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About this book

This textbook offers the perfect introduction to the complex world of social work theory, giving a concise yet comprehensive overview of how practice is influenced by each theoretical approach described. The book begins by outlining the origins and historical context of social work, which allows the reader to see show how theoretical fashions have changed and adapted to certain times, and concludes with advice on the best way forward for the modern-day social worker. Packed with thought-provoking discussions surrounding the topic, students will be encouraged to question the theories portrayed – a skill crucial to being a truly effective social work practitioner.

Written by one social work's most highly regarded commentators, the book's accessible and easy-to-read writing style makes it a must-have companion for students and practitioners looking to gain an overall view of social work theory.

Table of Contents

1. Social Work Theory

Abstract
If, on the 21 November 1783, you were standing on a small hill just above the river Seine in Paris, not far from where the Eiffel Tower now stands, you would be looking up into the sky. Rising slowly above you is the world’s first manned flight and it’s in a hot air balloon.
David Howe

2. Origins

Abstract
Although the kind of things that social workers do — helping people in distress, trying to improve the resources of those in need, keeping the vulnerable safe — have been done as far back as anyone can remember, it is generally acknowledged that social work as a recognized practice began to take shape in the nineteenth century.
David Howe

3. Casework and Social Reform

Abstract
As we have seen, the energy of Victorian Britain was making the country very rich. And yet amid such wealth, millions were poor and getting poorer. Death through starvation was not uncommon.
David Howe

4. Cause and Function

Abstract
A rather different way of thinking about social work’s mixed parentage and fractured identity was offered by Porter Lee as far back as 1929. He was an American social work academic who wrote a feisty paper about social work’s dual nature, later expanding it into a book with the title Social Work as Cause and Function (1937).
David Howe

5. Psychoanalytic Theory

Abstract
If the social casework of Mary Richmond focuses on the problem, psychoanalytically based social work practice inspired by Freudian psychology concentrates on the person. From the 1920s through until the 1950s, social work showed an ever increasing interest in psychoanalytic psychiatry and psychology.
David Howe

6. Attachment Theory

Abstract
John Bowlby was a British child psychiatrist. His initial thinking was influenced by the British School of Psychoanalysis. The main departure point, though, was Bowlby’s determinedly scientific attempt to understand early parent-child relationships and their impact on development. To this end, and unusually for the time, he studied the ideas being generated by a wide range of developmental sciences including evolutionary theory, ethology, biology, cognitive psychology and systems theory.
David Howe

7. Behavioural Therapies

Abstract
It wasn’t really until the 1970s that social work began to take serious notice of behavioural therapy. This was a time when traditional, mainly psychodynamically based social work began to have a rough time.
David Howe

8. Cognitive Therapies

Abstract
Mimicking the natural sciences, behavioural psychologists felt that if they were going to be scientific, they should rely only on what can be observed. Hence their initial interest in behaviour — what human beings do, not what they think, not how they feel.
David Howe

9. Cognitive-behavioural Social Work

Abstract
It soon became apparent that combining the insights of both behavioural and cognitive psychology generated a particularly powerful set of ideas. Today, behavioural and cognitive therapies are linked in a package known as cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT. It is one of the mainstream treatments used by mental health specialists. The evidence base for the effectiveness of CBT is now very solid.
David Howe

10. Task-centred Work

Abstract
Throughout the 1960s American social workers were experimenting with help that was more problem-focussed, advice-based and short-term. Philosophically, America has always had a taste for sharp, businesslike approaches to problem-solving.
David Howe

11. Be Responsible, Think Positive

Abstract
The rise of task-centred work coincided with the rise of liberal market economics. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were in the political ascendancy. Give people freedom and the right incentives and who knows what they might achieve, who knows how rich they might become.
David Howe

12. Solution-focused Approaches

Abstract
Solution-focused therapy has its origins in brief family therapy (de Shazer 1985). Therapists at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee noticed that many clients made progress even though they weren’t dwelling or reflecting on the causes of their difficulties. Clients who talked about how they would like their lives to be different seemed to do well.
David Howe

13. The Strengths Perspective

Abstract
We have seen that because language carries meaning, there is an insistence by solutions and strengths-based practitioners to attend to the way language is used. Who has slapped this label on you? What does the label signify? Is this the way you think about yourself? Can you cast aside the label and all that it implies and regain control over what actually it means to be you?
David Howe

14. Systemic and Ecological Approaches

Abstract
Our relationships with each other are forever being shaped and re-shaped by our mutual interactions. We affect and are affected by each other. On the larger stage, we also change in response to shifts in the economy, the political environment, technology, the outpourings of the media, and the pressure of social and class forces. We inhabit a busy, interconnected world of people, things, ideas and events.
David Howe

15. Radical Social Work

Abstract
Social work’s movers and shakers, those who embrace causes, are motivated by a variety of reasons. Many early pioneers simply felt compassion and concern for the downtrodden, deprived and underprivileged. In many cases this was born of their religious faith. They adopted a practical approach to solving social problems. They got stuck in. Theory as such did not feature in their work.
David Howe

16. Critical Social Work

Abstract
Although there is a great deal of intellectual excitement around the idea of being a radical social worker, it is quite hard to translate all this political fervour into some kind of day-to-day practice. It was all very well for the sociologists and political theorists to expose the true nature of liberal, capitalist economic democracies and how their systems, including state welfare services supported the interests of the rich and powerful, but all this social theorizing left social work sympathizers feeling either guilty or helpless. Moreover, there were early signs that Marxist sociology, on which so much of the original ideas of radical social work were based, was beginning to go out of fashion.
David Howe

17. Feminist Social Work

Abstract
Pioneers of what eventually became known as critical social work were often foreshadowed by the women’s movement and then by more theoretically savvy feminists. Feminist social workers took early advantage of the slogan ‘the personal is the political’. The injustices and inequalities suffered by women are not the result of personal troubles, rather, they are social and political in origin.
David Howe

18. Anti-oppressive Practices and Empowerment

Abstract
Feminist social workers showed how the analysis of social structures could be linked to a sensitive understanding of an individual’s personal experience. They paved the way for a range of critical social work practices.
David Howe

19. Relationship-based Social Work

Abstract
Social work arises in that space where individuals and society meet. Societies take an interest in what their citizens do and how they behave. In the case of social work, it is welfare laws and social policies that reflect the nature of that interest. From the perspective of individuals, they need to take note of what their society allows and prohibits, supports and values.
David Howe

20. Person-centred Approaches

Abstract
Carl Rogers was born in 1902. His family was religious and conservative. It valued hard work. The young Carl was fascinated by nature and the natural sciences. However his interest in people grew steadily stronger and he eventually decided to study clinical psychology. His views became more liberal. This shift wasn’t always well-received by his parents. Nevertheless, Rogers felt the changes reflected what he valued. He was gradually cutting himself free from what his parents had wanted and expected of him.
David Howe

21. Reflection and Reflexivity

Abstract
Relationships, of course, involve the interaction between two or more ‘selves’. In fact, in relationship-based social work the main thing being used by the practitioner is the self. It is therefore not surprising that relationship-based approaches feel that the ‘use of the self’ is extremely important.
David Howe

22. Wellbeing

Abstract
We have seen that social work’s nineteenth century pioneers had a clear interest in people. They had a powerful belief that a good relationship can bring about great change, even in those who had fallen on desperate and dissolute times.
David Howe

23. Brains for Social Workers

Abstract
Faith in the value of the relationship has been kept by counsellors and social workers with humanistic leanings. However, the importance of the relationship, for psychological health and development, has now been recognized by scientists who study the brain. It is the neurosciences that are beginning to transform our understanding of the importance of human relationships and the part they play in development and wellbeing. In order to see why, first we need to take a short detour.
David Howe

24. Critical Best Practice

Abstract
We have seen that over recent years there has been a growing mood to combine formal theory and the wisdom gained from practice with what service users have to say.
David Howe

25. The Best in Theory

Abstract
In passing, we noticed that ‘critical best practice’ is a little suspicious of an over-emphasis on entirely evidence-based social work. I’m not sure we can be quite so dismissive. The trouble is, though, that any reconciliation between social work’s more entrenched theories is difficult as each believes that to admit too much interest in the ideas of the other is to sup with the devil, or at least to find oneself in a conceptually untenable position.
David Howe
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