As communities become increasingly fragmented and the influence of traditional frameworks (familial, religious, and political) lessens, the role of social workers becomes progressively more important (Parker, 2013).
While social work as a profession has remained in a state of flux for some years, dedicated professionals continue to support individuals, families, and communities at their most troubled times.
Their professional dedication remains underpinned by core skills, including a “commitment to human, relation-based practice” and methods and interventions garnered from multiple disciplines (Rogers, Whitaker, Edmondson, & Peach, 2020, p. 9).
This article introduces how social workers select the best approaches and interventions for meeting the needs of their service users.
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Selecting an Appropriate Method & Intervention
The “constantly evolving nature of social life” has made it difficult to build a single and standard model for social work (Parker, 2013, p. 311). A framework that offers a clear process for social workers to engage with service users and implement appropriate interventions is, however, vital.
As a result, social work has combined various interdisciplinary concepts and social work theories with firsthand, experiential knowledge to develop an evidence base for social workers’ decisions.
While more than one model is used to describe social work practice, Parker (2013) offers a simplified perspective built from three elements: assessment, intervention, and review.
The model is not linear; the stages merge, overlap, and require a degree of flexibility, analysis, and critical thinking to implement (Parker, 2013).
Although the final review stage is vital to social workers’ “statutory and legal obligations” and in ensuring care plans remain appropriate, this article focuses on choosing suitable methods of assessment and intervention (Parker, 2013, p. 317).
What is an assessment?
The assessment stage aims to understand the situation affecting the service user, directly or via referral. It can be complex, often involving many contributing factors, and sometimes seem as much art as science (Parker, 2013).
Typically, assessments are perspectives constructed at a particular time and place, and include the following elements (Parker, 2013):
- Preparation, planning, and engagement involve working with the individual requiring support to introduce the need to perform an assessment and agree how the social worker will carry it out.
- Collecting data and forming a picture help social workers understand the situation better.
- Preliminary analysis includes interpreting the data and testing out “thoughts and hunches” (Parker, 2013, p. 314).
- Deeper analysis and shared negotiation are required following testing to put together an interpretation. This can offer the client or referrer an alternative way of viewing the problem.
- Construct an action plan collaboratively.
Throughout the assessment, it is essential to engage and partner with all interested parties, sharing the reasons for the evaluation, how it will be used, and the rights of those involved.
“A good assessment allows the social worker to plan openly with service users what comes next” (Parker, 2013, p. 315). The plan forms the basis for selecting or putting together the intervention and how goals and objectives will be met.
What is an intervention?
The selection of methods and interventions is further influenced by the social worker’s underlying belief systems, value bases, and theoretical preferences.
The term intervention is sometimes challenged within social work because of its suggestion of doing something to others without their consent. As with counseling and therapy, it is most valuable when put together as part of an alliance between social workers and service users (Parker, 2013).
The process must be transparent, with the social worker able to explain the evidence base leading to informed decisions. Such openness requires a detailed understanding of the theories and knowledge underpinning the models chosen and why they are appropriate and effective (Parker, 2013).
Top 5 Methods Used by Social Workers
Every day social workers are confronted with people who experience “oppression, discrimination, and poverty” and must make sense of a deluge of conflicting and contradictory information (Rogers et al., 2020, p. 2).
Finding appropriate methods and models can help make sense of the experiences of others.
Popular in the United Kingdom, care management is closely linked to the use of community care to meet the needs of adult health and social care. Earlier implementations were managed from the top down and accessed via the benefits system, leading to ever-increasing governmental social security bills. Over time, more autonomy has been given to the community, encouraging independence, choice, and control at a local level (Hutchinson, 2013).
The most common care management approach within the UK is known as social entrepreneurship. The person’s needs are assessed by a care manager, who acts as a liaison to other services to meet the service user’s needs.
“One of the main strengths of the care management approach is the centrality of needs-led assessment from which all other plans and actions are negotiated” (Hutchinson, 2013, p. 321). However, the challenges of this approach involve the resource-limited system. Funding can be insufficient, often leading to ever-tightening eligibility criteria.
Strengths-based and solution-focused approaches
The strengths-based and solution-focused approaches to social care help develop alliances with service users while recognizing their uniqueness (Rogers et al., 2020).
These social work methods focus less on managing risk and what people lack, and more on their innate ability to grow and develop by building on their strengths.
The strengths-based method is based on several underlying principles, including (modified from Rogers et al., 2020):
- The individual, family, group, and community all have strengths.
- Trauma and adversity can provide opportunity and become a source of strength.
- Assumptions should not be made regarding the individual’s capacity to grow and change.
- Collaborative practice is best practice.
- Every environment is rich in resources.
- “Social work is about care, care-taking and hope” (Rogers et al., 2020, p. 244).
Crucially, these approaches work toward solving problems now while building resources and skills for the future. They are also flexible and efficiently combine with other social work methods and techniques (Rogers et al., 2020).
Narrative social work
Rather than professionals being seen as experts, who come in and give their (sometimes restricted) view of the situation, the narrative method takes an alternative approach (Cooper, 2020). It recognizes that problems are often found in the broader system of relationships rather than the individual.
The narrative approach states that the “problem is the problem, rather than a failing in the person themselves” (Cooper, 2020, p. 261).
However, narrative social work has received criticism. If we externalize the problem, are we absolving the individual and removing them from responsibility? Of course, that needn’t be the case.
A common approach within narrative social work is to ask the individual what advice they would give a friend when faced with a similar situation. Narrative therapy recognizes that actions are just that: ‘actions’ (they do not define a person). As such, they can be changed.
Groupwork is another essential method and technique within social work; indeed, it has been a mainstay within the profession since the 1930s (Doel, 2013).
Groupwork offers several different functions, including social control, social action, education, and therapy. Some groups have expected outcomes or goals, while others are more organic, allowing the purpose to develop as the group evolves. For example, a social worker may create a group to support women in a particular neighborhood with severe mental health problems or veterans having trouble finding their place in society.
The group process involves an awareness of what is happening at two levels: first, the individual within the group, and second, the group itself. It includes considering the stages through which the group passes and the relationships and communication that form within (Doel, 2013).
Task-centered social work practice
The task-centered method favors developing skills in people so that they may use them to solve future problems and fostering increased autonomy (Edmondson, 2020).
Ultimately, the approach is “value-led, evidence-based and practical” (Edmondson, 2020, p. 271). It promotes positive change through forming partnerships with individuals, groups, and communities, rather than a more limiting focus on tasks (job, duty, and chores) defined by predictability and routine (Edmondson, 2020).
Task-centered social work is less about form filling and more about identifying and solving problems, and setting and achieving realistic changes and goals (Edmondson, 2020).
The sample above includes several of the most important methods in social work, but there are many others available. Furthermore, they are not standalone and can be combined and used together by social workers attempting to meet the needs of their service users.
8 Best Social Work Interventions
With a large variety of methods and theoretical approaches available to social workers, there is an even greater choice surrounding interventions.
The following list contains some of our favorites, and while arising from several methodologies, they can be integrated and used as appropriate for the service user.
1. Problem-free talk
Problem-free talk can be used at any time, but it is particularly helpful at the start of an intervention as a reminder that “the person is more than the sum of their difficulties” (Rogers et al., 2020, p. 246).
The social worker encourages the service user to discuss aspects of their lives that are not a source of problems, adding a note of positivity often missed when focusing on obstacles and challenging aspects of their lives (Rogers et al., 2020).
2. Miracle questions
The miracle question encourages the individual to visualize their world without the problem they currently face and is often found in the toolkit of solution-focused practitioners (Rogers et al., 2020).
Imagining a better future is a powerful tool for thinking positively and motivating change.
3. Vision statement
Like the miracle question, the vision statement uses imagination to explore a possible future. Social workers can use it with families to compare where they are now versus where they would like to be (Rogers & Cooper, 2020).
For example, what might my children say about me now? And what would I like my children to say about me 10 years from now?
The process is a powerful intervention for identifying the changes that are needed and the obstacles to be overcome to reach happier times as a family.
4. Circular questioning
Changing perspective can be a powerful and helpful process for service users. Putting someone in another’s shoes can introduce new ideas and information, and encourage a greater awareness of a situation (Rogers & Cooper, 2020).
For example, a family member might be asked to describe how a parent, sibling, or child would react to or feel about a situation. Sharing such thoughts can help them understand how others perceive them and improve their understanding of their role in the family.
5. Life-story book
A child whose life has been affected through social care involvement may be confused and unclear about what has happened and why (Cooper, 2020).
A story or book can be written for the child to explain why they were adopted or put in care to provoke open conversations and confirm that the situation was not their fault.
However, it is vital to consider that the story must be age appropriate and will most likely avoid certain factors of the decision making regarding care.
6. Later life letter
The reasons a child was taken from a family may be unsuitable for sharing with the child. Instead, a letter can be written that provides a complete picture (rather than the more edited life-story book) for opening sometime in the future, possibly near their 18th birthday (Cooper, 2020).
7. Exception seeking
We should not assume that a problem has always existed or that the individual can never handle similar situations.
Instead, through attentive and active listening, it is possible to pick up on coping skills or strategies that have worked in the past and may be transferable to existing or new situations. Ask the service user coping questions to identify times when they have “coped with a problem or uncover how a service user manages with a continuing issue” (Rogers et al., 2020, p. 247).
8. Competence seeking
To address or prepare for problems, it can be helpful for people to identify and understand what qualities, strengths, and resources they have available (Rogers et al., 2020).
When entrenched in a problem or difficult situation, we can remain single minded and lose sight of positive personal characteristics that can help (Rogers et al., 2020).
Social Work & Domestic Violence: 4 Helpful Methods
Domestic violence is often picked up when addressing other issues relating to mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, and child protection (Humphreys, 2013).
While there has been significant progress in multiple agencies working together to safeguard children, approaches to ensuring the safety of women and children remain fragmented (Humphreys, 2013).
However, there has been considerable success in increasing domestic violence awareness, which “has led to greater attention being paid to the development of legislation, policy and practice” (Humphreys, 2013, p. 155).
Several methods can be helpful in cases of domestic violence, including the following:
- Group work can offer a forum for groups of people who have experienced domestic violence. However, the facilitator must ensure that no one individual asserts power over the group and that there are no barriers to inclusion or participation (Rogers et al., 2020).
- Strengths-based approaches can help individuals recognize the resilience they showed in traumatic situations and how they could move on from a potentially harmful situation (Cooper, 2020).
- Good court skills “are central to social work practice” and can close the gap between the theory and practice of law surrounding domestic violence (Whitaker, 2020, p. 231).
- Self-awareness can help manage conflict between social workers and service users in cases of domestic abuse. Being aware of personal feelings and beliefs, maintaining focus, and being clear and direct can help when tensions rise (Edmondson & Ashworth, 2020).
Domestic violence is extremely damaging. It is, therefore, vital that good practice in social work is also reflected in cross-cultural practice principles and inter-agency collaboration and that an appropriate political and legal framework is in place (Edmondson & Ashworth, 2020).
PositivePsychology.com’s Useful Resources
We have many tools and worksheets as part of our Toolkit to help you develop the skills needed to be more effective as a social worker, including the following:
- The Small Talk to Build Connection worksheet can improve your casual conversation with strangers and foster more positive engagements.
- Try out the Self-Compassion Miracle Question to encourage clients or service users to imagine talking to themselves with more compassion.
- Use the 30 Strengths-Spotting Questions to identify strengths when you are talking to someone.
- Identify positives in trauma and recognize personal strengths in the Growing Stronger From Trauma worksheet, which offers a helpful way to identify the personal resources that can help someone deal with a difficult time.
- The Strengths in Challenging Times worksheet also helps you consider how you overcame past obstacles in your life and the resources you used.
- Forgiveness can be challenging to find. Why not use the Forgiveness and Acceptance worksheet to release negative emotions?
A Take-Home Message
“Social work and society are caught in an intense and changing relationship” (Cree, 2013, p. 3). The role and influence of familial, religious, and political frameworks have reduced, and social workers are increasingly called upon to help groups left at the margins and in need.
While social work may once have been informal and voluntary, it is now often enshrined in regulations and statutory agencies. As society moves forward, social work must keep up, advancing as a caring profession and collaborating with service users and other agencies to find the best outcome for all concerned.
With such growing demand and developing expectations, social workers must show professionalism while recognizing and promoting the fundamental principles of human rights. They require appropriate theories, knowledge, and methods to determine the needs of the people they support and to recognize what action will be most helpful (Rogers et al., 2020).
The methods adopted by professionals do not work in isolation but support other competencies while working with others and collaborating with the service user to provide a relation-based practice.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article and that it inspires you to learn more about this developing discipline. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
If you wish for more, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 370 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires, and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching, or workplace.
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- Cree, V. (2013). Social work and society. In M. Davies (Ed.), The Blackwell companion to social work (pp. 151–158). Wiley Blackwell.
- Doel, M. (2013). Groupwork. In M. Davies (Ed.), The Blackwell companion to social work (pp. 369–377). Wiley Blackwell.
- Edmondson, D. (2020). Task-centered social work practice. In M. Rogers, D. Whitaker, D. Edmondson, & D. Peach, Developing skills & knowledge for social work practice (pp. 259–268). SAGE.
- Edmondson, D., & Ashworth, C. (2020). Conflict management and resolution. In M. Rogers, D. Whitaker, D. Edmondson, & D. Peach, Developing skills & knowledge for social work practice (pp. 259–268). SAGE.
- Humphreys, C. (2013). Domestic violence. In M. Davies (Ed.), The Blackwell companion to social work (pp. 151–158). Wiley Blackwell.
- Hutchinson, A. (2013). Care management. In M. Davies (Ed.), The Blackwell companion to social work (pp. 321–332). Wiley Blackwell.
- Parker, J. (2013). Assessment, intervention and review. In M. Davies (Ed.), The Blackwell companion to social work (pp. 311–320). Wiley Blackwell.
- Rogers, M., Whitaker, D., Edmondson, D., & Peach, D. (2020). Developing skills & knowledge for social work practice. SAGE.
- Rogers, M., & Cooper, J. (2020). Systems theory and an ecological approach. In M. Rogers, D. Whitaker, D. Edmondson, & D. Peach, Developing skills & knowledge for social work practice (pp. 259–268). SAGE.
- Whitaker, D. (2020). Court skills. In M. Rogers, D. Whitaker, D. Edmondson, & D. Peach, Developing skills & knowledge for social work practice (pp. 230–240). SAGE.