by Tom Pyle
Social Work Treatment Fourth Edition. Francis J. Turner. 752 pp. The Free Press. 1996.
Just what is Social Work? Like most everyday people, I only had a vague notion. Social Work is do-good work, helping poor people, working with institutions, etc., etc. A history major, I have an enduring notion in my mind’s eye of the prototypical social worker. He or she is the official greeter at Ellis Island, welcoming huddled masses of wretched immigrants yearning to be free.
Like most things in life, one doesn’t really get to know something until one really has to use it. Or, in my case, do it. Such happened to me when my 21 year old son had a psychotic episode which ultimately manifested as schizophrenia. While I like to believe that his case is milder than most, still it brought me face to face with “The System” of programs, people, and support available to the mentally ill. The System, I found, is a complex thicket of siloed programs each addressing specific aspects of need for individuals with psychiatric disabilities.
To secure all that The System could offer my disabled son, I became an institutional adventurer, a bureaucracy jockey, jumping for agency to agency, judging obtuse regulations. I became a public advocate, testifying as a parent to the New Jersey Senate about budget allocations to the mental health sector. I became a de facto social worker.
Social work is an organized profession. There are schools of social work. There is a national association of social workers. There are certifications and designations, such as MSW, CSW, and LCSW. But just what is the basis of this profession? Is there an academic, intellectual or theoretical foundation for it?
An answer for me appeared on the shelf of a local social service agency, where I found a copy of Social Work Treatment: Interlocking Theoretical Approaches, edited by Francis Turner. It is a classic text book, a heavy, presumably expensive hardcover of 752 pages, the kind you find in a college bookstore. It presents an overview of twenty-two “systems”. For me it is a most welcome and helpful introduction to the field that establishes a framework in which to place and catalogue the many (often disparate) theories of social work.
Social work theory owes much to the field of psychology. The theories presented would be familiar to all who have at some point reclined on a therapist’s couch. Theories discussed are: Psychoanalytic, Functional, Gestalt, Cognitive, Behavioral, Existential, Communication, Crisis, Client-centered, Psychosocial, Systems, Role, Feminist, even Marxist. Practice types discussed include: Meditation, Problem-Solving, Task-Centered, Ego Psychology, Family Treatment, Transactional, and Life Model. That’s a comprehensive list. I now know the different between historically oriented insight-based therapy and present-based practical cognitive behavioral approaches.
Only the happenstance of a long wait in an agency waiting room drew my eye to this book. I am very happy it did. This book for me has been so helpful, indeed, that I now have enough foundation to consider taking masters level courses in social work. Since I am in effect already doing the practice, I figure it is time to get the theory. This book has been a wonderful start.