Social Work Person-in-Environment
by
Mary Ellen Kondrat
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0092

Introduction

This bibliography deals with the concept “person in environment” as a practice orienting perspective for social work practice and education. This perspective is based on the notion that an individual and his or her behavior cannot be understood adequately without consideration of the various aspects of that individual’s environment (social, political, familial, temporal, spiritual, economic, and physical). A person-in-environment perspective is said to provide a more adequate framework for assessing an individual and his or her presenting problem and strengths than an approach that focuses solely on changing an individual’s behavior or psyche, or one that focuses solely on environmental conditions. This perspective is also thought to increase the range of interventions available to the practitioner—with the options to intervene directly with the individual or into aspects of the environment or both. The person-in-environment perspective has been accepted by the profession as uniquely defining and differentiating social work from related professions/disciplines, such as psychology (more person centered) and sociology (more structurally oriented). In terms of its epistemological status, the concept “person in environment” is variously described as a perspective or a framework. As such, it is said to help the practitioner organize observations, planning, and intervention strategy. In this broader understanding, person-in-environment is not a “theory” in the sense of producing statements that have been or can be verified with empirical evidence. However, this is not to say that more specific formulations linking some aspect of the environment to behavioral outcomes have not been productive. Many of such formulations have formed the backdrop for much that goes by the name “evidence-based practice” (a concept treated extensively elsewhere on this site). There is some speculation regarding when the person-in-environment framework was first clearly articulated in social work. What is clear is that there were a number of historical developments in the first two decades of the 20th century that led to the more formal expression of the concept in the emerging profession and discipline of social work sometime after World War I.

Reference Works

Although many social work journals may treat concepts associated with the person-in-environment framework, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment is dedicated to theory development, conceptual issues, and research related to person-in-environment. Three additional resources provide access to articles, book reviews, and dissertations, searched by topical area, including the topic “person-in-environment”: Social Services Abstracts, Social Work Abstracts, and Mizrahi and Davis 2008.

  • Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. 1998–.

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    Articles in this journal explore human behavior theory and empirical research addressing human behavior as a complex phenomenon, particularly research that targets identified behaviors for change through specific environmental interventions.

    Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. 1998–.

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    • Mizrahi, Terry, and Larry E. Davis, eds. 2008. Encyclopedia of social work. 20th ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

      DOI: 10.1093/acref/9780195306613.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Articles in this reference work cover all aspects of social work practice, theory, and research. Each article is written by an expert in the topical area. With over four hundred articles, this resource includes an article on person-in-environment and treats related topics such as ecological theory and systems theory.

      Mizrahi, Terry, and Larry E. Davis, eds. 2008. Encyclopedia of social work. 20th ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      • National Association of Social Workers. Social Work Abstracts.

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        Provides up-to-date bibliographic references for published research/scholarship in social work and the human services. Topics may be searched by title, abstract, and key words, including the topic “person-in-environment.” Available for articles published since 1977, this resource indexes and abstracts more than five hundred social work journals.

        National Association of Social Workers. Social Work Abstracts.

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        • Proquest CSA Social Sciences. Social Services Abstracts.

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          Provides up-to-date bibliographic references for published research that covers social work, social welfare, social policy, and community practice, including “person-in-environment” as a researchable item in titles, abstracts, and key words. Available for articles published since 1979, this resource indexes over 1,200 publications/journals in a variety of social work and related professional journals.

          Proquest CSA Social Sciences. Social Services Abstracts.

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          Textbooks

          Most of the textbooks that promote a person-in-environment perspective are written for the “human behavior and the social environment” area of the social work curriculum. Other social work textbooks, especially those covering social work general practice, usually acknowledge some person-in-environment formulation as a guide to the social worker’s assessment, planning, and intervention. However, there appear to be few contemporary practice textbooks that use the person-in-environment concept itself to explicitly structure approaches to practice. Notable exceptions include Gitterman and Germain 2008, which applies ecological theory to social work practice; Kemp, et al. 1997, which is a direct practice text that emphasizes environmental modifications; and Karls and Wandrei 1994, which presents a schema for categorizing types of problems that can exist between a person and his or her environment.

          • Gitterman, Alex, and C. B. Germain. 2008. The life model of social work practice. 3d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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            This is the third edition of a well-received basic practice textbook; the first edition was published in 1980 (see Germain and Gitterman 1980, cited under Ecological Theory and Life Model of Practice). Authors apply ecological theory to social work practice, with copious examples and real-life applications. The book expands on ecological concepts such as niche, coping, adaptation, life stressors (predictable and unpredicted), environmental stress, and resilience. The narrative weaves these and similar concepts within the steps of the traditional social work problem-solving process.

            Gitterman, Alex, and C. B. Germain. 2008. The life model of social work practice. 3d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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            • Karls, J. M., and K. E. Wandrei. 1994. Person-in-environment system: The PIE classification system for social functioning problems. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

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              Karls and Wandrei’s book has been used as a supplementary text in direct-practice and human-behavior courses. Authors develop a schema for categorizing types of problems at the interface of person and environment. As an attempt to move past limitations of the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, when applied in social work practice, the book is focused on problems and symptoms and consistent with a medical model of practice.

              Karls, J. M., and K. E. Wandrei. 1994. Person-in-environment system: The PIE classification system for social functioning problems. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

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              • Kemp, Susan P., James K. Whittaker, and E. M. Tracy. 1997. Person-environment practice: The social ecology of interpersonal helping. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

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                This direct-practice textbook focuses on theories of the environment-person connection, environmental assessments, environmental interventions, and diversity of environments. There is less emphasis on the person and more on environmental modifications.

                Kemp, Susan P., James K. Whittaker, and E. M. Tracy. 1997. Person-environment practice: The social ecology of interpersonal helping. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

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                Prehistory of a Social Work Perspective

                The concept of person-in-environment in social work has “prehistory” that includes contributions from three late-19th- and early-20th-century developments: (1) the increasing influence of pragmatism as a philosophy, (2) the rise of progressivism as an important social and political reform movement, and (3) the emergence of sociology as a new science/discipline. Each of these developments/movements emerged at approximately the same time as the profession and discipline of social work and in much the same places; also there are documented instances of mutual influence among the three developments. Pragmatism, though defined variously by its different proponents, essentially holds that the meaning or truth value of any concept must be understood in terms of its real-world consequences. One of the figures most associated with this movement was philosopher John Dewey. Dewey 1997 was influential not only in disciplines of philosophy and education but also in the newly emerging fields of sociology and social work as these developed at the University of Chicago. Progressivism as a social reform movement in the United States lasted from about 1890 to the end of World War I. The movement was a response to the massive social dislocations that came with rapidly expanding urbanization, industrialization, and immigration during this period. Progressives advocated for change in public policy and increased public accountability with respect to social problems such as poverty, urban slums, exploitation of child labor, unsafe and unsanitary work conditions, political corruption, and lack of political voice for women. This movement emphasized social dislocation, as well as forms of social injustice within the urban setting as key environmental factors in the production of social problems faced by individuals and families. Progressive reforms were embraced by early sociologists and the first group of social work reformers and scholars. In the context of this period, which was historically and politically fertile, the first faculty in sociology developed at the University of Chicago, with a focus on the examination of contemporary social conditions and their impact on individuals (see Park 1915, McKenzie 1984, and Thomas and Znaniecki 1958). In an era characterized by unprecedented social dislocation, the urban environment as context for human behavior, as well as rapid social change as a result of immigration and industrialization, became a focus for the sociology faculty. In these very early days of sociology as a social science, the distinction between scientific sociology and social reform/social work was not as sharply drawn as it later became (see Deegan 1988 and Sibley 1995). The American social work founders who developed Hull House in Chicago were involved in all three of these historical movements. Social thinkers such as Jane Addams, Albion Small (the founder of the sociology program at the University of Chicago), John Dewey, George Herbert Mead and others identified with both pragmatism and progressivism. It is well known that John Dewey was a frequent visitor to Hull House (see Deegan 1988). And social worker/activists at Hull House became closely associated with sociologists of the new Chicago School of Sociology. Prior to World War I, some of women of Hull House, including Grace Abbott, Edith Abbott, Jane Addams, Julia Lathrop, and Florence Kelley, were writing articles that appeared in the American Journal of Sociology (published at the University of Chicago) and other social science journals, focusing on urban reform and human rights for various groups, especially children. Influenced by pragmatism’s emphasis on real-world consequences, these works focused on the impact of poverty, crowded housing conditions, child labor, and other social ills in the wake of industrialization and urbanization. This was a significant development in that the focus for the fledgling profession of social work expanded from more directly trying to assist and reform people (the original casework approach favored by many East Coast social workers) to reforming social conditions and social policy as well (environment as well as persons). However, it would be quite some time before the formulation of person-in-environment received wide currency in the profession, and the next several decades were characterized by debates between partisans of social reform and partisans of individual case work.

                • Deegan, Mary J. 1988. Jane Addams and the men of the Chicago school, 1892–1918. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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                  Sociologist Deegan revisits the period leading up to World War I, as social work and sociology were both developing at the University of Chicago. She documents the separation of function by gender that led to the eventual disciplinary boundaries constructed between sociological inquiry (male prerogative) and social work as action-oriented practice (women’s province).

                  Deegan, Mary J. 1988. Jane Addams and the men of the Chicago school, 1892–1918. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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                  • Dewey, John. 1997. Experience and education. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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                    For Dewey, “An experience is always what it is because of a transaction taking place between an individual and what, at the time, constitutes his environment” (p. 43). This small volume is well worth the read for its historical concordance with theorizing in social work about person-environment transactions and for Dewey’s clear and compelling arguments.

                    Dewey, John. 1997. Experience and education. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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                    • McKenzie, R. D. 1984. The ecological approach to the study of the human community. In The city: Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the urban environment. Edited by Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess, 63–79. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                      Provides one of the first available definitions of human ecology as “a study of the spatial and temporal relations of human beings as affected by the selective, distributive, and accommodative forces of the environment” (pp. 63–64). Within social work, the concept the “ecological perspective” is one of the historical variations of the person in environment perspective.

                      McKenzie, R. D. 1984. The ecological approach to the study of the human community. In The city: Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the urban environment. Edited by Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess, 63–79. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                      • Park, Robert E. 1915. The city: Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the city environment. American Journal of Sociology 20.5: 577–612.

                        DOI: 10.1086/212433Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Park argues for the city as social institution and as a proper subject for social inquiry. He proposes a laundry list of research questions that follow from his assumptions about the urban environment.

                        Park, Robert E. 1915. The city: Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the city environment. American Journal of Sociology 20.5: 577–612.

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                        • Sibley, D. 1995. Geographies of exclusion. New York: Routledge.

                          DOI: 10.4324/9780203430545Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          For our purposes, this work includes a chapter dealing with the relationship between the women of Hull House and the sociologists who were developing their emergent science at the University of Chicago. Sibley contends that the more radical politics of the women were factors in their gradual exclusion from the scientific sociology discourse, despite their many significant scientific contributions to an understanding of urban life and context.

                          Sibley, D. 1995. Geographies of exclusion. New York: Routledge.

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                          • Thomas, W. I., and F. Znaniecki. 1958. The Polish peasant in Europe and America II. New York: Dover.

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                            Thomas and Znaniecki introduce the concept of social disorganization to describe the results of spatial and social dislocation of primarily agricultural families to urban industrial environments. Social structures that gave coherence and identity to individuals and communities were fractured or weakened and irrelevant to the new environment, creating social problems faced by individuals and families.

                            Thomas, W. I., and F. Znaniecki. 1958. The Polish peasant in Europe and America II. New York: Dover.

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                            Emergence of a Social Work Perspective

                            As professional social work emerged from its earliest origins in Great Britain and the United States in philanthropy and settlement houses, key debates also emerged as to the proper focus for this new occupation. In very general terms (understanding that nuances are lost in the process), early debates within the profession centered on whether the main target of change should be the individual person or whether it should be social conditions and social policies. While Midwest social reformers/social workers advocated for environmental and social policy changes to meet the emerging social crises of individuals and families, East Coast social work leaders were absorbing the insights of the (also newly emerging) Freudian school of thought and the psychosocial casework approach advocated by social work pioneer Mary Richmond (Richmond 1964). Efforts to reconcile the various sides of the debate were played out in a series of major conferences and commissioned reports (see American Association of Social Workers 1974, Hollis and Taylor 1951, Boehm 1959, and Bartlett 1970), before they were clearly articulated in any disciplinary literature. What is important is that the difference between these two positions was centered largely on defining what constituted “legitimate” social work intervention (structural/policy change versus intervention at the level of individuals and families). The historical record shows that, with varying emphases, both sides of this debate understood that problems of individuals and families were contextual and complex, and both person and context helped define a person’s total situation. In recent decades a general consensus has emerged that the practice of social work requires attention to persons, the environments they inhabit, and the interactions between persons and aspects of their environments. The notion that the profession of social work was defined (and differentiated from other helping professions) by a person-environment perspective gradually became an accepted formulation within the profession globally. Within the last several decades, various social work professional associations affirmed the principle that attention to the person-in-environment context is a central element in definitions of social work practice. Such statements may be found in documents of the following organizations: the Australian Association of Social Workers, the British Association of Social Workers, the Council on Social Work Education (US), the US National Association of Social Workers (US), the International Federation of Social Workers, and the International Association of Schools of Social Work. It is important to note that the two most comprehensive international social work associations IFSW and IASSW, with members in over seventy countries, explicitly endorse the person-in-environment framework as a defining characteristic of social work practice.

                            • American Association of Social Workers. 1974. Social casework: Generic and specific; A report of the Milford conference. New York: American Association of Social Workers.

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                              The report from the Milford Conference made an attempt to define the major elements across all social work fields, including an appreciation of the individual functioning “in a given environment.”

                              American Association of Social Workers. 1974. Social casework: Generic and specific; A report of the Milford conference. New York: American Association of Social Workers.

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                              • Bartlett, Harriet. 1970. The common base of social work practice. New York: National Association of Social Workers.

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                                Bartlett’s book, commissioned by NASW, clearly identified the domain of social work as focused on the interaction between people and their environments.

                                Bartlett, Harriet. 1970. The common base of social work practice. New York: National Association of Social Workers.

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                                • Boehm, Werner. 1959. Objectives of the social work curriculum of the future. New York: Council on Social Work Education.

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                                  In this CSWE-commissioned curriculum study, understanding human beings and their behavior in an environmental context was affirmed as a necessary element in the education of social workers. Shortly thereafter, the person-in-environment perspective was conceptualized as a required curriculum element and labeled “human behavior in the social environment.”

                                  Boehm, Werner. 1959. Objectives of the social work curriculum of the future. New York: Council on Social Work Education.

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                                  • Hollis, E. V., and A. L. Taylor. 1951. Social work education in the United States: A report of a study made for the National Council on Social Work Education. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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                                    Hollis and Taylor coined the phrase “biopsychosocial” to refer to the person as a biological/psychological being in a social context. The phrase is sometimes used as an alternate way of talking about person-in-environment.

                                    Hollis, E. V., and A. L. Taylor. 1951. Social work education in the United States: A report of a study made for the National Council on Social Work Education. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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                                    • Richmond, Mary E. 1964. Social diagnosis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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                                      Social work pioneer Mary Richmond, in a work originally published in 1917, articulated a concept of social work practice that stressed the importance of a dual or psychosocial approach. While still focused on intervention at the individual level, Richmond’s work underscores the importance of family and social circumstance in understanding social problems faced by individuals. As such, it can be said to be a precursor of the later person-environment conceptualization.

                                      Richmond, Mary E. 1964. Social diagnosis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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                                      Contemporary Theories

                                      At the present time, the person-in-environment framework has wide currency in social work education and practice nationally and internationally. As noted above, it has become part of the definition of social work practice, a characteristic of practice that is said to distinguish social work from other helping professions. Virtually every general practice textbook acknowledges the importance of viewing an individual within environmental context. However, the formulation in and of itself is limited in terms of what can be called a genuinely systematic or coherent body of literature. Instead, the framework has been elaborated into several rich conceptualizations that will be discussed below. These alternative conceptualizations were advanced in an attempt to further develop an understanding of the interaction-link between person and environment. The person-environment perspective is the general “umbrella” concept under which these alternate conceptualizations can be said to rest. Attempts to give more conceptual depth to the person-environment nexus included (a) general systems theory and (b) ecological theory and the life model of practice. The person-in-environment perspective is also elaborated in various conceptualizations of the concept “human behavior in the social environment.” The latter concept is a common translation of person-in-environment as it appears in social work curricula.

                                      General Systems Theory

                                      During the 1960s and 1970s, general systems theory, as developed in the theoretical work of biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy, became a major paradigm in social work education and literature to describe the relationship between persons-as-systems and contiguous systems, as well as the relationship to the larger social system. Briefly, Bertalanffy 1969 challenged prevailing notions in science that parts and processes of a larger (especially living) phenomenon could be separated and studied as elements isolated from the whole. Systems theory as adopted in social work took the focus away from an exclusive emphasis on either the individual or the social. Instead, the focus became the transaction between the individual and contiguous systems and between the individual and larger systems in which he or she existed. Works from some of the earliest pioneers who introduced systems theory into the social work literature include Forder 1974, Hearn 1969, Pincus and Minihan 1973, and Stein 1974. Although since the 1980s, social work practitioners and educators have tended to embrace the ecological perspective as a closer fit for human life and interactions than the earlier, general systems theory, social work scholars have not entirely abandoned systems theory as a way to understand the person-environment nexus. For example, borrowing concepts from applied mathematics and engineering, proponents of dynamical systems theory and similar models (complexity theory, chaos theory) suggest that approaches that treat human beings as open systems and their behavior as nonlinear and recursive hold the promise of being better able to account for the complexity, mutability, and unpredictability of human behavior over time (Stevens and Cox 2008; Warren, et al. 1998; and Warren and Knox 2000).

                                      • Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. 1969. General system theory. New York: Braziller.

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                                        Bertalanffy underscores differences between closed systems (those that can be studied in isolation from their environment and from relationships with other elements) and open systems (sets of elements existing in interrelationship with one another and with the environment in dynamic interplay). He further suggests that living organisms are open systems, with implications for understanding behavior of living organisms, including human beings.

                                        Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. 1969. General system theory. New York: Braziller.

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                                        • Forder, A. 1974. Social work and system theory. British Journal of Social Work 6.1: 23–42.

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                                          Forder provides an account of general systems theory, indicating ways in which the human organism differs from other kinds of systems. Suggests that, for the practice of social work, systems theory is most useful in guiding the practitioner in assessment and intervention.

                                          Forder, A. 1974. Social work and system theory. British Journal of Social Work 6.1: 23–42.

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                                          • Hearn, Gordon, ed. 1969. General systems approach: Contributions toward a holistic conception of social work. New York: Council on Social Work Education.

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                                            Explores applications of the emerging general systems approach to social work practice and to an understanding of social work as a profession/discipline.

                                            Hearn, Gordon, ed. 1969. General systems approach: Contributions toward a holistic conception of social work. New York: Council on Social Work Education.

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                                            • Pincus, Allen, and A. Minihan. 1973. Social work practice: Model and method. Itasca, IL: Peacock.

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                                              One of the first systematic works on systems theory to be used as a textbook in teaching social work practice. It applies general systems theory to practice with social systems of various sizes and assists the student to differentiate between four basic systems: (a) the “change agent system” (person and system specifically engaged in creating planned change); (b) the “client system” (the system that is being helped); (c) the “target system” (the system that needs to be changed in order to accomplish the goal); and (d) “action system” (the systems and groups the change agent engages to effect the planned change).

                                              Pincus, Allen, and A. Minihan. 1973. Social work practice: Model and method. Itasca, IL: Peacock.

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                                              • Stein, Irma. 1974. Systems theory, science, and social work. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow.

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                                                Stein discusses the origins of general systems theory and defines key terms. He states that systems theory has influenced social work practice with an increasing emphasis on person in relation to the various systems to which that person belongs, rather than focusing exclusively on intra-psychic phenomena.

                                                Stein, Irma. 1974. Systems theory, science, and social work. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow.

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                                                • Stevens, I., and P. Cox. 2008. Complexity theory: Developing new understandings of child protection in field settings and in residential child care. British Journal of Social Work 38:1320–1336.

                                                  DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcm052Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Clearly delineates between systems theory and complexity theory. Complexity theory, unlike systems theory, deals with open systems characterized by nonlinearity, unpredictability, self-mutability, and instability. Authors supply examples and suggest implications for policy makers and practitioners in the area of child protective services.

                                                  Stevens, I., and P. Cox. 2008. Complexity theory: Developing new understandings of child protection in field settings and in residential child care. British Journal of Social Work 38:1320–1336.

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                                                  • Warren, K., C. Franklin, and C. L. Streeter. 1998. New directions in systems theory: Chaos and complexity. Social Work 43.4: 357–373.

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                                                    Authors suggest that dynamical systems theories may be useful in accounting for change in recursive systems over time.

                                                    Warren, K., C. Franklin, and C. L. Streeter. 1998. New directions in systems theory: Chaos and complexity. Social Work 43.4: 357–373.

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                                                    • Warren, K., and K. Knox. 2000. Offense cycles, thresholds and bifurcations: Applying dynamical systems theory to the behaviors of adolescent sex offenders. Journal of Social Service Research 27.1: 1–27.

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                                                      Authors apply mathematical formulae based on dynamical systems theory to the behavior of adolescent sex offenders.

                                                      Warren, K., and K. Knox. 2000. Offense cycles, thresholds and bifurcations: Applying dynamical systems theory to the behaviors of adolescent sex offenders. Journal of Social Service Research 27.1: 1–27.

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                                                      Criticism

                                                      Of course, systems theory in social work was not without its critics. Drover and Schragge 1977 criticized systems theory for being at a level too abstract to be useful to practice. Leighninger 1977 and Leighninger 1978 also criticized its alleged implicit acceptance of the status quo, while Mishne 1982 critiqued its purported eclipse of social work’s historic commitment to the well-being of the individual.

                                                      • Drover, G., and E. Shragge. 1977. General systems theory and social work education: A critique. Canadian Journal of Social Work Education 3.2: 28–39.

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                                                        Authors suggested that systems theory was at a level of abstraction too general to be really applicable to human life as it is lived day to day.

                                                        Drover, G., and E. Shragge. 1977. General systems theory and social work education: A critique. Canadian Journal of Social Work Education 3.2: 28–39.

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                                                        • Leighninger, R. 1977. Systems theory and social work. Journal of Education for Social Work 13.3: 44–49.

                                                          DOI: 10.1080/00220612.1977.10671455Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Leighninger critiqued systems theory for its implicit acceptance of the status quo and consequent deficiency in explaining social change and conflict.

                                                          Leighninger, R. 1977. Systems theory and social work. Journal of Education for Social Work 13.3: 44–49.

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                                                          • Leighninger, R. 1978. Systems theory. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 5.4: 446–480.

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                                                            Author continues elaborating what he sees as unsettling implications of systems theory when applied to social work practice and theorizing.

                                                            Leighninger, R. 1978. Systems theory. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 5.4: 446–480.

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                                                            • Mishne, J. M. 1982. The missing system in social work’s application of systems theory. Social Casework 63.9: 547–553.

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                                                              Mishne argued that the focus on “transaction” was misplaced because it eclipsed social work’s commitment to the importance of the individual.

                                                              Mishne, J. M. 1982. The missing system in social work’s application of systems theory. Social Casework 63.9: 547–553.

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                                                              Ecological Theory and Life Model of Practice

                                                              By the late 1970s and early 1980s, a conceptual alternative to general systems theory as a model for the person-in-environment relationship became ascendant in social work. Partially a corrective to what was thought to be a far too mechanistic and abstract general systems theory, the ecological perspective (and the life model of practice based on this perspective) appeared to offer a more concrete and lifelike metaphor for human beings in their environments than did general systems theory. This metaphor remains an influence in texts and training manuals to the early 21st century. The ecological perspective is generally associated with the work of Carel Germain (see Germain 1973, Germain 1978, Germain 1980, and Germain 1981) and her work with Alex Gitterman in Gitterman and Germain 2008 (cited under Textbooks). Meyer 1983 similarly applies the ecological perspective to practice and elaborates on various social work methods in light of this framework. In challenging the usual conceptualization of person-in-environment, Kondrat 1999 and Kondrat 2002 suggest a different metaphor than the one commonly used to discuss the person-environment relationship. Drawing on British sociologist Anthony Giddens’s “structuration theory,” Kondrat suggested that people are in the environment not so much the way increasingly smaller boxes are contained within larger ones (the usual metaphor) but more recursively, the way dancers are in the ballet, players are in the football game, or people are in their families. The dancers, players, and family members constitute the dance, the game, and the family, respectively: they are not merely objects contained within the larger entity. In this approach, both the actors and their environments (micro and macro) are constituted by each other in recursive processes.

                                                              • Germain, C. B. 1973. An ecological perspective in casework practice. Social Casework 54:323–330.

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                                                                One of the first articles in the social work literature to propose (and provide a rationale for) an ecological metaphor for conceptualizing person-environment transactions. Author suggests implications of such a conceptualization for the practice of casework and social agencies that provide casework services. This article is an essential read for anyone interested in the history of ideas that shaped social work education and practice.

                                                                Germain, C. B. 1973. An ecological perspective in casework practice. Social Casework 54:323–330.

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                                                                • Germain, C. B. 1978. General-systems theory and ego psychology: An ecological perspective. Social Service Review 52.4: 535–550.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1086/643676Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Germain identifies the two dominant paradigms in social work theorizing and practice at the end of the 1970s as ego-psychology and general-systems theory. She proposes ecological concepts as a way to bridge the differences between these two alternative conceptual approaches to social work interventions.

                                                                  Germain, C. B. 1978. General-systems theory and ego psychology: An ecological perspective. Social Service Review 52.4: 535–550.

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                                                                  • Germain, C. B. 1980. Social context of clinical social work. Social Work 25.6: 483–488.

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                                                                    In an interesting and thought-provoking application, the author turns the lens of ecological theory on clinical social work practice itself, examining this form of practice as a system among other systems in the environment. Article looks at elements of the external and internal environment. Implications for the practitioner are included.

                                                                    Germain, C. B. 1980. Social context of clinical social work. Social Work 25.6: 483–488.

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                                                                    • Germain, C. B. 1981. The ecological approach to people-environment transactions. Social Casework 62.6: 323–331.

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                                                                      Argues that although there has been increasing consensus that a focus on person-in-environment is a unifying and defining characteristic of social work practice, little had been done (up to that point) to develop concepts and skills needed to intervene at the interface between person and system. Author introduces concepts of coping, adaptation, and positive and negative feedback and describes the multiple layers of environment that must be considered in assessment and intervention.

                                                                      Germain, C. B. 1981. The ecological approach to people-environment transactions. Social Casework 62.6: 323–331.

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                                                                      • Germain, Carel B., and Alex Gitterman. 1980. The life model of social work practice. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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                                                                        Authors apply ecological theory to social work practice, with copious examples and real-life applications. The third edition of this book (Gitterman and Germain 2008, cited under Textbooks) continues to be used as a textbook in basic social work practice classes.

                                                                        Germain, Carel B., and Alex Gitterman. 1980. The life model of social work practice. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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                                                                        • Gitterman, A., and C. B. Germain. 1981. Education for practice: Teaching about the environment. Journal of Education for Social Work 17.3: 44–51.

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                                                                          Drawing from social network theory, environmental psychology, and organizational theory, the authors describe ways to teach about the built and natural environment. Environments presented as enhancing or constraining human health and happiness. Classroom techniques such as force field analysis, network mapping, genogram and ecomap, critical incident reviewing, and others are presented as useful for teaching about the environment.

                                                                          Gitterman, A., and C. B. Germain. 1981. Education for practice: Teaching about the environment. Journal of Education for Social Work 17.3: 44–51.

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                                                                          • Kondrat, M. E. 1999. Who is the self in self-aware: Professional self-awareness from a critical theory perspective. Social Service Review 73.4: 451–477.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1086/514441Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            Describes four levels of self-awareness, including an awareness of the individual’s involvement in constructing his or her own social environment (micro and macro).

                                                                            Kondrat, M. E. 1999. Who is the self in self-aware: Professional self-awareness from a critical theory perspective. Social Service Review 73.4: 451–477.

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                                                                            • Kondrat, M. E. 2002. Toward an actor-centered social work: Re-visioning person-in-environment through a critical theory lens. Social Work 47.4: 435–448.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1093/sw/47.4.435Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Suggests that people are in their environment the way the dancers are in the ballet or the football players are in their game. The dance and the game are constituted by the dancers and players (and vice versa). Individuals are constantly altering their environment as social actors; at the same time that environment (now altered by the actors) recursively contributes to shaping their behavior.

                                                                              Kondrat, M. E. 2002. Toward an actor-centered social work: Re-visioning person-in-environment through a critical theory lens. Social Work 47.4: 435–448.

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                                                                              • Meyer, Carol, ed. 1983. Clinical social work in the eco-system perspective. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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                                                                                Meyer makes the argument that the ecological perspective combined with a system orientation (eco-system framework) provides a unifying framework for practice, one that allows for a variety of interventions and does not limit the worker to just one approach. Contributors to chapters elaborate various social work methods, including casework, behavioral treatment, and crisis intervention, in the light of an eco-systems framework.

                                                                                Meyer, Carol, ed. 1983. Clinical social work in the eco-system perspective. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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                                                                                Criticism

                                                                                Like the general systems theory before it, the ecological perspective has not gone unchallenged. A number of authors have critiqued the ecological perspective and/or suggested modifications to it. Some of the most relevant include Besthorn and Canda 2002, Brower 1988, Saleebey 1992, Saleebey 2004, Wakefield 1996a, and Wakefield 1996b.

                                                                                • Besthorn, F., and E. R. Canda. 2002. Revisioning environment: Deep ecology for education and teaching in social work. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 22.1: 79–101.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1300/J067v22n01_07Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Besthorn and Canda argue that social work’s conceptualization of “environment” is too narrow, usually excluding the natural environment.

                                                                                  Besthorn, F., and E. R. Canda. 2002. Revisioning environment: Deep ecology for education and teaching in social work. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 22.1: 79–101.

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                                                                                  • Brower, A. M. 1988. Can the ecological model guide social work practice? Social Service Review 62.3: 411–429.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1086/644558Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    Brower critiques the ecological model as too abstract to assist practitioners and researchers and proposes linking cognitive theory to the model, particularly to the ecological concept of “niche.”

                                                                                    Brower, A. M. 1988. Can the ecological model guide social work practice? Social Service Review 62.3: 411–429.

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                                                                                    • Saleebey, D. 1992. Biology’s challenge to social work: Embodying the person-in-environment perspective. Social Work 37.2: 112–118.

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                                                                                      Saleebey suggests that the profession has ignored the “body” in conceptualizing person-in-environment and points to ways in which advances in biological knowledge can inform practice.

                                                                                      Saleebey, D. 1992. Biology’s challenge to social work: Embodying the person-in-environment perspective. Social Work 37.2: 112–118.

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                                                                                      • Saleebey, D. 2004. The power of place: Another look at the environment. Families in Society 85.1: 7–17.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1606/1044-3894.254Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        Author promotes the importance of attention to the “small” environments in which our clients live and act: waiting rooms, neighborhoods, homes, etc.

                                                                                        Saleebey, D. 2004. The power of place: Another look at the environment. Families in Society 85.1: 7–17.

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                                                                                        • Wakefield, J. C. 1996a. Does social work need the eco-systems perspective? Part 1: Is the perspective clinically useful? Social Service Review 70.1: 1–32.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1086/604163Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          The most comprehensive general critique of the ecological (or eco-systems) approach (along with Part 2 in Wakefield 1996b).

                                                                                          Wakefield, J. C. 1996a. Does social work need the eco-systems perspective? Part 1: Is the perspective clinically useful? Social Service Review 70.1: 1–32.

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                                                                                          • Wakefield, J. C. 1996b. Does social work need the eco-systems perspective? Part 2: Is the perspective clinically useful? Social Service Review 70.2: 183–213.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1086/604179Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            In this two-part presentation, Wakefield challenges the notion that there is a need for any sort of overarching perspective to give coherence to different forms of practice and that there is nothing wrong with accepting different theoretical orientations within the profession.

                                                                                            Wakefield, J. C. 1996b. Does social work need the eco-systems perspective? Part 2: Is the perspective clinically useful? Social Service Review 70.2: 183–213.

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                                                                                            Promising New Directions (Behavioral Genetics and Social Neurobiology)

                                                                                            In 1992, Saleebey (Saleebey 1992, cited under Contemporary Theories: Ecological Theory and Life Practice: Criticism) critiqued the lack of attention to the human body in the then current person-in-environment literature. A number of postulated reasons may be given for this inattention. Certainly among them was the move, starting in the late 1980s, to assert the scientific base of social work as dealing with observable and measurable phenomena. The focus on person became translated into “human behavior,” which is both measurable and observable, much more so than whatever went on “inside” the human mind. More recently, two new developments within the biological sciences have caught the attention of researchers and clinicians in social work and related disciplines: social neurobiology and behavioral genetics. These developments allow for a more measurable look “inside” the person half of the person-environment moiety.

                                                                                            Social Neurobiology

                                                                                            Social neurobiologists, over the last two decades, have been exploring how the brain and nervous system are impacted by the social and physical environment, with concomitant behavioral and cognitive changes. The term “neural plasticity” refers to changes in neural pathways due to experience (encounters/exchanges with the environment). The notion of the plasticity of neural structure and functioning is replacing earlier held beliefs that the brain and nervous system are relatively fixed after a certain developmental period in childhood. Without discounting the importance of early, formative years, neural scientists have shown that elements of brain functioning can be altered well into adulthood. This research yields possibilities for a better understanding of the neural mechanisms by which specific types of experience (environmental factors) lead to particular health/behavioral outcomes, with implications for prevention. For example, Holtzman, et al. 2013 reports findings describing the neural mechanisms linking psychosocial stress and the development of psychosis. The research on plasticity also suggests the possibility of discovering cognitive, behavioral, or environmental interventions that can ameliorate the negative impact of specific physical, psychological, or social stressors. Illustrative is the research reported by Luby, et al. 2013, suggesting that care giving can alter the effects of poverty on childhood brain development. After initial resistance to accepting a biological/medical orientation, social work practitioners, researchers, and scholars have started giving increased attention to advances in scientific understanding of the brain and nervous system are (Johnson 2001). Much of the literature in this area discusses how knowledge of neurobiology can help social workers better understand various issues the client is facing. Within the literature, authors have suggested that neuroscience adds to a better understanding in the field of social work for the following: trauma and stress (Farmer 2009, Matto and Strolin-Goltzman 2010, and Patterson and Vakili 2014), substance abuse and addictions (Farmer 2009, Littrell 2010, Johnson 2014, Erickson and Wilcox 2001, Matto and Strolin-Goltzman 2010, and Matto, et al. 2014), affect regulation (Shapiro and Applegate 2000), attachment and bonding (Farmer 2009), human brain development (Patterson and Vakili 2014; Shapiro and Applegate 2000), major depression (Littrell 2010; Garland and Howard 2009). Each author recognizes the way in which neuroscience findings both validate this traditional social work perspective and shed new light on the “person” who interacts with the environment. As noted, various authors cited view neuroscience as a way to understand better the complex and delicate interaction between persons and their environments. From this understanding, some authors go on to posit possible interventions or support for specific practices. At this stage, however, social work interventions based on neuroscience findings must be regarded as speculative and suggestive. Although neuroscientific findings are derived from research, social work practice based on such findings cannot be called evidence based until the specific intervention can be tested (Garland and Howard 2009). In many cases, this will take interdisciplinary research approaches, as social work research has limited accessibility to the technical equipment involved (Garland and Howard 2009). This is not to argue that social work interventions extrapolated from neuroscience are not potentially helpful, just that more evidence is needed, as well as caution in making claims. As some have suggested (Farmer 2009), it is a whole new and exciting world, and those in the profession and discipline of social work are just beginning to see the implications for future practice.

                                                                                            • Erickson, C. K., and R. E. Wilcox. 2001. Neurobiological causes of addiction. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 1.3: 7–22.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1300/J160v01n03_02Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              Authors describe neurological pathways for alcohol and other drug dependencies. They suggest that new pharmacotherapies targeted to “resetting” brain chemistry along with holistic approaches that include contributions from all members of a care team (including social workers) may be the best approach currently available to what authors describe as a long-term strategy for reducing dependence.

                                                                                              Erickson, C. K., and R. E. Wilcox. 2001. Neurobiological causes of addiction. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 1.3: 7–22.

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                                                                                              • Farmer, R. L. 2009. Neuroscience and social work practice: The missing link. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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                                                                                                Presenting a transactional model, Farmer embraces neuroscience as the link in the biopsychosociospiritual perspective adopted in social work. In chapter, which offers basic information on the anatomy of the brain that should assist readers new to the topic, the author discusses the relevance of neuroscience for social work practice. As an introductory text, the book covers topics such as attachment and bonding, issues linked to trauma, relevance of neuroscience for psychotherapy, drug abuse and addiction, and psychotropic medication.

                                                                                                Farmer, R. L. 2009. Neuroscience and social work practice: The missing link. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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                                                                                                • Garland, E. L., and M. O. Howard. 2009. Neuroplasticity, psychosocial genomics, and the biopsychosocial paradigm in the 21st century. Health and Social Work 34.3: 191–199.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/hsw/34.3.191Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  This article provides a useful overview of pertinent issues for social work. It identifies relevant findings in neuroscience and genetics concerning the role environment plays in altering brain chemistry and in gene expression. Authors note how such findings lend substance to social work’s biopsychosocial paradigm. Authors also argue that suggested interventions based on neuroscience and genetics findings should be tested by research that leads to evidence-based practice.

                                                                                                  Garland, E. L., and M. O. Howard. 2009. Neuroplasticity, psychosocial genomics, and the biopsychosocial paradigm in the 21st century. Health and Social Work 34.3: 191–199.

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                                                                                                  • Holtzman, C. W., et al. 2013. Stress and neurodevelopmental processes in the emergence of psychosis. Neuroscience 249.26: 172–191.

                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.12.017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    Very detailed discussion of the state of science on the interaction between environmental stress and mental illness. Author is hopeful that further research will help provide a better understanding of the neurobiological basis of psychosis, eventually producing preventative measures. Article provides rich, technical bibliography from neuroscience.

                                                                                                    Holtzman, C. W., et al. 2013. Stress and neurodevelopmental processes in the emergence of psychosis. Neuroscience 249.26: 172–191.

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                                                                                                    • Johnson, H. C. 2001. Neuroscience in social work practice and education. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 1.3: 81–102.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1300/J160v01n03_06Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      An early proponent of the importance of neurobiology for social work practice, Johnson makes a compelling case for why those in the field of social work should pay attention to neurobiological findings. Author discusses a multitude of questions important to social work practice that are addressed in the recent neuroscientific literature. She also discusses the initial hesitation among social work scholars to accept neurobiology as having relevance for social work practitioners.

                                                                                                      Johnson, H. C. 2001. Neuroscience in social work practice and education. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 1.3: 81–102.

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                                                                                                      • Johnson, H. C. 2014. Behavioral neuroscience for the human services. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                        The author is one of the first social work scholars to have identified the relevance of neuroscience for social work practice. The book provides a thorough summary of the state of science as it applies in social work practice, as well as basic neuroscience knowledge required to understand implications for practice. It also contains illustrative case studies written by social work professionals. As an advanced practice text, it describes the traditional social work biopsychosocial perspective, linking this perspective with contemporary neuroscientific findings. It goes on to discuss the relevance of neuroscience for understanding, among other topics, child development, bonding and attachment, stress, risk and resilience, mental health, and mental illness. An extensive reference list is included for those who want to explore more thoroughly any of the subjects discussed.

                                                                                                        Johnson, H. C. 2014. Behavioral neuroscience for the human services. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                        • Littrell, J. 2010. Perspectives emerging from neuroscience on how people become addicted and what to do about it. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 10.3: 229–256.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1080/1533256X.2010.498741Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          Author describes in detail the neurobiological mechanisms of addiction and makes a case that recent neurobiological findings both (a) support the disease model of substance abuse and (b) tend to validate the Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) model as a helpful strategy.

                                                                                                          Littrell, J. 2010. Perspectives emerging from neuroscience on how people become addicted and what to do about it. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 10.3: 229–256.

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                                                                                                          • Luby, J., et al. 2013. The effects of poverty on childhood brain development: The mediating effect of caregiving and stressful life events. JAMA Pediatrics 167.12: 1135–1142.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.3139Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            This article describes a longitudinal study of the effects of poverty on brain development. The study found that poverty in early childhood impacts brain development at school age. The study also found that the impact was statistically moderated by caregiving and stressful life events. The authors suggest implications for public health, with a particular focus on the quality of caregiving.

                                                                                                            Luby, J., et al. 2013. The effects of poverty on childhood brain development: The mediating effect of caregiving and stressful life events. JAMA Pediatrics 167.12: 1135–1142.

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                                                                                                            • Matto, H. C., and J. Strolin-Goltzman. 2010. Integrating social neuroscience and social work: Innovations for advancing practice-based research. Social Work 55.2: 147–156.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1093/sw/55.2.147Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              Utilizing findings from neuroscience, the authors provide examples of research to address complex practice-based questions and design new social work interventions. Additionally, they point out that the National Institutes of Health are interested in how socio-psychological processes affect the brain and neuro-system functioning across the lifespan, with implications for research funding.

                                                                                                              Matto, H. C., and J. Strolin-Goltzman. 2010. Integrating social neuroscience and social work: Innovations for advancing practice-based research. Social Work 55.2: 147–156.

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                                                                                                              • Matto, H. C., J. Strolin-Goltzman, and M. S. Ballan, eds. 2014. Neuroscience for social work: Current research and practice. New York: Springer.

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                                                                                                                The editors divide the chapters in their book into four sections, reflecting neuroscientific implications for social work in the following areas: (1) generalist social work practice, (2) social work practice in child welfare and in school settings, (3) social work practice in health and mental health, and (4) social work practice in criminal justice. Chapters provide discussion of the material presented with relevance for social work practice, policy, and research. Ethical considerations are also included.

                                                                                                                Matto, H. C., J. Strolin-Goltzman, and M. S. Ballan, eds. 2014. Neuroscience for social work: Current research and practice. New York: Springer.

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                                                                                                                • Patterson, J. E., and S. Vakili. 2014. Relationships, environment and the brain: How emerging research is changing what we know about the impact of families on human development. Family Process 53.1: 22–32.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1111/famp.12057Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  The authors examine various environmental conditions that impact the neurobiology of human development, with a focus on mental health. The research reported here includes caregiving, parental anxiety and depression, toxic stress, and poverty. The authors provide a list of findings that family therapists need to know about neuroscience and identify several community programs that provide support to families at risk.

                                                                                                                  Patterson, J. E., and S. Vakili. 2014. Relationships, environment and the brain: How emerging research is changing what we know about the impact of families on human development. Family Process 53.1: 22–32.

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                                                                                                                  • Shapiro, J. R., and J. S. Applegate. 2000. Cognitive neuroscience, neurobiology and affect regulation: Implications for clinical social work. Clinical Social Work Journal 28.1: 9–21.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1023/A:1005139123963Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    Authors examine findings from neuroscience research on neuro-origins of affect regulation, tracing origins to early interaction experiences with caregivers. They go on to suggest clinical as well as policy and program implications for social work.

                                                                                                                    Shapiro, J. R., and J. S. Applegate. 2000. Cognitive neuroscience, neurobiology and affect regulation: Implications for clinical social work. Clinical Social Work Journal 28.1: 9–21.

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                                                                                                                    Behavioral Genetics

                                                                                                                    Genetics researchers have identified certain genes as risk factors for many health conditions, including (but not limited to) alcoholism (Dick, et al. 2006), depression (Caspi, et al. 2003), and anxiety disorders (Nugent, et al. 2011), and are now exploring how genetic risk interacts with environmental risk factors to exacerbate or moderate overall risk or to encourage resilience (Kim-Cohen and Gold 2009). This body of research is generally referred to as “gene by environment interaction” studies. Along with identifying gene by environment (GxE) interactions, researchers have identified another type of gene-environment relationship termed “gene by environment correlations.” This term refers to the notion that genetic makeup and environmental conditions are not necessarily independent factors in influencing health/behavior outcomes. Rather, genes may sometimes play a role in an individual’s choice of environment, the way in which that individual perceives the environment, or the way in which the environment regards the genetically activated characteristic (McCutcheon 2006 and Dick, et al. 2006). For example, an introverted person may seek out environments that are much different from those of his or her extraverted sibling. Similarly, genetic predispositions not only may be modified by the environment but also may produce a reaction from the environment. Thus, a child with athletic tendencies may trigger positive responses in a social setting that favors such “gifts” and a different response in settings that prize intellectual pursuits over athletic ones. The social work literature is beginning to notice the importance of this science in validating the profession’s traditional person-in-environment perspective. This is a fairly recent development and, as of the early 21st century, no textbooks are available that deal specifically with this topic, apart from some attention in texts that deal with neuroscience. Articles that deal specifically with gene-by-environment interactions are few. In 2003, the Journal of Social Work Education reprinted an excerpt from a chapter by eminent cell biologist Richard Strohman that refutes claims of genetic determinism in favor of a more nuanced approach that includes other factors such as the environment. The inclusion of this article in a major social work journal, coming as it did the same year as the end of the Genome Project, was a major step in specifying the subject gene-environment interactions as important for social work. In an editorial note to this article, journal editor Gambrill wrote, “It seems important for social work educators to be informed about the complexity of interactions between genes and their environments. . .” (Strohman 2003, p. 169). McCutcheon 2006 elaborated on three possible paradigms linking biological and social research and expanded on the subject of gene-by-environment correlations. As of the early 21st century, the somewhat limited social work literature has recognized the importance of psychosocial genetics for aspects of clinical social work (Garland and Howard 2009; Johnson 2014; Farmer 2009; Matto, et al. 2014, all cited under Social Neurobiology; Howe 2010). Social work has yet to catch up with the literature in psychology and psychiatry (allied disciplines) on gene-by-environment research. It may be useful to offer some examples of this literature to suggest avenues for social work exploration. Allied literature has elaborated gene-by-environment interactions in relation to adolescent loneliness (van Roekel, et al. 2011), mental disorders (Wermter, et al. 2010; Nugent, et al. 2011), human development (Lenroot and Giedd 2011), resilient development (Kim-Cohen and Gold 2009), and alcohol use and dependence (Dick, et al. 2006).

                                                                                                                    • Caspi, A., K. Sugden, T. E. Moffitt, et al. 2003. Influence of life stress on depression: Moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science 301:386.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1126/science.1083968Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      This technical article from major scientific journal is included as an example of the kind of research being done on GxE interactions in biogenetics.

                                                                                                                      Caspi, A., K. Sugden, T. E. Moffitt, et al. 2003. Influence of life stress on depression: Moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science 301:386.

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                                                                                                                      • Dick, D. M., A. Agrawal, M. A Schuckit, et al. 2006. Marital status, alcohol dependence, and GABRA2: Evidence for gene-environment correlation and interaction. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 67.2: 185–194.

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                                                                                                                        The authors report on a study examining the relationship between alcohol dependence and marital status. Previously, marital status had been posited as mediating alcohol dependence, and the authors found this to be verified in their study. However, they report that the relationship between marital status (an environmental element) and alcohol dependence is not a simple gene-by-environment interaction. Rather, evidence of gene-by-environment correlation was found. For example, the GABRA2 (high risk for alcohol) gene was also associated with marital status and stability.

                                                                                                                        Dick, D. M., A. Agrawal, M. A Schuckit, et al. 2006. Marital status, alcohol dependence, and GABRA2: Evidence for gene-environment correlation and interaction. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 67.2: 185–194.

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                                                                                                                        • Garland, E. L., and M. O. Howard. 2009. Neuroplasticity, psychosocial genomics, and the biopsychosocial paradigm in the 21st century. Health and Social Work 34.3: 191–199.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1093/hsw/34.3.191Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          This article provides a useful overview of pertinent issues for social work. It identifies relevant findings in neuroscience and genetics concerning the role environment plays in altering brain chemistry and in gene expression. The authors note how such findings lend substance to social work’s biopsychosocial paradigm. They also argue that suggested interventions based on neuroscience and genetics findings should be tested by research that leads to evidence-based practice.

                                                                                                                          Garland, E. L., and M. O. Howard. 2009. Neuroplasticity, psychosocial genomics, and the biopsychosocial paradigm in the 21st century. Health and Social Work 34.3: 191–199.

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                                                                                                                          • Howe, D. 2010. ADHD and its comorbidity: An example of gene-environment interaction and its implication for child and family social work. Child and Family Social Work 15:265–275.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2206.2009.00666.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            The author reviews some of the historically posited causes of ADHD, examining heritability, prenatal environment, the caregiving environment, relational trauma, and extreme neglect. Summarizing the literature, the author notes that ADHD has been shown to be highly heritable, but also strongly influenced by environmental factors. He makes the suggestion that although a number of behavioral conditions (e.g., ADHD and attachment disorganization) share the same genetic risk, how that risk is expressed in the individual may be related to an environmental context.

                                                                                                                            Howe, D. 2010. ADHD and its comorbidity: An example of gene-environment interaction and its implication for child and family social work. Child and Family Social Work 15:265–275.

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                                                                                                                            • Kim-Cohen, J., and A. L. Gold. 2009. Measured gene-environment interactions and mechanisms promoting resilient development. Current Directions in Psychological Science 18.3: 138–142.

                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01624.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              This article argues that gene-by-environment (GxE) studies show promise for a greater understanding of how, in the face of adversity and suboptimal child rearing, some children cope adaptively, whereas others do not. The authors suggest directions for further study of resilience in terms of GxE interaction.

                                                                                                                              Kim-Cohen, J., and A. L. Gold. 2009. Measured gene-environment interactions and mechanisms promoting resilient development. Current Directions in Psychological Science 18.3: 138–142.

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                                                                                                                              • Lenroot, R. K., and J. N. Giedd. 2011. Annual research review: Developmental considerations of gene by environment interactions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 52.4: 429–441.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02381.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                The authors identify a number of challenges in studying GxE interactions, including the difficulty involved in identifying and quantifying environmental elements and the increasing ability of the individual to choose particular environments with maturation. The article introduces the notion of developmental timing—how genetic and environmental factors interact differently over time—i.e., not just GxE but also GxE developmental age.

                                                                                                                                Lenroot, R. K., and J. N. Giedd. 2011. Annual research review: Developmental considerations of gene by environment interactions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 52.4: 429–441.

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                                                                                                                                • McCutcheon, V. V. 2006. Toward an integration of social and biological research. Social Service Review 80.1: 159–178.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1086/499087Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  This article advocates for the integration of findings from GxE studies with social work teaching, research, and practice. The author presents three conceptual frameworks for organizing such an integration.

                                                                                                                                  McCutcheon, V. V. 2006. Toward an integration of social and biological research. Social Service Review 80.1: 159–178.

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                                                                                                                                  • Nugent, N. R., A. R. Tyrka, L. L. Carpenter, and L. H. Price. 2011. Gene-environment interactions: Early life stress and risk for depressive and anxiety disorders. Psychopharmacology 214:175–196.

                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1007/s00213-010-2151-xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                    The authors critically review studies that examine GxE effects of early life stress on the risk for depression and anxiety. The review suggests that there is support for GxE effects of early life stress. Critically, the authors suggest that more research is needed, more clearly specifying positive environmental factors and examining development/age as a factor in GxE interactions.

                                                                                                                                    Nugent, N. R., A. R. Tyrka, L. L. Carpenter, and L. H. Price. 2011. Gene-environment interactions: Early life stress and risk for depressive and anxiety disorders. Psychopharmacology 214:175–196.

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                                                                                                                                    • Strohman, R. 2003. Genetic determinism as a failing paradigm in biology and medicine: Implications for health and wellness. Journal of Social Work Education 39.2: 169–191.

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                                                                                                                                      This article, appearing in a well-known, American social work journal, is an excerpt from Promoting Human Wellness: Frontiers for Research, Practice, and Policy by M. S. Jamner and D. Stokols (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2000). The author, a well-known cell biologist, refutes claims of genetic determinism in favor of a more nuanced approach that takes into account, among other factors, the environment. E. Gambrill, the journal editor, includes an editorial introduction to the article.

                                                                                                                                      Strohman, R. 2003. Genetic determinism as a failing paradigm in biology and medicine: Implications for health and wellness. Journal of Social Work Education 39.2: 169–191.

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                                                                                                                                      • van Roekel, E., L. Goossens, R. H. Scholte, R. C. Engels, and M. Verhagen. 2011. The dopamine D2 receptor gene, perceived parental support, and adolescent loneliness: Longitudinal evidence for gene-environment interactions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 52.10: 1044–1051.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02424.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        The authors report research that examines the dopamine D2 receptor gene in relation to environmental conditions. Results appear to indicate that loneliness is a product of both genetic predisposition and environmental influence (defined as perceived parental support).

                                                                                                                                        van Roekel, E., L. Goossens, R. H. Scholte, R. C. Engels, and M. Verhagen. 2011. The dopamine D2 receptor gene, perceived parental support, and adolescent loneliness: Longitudinal evidence for gene-environment interactions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 52.10: 1044–1051.

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                                                                                                                                        • Wermter, A. K., M. Laucht, B. G. Schimmelmann, et al. 2010. From nature versus nurture, via nature and nurture, to gene x environment interaction in mental disorders. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 19:199–210.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1007/s00787-009-0082-zSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          The authors review the state of the science with regard to GxE studies of mental disorders, with a special focus on mental disorders with childhood onset. Suggest that next steps in research should include larger, more powerful studies; better operationalization of environmental conditions; and clearer descriptions of presenting symptoms.

                                                                                                                                          Wermter, A. K., M. Laucht, B. G. Schimmelmann, et al. 2010. From nature versus nurture, via nature and nurture, to gene x environment interaction in mental disorders. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 19:199–210.

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