Social Work & Social Service Providers
Social work is one of the broadest fields in social and human services. The primary theoretical foundation that drives social work is that of developing appropriate interventions. Historically, the focus of interventions has changed due to different theoretical orientations. In order to practice social work an individual must earn at least a bachelor's degree. Social workers serve in a wide range of capacities including as clinical counselors, professionals in social agencies, child welfare workers, and many other areas of human services.
Sociology & Related Fields
Social workers are an invaluable part of the social services landscape. They serve in child welfare agencies, mental health services, government services and private practice. However, it is a long road to become a professional social worker. The very basic requirement is a four year BSW or bachelor's of social work. Beyond that, the field generally requires an MSW or masters of social work to serve in a position of authority or responsibility. In order to earn licensure as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), an individual must be over twenty-one and have approximately three thousand hours of postgraduate work in the field. These hours must be supervised by a registered, clinical social worker. Once the hours are complete he or she applies to the state examination board to take the licensing examination. Each state has specific requirements for their social workers to maintain licensure (just as they do with doctors or physical therapists). Extensive information on licensure is available from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) at http://www.socialworkers.org/
Social Work Theory
The primary theoretical foundation that drives social work is that of developing appropriate interventions. Historically, the focus of interventions has changed due to different theoretical orientations. According to Johnsson & Svensson (2005), some of the theories that have informed social work include
* Psychodynamic theory,
* Cognitive-behavioural theories,
* System theory,
* Social psychological theories such as different communication models,
* Sociological theories such as radical and Marxist perspectives,
* Empowerment and advocacy and feminist theories (Johnsson & Svensson, 2005, p. 423).
Social work theory has examined the different reasons for social problems. Some of the reasons they have proposed include structural problems--that is, that social conditions lead to social problems. Psychological theories have provided an impetus to consider the ways in which people interact as a focus of social unrest. This is a far more individualistic approach and looks more at individuals and the ways in which they take, or do not take responsibility in their lives. At the heart of social work, however, is the desire to try and alleviate the social problems faced by many vulnerable people in society. These include abused children, seniors, victims of domestic abuse, people who live in poverty, and persons with disabilities.
The modern approach to social work theory is changing and moving towards something called "evidence-based practice. " Johnsson and Svensson (2005) state:
One of the main discussions in social work today is about evidence-based practice, and the connection between research and practice in social work. This connection is often discussed both as a practical question, how it should be done, and as a theoretical question, how it should be understood (p. 421).
There are some who suggest that even with this evolution towards evidence-based work, social work is not a field that is based in theory. Their assertion is that social work is a practical endeavor that is focused on changing the situation in which people or organizations find themselves (Johnsson & Svensson, 2005). Lam (2004) disagrees. She suggests that students in social work often find themselves in extremely vulnerable and difficult situations and therefore try to focus on the practical rather than the theoretical. This often gives the wrong impression that there is no social work theory to ground their work. Her argument is that social work theory is actually highly complex and this makes it difficult for students to retain all of this information and be effective in the field on a practical level. "Even if students retain different theories well, the selection and retrieval of these theories from a whole pool of knowledge is not a simple exercise" (Lam, 2004, p. 373).
Teaching Social Work Theory
Voss (2004) has conducted research into a new area of social work-- teaching sensitivity in a cross-cultural perspective utilizing alternative and complementary techniques. His focus has been on understanding people from within their own cultural framework and perceptions. This empowers social workers to utilize techniques that come from within the person's cultural perspective and not from the perspective of the cultural background of the social worker. He has found that challenging students' perceptions of different cultures can be uncomfortable work for some students. Nevertheless, he believes it opens their minds to new ways of practicing their profession:
The last example I would like to share is something that I have found useful while teaching race relations, a core diversity course in the undergraduate social work curriculum and an interdisciplinary course, which draws mixed majors from across the university. Invariably, I have found my students confronting an energetic lull or deadzone midway through the course. (Voss, 2004, p. 23)
Theory in social work provides a means of understanding social structure, social processes and the ways in which people and organizations interact and connect with the larger society. For example, Johnsson and Svensson (2005) discuss the relationship of poverty to society:
All social processes occur on more than one level poverty that leads to malnutrition and lack of skills, which leads to marginalisation, which leads to unemployment, which leads to poverty and so on. In that perspective, poverty is a complex process where factors on different levels have to be taken into account. (p. 422-423)
The Roots of Social Work
There is research to suggest that social work has its roots in Victorian society. Nineteenth century England was in many ways a very progressive time. There were advances in medicine, new technologies were being invented and the notion of "comforting others" became one of the principles of Victorian England. Webb (2007a) states:
My contention is that certain key ideas emerge from this period that still form the background horizons of our moral, scientific and practical experiences in social work. The call to improve ordinary life and encourage self reliance, for instance, as well as the ideals of benevolence and compassion took root in late Victorian England with social work being a key vehicle of transmission. (p. 41)
To a large degree, Victorian society was the beginning of what we often term as "modernity. " It was also a society of great contrasts. While there were many wealthy people there were also the very poor. The beginnings of an industrial society also brought great anxieties. Many people were forced out of the countryside in order to find work in large urban centers. This changed the fabric of the British family and as such many found themselves having to work in factories for long hours and very little pay. These kinds of changes created some of the social problems we still see today--people feeling estranged from their work, familial disruption, difficulties with raising children, concern over helping the poor and people with disabilities and illnesses. Charitable organizations were established to assist the disenfranchised:
Charitable activities were thus caught up in the dislocating effects of modernization. This is why a key emphasis was on the demarcation of the casual poor [those who work sometimes and not at others] and the fluctuating circumstances of poverty surrounding their disorderly life style. (Webb, 2007a, p. 43)
In the late nineteenth century, a British social worker by the name of Octavia Hill was considered to be an important influence on the development of the field. Hill worked with people who would have been considered outcasts by many others--those who were unemployed, homeless and thought to have no skills and therefore no ability to contribute to society. She was especially devoted to several housing projects which provided secure homes for people who would otherwise be homeless. "The work of Octavia Hill also underlines the preoccupation with home and dwellings by early social workers" (Webb, 2007b, p. 195).
Van Wormer (2002) points out that the early part of the twentieth century was a vibrant time in social work history....
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