Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Social Work and Its Relationship to other Disciplines

Social work has been called a helping profession, a problem solving profession or an enabling profession. To qualify to be a profession, social work should meet several criteria. One of the major criteria is that it should have its own knowledge base (Greenwood,1957; 44-55). It should be able to produce knowledge and its practice should repeatly validate. Theories and concepts should be formulated which explain the relationship between various factors that influence human behaviour. Models for interventions should be formulated to solve problems. However social work, as it is a helping profession, has a major limitation in this area. Most social workers are engaged in practice with little time for developing theoretical perspectives. Social work academics are often criticized for producing research (knowledge) which is not of much use to practicing professionals.

Social work in the early period of growth depended to a large extent on knowledge derived from other disciplines like psychology, sociology, economics and political science. However since 1970s social work scholarship has broadened and deepened its scope. The profession’s self generated fund of knowledge has expanded substantially (Reamer in Reamer, 1994; 1). But this does not mean that social work’sengagement with other disciplines has reduced or limited. This chapter will give you an overview about the relationship between social work and other disciplines.
Evolution of Social Work as an Academic Discipline
Modern social work evolved in the nineteenth century to address the problems created by the emergence of the industrial society (Friedlander, 1967; 3). While it is true that all religious traditions had a history of individuals and institutions helping the lesser fortunate, it is only in the modern society that ‘helping’ became a profession and professional social work emerged. Professionalizing of the helping profession was both a consequence of change and a cause of social change.
The major changes that influenced the emergence of social work in the West were social, political and economic. The industrial society gave birth to a number of problems not seen earlier. Urbanization, and large scale migration of people from rural to urban areas in search of employment were some of the important consequences. Rural communities declined and so did the traditional forms of social control. People in the city often suffered from moral and material problems. Institutions like the family and churches which were earlier responsible for the welfare could no longer cope with the social problems. Modern social work had its roots when volunteers, mainly middle class white women worked among the poor and the destitute to alleviate their social and financial problems. However there was a growing realization that charity needs be organized to reduce costs and made more humanitarian (Desai, 2002). The Charity Organization Societies (COS) and settlement house were the pioneering efforts in this direction. The COS was founded in 1869 in UK and in 1877 in the USA. The COS used a number of ‘visitors” to investigate the clients who were considered needy by the voluntary agencies. This system introduced some form of order in the then prevalent chaotic situation in dispensing aid to the poor. Secondly the issue of treatment was introduced as the COS did not simply distribute aid but also provided social and psychological support. Therefore the COS visitors can be called as forerunners of the method –case work. Thirdly the formation of specialized agencies for coordinating and administering welfare services were widely used. The beginning of using a systematic method to deal with the poor can be traced to these movements. The settlement houses were started in 1889 in the USA. Settlement houses were agencies in which university students stayed with the poor to support them and at the same time learn about their life. The methods used by these houses can be termed as three Rs-residence, reform and research. Living with those who needed help reduced the distance between the client and the practioner. The COS’s major objective was to reform the poor by counseling and support while the settlement house aimed at understanding the poor and trying to address the conditions that caused poverty.
Another major influence was the growing social movements which took place during the nineteenth and twentieth century. Labour movements, socialistic movements, women’s movements and movements for racial justice were some of the most prominent of them. There was growing recognition of the rights for physically and mentally disabled, children, refugees and the homeless. Several social workers gave lead to these movements or were very much influenced by them. For example, Jane Addams who started the settlement houses in Chicago won a Nobel Prize for her contribution to the peace movements. Social workers were in the forefront of the efforts to pass legislations to protect the rights of the disabled, minorities and women. Another important factor in the emergence of professional social work was the growing role of the state in welfare programmes. The Social Security Act 1935 gave the responsibility of providing financial support to the vulnerable sections to the government. The welfare component in the government increased in most of the European countries. Professional social workers planned and implemented the welfare programmes giving the profession greater visibility and legitimacy.
Social’s increasing role in the society made it imperative that a formal system of education be created that would train social workers to perform their functions effectively. The first university to introduce formal education was Columbia University which offered a six-week training programme in 1896 for the volunteers who were working in the welfare sector. Gradually there were number of courses which were offered increased. The duration was also increased as subjects of study increased. Newcomer (1959) cites three developments that took place which facilitated the rise of social work education in USA (i) the development of social sciences as academic disciplines (ii) the establishment of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections and (iii) the establishment of privately sponsored women’s colleges and co-educational public universities (cited by Desai, 2002). By the early twentieth century social work courses became part of university system in the USA. However the content and duration of the social work courses were the subject of debate. In 1932 the Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW) adopted a minimum one year curriculum that included prescribed courses of subject areas such as medical and psychiatric information research, social legislation and legal aspects of social work (Dnnear 1984 quoted in Reamer). In 1944 the AASSW identified eight areas which should be taught in social work courses such as, public welfare, social case work, group work, community organization, medical  information, social research, psychiatry and social welfare administration. The Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) was started in 1952 to regulate social work education. In 1962 it formulated the first formal curriculum policy which divided the curriculum into three areas like social welfare policy and services, human behaviour and the social environment and methods of social work practice. The next review in 1982 clarified the important role of liberal arts in the syllabus and identified five important areas: human behaviour and social environment, social welfare policy and services, social work practice, research and field practicum. Again in 1992, some new areas of concern were stressed including values and ethics, cultural and ethnic diversity, population at risk, human behaviour and social environment, social welfare policy and services, social work practice, research and field practicum. Presently there is a broad consensus in the US on the topics that need to be part of formal training in social work. (Reamer in Reamer, 1993, 1-12).
The International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) World census of Social work education 1998-1999 has given a global picture (Not including us)) of the topic of study in social work courses. four courses namely research, social policy, personal and interpersonal intervention and community intervention were offered by 68.7% of the schools and Social and Public Administration; Social History and Philosophy; Ethnic and Cultural Focus; Bio\Psycho\Social Theory; and Organizational Theory were offered by 50% to 54% of all schools out side the US. Social work curriculum represents the knowledge that has to be transfer to new entrants to the profession and maintains the standards of services. The existing curriculum can be divided into four components: (1) Human behaviour and social environment which will include the theories that explain social reality. This section of social work knowledge relies more on social science disciplines like sociology, psychology, history and economic, (2) Social policy, social welfare policy and social welfare administration. This section enriches itself from the policy sciences and public administration, (3) Social work practice. This section depends largely on the methods of social work namely case work, group work and community organization. Within these models, social work has evolved many intervention methods like task centered ecology model, (4) Social work research which centers around evaluating and assessing the effectiveness of the various means of intervention unlike the social sciences research which aims at dispassionate search for truth.
Along with the gradual recognition of social work as a discipline, there has been an increase in the number of books and articles related to its practice. Mary Richmond wrote ‘social diagnosis’ which described methods to understand and diagnose social reality. It influenced social work practice as it was among the first text to systematically describe the methods for practice. Similarly contributions by Grace Coyle, Mary Follet and others helped the growth of group work knowledge.
Social Work and its Relation to Other Disciplines
Social work is related to various disciplines. The areas like sociology, psychology and social policy are considered cognate disciplines of social work which has influenced social work. (Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, 1976 quoted in Dominelli, 1997)
Sociology and Social Work Sociology (Latin “socius” meaning companion and Greek logos the study) is the scientific study of the human society. It is called the science of society. All social sciences study human behaviour, but the content, approach and the context of sociology are very different from other disciplines. According to Inkeles (1999;14-15) sociology has three distinctive subject matters. Firstly, sociology is the study of society with society as the unit of analysis. Here it studies the internal differentiations and how they interact with each other and how they influence each other. It studies the allocation of functions to the different structures of the society. Max Weber, for example, studied the relationship between religion and capitalism and how the later helped capitalism emerge. Sociology also studies the external characteristics of the population and the rate and stage of its progress. The problems of the society are explained using these factors. Secondly sociology as the study of intuitions – political, economic, social, legal, stratifications, etc. It studies the features that these institutions share and the features that are different. Their degree of specialization and level of autonomy are also studied. Durkheim, one of the pioneers of sociology, called sociology as the study of social institution. Thirdly sociology is the study of social relationships. By social relationship we mean the interactions between individuals. Interactions between individuals are mediated by norms and values of the society and are intended to achieve goals.
The subject matter for sociology was collective behaviour of human beings. Society, community, family, religion, nation and groups are concepts that sociology investigates and studies. Its methods are considerably influenced by natural sciences. Even more importantly sociology studied the European society that was polarized and divided on ideological lines. The society was in danger of being disintegrated. Sociologists through their theoretical contributions were responding to this major crisis that they saw around them. They were suggesting the ways and means that societies could adopt to face the problems caused by modernity. Professional social work and sociology emerged in the European society in the nineteenth century which was the period of great changes in the society. Both responded to the crises caused by the changes in the modern society. They used the scientific methods to validate their means of work, gain acceptance and popular support. There were hard fought ideological debates within the adherents of each discipline so as to the best way to solve problems. For example in social work the COS approach and the settlement approach influenced the direction of social work. The COS favoured the person centered approach which depended on case work to resolve social problem while the settlement house favoured a structural change to resolve the problem. In different forms the debate continues so as to find the best way to resolve social problems.(Dominelli, 2004; 47)
But sociology and social work differ in many aspects. In Sociology the approach to society is theoretical and theory building is its major concern. Social work on the other hand has to be practical and deal with problems. So social workers spend more time in the field with people rather than in the libraries with books. Sociological theory is based on facts drawn from complex social reality. They offer precise cause to explain social phenomena. Often these theories are of little value to the practioner as many other factors come into play which should be taken into account to reach a realistic solution. On the other hand, sociologist find social workers work to be fragmented and oriented only towards the problem at hand. Another important distinction between social work and sociology is that the latter made claims to be a value free discipline. Being objective and free from bias was considered a virtue. Social work on the other hand is a value based profession based on humanitarian principles.(Johnson, 1998; 14)
Sociology has a significant influence on social work. The work of Charles Booth on poverty gave new perspectives
to the society. Sociological analysis provides theoretical perspectives that can subject policies and the work which practioners do to systematic analysis thereby enhancing our understanding of what is done and why (Dominelli, 1997;5). The following are the areas in which contribution of Sociology is significant.
1) The systems theory in sociology has been used in the ecological model of social intervention in which the client systems are seen as being part of the environment and being influenced by it. (Germain, Carel in Reamer(ed), 1994: 103)
2) The major three approaches of sociology – structural functionalist, Marxian and interactionist – have influenced social work practice. Marxist theories have helped social worker understand that conflict is part of society and that different sections in society have conflicting interests. These perspectives have helped social workers look critically at its own methods and see whose interests the profession is serving. Further they have enabled social work professionals to influence social policy by advocating for legislations and programs. The integrationist school has contributed to the understanding of sub-cultures and delinquency. Some of the key theorists and their concepts that have been significantly used in social work include Foucault concept of power, Marx’s class relationship, and Goff man’s closed institutions. (Dominelli, 1997; 82)
3) Sociological concepts like role, status, authority, power, rights, responsibility, groups, communities and nations are used in casework, group work and community organization which has enriched social work practice.
4) The study of family, types of families, changing roles of family members, changing functions of family and  its members, the problems and means to resolve these problems.
5) Problems of elderly and their solutions.
Psychology and Social Work Psychology (Latin psyche soul and logos study) is the study of mental processes and human behaviour. Psychology can be defined as the science of human and animal behaviour; it includes application of this science to human problems (Morgan,C.T. et al, 1993; 30). Being a science it uses the tools of observation, measurement and classification to study human behaviour.
Three main approaches dominate the field of psychology (1) Freudian and neo Freudian approaches. This approach gives importance to the unconscious part of the mind which plays an important role in determining the behaviour of the individual. Sigmund Freud is the main proponent of this approach but since then many others like Carl Jung have contributed to giving new direction to this approach. (2) Behavioural approach which takes behaviour as being learnt. Skinner the proponent of this approach advocated the use of empirical methods to study human behaviour. (3) The third approach is the gestalt approach which takes a holistic approach to the study of human behaviour.
Psychology is further divided into various specializations — clinical psychology, abnormal psychology, industrial psychology, counseling psychology, developmental psychology and sports psychology. While much of psychology is descriptive and analytical in nature. Psychology is also a practice profession. A variety of agencies employ psychologists for work related to recruitment, counseling and training. Clinical psychology provides diagnosis to mental disorders and prescribes therapies for their cure. The area of social worker and the clinical psychologist overlaps even in other areas like child development and there are common areas of concern also.