Behavioral Social Work Practice
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0040
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0040
The practice of social work is often seen as centered around various theories of the etiology of psychosocial problems, various theories related to the proposed mechanisms of action of psychosocial interventions, various models of practice, and perhaps more overarching practice perspectives. Behavioral social work provides the practitioner of social work with an integrated set of theories and models and represents the original person-in-environment perspective that has been deemed central to the discipline. The central organizing principle is learning theory, specifically types of learning that have been labeled as respondent (simple behaviors elicited by preceding stimuli), operant (more complex behavior evoked by past consequences that followed behavior that have produced rewarding or aversive events), and observational (acquiring behavior by imitating others). This comprehensive perspective not only includes ways to inform practice but also provides a well-developed methodology useful in the evaluation of the outcomes of social work practice, called single-system research designs (SSRDs), and an integrated philosophy of science known as behaviorism. Learning-theory principles can also be used to account for much of normative and dysfunctional human development across the life span, including those repertoires commonly labeled as one’s “personality.” One can practice behavioral social work in terms of intervention without evaluating practice using SSRDs or without subscribing to the philosophical principles of behaviorism. Those who embrace all three aspects of this approach used to be called radical behaviorists, with “radical” used in the sense of “complete.” However, the term “behavior analyst” is more widely used in the early 21st century. Most social workers who use the methods of behavioral social work are not radical behaviorists but, rather, employ such methods in the context of practice eclecticism.
Although references to the application of learning theory and conditioning methods can be found in the social-work literature as far back as the 1930s, it was not until the 1960s that behavioral techniques truly began to influence the field of social casework. Werner 1965, describing the cognitive behavioral approach called rational emotive therapy (RET), appears to be the first book written by a social worker dealing with this approach. RET incorporates traditional learning-theory-based experiential methods aimed at changing behavior directly with office-based talking therapies that attempt to change irrational cognitions said to give rise to dysfunctional actions. The earliest purely behavioral monograph is Thomas, et al 1967, which contains papers from a panel presented at the annual program meeting of the Council on Social Work Education. Most of the papers were authored by faculty at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. This monograph makes an excellent first reading to gain a historical sense of the optimistic appraisal of the usefulness of behavior methods to social work. Fischer and Gochros 1975 comprehensively lays out the learning theory foundations of behavioral therapy and presents how these approaches, largely developed in the field of psychology, could be fruitfully applied to social-work practice. Arthur Schwartz, a social worker, and Israel Goldiamond, a psychologist, coauthored Schwartz and Goldiamond 1975, a textbook on social casework practice derived primarily from an operant perspective. The social workers John Wodarski and Dennis Bagarozzi authored Wodarski and Bagarozzi 1979, a very easy-to-read introductory textbook on behavioral methods that covers operant, respondent, and observational learning-theory principles and derivative treatments. Additional individual chapters discuss various approaches to behavioral marital therapy; cognitive behavioral methods; and the application of behavioral methods to more-macrolevel issues, such as reducing energy consumption, pollution control, and the reduction of crime. For its day, this is a very cutting-edge volume. More-recent general introductory texts on behavioral social work include Hudson and Macdonald 1986, Thyer and Hudson 1987, and the Sundel and Sundel 2005, an explicitly behaviorally oriented textbook on social-work practice. Fewer introductory books taking a singularly behavioral approach are appearing, because these methods are better represented in other mainstream texts, where they often figure prominently albeit not exclusively.
Fischer, Joel, and Harvey L. Gochros. 1975. Planned behavior change: Behavior modification in social work. New York: Free Press.
This is a singularly impressive comprehensive volume covering basic assumptions and theoretical positions, recording and assessment, general intervention methods, and behavioral approaches to specific practice issues, such as substance abuse, antisocial behavior, depression, marital problems, school social work, sexual difficulties, severely disturbed behavior, and values and ethics. Highly recommended.
Hudson, Barbara L., and Geraldine MacDonald. 1986. Behavioural social work: An introduction. Chicago: Dorsey.
An introductory textbook authored by British colleagues. Hudson was an influential British academic with the Department of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Oxford. Macdonald played an important role in the development of evidence-based practice in the United Kingdom and joined the social-work faculty at Queen’s University Belfast.
Schwartz, Arthur, and Israel Goldiamond. 1975. Social casework: A behavioral approach. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
This textbook was jointly written by a social worker (Schwartz) and a psychologist (Goldiamond) and presents a consistently operant theoretical perspective on the provision of social casework services. Apart from describing the theory of behavioral social work, this book also presents two chapter-length case histories illustrating the applications of this approach. Misconceptions of the behavioral model are outlined.
Sundel, Martin S., and Sandra Sundel. 2005. Behavior change in the human services. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
An extremely lucid, well-written introduction to the field of behavioral social work, by two highly experienced authors. Perhaps the best primary textbook written by social workers on the topic of behavioral methods used in the human services that is still in print in the early 21st century. It is written from an operant perspective with attention to cognitive techniques.
Thomas, Edwin J., ed al. eds. 1967. The socio-behavioral approach and applications to social work. New York: Council on Social Work Education.
This volume consists of a series of Council on Social Work Education conference papers organized by Thomas. This 1967 symposium was one of the earliest extensive efforts to introduce behavioral principles to the field of social work. Papers separately deal with the usefulness of behavioral methods to various fields of practice, micro through macro.
Thyer, Bruce, and Walter W. Hudson. eds. 1987. Progress in behavioral social work. New York: Haworth.
This volume was a special issue of the Journal of Social Service Research that was published as a separate book. It contains articles illustrating the application of behavioral methods to various areas of social work, including chronic mental illness, parent training, obsessive-compulsive disorder, problems in adolescence, sexual dysfunctions, treatment compliance, abusive drinking, family therapy, using single-system designs, and urinary incontinence.
Werner, Harold D. 1965. A rational approach to social casework. New York: Association.
Werner introduces the approach called RET, created by the psychologist Albert Ellis, to the field of social work. RET was an influential treatment and is considered one of the earliest cognitive behavioral therapies due to its integration of behavioral and cognitive approaches. Ellis subsequently renamed it rational emotive behavioral therapy to highlight its learning-theory foundations.
Wodarski, John S., and Dennis A. Bagarozzi. 1979. Behavioral social work. New York: Human Sciences.
A very easy-to-read introductory textbook by one of the earliest proponents and most prolific contributors to the field of behavioral social work (Wodarski). Topics presented include respondent, operant, and observational learning; cognitive methods; self-control; marital therapy; and the alleviation of social problems.
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- Adolescent Depression
- Adolescent Pregnancy
- Adoption Home Study Assessments
- Adult Protective Services in the United States
- African Americans
- Aging, Physical Health and
- Alcohol and Drug Abuse Problems
- Alcohol and Drug Problems, Prevention of Adolescent and Yo...
- Alcohol Problems: Practice Interventions
- Alcohol Use Disorder
- Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias
- Anti-Oppressive Practice
- Asian Americans
- Asian-American Youth
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Baccalaureate Social Workers
- Behavioral Health
- Behavioral Social Work Practice
- Bereavement Practice
- Brief Therapies in Social Work: Task-Centered Model and So...
- Bullying and Social Work Intervention
- Canadian Social Welfare, History of
- Case Management in Mental Health in the United States
- Child Poverty
- Child Welfare
- Child Welfare and Child Protection in Europe, History of
- Children of Incarcerated Parents
- Chronic Illness
- Clinical Social Work Practice with Adult Lesbians
- Cognitive Behavior Therapies with Diverse and Stressed Pop...
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- Community Development
- Community Policing
- Community-Based Participatory Research
- Community-Needs Assessment
- Comparative Social Work
- Conflict Resolution
- Council on Social Work Education
- Counseling Female Offenders
- Criminal Justice
- Crisis Interventions
- Cultural Competence and Ethnic Sensitive Practice
- Culture, Ethnicity, Substance Use, and Substance Use Disor...
- Dementia Care, Ethical Aspects of
- Depression and Cancer
- Development and Infancy (Birth to Age Three)
- Direct Practice in Social Work
- Domestic Violence Among Immigrants
- Eating Disorders
- Ecological Framework
- Economic Evaluation
- Elder Mistreatment
- End-of-Life Decisions
- Epigenetics for Social Workers
- Ethics and Values in Social Work
- Evidence-based Social Work Practice
- Evidence-based Social Work Practice: Finding Evidence
- Evidence-based Social Work Practice: Issues, Controversies...
- Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs
- Families with Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Parents
- Family Caregiving
- Family Group Conferencing
- Family Policy
- Family Services
- Family Therapy
- Family Violence
- Fathering Among Families Served By Child Welfare
- Field Education
- Financing Health-Care Delivery in the United States
- Forensic Social Work
- Foster Care
- Gay Men
- Generalist Practice and Advanced Generalist Practice
- Group Work
- Group Work across Populations, Challenges, and Settings
- Group Work, Research, Best Practices, and Evidence-based
- Harm Reduction
- Health Care Reform
- Health Disparities
- Health Social Work
- History of Social Work and Social Welfare, 1950-1980
- History of Social Work and Social Welfare, pre-1900
- History of Social Work from 1980-2014
- History of Social Work in China
- History of Social Work in Northern Ireland
- History of Social Work in the Republic of Ireland
- History of Social Work in the United Kingdom
- HIV/AIDS Prevention with Adolescents
- Homelessness Outside the United States
- Human Needs
- Human Trafficking, Victims of
- Immigrant Policy in the United States
- Immigrants and Refugees
- Immigrants and Refugees: Evidence-based Social Work Practi...
- Impaired Professionals
- Implementation Science and Practice
- Indigenous Peoples
- Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Supported Employmen...
- International Social Welfare
- International Social Work
- International Social Work and Education
- International Social Work and Social Welfare in Southern A...
- Internet and Video Game Addiction
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy
- Intervention with Traumatized Populations
- Intimate Partner Violence
- Juvenile Justice
- Korean Americans
- Latinos and Latinas
- Law, Social Work and the
- Life Span
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Management and Administration in Social Work
- Maternal Mental Health
- Measurement, Scales, and Indices
- Medical Illness
- Men: Health and Mental Health Care
- Mental Health
- Mental Health Diagnosis and the Addictive Substance Disord...
- Mental Health Needs of Older People, Assessing the
- Mental Illness: Children
- Mental Illness: Elders
- Middle East and North Africa, International Social Work an...
- Military Social Work
- Mixed Methods Research
- Motivational Interviewing
- Native Americans
- Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders
- Neighborhood Social Cohesion
- Neuroscience and Social Work
- Nicotine Dependence
- Occupational Social Work
- Organizational Development and Change
- Pain Management
- Palliative Care
- Palliative Care: Evolution and Scope of Practice
- Parent Training
- Philosophy of Science and Social Work
- Physical Disabilities
- Police Social Work
- Positive Youth Development
- Postmodernism and Social Work
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Practice Interventions and Aging
- Practice Interventions with Adolescents
- Practice Research
- Primary Prevention in the 21st Century
- Productive Engagement of Older Adults
- Profession, Social Work
- Psychiatric Rehabilitation
- Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Theory
- Psychopathology and Social Work Practice
- Psychopharmacology and Social Work Practice
- Psychosocial Framework
- Psychosocial Intervention with Women
- Qualitative Research
- Race and Racism
- Religiously Affiliated Agencies
- Reproductive Health
- Research Ethics
- Restorative Justice
- Risk Assessment in Child Protection Services
- Risk Management in Social Work
- Rural Social Work Practice
- School Social Work
- School Violence
- School-Based Delinquency Prevention
- Services and Programs for Pregnant and Parenting Youth
- Severe and Persistent Mental Illness: Adults
- Sexual Assault
- Single-System Research Designs
- Social Development
- Social Insurance and Social Justice
- Social Intervention Research
- Social Justice and Social Work
- Social Movements
- Social Planning
- Social Policy
- Social Security in the United States (OASDHI)
- Social Work Education and Research
- Social Work Regulation
- Social Work Research Methods
- Solution-Focused Therapy
- Strategic Planning
- Strengths Perspective
- Strengths-Based Models in Social Work
- Supplemental Security Income
- Survey Research
- Systematic Review Methods
- Task-Centered Practice
- Technology, Human Relationships, and Human Interaction
- Technology in Social Work
- Terminal Illness
- Transdisciplinary Science
- Translational Science and Social Work
- United States, History of Social Welfare in the
- Veteran Services
- Victim Services
- Welfare State Reform in France
- Welfare State Theory
- Women and Macro Social Work Practice
- Women's Health Care
- Work and Family in the German Welfare State
- Working with Non-Voluntary and Mandated Clients
- Young and Adolescent Lesbians
- Youth at Risk
- Youth Services