Social Work Theory and Methods Comparison Table
Situations where this may be useful
People are not isolated individuals but operate as part of wider networks or "systems" Systems may be informal (e.g. family or friends), formal (e.g. clubs, support groups) or public (schools, hospitals) Difficulties may arise if there is a lack of fit between the person and the systems they operate within. Systems can be employed to support the service user to achieve change. Emphasis on changing environments rather than individuals.
Focus on patterns rather than "cause and effect" – allows for different ways of getting to the desired outcome. Sees worker as part of a system of change rather than solely responsible – may lend itself to multi-disciplinary work.
Does not explain why things happen or give guidance about how to act to bring about change. May overemphasise "bigger picture" at the expense of details. Values maintenance and integration over conflict – may not explicitly challenge inequality. Does not encourage challenge of oppressive systems.
Germain and Gitterman – "Life model" (1980 / 1996) -people are interdependent with each other and their environment – each influences the other over time. People move through their own unique life course and may encounter "stressors" – some of which may make them feel they cannot cope. People employ coping mechanisms and draw on resources in the environment, social networks and inner resources. Acknowledgement of interrelationship between person and environment. Consideration of a range of resources to support people – both internal and external. As above.
Task Centred Approach
Brief work within explicit time limits
Collaborative approach between worker and service user – based on a contract. Systematic work
Includes some behavioural ideas but mainly a cognitive approach Usual to take action to get what you want
Action guided by beliefs about self and world
Time-limits help motivate service users
People may “get stuck” if they have to deal with a certain issue over and over Problems defined as “unsatisfied wants"
Clear and straightforward
Short timescale may help people feel more committed
Well supported by research
Service users supported to take control of own life.
Can increase service user's coping skills to deal with issues in the future. Strengths based approach which assumes that service users can overcome problems with the right support.
Not effective where there are longer-term psychological issues Not effective where service user doesn’t accept the right of the agency to be involved. May oversimplify issues people face
Some people may be too overwhelmed by the issues they face to have the energy to address them. Does not really address power differentials between service user and worker. May not address structural issues of power and oppression
Brief intervention – deals with immediate issues rather than longer term problems Based on ego-psychology and cognitive-behavioural models – serious events have an impact on the way people think about themselves and their emotional reactions Assumes we live in “steady state” – able to cope with change Crises upset the steady state and provide opportunity to improve skills / risk of failure Period of disorganised thinking / behaving
Crises can reawaken unresolved issues from the past but offer a chance to correct non-adjustment to past events.
Help people to deal with major events or life transitions
Can incorporate other theories – solution-focussed / cognitive-behavioural Time-limited and task-focussed.
May not help people who experience “continual crises”
Does not address issues around poverty or social exclusion
Cognitive-behavioural approach / Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy Rather than being an "insight based therapy" it uses techniques from behaviourism, social learning...
References: Coulshed, V; Social Work Practice; 2nd ed (1991) Macmillan, Basingstoke and London.
Lindsay, T (ed) ; Social Work Intervention; (2009) Learning Matters Ltd, Exeter.
Maclean, S and Harrison, R: Social Work Theory;(2008); Kirwan Maclean Associates, Rugeley.
Milner, J and O’Byrne; P: Assessment in Social Work; (1998) Macmillan; London and Basingstoke.
Payne, M; Modern Social Work Theory; 3rd ed (2005) Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York.
Trevithick, P; Social Work Skills, A Practice Handbook; 1st ed (2000) OU Press, Buckingham & Philadelphia
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