Importance of theories and models in social work

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Society exists because humans are willing to associate and keep these associations with one another. Interdependency is, therefore, the basic unit of society. A society ceases to be functional the moment the people in it decide to cut off interactions and live isolated from one another.

Only in a cohesive society is an individual able to attempt and achieve that which would be inconceivable if they were alone. However, sometimes these endeavors are unfruitful. And this brings us to the importance of social work. Social work uses society’s resources to meet the needs of its members, no matter how simple or complex the challenges are.

An objective look at social work as a fundamental determinant of a progressive society shows it is indeed a profession of utmost importance. Hence, social work theories and models are continually reviewed to ensure they remain relevant. In this article, we’ll discuss some social work theories and models and how they impact society.

Why the need for theories and models?

Social work theories and models are essential tools studied by social workers to help their clients. Social theories are for the social worker to understand what is out of place and why it is that way, while social models help the social worker have a solid approach to induce changes that would benefit the client.

An important attribute of a social worker is a teachable mindset. Social work theories and models are studied; having social work as a career requires learning from these researched and substantiated approaches. Obtaining an online master of social work, such as the one available at Keuka College, to learn more and supplement their education is a great way for social workers to advance their careers and provide more value to their clients.

Social workers are similar to medical doctors as they also do not have the luxury of assumption because they deal with human lives. So, a consolidated practice model must be backed by evidence and unitarily accepted.

Social work theories

Social work theory is a tool used by social workers to help their clients to overcome challenges by analysis of everything that seemingly impacts them. Social work theories are extracts of this analysis, answering how and why the client is affected by any given circumstance. Let’s consider the following theories:

  1. System Theory

The system theory looks into how relationships and environmental factors are major elements for formulating human behavior. These factors have numerous influences on human behavior and cannot be traced back to a single cause.

Some of these  factors include family, friends, culture, beliefs, economy, school, and the community. The system theory is vast because these factors have subsets that need to be identified and observed.

An example is in a client’s family, where the client has a different relationship with the father, a different one with the mother, and perhaps another with an uncle. The point being even within the system is a subsystem. Due to the system theory’s overwhelming nature, some teachings have extracted subcategories.

These subcategories are the contingency theory, the ecological theory, and the family system theory. All three make the point that social workers must view the client as they interact with their environment to know what, how, and why a person behaves in a particular way. A practical use of system theory is treating individual matters in a collective of those with identical issues.

  1. Rational Choice Theory

The rational choice theory postulates that the individual is completely responsible for whatever behavior is exhibited by them. Rationality indicates the ability of our brain to reason and calculate how we can obtain the best advantage. So, this theory believes that a client analyzes every decision, fully aware of the pros and cons of that decision.

This theory antagonizes the system theory, taking its origin from economics; it is all about profit. This theory is convinced that despite the influences of relationships and external forces, individuals will take steps that will ultimately benefit them. The social worker can use this rational choice theory to understand the clients that seem to make decisions that only profit them.

  1. Psychodynamic Theory

This theory follows the system theory in that they have the same anchor but alternate approaches. The psychodynamic theory is certain that our behaviors are formed without our input. The difference between it and system theory here is that the influences are not external or dependent on other people but rather from within us.

The theory stems from the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who says that personalized and behavioral patterns are based on these three aspects. They are the id, the ego, and the superego; impulse, decision-making, and conscience, respectively.

All these are formed during childhood, so according to this, a client can’t be held accountable since they were formed long before they could do anything about it. When dealing with this situation, the social worker should look at the client’s childhood because that may be the key to helping them.

  1. Person in Environment (PIE)

Person-in-environment involves observing the client’s environment and how they behave in familiar surroundings. PIE uses a four-pronged system of approach in the form of the following questions:

  • What are the issues the client has with social functioning, and does the client have any strengths in this area?
  • What are the problems in the social institution of this community, and does the client have any strengths in this area?
  • Are there mental health problems, and does the client have any strengths in this area?
  • Are there physical health challenges, and does the client have any strengths in this area?

PIE enables the social worker to get information in a format that can be useful for other professionals in social sciences. Because it records, plans, evaluate, and facilitates responses. The most important thing is getting help for the client as accurately and quickly as possible.

  1. Psychosocial Development Theory

This theory was also based on Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory. However, this was enunciated in the 1950s by psychoanalyst and psychologist Erik Erikson. He believes that a person does not choose their behavior; rather, the conflicts that the person experiences while growing up mold the person.

From infancy to childhood; middle and late, to adolescence, to adulthood; early, middle, and late, the individual experiences changes in the following:

  • During infancy, changes to trust versus mistrust happen.
  • During childhood, the child will experience changes following autonomy versus shame and doubt, initiative versus guilt, and industry versus inferiority.
  • During adolescence, there would be changes to identity versus confusion.
  • During adulthood or maturity, these would change to intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation, and integrity versus despair.

At these different stages, the emotions vary and are affected by these changes at every point. With this, social workers can get an idea of what is happening to a teenage client or a child.

Social learning theory

According to Albert Bandura, a psychologist in the 1970s, a person studies people around them (human relationships).

This theory combines the process of rational choice theory and how human relationships affect a person’s behavior. Studies here show the brain is actively analyzing and rationalizing other people’s behavior before deciding to emulate them.

A good example is a child’s interactions with people. Observing how a child speaks, one can assume that the parents behave the same way. Hence, a social worker employing the social learning theory would thoroughly investigate the client’s relationship.

  1. Transpersonal Theory

The transpersonal theory is only partially scientific because it factors in spirituality as something that influences behavior. It takes a holistic approach to analyze human behavior.

  1. Social Exchange Theory

Austrian sociologist George Homans says social exchange theory is a cost-benefit relationship that mirrors economics so well.

With the social exchange theory, a client can rationalize which of their relationships is of maximum advantage and decide to maintain that relationship based solely on profitability.

The client is invested in each relationship just as much as the other person is willing to. And when the client gets less than what they give, that relationship ends.

Social work models

Social work models are workable solutions to issues a social worker is bound to encounter in the field.

  1. Narrative Therapy

This form of response is the process of turning personal experiences into stories.  The client is often required to do this, in order to see themselves as a whole without the problems.

They are encouraged to do this to affirm their existence away from the troubles they presently deal with. To achieve this, narrative therapy employs the following factors:

  • The objective truth is non-existent
  • Reality itself is a social construct
  • Language or words can warp our perspective
  • Narratives aid us in rearranging our reality

Through narrative therapy, clients can see the possibility of a better situation for themselves and be energized to work towards it.

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a series of therapies used to correct a client’s wrong perception of a particular situation. In harmless situations, there are clients who see an unfolding event wrongly. In their mind, they construct the worst possible scenario of simple circumstances.

Social workers use CBT as a form of short-term treatment to protect and enlighten the client about the true nature of what is happening around them.

Examples of clients who have to deal with such conditions are people with depression and anxiety. They must suffer these unhealthy distorted thought processes they believe to be true. CBT is used to identify these thought processes and reconstruct them.

  1. Crisis Intervention Model

Social workers use the crisis intervention model for clients experiencing a dire situation that could be fatal if not quickly attended to. Situations like this include major trauma, self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe depression or suicidal thoughts, and many others.

Albert Roberts and Allen Ottens provided seven steps to de-escalate a crisis; these are listed below.

  • Do a psychosocial and lethality assessment.
  • Quickly establish a psychological connection by building rapport.
  • Identify the cause of the crisis.
  • Let the client talk. Let them express their thoughts and emotions.
  • Let the client know there are better coping mechanisms
  • Create an action plan that will effectively cope with the crisis.
  • Follow up with the client.

Task-centered practice

This practice lasts only eight to twelve sessions. The client would focus on achieving simple, measurable goals. The social worker and client should work together to develop a step-by-step action plan complete with specific tasks.

The clients should be encouraged to carry out those tasks one after the other. Picture an accident victim trying to get back on their feet. The physical therapist ensures each step is taken one after the other.

Problem-solving model

This model, known as partializing, has been used for over fifty years. It was proposed by Helen Harris Perlman. She decided that breaking down a client’s problems into simpler forms would allow a social worker to develop a plan that focuses on the small issue. Perlman believed that focusing on one problem at a time would greatly benefit the social worker and the client.

Solution-focused therapy

Solution-focused therapy originated from family therapy. It is only focused on the way out of the issue. Focusing on the solution doesn’t mean the past or the client’s problems are unimportant; rather how the cause, effect, and why can be used to bring about a much more accepted and effective outcome.

Final take

Social work is a helping profession, and there is no over-saying it. And since our world is dynamic, what was law yesterday may not be valid tomorrow. Hence the importance of equipping the social worker for the known and unknown by reviewing principles and researching theories and models.

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