Academic journal article Social Work

Ideology and Social Work Practice in Substance Abuse Settings

Academic journal article Social Work

Ideology and Social Work Practice in Substance Abuse Settings

Article excerpt

Key words: beliefs; human services organizations; ideologies of care; prevention; substance abuse

The social work profession has a unique role in preventing and treating alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems (Magura, 1994). Many social workers are engaged in substance abuse practice and related activities. Review of the 1991 NASW membership reveals that about 4,000 members (4.6 percent) designated substance abuse as their primary area of practice (Gibelman & Schervish, 1993). Another 3,600 NASW members identified substance abuse as their secondary area of practice. Many more work in settings where AOD problems are likely to affect clients seeking treatment for services. In addition, numerous other social work researchers, policymakers, and academicians are involved in macro practice related to substance abuse.

Given the range and scope of involvement by social workers in substance abuse prevention and intervention, it is important that social work professionals be cognizant of their beliefs about service provision in this arena and how those beliefs affect their professional efforts. Studies of human services organizations (HSOs) have placed increasing importance on the role of shared beliefs or practice ideologies to the organization and delivery of human services (Hasenfeld, 1992a, 1992b). Little empirical research exists, however, to indicate what belief systems or "ideologies of care" prevail among social workers who provide substance abuse treatment or other human services.

As the brief review of current ideologies about prevention of and intervention for AOD-related problems indicates, no single ideology of care prevails in the AOD treatment field, although previous research suggested that the U.S. treatment community has widely embraced abstinence-based approaches that are closely related to a disease model of substance abuse problems (Blume & Roman, 1985; Weisner & Morgan, 1992; Weisner & Room, 1984). Despite the preeminence of abstinence as an approach to prevention and intervention with AOD problems, a range of other perspectives also exists in this arena (Diwan, 1990). Some of these other orientations may in fact be more consistent than the abstinence approach or disease model with traditional social work values and social work's emphasis on a more holistic, ecological, or systems approach to such problems (Freeman, 1992).

This article reports findings from the 1988 Drug Abuse Treatment System Survey (DATSS). The DATSS is based on a national, representative sample of outpatient substance abuse treatment (OSAT) units. These data are used to examine how managers in OSAT organizations differ in their support for beliefs about substance abuse practice depending on their educational background. More specifically, this article examines the following research questions: To what extent do managers in OSAT units support various beliefs about prevention and intervention with substance abuse and related problems? Do managers who have earned at least one social work degree differ significantly from those who have no social work degree in their support for various beliefs about practice? This article also discusses the implications of these findings for social work research and practice.

Ideology in HSOs

In human services settings, shared beliefs or ideologies of care have substantial influence on the types of service technologies used (Hasenfeld, 1992a, 1992b). Moreover, because uncertainty is associated with intervention technologies in HSOs, these organizations often rely on practice ideologies or ideologies of care to guide the provision of services (D'Aunno, Sutton, & Price, 1991; Hasenfeld, 1986). Such ideologies typically constitute "rational myths" (Meyer & Rowan, 1977) or "moral systems" (Hasenfeld, 1992b) rooted in the external or "institutional" environment in which HSOs operate.

Ideologies of care are not uniform or static in human services arenas. …

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