Social Work Theories in Action

By Mary Nash; Robyn Munford et al. | Go to book overview

Foreword

There is no one right way to do social work. That is the clear message after many years of research, theory, conceptualization and debate. For a long time, social work was caught in the trap of the modernist search for certainty, that there must be one right answer, one best way to do it, or one unified grand 'theory of everything'. Different theories would compete with each other for supremacy. The search for this holy grail has now been recognized as futile. Social work is a human activity, about people working with people. Both the people who do the working (the social workers) and the people with whom they work display the human frailties, contradictions, weaknesses and imperfections that are a part of the human condition; they do not fit a single stereotype, and steadfastly refuse to fit neatly into any of the categories that theoreticians, policy makers and managers try to create for them. In this messy, uncertain and contradictory world, social workers will not all be the same, nor will they all work in the same way, and this is both appropriate and necessary. Diversity of approaches among social workers is more likely to lead to a profession that is able to be responsive to a range of people, and a range of problems.

Moving beyond the idea that there is one right way to do social work, however, does not imply that it is a case of 'anything goes'. There is still good practice and bad practice, or more appropriately, good practices and bad practices. Getting away from the need for the one right answer should not be taken as an excuse for the kind of atheoretical practice that can be characterized as 'if it feels good, do it'. Such practice may indeed feel good, and may at the same time do great harm. There remains a need to understand what makes for good practice in any one circumstance, and for any one social worker. There are competing theories, competing claims for how to do 'good' social work, and the ones that really count are based on a mix of good conceptualizing, research, and practice wisdom. There may not be a single 'right' way to do it, but this does not mean there are no right ways at all; rather there are a number of 'right ways', ways that will be right for particular workers, in particular contexts.

Moving away from the binary thinking implied in the term 'competing' theories, we must also note that the existence of more than one theory, set of theories, model or practice framework does not mean that they are necessarily in opposition. While they may emphasize different aspects of knowledge and

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