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About this book

This popular and innovative core text book explores contemporary social work theories and perspectives in a systematic way, using an integrated and flexible framework to link context, theory, and practice approaches. Healy expertly provides an applied guide to social work theory across a range of organisational contexts, showing social work as a diverse activity that is profoundly shaped by professional purpose, public policy, and practice locations.

This is ideal reading to support and develop undergraduate and postgraduate students taking modules on Social Work Theories and Methods on qualifying professional programmes. Its international breadth and supportive pedagogical features have ensured the book's value to students of social work all over the world.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Frontmatter

1. Understanding our Context

Abstract
Our primary purpose in this book is to introduce a contextually informed approach to social work practice. We provide social work practitioners, students and educators with frameworks for understanding the diverse and often perplexing contexts of, and theories for, practice. By understanding the ideas that underpin our practice contexts and formal theory base, we enhance our capacity to achieve the values and goals to which we are committed. In this chapter, we explain the importance of discourse and discourse analysis for thinking about professional practice, and briefly outline the three sets of discourses that are most influential for social work (considered in more detail in Part 2). This will form an important preparation for Chapter 2, where we introduce a dynamic model of practice, which proposes that our professional purpose is constructed through interaction between various components of our institutional contexts, professional practice base, professional purpose and practice framework. Here, three approaches to theory use are introduced, which will be drawn on in the analysis of theories for practice in Part 3.
Karen Healy

2. A Dynamic Model of Practice

Abstract
In this chapter, we consider the dynamic model of social work practice, which seeks to illuminate the processes through which our professional purpose is constructed in social work practice. The components of the model include institutional contexts, professional practice base, service users’ needs and expectations, and our own emerging practice framework. First, we consider how the dynamic model fits with the contextual approach to practice introduced in Chapter 1. We then consider each component of the model. We go on to discuss three approaches to theory use and how the dynamic model can inform our use of theory in practice.
Karen Healy

Discourses Shaping Practice Contexts

Frontmatter

3. Dominant Discourses in Health and Welfare

Medicine, Law, Economics and New Public Management
Abstract
Social work has grown and has been shaped by discourses of the health and welfare organizations where social workers are often numerically in the minority and the position of social workers is contested and marginal. For more than three decades, health and welfare organizations have been the site of struggle as the discourses linked to the elite professions, particularly medicine and law, have been challenged by neoclassical economics and new public management (NPM) discourses.
Karen Healy

4. Behavioural and Social Science Discourses

‘Psy’ and Sociological Ideas in Social Work
Abstract
The formal professional base of social work relies on received ideas, especially from the behavioural and social sciences. Social work is an applied social science discipline (Rosenman et al., 1998, p. 215). Pearman and Stewart (1973, p. 12) describe behavioural and social sciences as the ‘attempt to describe the characteristics and products of human behaviour as they occur within social configurations’. Notwithstanding the range of behavioural and social science ideas that influence the knowledge base of social workers, this chapter focuses on discourses within the disciplines of psychology and sociology because of the substantial body of evidence pointing to the central influence of these ideas on the formal base of social work practice.
Karen Healy

5. Alternative Discourses

Citizen Rights, Religion and Spirituality, and Environmental Social Work
Abstract
In this chapter, we turn to another set of discourses that have a (re)emerging influence in many contemporary practice contexts. They are citizen rights, those associated with religion and spirituality, and environmental social work. Although these discourses, particularly citizen rights and religious discourses, are increasingly incorporated into mainstream health and welfare provision in many contexts, here, we refer to them as ‘alternative discourses’ because, like the human science discourses discussed in Chapter 4, they are concerned with providing holistic responses to human need, but dispute aspects of the human science discourses that social workers have relied on in constructing their knowledge base for practice. Alternative discourses offer much more than ways of constituting health and welfare services, even so the focus here is on how these discourses construct core concepts, like client needs and capacities, and the provision of health and welfare services, including the role of the social worker. Figure 5.1 highlights the discourses we focus on this chapter.
Karen Healy

Social Work Theories for Practice

Frontmatter

6. Three Waves of Systems Theories

Abstract
Systems perspectives underpin knowledge development in the social work profession. Some social work theorists argue that recognition of the systemic character of human problems and the need for intervention to improve the interaction between the client and their broader environment distinguishes social work from other human service professions (see Meyer, 1976). Systemic analyses focus on interactions within and across multiple ‘social’ systems, which can include the interpersonal system of family and friendship ties, neighbourhood systems, organizational systems, social policy systems, and social structural systems. Systems theory emphasizes the role of these systems in contributing to individual and community wellbeing and for providing multiple points for social work intervention to improve the fit between the individual and their social environment.
Karen Healy

7. Problem-solving Approaches

Focusing on Task-centred Practice
Abstract
Problem-solving approaches are characterized by collaborative, highly structured, time-limited, goal-focused approaches to practice. Of all the approaches considered in this book, problem-solving theories yield the most comprehensive models for direct practice. These practice models derived from problem-solving theory define social work purpose and practice strategies at each phase of assessment and intervention. As such, problem-solving frameworks are among the most readily usable by inexperienced social workers, although there is also scope to develop advanced practice within these approaches (Reid, 1977, p. 11). Most commentators, including the critics of problem-solving approaches, acknowledge that these models enable workers to meet the growing demand from funding agencies for cost-effective, accountable services (Kanter, 1983; Epstein and Brown, 2002). However, they remain the subject of debate, despite their use in many fields of social service delivery.
Karen Healy

8. Strengths and Solution-focused Theories

Future-oriented Approaches
Abstract
During the 1980s, a dramatic reorientation of practice, particularly interpersonal work, began to emerge in social work and cognate disciplines such as counselling and family therapy. Proponents of these new approaches reject the problem focus, which, they contend, underpins social work and other human service professions (Berg and Kelly, 2000; Saleebey, 2012), and are oriented instead to finding solutions that draw on clients’ strengths, and their hopes and dreams for the future. These future-oriented approaches include the strengths perspective, solution-focused brief therapy and narrative approaches. This chapter focuses on strengths and solution-focused brief therapy. Narrative approaches will be discussed in Chapter 9 because of the clear linkages between narrative practice and postmodern concepts.
Karen Healy

9. Modern Critical Social Work

From Radical to Anti-oppressive Practice
Abstract
In this chapter we consider modern critical social work. In its broadest sense, critical social work is concerned with the analysis and transformation of power relations at every level of social work practice. This chapter focuses on modern forms of critical social work and Chapter 10 considers postmodern influences on social work generally, including critical social work. The term ‘modern critical social work’ refers to forms of critical social work that are grounded primarily in modernist ideas about power and identity. ‘Critical social work’ refers to a broad range of practice perspectives, from radical to anti-oppressive practice. These draw on critical social science theories and focus on understanding and addressing the impact of broad social structures on the problems facing service users and the social work process itself. In this chapter, we discuss the historical foundations of modern critical social work and the radical approaches that preceded antioppressive practice. We outline and apply one contemporary form of critical social work, namely anti-oppressive practice, to a case study.
Karen Healy

10. Postmodern Approaches to Practice

Abstract
Since the 1990s, postmodern theories have had a growing influence on the formal base of social work and have contributed to new understandings of, and approaches to, practice. In this chapter, we explain differences among ‘post’ theories, including postmodernism, poststructuralism and postcolonialism. These theories have been widely discussed in the social sciences and humanities since the 1960s, but their impact on the formal base of social work is relatively recent. Social workers need at least a basic acquaintance with these theories, given that they inform many of the disciplines on which our profession draws. While social work commentators debate the pros and cons of ‘post’ theories, a growing number of social workers apply these theories to a broad terrain of social work practices from casework to community work and policy practice. Indeed, despite some deserved bad press about the arcane language adopted by some postmodernists, we will see that social workers are already using many similar ideas to explain the complexities of power, identity and change processes.
Karen Healy

11. Creating Frameworks for Practice

Abstract
This book has introduced a contextually informed and dynamic approach to social work practice. Social work has been presented as a negotiated activity; in particular, our purpose and practices as social workers are negotiated through interactions between our institutional context, our ‘formal’ purpose, our professional base, service users and our frameworks for practice. It has been argued that the potential for social workers to influence the contexts and formal theory base of the profession is, as yet, underdeveloped. One of this book’s intentions has been to enhance our capacities, as social workers, to actively use and influence the ideas that shape the institutional contexts of practice and the formal theory base of social work itself. In this chapter, we consider how we can use this knowledge of the ideas underpinning the institutions and formal theories for practice for constructing our framework for practice, which is the final component of the model introduced in Chapter 2.
Karen Healy
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