This article describes the experience of a social work mental health agency with Social Role Theory (SRT), that is an organizing concept for the delivery of its assessment and treatment program. SRT has been called the process variable of the program, meaning how services are delivered. Social functioning, a concept taken from SRT, is a treatment outcome. The overall purposes of the article are to describe the contribution of sociology to social work practice, and to advance the argument that social functioning is a common base for social work practice generally.
Keywords: social functioning; sociology; social work practice
The purpose of this article is twofold: to describe the contribution of sociology to social work practice, and to renew the argument for social functioning as a common base for social work practice as proposed by Bartlett (1970). The social work program referenced herein, for which social functioning is a treatment outcome, is titled Community Treatment and Rehabilitation (CT&R) (Blakely & Dziadosz, 2003).
Sociology, Social Role Theory, and Social Work
Social Role Theory (SRT) has a history in the literature of sociology similar to that of social functioning in social work practice. Social functioning, a concept in SRT, has enabled CT&R clinicians to focus on the here and now of a client's social role behaviors in social positions, with a view toward changing behavior to a normative status that produces acceptance and/ or positive feedback from observers. The results have been an increase in a client's self-esteem, and the psychiatric condition not being a major factor in how the client lives her/his life.
The social science of sociology has made a significant contribution to social work practice. The application of Social Role Theory (SRT) from sociology, and the major concept of social functioning taken from that theory, may further the significance of these contributions to social work practice. Social Role Theory is the process variable for CT&R, meaning that it is the theory base for the delivery of a program that leads to adaptation and social functioning. Adaptation is defined as successful management of the symptoms of the psychiatric condition and appropriate responses to the expectations of others in the social environment. Social functioning is defined as normative behavior in a social situation. The designation of behaviors that are characteristic of adaptation or appropriate social functioning are not imposed on clients by clinicians. Rather, clinical interventions are designed to help clients discover these behaviors for themselves.
It is recognized that CT&R may not be the only program for which SRT and social functioning are employed. However, an Internet search did not produce any results that indicated other agencies are using SRT as an organizing principle for an assessment and treatment program. Social Role Theory is the title of a section in Turner (1996) but it mainly concerned social positions and social role behaviors as major concepts with no reference to adaptation and social functioning. Other theories were described such as psycho-dynamic, ecological, problem solving, feminist, psychoanalytic, object relations, strengths based, and psychosocial, although these were viewed as approaches to assessment and treatment and not as organizing principles. No information was located about the use of adaptation or social functioning as major concepts for a program. A strengths-based approach and psychosocial theory share some characteristics similar to the way SRT has been used in CT&R. Turner's work on psychosocial therapy (1978) has content theoretically related to our application of SRT.
The particular way the concepts of adaptation and social functioning have been used within CT&R may be of interest to administrators and planners at other social work agencies as their use in CT&R has been successful in helping persons with a psychiatric condition achieve a measure of recovery.
An article by Cornell (2006) that traced the theory of the person-in-situation paradigm and pointed to new directions for social work practice is helpful in clarifying the use of SRT in CT&R. She identified Jane Addams and Mary Richmond, early leaders in the development of social work as a profession, as proposing the dual focus of the person and the environment as a major social work practice concept.
Environment as a factor was diminished by the introduction of Freud's psychoanalytic theory. Hamilton (1951), a major contributor to social work literature, aligned with the diagnostic school of practice at first but later reaffirmed the significance of the environment. She was the first to use the phrase "person-in-situation" (p. 3), an idea that fits nicely with the way SRT has been implemented in CT&R as successful adaptation and positive social functioning may be achieved through finding the best "fit" between the person and the environment.
Three branches of sociology and the views of each on social role theory are considered for CT&R: functional and structural functional, symbolic interaction, and social cognitive (Biddle, 1986). Functionalists view roles as behavioral expectations placed on individuals by the society in which they live. People are socialized into its basic values and norms and know by unspoken consensus the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors for various roles. Structural functionalism places …