Thursday, 12 June 2014

Relevance of Psychology in Social Work Practice

Psychology and social work are two different disciplines.
Psychology is predominantly academic in its approach
while social work is predominantly applied in its
orientation. But despite such differences, they are so
closely related to each other and it becomes quite
often impossible to think of their distinct existence
and practice in many respects. Psychology incepted
much earlier to social work and provided many
fundamental concepts and theories for developing tools
and techniques for social work. Both these disciplines
deal with components of human personality, human
nature and needs, human abilities, behavior and
problems. Both have their own ways of tackling human
problems, whether physical, mental or social, but in
many respects they are more or less similar.
Methodologies of helping people in both disciplines
involve similar tools and techniques to a considerable
degree. It is therefore, but natural to know about the
interdisciplinary relationship of these two professionoriented
Introduction to Psychology

Many of the fundamental assumptions, concepts,
principles, theories, methods, techniques and tools of
social work are based and derived from psychology
since human welfare and development are the ultimate
aims of social work. Psychology is the science that
studies the behavior of man and is the outcome of
theories and practical experiments pertaining to
different components and factors having an influence
on the individual’s personality and behaviour patterns.
We will take up some of the quite commonly used
concepts, tools and techniques in psychology relevant
for social work practice.
The word Psychology has been derived from Greek
literature and is a combination of two words i.e. ‘Psyche’
and ‘Logos’ which mean ‘soul’ and ‘the study of’. It
shows that initially Psychology was perceived as a
study of the soul or spirit. The word soul was vaguely
used and interpreted in many ways. Later the word
mind replaced the term soul. With the passage of
time, the nature of psychology has undergone many
changes. Its methodology has changed from sheer
speculation to a scientific approach and it is today
considered a science that studies the mind,
consciousness and behaviour of human beings.
Behaviour has a comprehensive meaning and includes
all types of behaviour of all living organisms. Psychology
has thus passed through different stages starting with
pure speculation to a discipline with scientific rigour
and specific research methods. Psychology is now
considered as the science of behaviour.
Psychological Schools
1) Behavioural
1913 –
John B. Watson
Ivan Pavlov
Effect of
on the overt
Basic Premise
Only observable
events (stimulusresponse
of human
and animals can
be studied
Definition of Psychology
Definitions of psychology have been changing with its
evolution and development. The focus of psychology
has been changing and accordingly new definitions
have been formulated. Some of the popular definitions
are given below:-
2) Psycho
Sigmund Freud
Carl Jung
Alfred Adler
of behaviour
motives and
experience in
early life govern
personality and
mental disorder.
3) Humanistic
Carl Rogers
Unique aspects
of human
Human beings
are free rational
beings with the
potential for
personal growth,
and they are
different from
Jean Piaget
Noam Chomsky
Herbert Simon
4) Cognitive
Thought; Mental
Human behaviour
cannot be fully
without examining
how people
acquire, store
and process
An organism’s
functioning can
be explained in
terms of the
bodily structures
and biochemical
processes that
bases of
behaviour in
humans and
James Olds
Roger Sperry
5) Biological
1) Psychology is the science of the activities of the
individual in relation to the environment1
— Woodworth
2) Psychology may be defined as the science that
studies the behaviour of man and other animals.2
— Hilgard
3) J.B. Watson has defined psychology as positive
science of behaviour.
4) Psychology is the study of human nature3.
— Boring
5) Psychology deals with response to any and every
kind of situation that life presents. By responses
or behaviour is meant all forms of processes,
adjustment, activities and expressions of the
— Skinner
6) Psychology is the positive science of the conduct
of living creatures5.
James Drever has defined psychology as the positive
science which studies the behaviour of man and
The above definitions reveal that psychology is a
science: it is a positive science of the activities of
individual and human beings and other animals: it is
a science of behaviour in relation to the environment:
it is a science of human nature, it deals with responses
to any situation that life presents and expressions of
organism and psychology studies and explains
conscious, subconscious and unconscious responses.

Usefulness of Psychology to Social Work
Psychology deals with human behaviour, emotions and
projections. It also deals with some of the factors
responsible in the formation of behaviour patterns. We
know about the individual’s development through
psychology. Cognition, learning and memory are core
subject matters for psychology. Knowledge of
socialization process is dependent upon psychology.
We get to know about social process from psychology.
The individual’s reactions and behaviour, to a great
extent, are based upon projections, which is a
psychological phenomenon. Psychology studies the
interaction pattern between heredity and environment
and explain to us the reasons for aware of individual
differences in physical and mental traits and abilities.
During social work practice we seek the help of
psychology to understand and analyse human
behaviour. When a social worker makes an effort to
bring about a change in personality through functioning
or behaviour modification he has to look for help from
psychology. In resolving problems related to adjustment,
psychology helps social work. The method of social
case work of social work profession is dependent on
psychology. Group work derives many social,
psychological elements to be used in practice for group
strengthening and betterment, from psychology. Social
psychology studies group morale, leadership qualities
and traits, behaviours of crowds and audiences which
are useful in group work and to some extent, in
community organisation.
Psychology provides considerable help in the field of
social work practice, like individual and family case
work (for example, modification in individual’s
personality); diagnosing and treatment planning for
problem of children related to schooling; individual’s
adjustment with primary and secondary groups,
physical and mental patients’ accommodation with
medical requirements and adjustment with others;
understanding, diagnosing and modifying group
behaviour and developing leadership qualities; ego
analysis and strengthening and understanding
defensive reactions (mechanisms) of individuals and
counselling and guidance for enhancement in positive
adjustment and fulfilment of needs of individual and
Social Work and Human Behaviour
An understanding of human behaviour is essential for
the profession of social work in order to deal with
psychosomatic or socio-economic problems faced by
people. The social worker has to understand the
behavioural pattern of the clientele at the individual,
group or community levels in order to help them.
Client-positive behaviour like cooperation, free dialogue
or conversation, participation, assistance, coordination,
and an interest and willingness to resolve problems
help the social worker to make a proper diagnosis of
the problem and plan an action for treatment. Negative
behaviour like unwillingness, non-cooperation,
escapism, isolation, hiding facts and biases etc., create
trouble and impediments to the successful practice of
social work profession. During case work, a social
worker has to handle his client along with the parents,
siblings, other family members, neighbours, friends,
school mates, colleagues and others who have some
influence on the client. The behavioural interaction
pattern of all these have to be kept in mind. Though
in casework the focus is on the individual, the actions
of others play a significant role. Need for love and
affection in a client can only be fulfilled if his/her
parents are affectionate to him/her. A teacher can
teach well in class if the students are willing to learn
and have patience. A group worker may help a group
in its formation and harmonious functioning if its
members act in a cooperative, and democratic manner.
In community organization, the behaviour of community
people, community leaders, existing organisational
personnel and others who in some way or the other
influence the community, play an important role in
helping the organization work in the desired direction.
The nature of their behaviour determines the quality
and quantity of the community worker’s role and
function. Behaviour exposing biases, cultural, social
or religious difference, professional or economic
reservations, political rivalries and unequal resource
distribution may create hurdles in the community
Though it is a difficult task to have an indepth
understanding of the behaviour of individuals, the
social worker should make an effort to know it in
order to be more successful in attaining the goals and
objectives pertaining to the client.

General Psychology

The branch of psychology which deals with the
psychological aspects of a normal human being is
known as general psychology. In general psychology
we focus on concepts, theories and methods related
to heredity and environment, growth and maturation,
physiological bases of behaviour, sensation, perception
and attention, feelings and emotions, learning,
remembering and forgetting, thinking and reasoning,
intelligence and personality including individual
differences, aptitudes and reaction time.
Some of the above concepts used in general psychology
are explained below.
Biological inheritance is derived from genes located
in chromosomes. There are 46 chromosomes. A child
gets 23 chromosomes from each parent but the large
number of possible arrangements and combinations of
the genes causes members of even the same family
to differ sharply in hereditary constitution. That is
why each person is unique. The wide gaps in ability
are to be attributed to heredity. Differences in
physique, intelligence and aptitude are more affected
by inheritance than are social behaviour and personality
traits. However, the relative role of heredity and
environment in some of the above characteristics is
still debated among psychologists.
The term maturation denotes a state of development as
well as a process. A certain level of maturation is
necessary in the individual before a given behaviour
can appear.
Sense organs receive impressions from stimuli which
are energy changes in the environment. Stimuli
received by the receptors, i.e. the sense organs, are
communicated by the nervous system to the affectors
(muscles and glands). Impressions from the receptors
are carried to the affectors through pathways in the
connecting mechanism, the central nervous system.
The most important part of the nervous system is the
brain. Functions like movement, speech, sight,
learning, taste and smell have been located in specific
areas of the brain. Complex functions like perception,
memory and learning involve the entire brain and are
not localised.
Feelings are complexes of sensation. Feelings vary from
person to person and preferences depend on factors
such as age, sex and training. Emotions are feelings
which involve force and tension. Emotions have an
emergency value and prepare the body for action. The
ability to control emotions is desirable. Emotions may
be controlled by manipulating the stimuli which initiate
Motives are drives. Motives range from inborn organic
tensions to complex acquired needs. Hunger, thirst,
sex, rest and sleep are most important organic needs.
Motives develop conflict. When conflicts are severe
and persistent one may need a counsellor’s help to
resolve the difficulties.
Learning is the result of focused physical and mental
activities which leads to new and changed responses.
The usual condition for learning is a state of need
and high motivation. It proceeds through a trial and
error period to a final selection of the appropriate
responses. Satisfaction or reduction in need which
follows the effective response is called reinforcement.
In human learning the goal is important. Efficient
learning is added by careful planning, instruction and
through insight development. Habits are sequences of
behaviour and automatic. Many habits are maladaptive
and they may be eliminated through a variety of
devices. For learning, some motivation or drive is
necessary. Curiosity and interest facilitate learning.
They may be measured in relation to personal lives
have a direct application to everyday life. A good
student makes use of outlines, notes, rules, tables
etc. and avoids studying when fatigued or bored.
Remembering and forgetting refer to the effect which
the passing of time has on some thing learned earlier.
Aspects of memory are classified under four heads (i)
Fixation or the act of learning itself, (ii) Retention or
the storing of the impression, (iii) Recall and (iv)
Recognition. Theories of forgetting have attributed
memory loss to (i) passive decay and (ii) interference
with the old by the new.
Thinking is behaviour which is often implicit and
hidden and in which symbols like images, ideas and
concepts are ordinarily employed. Thinking is not
confined to the head but may involve the whole body.
Though the brain is primary in thinking and reasoning,
muscular activity during thought indicates that many
parts of the brain is involved.
The experimental psychologist measures the facts of
behaviour and expresses the results in statistical
terms. These statistics serve to summarize a set of
scores in succinct form. The important aspect of mental
measurement is concerned with the relations among
Intelligent behaviour may be abstract, mechanical or
social. The abstract is concerned with the ability to
deal with symbols: the mechanical, with the
manipulation of physical objects such as tools,
machines etc. and the social with the skills in
personal and social affairs.
People differ from one another in physical, mental
and personal characteristics. There is considerable
variation among the traits within an individual. Sex
differences show that at maturity, by and large, men
are stronger and heavier than women but the
difference in respect of mental ability is insignificant.
Differences in temperamental and emotional traits
are far greater within either sex than aptitude traits.
Aptitude examinations measure present competence
as well as estimate potential ability. On the basis of
standard aptitude tests, psychological and social work
counsellors provide valid information to their clients
for probable success in the working field of the person.
Personality includes attributes like physique,
appearance, intelligence aptitudes and characteristic
of social behaviour. Personality traits are not similar
to abilities. Personality is revealed in the typical ways
in which the individual reacts to his surroundings.
Personality traits become character traits when given
a moral or ethical interpretation. From birth to
maturity, the personality is shaped by society within
the limits imposed by biological factors. Normality is
the behaviour which is tolerated by society.
The reaction time is the time taken by the organism to
respond to the stimuli. There are specific instruments
in psychology to measure reaction time. These are
useful in identifying persons for specific occupations
which require high degree of alertness and attention.

Child Psychology

Child Psychology is the branch of psychology which
deals with the childhood of a human being.
Psychologists consider a human as a child till the age
of 12 years. From 12 to 18 years human beings are
considered adolescents. The development of a human
being from the moment of conception to the attainment
of the age 18 years is the subject matter of child
psychology. The total childhood and adolescence of an
individual has been divided into five categories i.e.
pre-natal period, infancy, babyhood, childhood and
adolescence. The first period is from conception to
birth. The second one is from birth to fifteen days, the
third one is from fifteen days to two years, the fourth
one is from two years to eleven years and the last one
is eleven years to eighteen years. Another
categorisation is as follows— (i) Prenatal (from
conception to birth), (ii) Oral (birth to one year),
(iii) Anal (one year to three year), (iv) Oedipal (three
year to six year,) (v) Latency (six year to eleven year),
(vi) Adolescence. Child psychology deals with stages of
growth, development and maturation, environmental
influences on growth and development and psychosocial
interactions between the child and other
members of primary and secondary social groups and
the society. An individual is constantly changing from
conception till death. Throughout childhood and
adolescent years, a child develops his physical and
mental structure. Development is a continuous process
and changes in the individual may not be always
visible. Changes are rapid in childhood. All
developmental changes are not of the same nature.
They influence the process of growing up in different
ways. Changes during development have been divided
into four major groups: (i) Changes in size: Changes
in size can be observed in physical growth but they
can be also observed in mental growth. During normal
growth height, weight and circumference of a child
increase. Internal organs and structures such as the
heart, intestine and stomach grow larger to meet the
increasing needs of the body. The child’s vocabulary,
ability to reason, remember and perceive, and the
creative imagination expand during growth years, (ii)
The changes in proportion: A child’s physical
development is not confined to changes in size of the
body but also of other organs proportionately. Mental
development in childhood is also apparent. The interests
of a child change from concentration on himself to
other children and in adolescence to the opposite sex,
(iii) Disappearance of old features: The third important
change which takes place in the development of the
individual is the disappearance of certain features. As
the child grows older his thymus gland located in the
chest disappears, the pineal gland at the base of the
brain, baby hair, and baby teeth also disappear. Mental
traits like bobbing, different forms of speech, impulsive
action, creeping and crawling and sensory keenness
in regard to taste and smell gradually disappear, (iv)
Acquisition of new features: Many new physical and
mental features are acquired through learning but
some of them are the result of maturing or unfolding
of native traits not fully developed at birth. The physical
features include, among others, teething, growth of
hair, characteristics related with reproduction etc.
Mental traits include curiosity about sex matters, sex
urge, knowledge, moral standards, religious beliefs,
knowledge of language and neurotic tendencies.
Development is not a uniform process. It is extremely
rapid during the prenatal period. From fertilization to
birth, increase in weight is estimated at 11,000,000
times and from birth to maturity the increase is 22
times. From three to six years the growth rate
continues to be rapid though not as rapid as in the
preceding three years. The development follows a
pattern and occurs in orderly fashion. Each stage is
the outcome of the one preceding it and a pre-requisite
of the one following it. From four to sixteen weeks,
the body gains control of his/her twelve loco-motor
muscles. From sixteen to twenty eight weeks, the
child acquires control over the muscles which support
the head and can move the arms. The child then
begins to reach out for things. From twenty eight to
forty weeks the child gains control of his/her trunk
and hands. This helps in sitting, grasping, transferring
and manipulating objects. From forty to fifty two weeks,
he/she extends the ability to control his legs and
feet, four fingers and thumb. He can now stand upright,
poke, and pluck. During the second year, he walks
and runs; articulates words and phrases, acquires
bowel and bladder control and develops a rudimentary
sense of personal identity and of personal possession.
During the third year he speaks in sentences and
uses verbs as tools of thought. He displays a propensity
to understand his environment and to comply with
cultural demands. During the fourth year he asks
innumerable questions, perceives analogies and
displays a tendency to generalise and conceptualise.
In the routine of home life he is nearly independent.
At the age of five years a child is well matured in
motor control.
Development follows a pattern of specific phases of
development. Development proceeds from general to
specific responses. Individual differences in rate of
development remain constant. Development occurs at
different rates for different parts of the body. Most
traits are co-related in development. Each
developmental phase has characteristic traits.
Development may be predicted. Many forms of problem
behaviour are normal behaviour for the age in which
they occur. Every individual passes through each major
stage of development.
By now, we have familiarised ourselves with different
tasks and characteristics of infancy and childhood
(Birth to six years). Now we will consider the tasks
of middle childhood that last from six to twelve years.
These are as follows :
i) Learning physical skills necessary for ordinary
ii) Building wholesome attitudes towards oneself as
a growing organism.
iii) Learning to get along with age mates.
iv) Learning an appropriate sex role.

v) Developing fundamental skills in reading, writing
and calculating.
vi) Developing concepts necessary for everyday living.
vii) Developing conscience, morality and a scale of
viii) Achieving personal independence.
ix) Developing attitudes towards social groups and
During adolescence (11-18 years) the child behaves
inconsistently. Sometimes he behaves like a child
and sometimes like a grown up person. He suffers
from internal conflict between social values and sexual
freedom. Studies show that several characteristics of
different stages appear in this period of life.
Adolescents need freedom in many respects and do
not appreciate the interventions of others in their
affairs. Adolescents are attracted to the opposite sex
but they try to hide this feeling and show that they
are not interested in the opposite sex. The significant
changes in body are rapid development of muscles,
increase in weight and height, rapid development in
glands, appearance of public hair and enlargement of
breasts, menstruation in girls, semen in boys, pubic
hair etc. The intelligence reaches an average level at
the end of this stage and acceptability and projection
capability of ego develop considerably, but the decisionmaking
ability lags behind. In some adolescents,
agitation appears and they look tired. Emotional tension
is also an important feature of this period. The basic
needs of this stage are a balanced diet, ten hours
sleep, recognition and encouragement.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology studies and describes
physical, mental emotional and behavioural changes
which happen with changes in age. Physical and
behavioural changes occur more rapidly in the early
years of life and mental and social traits and abilities
develop quicker in later ages of life. Many psychologists
use child psychology as a synonym for developmental
psychology. Child psychology includes a study of all
those basic elements which are responsible for human
personality development during childhood while the
same approach after childhood may be considered as
developmental psychology. Contrary to this view, other
psychologists argue that the development of a human
being is not over after childhood and in many respects,
the individual’s abilities and traits increase and
decrease in later phases of life.
You have gone through the main features of child
psychology in the previous sub-unit ‘Child Psychology:
Here we will take up salient features of the
development between childhood and the old age. You
have become aware of stages of childhood i.e. (i) Prenatal,
(ii) Oral, (iii) Anal, (iv) Oedipal (Phallic),
(v) Latency and (vi) Adolescence and about stages of
life after adolescence. The span of life between
adolescence and old age has been divided into three
main categories i.e. (i) Pre maturity (between 18 years
to 25 years), (ii) Maturity (between 25 years to 45
years) and (iii) old age (above 45 years). During prematurity,
individuals develop maximum physical
strength, vigour and emotional control. The basic needs
of this stage are a balanced diet, regular physical
exercise, recognition and favour of elders etc. During
maturity he remains somewhat static in his physical
and mental abilities but goes on learning, adapting
and developing skills and knowledge requisite to his
job, profession or social norms and attains the desired
possible status. The basic needs of this stage are for
the sustainability of physical strength regular exercise,
love and affection of spouse and family members and
care. In old age, a decline of physical and mental
abilities takes place. Physical strength and vigour
diminishes, organs of body weaken and gradually
different inabilities develop. Auditory, visual, eating
and digestive execratory organs gradually become
weak. Memory loss and incoherence in physical and
mental activities becomes apparent. Anxieties and
worries about future life increase. Insecurity regarding
income and health develop during old age. Menopause
occurs in females in the initial years of this period.
Individuals in old age need appropriate reading
material, visual equipment, clubs and forums for
exchanging views, economic and social security, a
nutritious diet, medical facilities etc. Difficult
situations of this last stage are death of own child,
death of spouse, severe and prolonged illness of close
family members and extreme poverty.
Clinical Psychology
The complexity of modern life is affecting members of
society. It has become difficult for many of us to
adjust to the new social setting. We need help for
proper adjustment with our social components. Clinical
psychology provides assistance to us for better
adjustment. Clinical psychology also deals with those
aspects which are related to some type of deviancy.
It is also concerned with the enhancement and
betterment of community life and prevention of mental
disorders. Clinical psychology associates itself with
problems like maladjustment between employee and
employer, generational gap and poor individual
relationship within groups. Many times the scope of
clinical psychology overlaps with the scope of
counselling psychology, psychiatry and social work.
For scanning the nature of clinical psychology we
should consider activities of clinical psychologists.
Counsellors, psychiatrists and social workers use
psychological concepts in helping people to adjust.
They differentiate themselves from clinical
psychologists on the basis of the focus of the problem.
Vocational counselling is concerned with an individual’s
adjustment with his job and likewise educational
counselling is concerned with the adjustment of the
individual with the educational setting. There is much
overlapping between clinical psychology and psychiatry.
Both deal with broad characteristics of mental illness
or personality disturbance. They differ in respect of
training of practitioners and the approach to problems.
A clinical psychologist is trained to approach mental
disturbance by examining earlier experiences and
learning while the psychiatrist approach these disorders
by considering them as specific diseases and by applying
appropriate treatments. Even then, in many cases
psychiatrists and clinical psychologists use similar
approaches to solve the problem. Clinical psychologists
usually deal with the individual case. They may extend
their concern to the family, secondary group and
community which affect the individual’s adjustment
to the environment. They observe ongoing behaviour
and the living situation of the people to help the
individual. Clinical psychology and practice of medicine
have an important relationship with each other and
that is why clinicians call them patients in a medical
setting while in a non-medical setting they are called
clients. A large number of clinical psychologists work
in a medical setting in co-operation with psychiatrists
and other physicians. The role of clinical psychologists
is not confined to only mentally ill persons. They also
work with people not seriously maladjusted. They take
an interest in mental health as well as deviant
behaviour. When a clinical psychologist works with a
mental patient, he applies abnormal psychology. But
they also work for schools, industries and communities
and deal exclusively with human problems of a normal
Community health programmes aim at prevention as
well as cure of mental problems. Clinical psychologists
identify factors which may lead to mental problems
and take steps for their prevention. The knowledge of
psycho-pathology is significant for clinical psychologists.
Though there is overlapping between clinical psychology
and counselling psychology, they have different
approaches. Counselling is basically concerned with
decisions and choices of individuals whereas clinical
psychology is concerned with the specific and difficult
problems of the individual.
Clinical psychology and social work profession have a
close relationship as they both help the individual to
solve his/her problems related to adjustment, deviance
and psycho-somatic ailments. In social work we deal
with the individual’s ego strengthening, insight
development, perception and decision making etc.
Clinical psychology also deals with these aspects but
its approach is more in-depth, wide and has a
psychoanalytical base. Adjustment problems between
individuals, individual and group and individual and
community are handled by both professions. In clinical
psychology, greater stress is given to the individual’s
personality traits and his/her responses to social factors
whereas in social work more emphasis is given to
social factors and components. In extreme cases of
mental disorders the help of psychiatrists is required
and clinical psychologists only assist them. The social
worker refers such cases either to a psychiatrist or
clinical psychologists with the case history record of
the patient