Wednesday, August 1, 2012

SWT: ‘Case’ and ‘Cause’ in Social Work Education — A Balancing Act

In case you missed the March/April 2012 issue, Social Work Today magazine published a story about the challenges of teaching both micro and macro approaches in social work education.

I never read this book, Unfaithful Angels. However, I agree with Specht that contemporary social work has become too engrossed with clinical training methods and neglected its macro practice roots (social reform and political action). I believe social workers don't truthfully follow the NASW Code of Ethics because we're not visibly involved in political matters that resonates with millions of ordinary people in America (e.g., Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Student Debt).
In the preface of Harry Specht and Mark Courtney’s book Unfaithful Angels, Specht laments what he sees as social work’s drift away from social justice: “When I first came to know social workers half a century ago, they had a mission that was, to me, appealing and significant: to help poor people, to improve community life, and to solve difficult social problems. But times have changed. Today, a significant proportion of social workers are practicing psychotherapy, and doing so privately, with a primarily middle-class, professional, Caucasian clientele” (p. ix-x).

As long as states only mandate licensure for clinical training, many prospective social work students will not pursue the macro social work concentration route. For instance, while Michigan is progressive in providing licensure options for macro practice, a majority of social workers in the state still focus on clinical training. The dominance of clinical work programs across the country will continue to erode the perception and significance of macro social work in real-world settings.

Despite the historical debate about social work’s role as a case or cause profession, it is clear that the majority of students entering educational programs today want to pursue careers as clinicians. The popularity of clinical work may have more to do with practical matters than any conscious decision to reject social activism. For example, some students believe they will not be able to pass state licensing exams unless they take classes focused on service to individuals and families. Another concern is the earning potential to be had in a clinical career vs. one focused on macro-level service.

The predominance of clinical work also is reflected in the method concentrations offered by master’s programs nationwide.

How do you feel about this dichotomy between micro and macro in social work education? Should all master's social work programs offer a generalist program, or there needs to be greater awareness of macro social work among the general public? Personally, once state boards recognize the legitimacy of macro practice in the licensure process, this will encourage students to concentrate in management, communities, and social policies.

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