Two Theories and Social Work 1000 words



This assignment will explain the role of theory in social work assessments and analyse particular theories that will be useful in social work practice. An explanation of the usefulness of these theories will also be made. The assignment will begin by looking at the origins and definitions of social work, and then describe its importance today with regards legislation. Different types of theories on assessments will be proffered, and conclusions made.

The origins of assessments can be located in the works of Iversen et al (2005) who stated that it had been initially informed by medical science seeing the clinician as the expert investigator, looking out for corrective treatment. Assessments concern the development of a social narrative that takes into account diversity. Fook (2002) considers the traditional and accepted approach to assessments, which fits those holding the power. Crisp et al (2005) states that there is no single definition of assessment, but one which might be useful is Coulshed and Orme (1998, p21):

“Assessment is an ongoing process in which the client participates, the purpose of which is to understand people in relation to their environment; it is a basis for planning what needs to be done to maintain, improve or bring about change in the person, the environment or both.”

Assessments are indeed key to social work. Prescriptions on assessment activities had developed from an unquestioned use of knowledge about the nature of people, which is borrowed from psychology and psychiatry which is not completely useful for social work practice. New legislation expects social work to be simple, speedy and informal, though provide value for money and involve the consumer. Good social work assessments are emphasised by the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie as stated in the Laming report (Parker and Bradley, 2003). There are specific assessments needing to be taken as required by law: Community care assessments (s47 National Health Service and Community care Act, 1990), specific assessments for carers in Carers (Recognition and services Act 1995), mental health assessments for admission to hospital and guardianship (Mental Health Act, 1983 ss 2,3,4 and 7).

Milner and O’Byrne (2002) feels assessments are complex, but focused on the shifts in the growing awareness of the use of power, particularly the impact of powerlessness and oppression. Constructionism is a body of thought that says a lot about power (Burr, 1995). Parton and O’Byrne( 2000) discusses the greater respect for service user’ views by entering into greater dialogue with them, adopting a stance of uncertainty and a willingness to listen to their accounts and becoming aware of the socially constructed nature of social work. Social constructionism is taking a critical stance towards the traditional ways of seeing the world, seeing knowledge as being constructed between people as they talk and interact rather than being determined by the nature of things. Social action is driven by the social constructions of the time. Constructionism questions realism in that the language we use determines the meaning of things rather than the other way round. The constructionist framework has five stages, preparation, data collection, weighing the data, analysing the data, utilising the analysis. Therefore, Milner and O’Byrne (2002) support the constructionist stance.  Cognitive psychology, solution focused and the narrative theory reflects more recent social constructions that emphasise collaboration with service users, open mindedness and uncertainty.

Okitikpi and Aymer (2008) states that one of the dangers of user involvement in assessments is the unquestioning belief that the users know best, and are the experts of their own problem as stated in Parker and Bradley (2003). Apart from misapplying the term expert, service users should be involved and informed of the rationale for using the approach.  The behaviourist approach to assessments is a lot more rigid. It believes more in external factors and conditioning in terms of understanding human behaviour, while the cognitive theory asserts the major influence that the internal organising process has on human behaviour, such as solving problems and communicating with others. In combining the two theories into the behavioural cognitive approach, Okitikpi and Aymer (2008) feels they form a powerful explanation of people’s thinking processes and their behaviour. This will help social workers to focus their intervention and work with the service user more productively. This approach has become popular in recent years. It is defined as:

“The systematic alteration of behaviours or thoughts by decreasing, increasing or maintaining them” (Parker and Bradley, 2003, P96)

Okitikpi and Aymer (2008) believes organisations can do a lot more to encourage their workers discuss their theories and approaches to the assessments they use.

In evaluating the theories used, Milner and O’Byrne (2002) state that social workers have mainly drawn on psychosocial theory as their preferred framework for understanding the nature of service users and their problems. The limitation of this theory in partnership approaches aim to respect more fully service users’ own theories about the nature of their difficulties, locating it as solution focused approaches. Earlier ideas were unable to promote anti oppressive practices, yet there have not been a constructive framework for assessments in social work as it does not meet the complexities, uncertainties, and ambiguities of current social work practice (Milner and O’Byrne, 2002).

Social workers were not re-evaluating their assessments, as they want to fit the theoretical model they have used, concentrating on risks rather than needs. Milner and O’Byrne (2002) believe sound qualitative research can be applied to social work (Everitt et al, 1992). Assessment and intervention should not be separated.  Change happens at every stage of the social work process. The central purpose of assessment is not just to plan intervention, but also for reviews, deciding when to end the intervention, and evaluating it after it has ended.

In conclusion then the two main theories preferred by this assignment is the cognitive behavioural approach and constructionism. While the latter has focused on power and discrimination thereby allowing the user to “own” their assessment, the former prefer a balance where “experts” are still relevant to support the service user in decision making.



























Burr, V (1995) An Introduction to Social Constructionism, London, Routledge

Coulshed, V and Orme, J (1998) Social Work Practice: An Introduction (3rd ed), Basingstoke, Macmillan

Crisp, B., Anderson, M, et al (2005) Learning and Teaching in Social Work Education: Textbooks and Frameworks on Assessments, Bristol, Policy Press

Everitt, A., Hardiker, P., et al (1992) Applied Research for Better Practice, Basigstoke, Macmillan

Fook, J (2000) “Deconstructing and Reconstructing Professional Expertise” in B. Fawcett, B. Featherstone, J.Fook and J. Rossiter (eds) Research and Practice in Social Work: Post Modern Feminist Perspective, London, Routledge.

Iversen, R., Gergen, K., (2005) Assessments and Social Construction: Conflict or Co-Creation? British Journal of Social Work, 35: 689 – 708.

Milner, J and O’Byrne, P (2002) Assessment in Social Work, 2nd Edition, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

Okitikpi and Aymer (2008) The art of social work practice, Lyme Regis, Russell House

Parker, J and Bradley, G (2003) Social Work Practice: Assessment, Planning, Intervention and Review, Learning Matters, Exeter

Parton, N and O’Byrne, P (2000) Constructive Social Work, London, Macmillan