negative. The ecological systems theory makes it clear that it is desirable to have a positive and well-balanced niche and habitat. This is because “the satisfaction of human needs and mastery of developmental task require adequate resources in the environment and positive transactions between people and their environment” (Hepworth, Rooney, Dewberry Rooney, Strom-Gottfried, and Larsen, 2010, 16). For example, a person who aspires to be a phenomenal business leader would be better prepared to take on that role if he or she had access to superior educational institutions and positive interaction with individuals who are already in this type of position. This is because the educational facilities can provide valuable knowledge to that individual and the exposure to other leaders can open up hands-on learning opportunities. Now image if there were gaps in any of the above resources or negative interactions and how these gap could hinder that individual’s needs and development.
This notion that a person’s life circumstances are based on individual interactions and different layers of his or her environment is what set the ecological systems theory apart from other theories. This is because, historically, theorists have only used one of the two variables to understand different aspects of human life. The ecological systems theory is helpful on both the micro and macro level of social work. For a clinical social worker, the ecological systems theory is the most helpful in phase one of the helping process. During this phase the worker explores client needs, assesses contributing factors, and devises a plan of action to help meet client needs. Taking an ecological system’s approach to this phase will allow the worker to create a more accurate profile of client needs, help to determine what environmental absentees may be causing certain needs, determine individuals who may be positively or negatively contributing to client needs, and to determine what actions need to take place to help bridge the gap between client’s habitat and niche.
Personally, the ecological systems theory appears to be an ingenious approach to the field of social work. It is very advantageous because it forces the worker and the client to create an all-inclusive picture of the client’s reasons for needing a social worker. As human being we have a tendency to identify a single factor as the cause of all of our problems. The ecological system perspective is helpful in extending our focal point. Applying this theory would be the most beneficial to me when I am working with clients who are having difficulties meeting certain needs because of a lack of resources or with clients who have a drug abuse problem. I identify drug abuse clients because these types of clients typically use drugs as a coping mechanism to deal with some of their relationships or current living situations. Conclusion
In closing, the ecological systems theory is one of the best theories to apply when attempting to assess human needs. It is not only imperative to be able to identify the key concepts of the theory, but it is beneficial to know the differences between the ecological systems theories and other things. This type of knowledge will help social workers understand when applying the ecological systems theory would be best in their practice and with what type of clients the application of the theory would benefit the most.
Hepworth, D. H., Rooney, R. H., Rooney, G.D., Strom-Gottfried, K., and Larsen, J. (2010). Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.