The Person-in-Environment Approach: Professional Ideology and Practice of Social Workers in Israel

Article excerpt

Person-in-environment is a core concept in social work worldwide (Hare, 2004). Some even claim that this concept, which characterizes social work as a profession that seeks to change and improve the lives of individuals and society and the relationship between them, is what distinguishes social work from other helping professions (Gibelman, 1999; Johnson, 1999; Karls & Wandrei, 1995; Stuart, 1999). Thus, it is little wonder that many scholars view the person-in-environment approach as a central approach in social work (Buchbinder, Eisikovits, & Karnieli-Miller, 2004; Johnson; Kondrat, 2002; Minahan, 1981; Schneider & Netting, 1999).

The present study examines the extent to which the person-in-environment approach is part of the professional ideology of social workers in Israel and the degree to which they actualize it in their professional practice.

THE PERSON-IN-ENVIRONMENT APPROACH: DEFINITION AND MANIFESTATIONS

The person-in-environment approach views the individual and his or her multiple environments as a dynamic, interactive system, in which each component simultaneously affects and is affected by the other (Hare, 2004). It views the individual and his or her environments as forming an ecosystem, consisting of the individual, all the systems with which the individual has reciprocal relationships, the wider environment in which the individual acts, and all the mutual interrelationships that occur between the individual and the various subsystems. Within this ecosystem, individuals are influenced by and influence their environments through their actions (Johnson & Yanca, 2001; Kondrat, 2002).

The person-in-environment concept is manifested in the dual aspirations of the profession to provide personal care and further social justice. More specifically, the social work profession seeks to augment the ability of individuals, families, groups, and communities to solve their problems, realize their potential, and enhance their lives, while effecting social reforms intended to remove societal obstacles to the individual's well-being, to reduce inequality, and to increase social justice (Dominelli, 2004; Gambrill, 1983; Gibelman, 1999; Hare, 2004; Haynes, 1998; Lynn, 1999; Minahan, 1981; Morell, 1987).

The profession's dual aspirations are reflected in social work codes of ethics in different parts of the world (Banks, 2001). For example, the first two ethical principles in the NASW Code of Ethics are (1) service, which entails helping individuals, and (2) social justice, which entails challenging social injustices (NASW, 2000). In a similar vein, the Israeli social work Code of Ethics states that "social work directs its professional activities to helping the individual and the society" (Israeli Association of Social Workers [ISASW], 1994, p. 2) and that every social worker is "obligated to work to foster change in the individual and the society" (p. 6). The person-in-environment concept is also reflected in calls by scholars and educators in different countries for social workers to refrain from an either--or division between the individualistic and social aims of the profession, but rather to combine the two (Dominelli, 2002; Franklin, 1990; Haynes & Mickelson, 2003; Haynes &White, 1999; Lynn, 1999; Schneider & Netting, 1999).

The person-in-environment approach is also manifested in the general consensus in the professional community that social workers should use interventions at both the individual psychological level and the social level. Hare (2004) presented the approach as an organizing principle that brings together a continuity of interventions, beginning with psychotherapy or clinical social work; going through family therapy, group work, empowerment, case management, mediation, social action, advocacy, and policy formation; and ending with social development. The need to integrate interventions at different levels is also emphasized in social work codes of ethics. …