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About this book

This exciting new edition 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.

The psychological framework provides thematic coherence for a uniquely wide range of material, from brain development to communication skills, psychiatric diagnoses to forms of discrimination. With a logical and intuitive structure, it’s perfect for Human Growth and Development modules and a range of other Social Work modules with psychological content, enabling students to see how different elements of theory and research connect together for practical application.

Table of Contents

1. INTRODUCTION

Abstract
Psychology for social work…a daunting endeavour given the range of issues and topics that social workers need knowledge of and deal with. Psychology has breadth and depth too; similar to social work, it is concerned with the human experience. Psychology endeavours to understand human thinking, emotions and behaviour, historically looking to ‘intrapsychic’ processes (within the individual). The roots of social work lie in recognition of social injustice and its impact on peoples’ life experiences. Recently, psychology has given greater acknowledgment to external forces and their influence. Social work continues to embrace psychological theories and research to augment their knowledge. This book attempts to introduce theories, concepts and research from psychology relevant to social work. The reader is encouraged to engage critically and to consider how psychology and its tenets might be applied to social work and its practice.
Emma Zara O’Brien

2. THE BRAIN AND BEHAVIOUR

Abstract
Why study the brain? Is neuroscience really that relevant to the actual work of social workers? As a psychologist, I would argue, absolutely! Without understanding the biological, including neuro, underpinnings of human development, how can you truly understand the development and behaviours of individuals across the life span? It is an argument that is being seen increasingly within social work literature (Egan et al., 2011; Lefmann and Combs-Orme, 2013; Saleebey, 1992). Saleebey’s call to arms in 1992, Biology’s Challenge to Social Work: Embodying the Person-in-Environment Perspective (I would strongly recommend you read it) was a significant herald to the need to give awareness to and have knowledge of the biological, and yet this call has not been heeded, unlike in other professions such as nursing (Burns et al., 2019). Lefmann and Combs-Orme (2013) argue that this is all the more worrying given the increasing emphasis on evidence-based practice. Yet its importance has been recognised; the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has stated the need to ensure the inclusion of neuroscience within social work curricula (Egan et al., 2011).
Emma Zara O’Brien

3. COMMUNICATION AND RELATIONSHIPS IN SOCIAL WORK

Abstract
Central to the values and work of social workers are relationships and the skills needed to foster and build them. This view is supported by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) formulation of the capacities and competencies required of social workers, which also underlines the importance of values and approaches that support relationships and communication situated in anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice, a commonality witnessed in various standards within social work, indicating that being able to communicate effectively, work with others, reflect and review practice is essential.
Emma Zara O’Brien

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 lifespan in the subsequent chapters.
Emma Zara O’Brien

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 will 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 conception is considered to occur.
Emma Zara O’Brien

6. DISABILITIES

Abstract
In Chapter 2, discussion regarding the biopsychosocial model pointed to the suggestion that the social work profession focusses on the social and psychological aspects of development, paying scant regard to the role of the biological. Fearing determinism, during that chapter, you were asked to be critical in what you were reading and to consider your response and reaction, including more prominently a biological perspective in your understanding of human development and behaviour and its implications for assessments, interventions and your practice. Having considered this focus important, it is particularly so for this chapter that considers the topic of disabilities.
Emma Zara O’Brien

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

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 counterbalance 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

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, in general, on the psychological aspects rather than legislation, policy or practice pertaining to social work. However, in recognising the centrality of safeguarding, this chapter opens with a discussion on decision making in child protection practice and how the constructs we hold regarding parenting play heavily in assessing parenting in safeguarding situations and the interventions utilised or not. In starting with this emphasis, it is hoped to encourage the reader to engage with the rest of the material with a critical and reflective lens. It can be all too easy sometimes, when we read theories, research or ‘facts’, to do so in a removed unthinking way, without connecting them into how this information informs our values, the decisions we make and outcomes these may have. Please keep in mind the first piece of this chapter, the questions it poses and issues it provokes as you navigate the remaining chapters.
Emma Zara O’Brien

10. SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY

Abstract
Lewin’s famous equation B=f(P,E) captures the concept that our behaviour reflects and is a function of environment. Berger and Luckmann’s observation reminds us that the biological aspect is inherently involved in how we make sense of the world, and the world around us influences and shapes us. In Chapter 2, we saw it suggested that the social work profession pays less heed to the ‘bio’ aspect in the biopsychosocial approach. One could argue that it pays most heed to the social. So, in this chapter, we will explore this element though still from the perspective of psychology. Whereas 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. This, no doubt, explains why much attention is given to the social conditions and structures people live within and are shaped by, as it argues to the possibility of changing structural and societal aspects that lend to oppression. Social psychology thus has the potential for applications in the field of social work, particularly 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. In this chapter, we will discuss extensively the construct of stigma and its aspects: stereotypes, attributes, prejudice and discrimination. The reach of stigma is wide; think of all the individuals and groups affected by it and for a plethora of ‘reasons’: ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, class, mental health, disability…the list goes on. As we look at the construct of stigma, consider how it affects a particular group or issue. Interrogate yourself as to your prejudices and stereotypes. It’s not pleasant to admit to, but most of us, if not all, possess some element. Only by shining a light on it and bringing awareness can you hope to catch it in your practice. First, we’ll consider how social psychology is understood and consider how reality is possibly constructed and made sense of as an influence on the individual experience.
Emma Zara O’Brien
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