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About this book

This exciting core text book is an engaging and accessible introduction to understanding human behaviour and development from a psychological perspective. Written by a psychologist with extensive teaching experience, it offers a clear and systematic exploration of psychological concepts and research, and discussion of their relevance for social work practice.

Adopting a logical and intuitive structure, this is key reading for Human Growth and Development modules and a range of other Social Work modules with psychological content. Psychology for Social Work offers a truly integrative resource for students, allowing them to see how different elements of theory and research connect together for practical application.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
This chapter will be relatively short compared with other chapters. Its purpose is to introduce some basic ideas and concepts in psychology and to outline the structure of the book. Psychology as a discipline will be examined, including its history, its different perspectives and its goals. Social work and its definition will be examined as will the role of psychology in social work. A brief explanation of the different specialities within psychology is given at the end of the chapter. This book is meant to introduce students who have little or no knowledge to some of the fundamental tenets and concepts in psychology that are relevant to social work and its practice. This chapter is an introductory one, outlining some basic premises and ideas from psychology; its goal is to familiarise you with the field of psychology.
Emma Zara O’Brien

Chapter 2. The Brain and Behaviour

Abstract
The focus of this chapter is to chart the development of the brain from a neurodevelopmental approach navigating across five periods; infancy, childhood, adolescence, adult-hood and the older years. A major theme throughout this chapter will be that of plasticity, or the ability of neurons (nerve cells) to change in structure or function. In other words, how the brain reacts and adapts to its changing environment and how experiences, both positive and negative, can shape the developing brain. Before we can fully engage with these issues it is important for the reader to acquire an introductory understanding of the brain, its structure, functions and its role in behaviour and emotions, this will form the first part of the chapter. Once we have established a rudimentary knowledge of the brain itself, we will delve further into each period across the life span, reviewing its distinct development including the potential impact of both positive and negative experiences on the developing brain. Within the sections, topics of particular relevance to the field of social work such as the neuroscience of attachment, its impact on brain development and the consequences to behaviour in relationships will be discussed. Other topics, including trauma and the impact of stress on brain development, are examined. The chapter ends by exploring whether the work of neuroscience is being misrepresented by some proponents of the First Three Years movement. This chapter intends to demonstrate to the reader the relevance of neuroscience and knowledge of the brain to social work and its practice, in addition to the ‘In focus’ pieces, case studies will be utilised.
Emma Zara O’Brien

Chapter 3. Communication and Relationships in Social Work

Abstract
‘The capacity to communicate openly and confidently is a crucial aspect of the social work task.’ As Walker (2008, p. 5) suggests, communication skills are identified as a core skill needed by social workers. Another core domain is that of ‘contexts and organisations’, highlighting the importance of being able to work with others, inter-professionally and with communities as key to the work of social workers. The ability to build relationships and communicate within them is a fundamental skill in social work. This chapter is notionally divided into three parts. Part 1 will focus on ‘Intrapersonal Communication’ and consider the role of emotional intelligence and reflective function in the acquisition of skills needed by social workers to engage and communicate with themselves, clients and other professionals. Walker (2008) argues that the concept of emotional intelligence or emotional literacy is being increasingly emphasised within education and learning and holds a role for social work practitioners. From here the concept of reflective function and its role in developing awareness will be considered. This section ends with an overview of communication and social work from an ‘attachment perspective’. Section 2 focuses on ‘Interpersonal Communication’, on the actual skills needed and used to engage with others and is followed by an overview of the different elements of communication specific to particular groups, for example, the use of the ‘Three Houses’ approach when communicating with children is outlined. Other groups, including the elderly and those with disabilities, are also considered, as well as cross-cultural communication. The final section examines ‘implications for practice’ and includes an in-depth look at person-centred practice, including planning and thinking skills. A taxonomy (scheme of classification) of core condition and skills is outlined as a guide to use in developing greater knowledge and awareness of communication. The chapter ends with an activity on the use of self-awareness in social work.
Emma Zara O’Brien

Chapter 4. Approaches to Psychology

Abstract
In Chapter 1, we briefly examined some of the major approaches within psychology. In this chapter we are going to explore them in greater depth. As always this book cannot be exhaustive and the choice of theories reflects those traditionally studied and considered influential in psychology. The major theoretical traditions are outlined here; however, throughout the book other theoretical frameworks will be considered. All the theories discussed have relevance to social work, but some appear more obvious than others, such as the ecological approach, which attempts to place the individual in his or her context and extrapolate all the various interacting influences that shape a person’s life. Within the developmental theories, some can struggle with cognitive theories particularly; the language can be off-putting and the direct relevance unclear, but it is essential to, as practitioners, understand the ‘typical’ and expected development of a person in order to support that development, and theories offer us a window to do so. Yet it is also important to be able to recognise when development becomes ‘atypical’ or is not in line with the expected developmental trajectories. As we saw in the preceding chapter, a child’s level of development impacts directly on the communication process and knowledge of cognitive theories (which focus on the development of thinking and language) is of critical importance in determining a child’s comprehension level and ability to articulate feelings and events. So the study of developmental theories is of central importance to social work. In the next chapter we will incorporate theories into ‘human growth and development’ across the life span; however, the focus here is on the major theoretical domains and theorists associated with them. It is more useful for the reader to have a footing in the major theoretical approaches so as to better understand the developmental patterns of the life span in the subsequent chapters.
Emma Zara O’Brien

Chapter 5. Human Growth and Development

Abstract
This chapter proposes to cover a wide gamut as it examines human development across the life span, beginning with conception and finishing at the end of life. To make it more manageable the entire life span will be divided into five categories — conception, prenatal development and infancy, childhood, adolescence and finally, adulthood and old age. Developmental theories will be alluded to, as well as age- or concept-specific theories (e.g. Elkind’s theory of adolescent cognition). In addition, domains of development including physical, cognitive, socioemotional and cultural will be discussed while ‘In focus’ pieces allow you to consider a topic in more depth. A broad knowledge base is required of social workers, and this chapter will endeavour to take you through the psychology of the life span. While it cannot be exhaustive, as all age stages and domains of development are covered, hopefully, you will begin to recognise that these domains are interrelated and interact to influence developmental outcomes. So let’s start where it all begins, not at birth but at the moment of they consider conception.
Emma Zara O’Brien

Chapter 6. Disabilities

Abstract
We are going to begin this chapter with an examination of definitions and models of disability. This is merely an introduction to an area that is vast and hotly debated. Nonetheless, the reader will, hopefully, be encouraged to consider their perception of disability, how it is informed and its implications for practice. The next section overviews the different categories of disabilities and some conditions will be considered in greater detail. The final section allows for engagement with aspects of disability, including ethnicity and disability and its impact on parenting. This chapter is not, cannot be, exhaustive; its intention is to introduce the topic of disability, overview the causes and characteristics of categories of disability and offer insight into some aspects of disability and the life course.
Emma Zara O’Brien

Chapter 7. Mental Health

Abstract
Mental health, illness, disorders — again we encounter language and how it is loaded. So too is the concept of mental health, itself polemical and controversial at times. This chapter, as with the book, is written from a psychological narrative and the language and concepts discussed here reflect that perspective. This chapter, though rooted in the psychological tradition, includes concepts and ideas relevant to social work, allowing for not just a broader level of knowledge but engagement with differing perspectives. Reflecting psychology’s bias towards psychopathology or the study of thinking, feeling and behaviour considered maladaptive, this chapter will predominantly focus on mental health disorders. We will consider how mental health is defined, and overview models associated with mental health difficulties and the critiques offered. In reaction to the emphasis on maladaptive functioning, positive psychology grew, interested in the study of those who prosper particularly in the face of adversity and in the study of the mechanisms at play, such as ‘flow’ and ‘resilience’. The emphasis of this chapter is narrow and deals with the aetiology (causes) and classification of mental disorders. The following chapter leads on from this one and explores, in greater depth, well-being and environmental stressors, psychosocial resilience and adversity, and the factors, characteristics and interplay that occurs, to include groups vulnerable to mental health problems. While this may give the impression of dichotomy and bias towards the more medicalised approach to mental illness and well-being that arguably exists within psychology, here it is merely a reflection of the enormity and scope of mental health and the influences that act upon it and a belief that dividing it between two chapters may better capture its many aspects.
Emma Zara O’Brien

Chapter 8. Well-Being and Environmental Stressors

Abstract
Throughout this book we have considered the role of biological, psychological and social factors in an individual’s development. Influences and their relationships to one another exist within an individual’s environment, immediate and distant, affecting outcomes. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model illustrates that in order to gain a greater understanding of how we develop and the outcomes that unfold, we must look at the different influences on an individual and how they interact to shape the developmental pathway. Traditionally, focus, particularly within psychology, was aimed at forces ‘within’ the person: the biological and psychological influences believed to shape development. Now a greater recognition of influences outside the person and their impact on outcomes is increasingly recognised and understood. Factors such as food poverty, low income and other social variations enhance, or erode, well-being and health outcomes and point to diverse social factors involved in well-being. In this chapter we will focus on the role of environmental stressors, such as poverty and community and their relationship to the psychological development and well-being of an individual. Adversity and resilience are terms commonly used in highlighting that some circumstances or factors can be protective and supportive of outcomes or, at the other end of the spectrum, risk-orientated and adverse. We will discuss considerations and issues regarding risk and resilience, then examine environmental stressors associated with poorer outcomes. Resilience and a strengths-based approach act as a counter balance to these discussions: a reaction against psychology’s emphasis on pathology, deficit and the medical model, aligning itself to social justice principles. Resilience can be supported and has practical applications, as will be seen in its use with young people in care.
Emma Zara O’Brien

Chapter 9. Abuse and Trauma

Abstract
Safeguarding children and other vulnerable groups is a core element of social work. This chapter will introduce you to the key aspects of abuse and trauma with an emphasis on the psychological aspects rather than legislation, policy or practice pertaining to social work. We begin with a discussion on the question of intentionality and its role in defining abuse. The different categories of abuse, their characteristics and associated factors will be overviewed. Groups vulnerable to abuse will be examined, such as the increased risk of abuse faced by those with mental illness. Further, an ‘In focus’ piece on the abuse of disabled children will allow for greater elucidation of the mechanisms involved. Societal and cultural influences can be overlooked when attempting to understand the mechanisms involved in abuse and its perpetuation. A case study focussing on the Irish experience is given to illustrate how ‘society’ can be a factor in abuse; abuse which could be seen from within homes to institutions, reflecting the influence of societal attitudes and values in the perpetuation and denial of abuse. While a snapshot can only be offered, it is a powerful one illustrating how the role of attitudes towards women and children created and allowed for wide scale abuse. Of course, it would be unwise to think of this example as a one off. Values and attitudes, as we will see, play a powerful role in the construction of abuse and its perpetuation. The final section of the chapter gives greater focus to the perspective of those victimised, and the search for meaning and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] are explored.
Emma Zara O’Brien

Chapter 10. Social Psychology — B=F(P,E)

Abstract
Lewin’s famous equation captures the concept that our behaviour reflects, and is a function of, environment. Sociological perspectives consider the role of society and its effects. Social psychology is often seen as a crossover between psychology and sociology, an interdisciplinary bridge between the two. The field of social psychology studies how people influence our behaviour (social influence), how we think about and perceive our social world (social thinking and social perception) and how we behave towards other people (social relations). Social psychology can help to explain why people succumb to conditions of oppression and can teach us to collaborate with others. Social Psychology thus has the potential for applications in the field of social work, where social phenomena such as prejudice and discrimination are of concern; further, it acknowledges the relationship between attitude and behaviour that is fundamental in agitating for social change and justice.
Emma Zara O’Brien
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