I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend—to grasp what was happening around and within me. … Theory is not inherently healing, liberatory, or revolutionary. It fulfills this function only when we ask that it do so and direct our theorizing towards this end.
B. HOOKS (1991, PP. 1–2)
One way in which professional social work practice differs from nonprofessional practice is that social science theories, as well as a body of professional values, guide professional practice. With theory-based practice, social workers will presumably use similar interventions in similar situations to produce similar results. Under the clearest circumstances, the propositions of practice theory would thus take the form “If X occurs, or under X conditions, do Y, ” and professional training would primarily involve mastering the theories and their applications. So, for example, a proposition might be: “If you encounter group resistance to a new idea, then identify an opinion leader and try to persuade him or her, outside of the group context, to adopt your idea. ”
In social work practice, however, situation X is seldom the same as situation Y, and the complexity of human beings and human relationships is such that behavioral science theories cannot be applied quite so neatly. Nor is there a single, unified master theory of human behavior. So, in the above example, group resistance is not a simple concept; resistance can take many forms and can be explained in many different ways. A Freudian would talk about unconscious conflicts; a Skinnerian would consider rewards and punishments. Similarly, persuasion can take many different forms. Therefore, interventions to overcome resistance will vary. Discovering the kind of persuasion that works best for overcoming particular forms of resistance represents a further elaboration of theory, indeed an improvement, but one that still will not yield a simple rule.
In fact, the enormous complexity of social work practice means that often we cannot find a direct correspondence between theory and practice. Social science theory seldom tells us directly exactly what to do, nor could it entirely, since ethical principles also inform professional practice.
Should we therefore abandon theory as useless? Not really. Instead, as professional practitioners, we need to develop a conceptual frame