Social workers undergo a lot of training which combines both theoretical knowledge and the practical implementation of models and methods. It’s important for all social workers to have a broad understanding of the many theories which explain human behaviour. However, the application of these theories to individual, real life cases is an entire world of learning in itself. Social workers use theories and methods to help them locate the roots of a problem and then offer ways in which such a problem might be resolved. Human beings rarely conform to any single text-book theory and so the application of social work theories and methods is just as much of an art as it is a science.
Analysis of individuals
A popular social work method focuses all attention on the individual. Social workers spend their time analysing the psychological state of the service-user. They help him analyse his reactions to certain situations, particular people and the actions of others. This social work method makes the service-user the centre of the universe and resolves problems by encouraging a different outlook. It’s also a way for the social worker to defend the idea that the problems experienced by this individual are sparked off by internal conflicts. This method doesn’t account for society, culture or environment influencing the service-user’s behaviour.
Other social work methods analyse the situation from the outside looking in. These methods look at immediate social environments, living conditions, relationships with friends and family, educational institutions which might be involved in the service-user’s life and cultural or religious influences. Some social work methods go even further afield when applying theory to practice and also take political constructions and government rule into account. The idea is to analyse how external influences affect the way in which a service-user might think, interact and develop.
Theories and methods
It’s important to recognise that there is a distinct difference between social work theories and social work methods. It’s one thing for a social worker to know about theory and another to then select a method or model to follow in practice. Social work methods might seem to “fit” the service-user at first, but social workers shouldn't go for the “best fit” in order to get the ball rolling. Part of the role of the social worker is to find the best combination of method and theory that is likely to be a happy medium between the service-user's comfort level, social worker's experience and fitness for purpose.
Working with children
Social work methods to support children are designed to help the child feel relaxed enough to share what has been happening to them. Methods are also designed to help children express thoughts and feelings. One of the most effective social work methods for children between the ages of four to nine is the Story Stem Assessment Profile. Expert training in the SSAP can be found at the Anna Freud Centre in London (see Resources). The method focuses on the expert use of dolls or animals to represent people in the child's life. The method helps them to narrate stories or situations which might give insight into their lives and help support them.