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Social Work Theory and Practice – Making the Links
Our experience is that many social work students can be intimidated by the word “theory”. This immediately inhibits effective theory learning. Social work theory is about how we interact with others and how we ensure that we provide effective services. It is important that theory is not seen as the preserve of academics or experienced social workers. Through understanding and applying social work theory to practice, our work with service users can become much more effective and person-centred.
Many people think of theory as something purely academic, unrelated to “real life”. Many social work students cover theory in college, but begin their practical learning experience intimidated by the idea of how to apply the theory to their practice and particularly concerned about how to demonstrate the connections they have. established in their homework and reflective narratives.
Practical learning involves linking ideas learned in college to the practice setting. However, in order to link theoretical knowledge with practice, students must have a clear understanding that theory is something everyone uses every day in social work and that theory has a clear connection to common sense/ what works/real life or whatever the phrase. of choice is. Without it, theory can become something that seems abstract and it develops the idea that theory is something you learn in college and then forget when you enter the “real world” of work.
The Requirements for Social Work Education state that all social work programs must:
“To ensure that the teaching of theoretical knowledge, skills and values is based on their application to practice.” (Ministry of Health 2002)
While fundamental aspects of social work theory will be taught in an academic setting, practical learning involves transferring your knowledge and applying theory to your practice, and you will need to demonstrate that you can make the connections in your written work .
What is Theory?
We believe that social workers in the field and social work students in internship apply the theory on a daily basis. However, they may not realize this and may not be able to describe the theory or name it.
Social work theories are nothing more than an attempt to explain social situations and relationships. Theories have been developed since it became clear that similar patterns or repeating cycles of behavior existed both in the life of one individual and in the lives of many different people. Since the theories have been expressed by academics and social scientists, they often use academic language. Don’t be put off. Theories are life dressed up! Many theories actually have a very simple and accessible message, although sometimes you have to look beyond the jargon.
There has been some debate over what actually constitutes a theory. Generally, a theory helps explain a situation and perhaps how it happened. In science, a theory is seen as helping to:
** describe (for example: what is happening?)
** explain (for example: why is this happening?)
** predict (e.g. what will happen next?)
Sometimes theories are also seen as helping to control a situation and bring about change.
Learning the theory and practice of social work
In supervision discussions, placement assignments, portfolios, etc., you should be able to describe the situation you are working in, explain why you think it happened, what you can do to make changes, etc. some form of theory. However, you may not always be aware of this.
Whenever you consider the theory, we urge you to:
1. Recognize that no single theory can explain everything: when a person engages in an action (or inaction), the reason for their behavior may be rooted in a series of causes or motives.
2. Related to the first point, recognize that some theoretical approaches just don’t work with some people. The application of brief solution-focused therapy can be very effective with some people. For others, it leaves them cold.
3. Adopt a critical approach to theory. If it doesn’t “work”, why not? Can you adapt the aspects in such a way that they are useful?
4. Always apply the value base to theory – much of the theory used in the practice of social care and social work is drawn from outside the profession. The theory may have its roots in education, psychology or management. As such, it may not embed social work values and you must take responsibility for applying them.
5. And finally, never be intimidated by theory. You use it every day.
Why do we need to apply social work theory to practice?
While individual social work theories serve different purposes, the use of all kinds of theories in our work offers us, as social workers, important things.
** Theories can help us make sense of a situation. By using theory we can generate ideas about what is happening, why things are the way they are, etc. .
** Using theory can help justify actions and explain practice to service users, carers and society at large. The aim is that this will lead to social work becoming more widely accountable and ultimately more respected.
** In working with individuals, using theories that may relate to their particular situation will give us more direction in our work with them.
** The use of theory can explain why an action resulted in a particular consequence. This can help us review and possibly modify our practice in an effort to make consequences more effective.
It is therefore clear that theory matters in practice – both for working with service users and for social work to be more valued in society.
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