Sunday, January 9, 2011

Article: Challenging Traditional Social Work

I found this article (1995) from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration's The Advocate's Forum newsletter. Although it is over a decade old, I still thought this reflection was an excellent view on the current debate between clinical and macro social work in the profession.
While interviewing for a second year field placement I came across a disturbing comment. "So, you don't have an interest in traditional social work." It was disturbing because, at least in my mind, I do have an interest in traditional social work. I wanted to help individuals negotiate society. I wanted to improve the lives of individuals and change society. I wanted to be Jane Addams with a little Mary Richmond thrown in for good measure. I did not understand what wasn't traditional about my version of social work. After all, I was basing it on the pioneers of the field.

Should the social work profession integrate the two fields? Should all social workers become advanced generalists? Social work is a unique profession that focuses on human behavior in the social environment ("person-in-environment"). Sometimes, I also feel frustrated that there are more clinical positions than organizing/management/policy positions in the human services. While I have enjoyed my educational studies, I do start to wonder how will I market myself to people who are unaware of macro social work practice. The origins of social work had a strong focus on advocacy and social change for marginalized populations. Today, most social workers pursue clinical practice (nearly 70%), become psychotherapists or case managers, and focus more on social control interventions.

This shift is often criticized by macro social workers who feel their needs are underserved and ignored. We need more macro social workers to address new social and legal challenges in the 21st century. Families and communities need advocates who will represent their interests against powerful special interests groups. The social work profession needs to become more unified on social justice issues.

How does this debate affect you?

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