In This Article Families

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources
  • Manuals and Guides
  • Journals
  • Therapy with Impoverished and Multiproblem Families
  • Evaluation
  • Family Intervention Techniques
  • Family Assessment

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Social Work Families
Heather Coleman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0106


This entry identifies family resources with reference to social work family theories. Given the multidisciplinary work in family therapy, this entry also includes works from related disciplines. Social work’s involvement with families has taken two paths, creating the necessity to present resources from both categories. The first category falls under what is known as family casework, family social work, or home-based family services, which unfold in the home and community of families facing ecological challenges. The second path is family therapy that occurs in offices and focuses on internal family dynamics. Social workers in both streams draw from similar family theory; however, family social work also integrates ecosystems theory. The origins of family social work can be traced to Mary E. Richmond, who advocated for a family approach. In the late 1950s allied disciplines took an interest in families of schizophrenics and developed family therapy as a method of intervention. Since then family therapy has undergone an enormous evolution, and ideas have been cumulative. Social workers have worked alongside allied disciplines, making it difficult to delineate social works’ stand-alone contributions.


Several textbooks introduce family social work and family therapy. Some texts overview family theory, while others integrate ecological and family systems theory. Nichols and Schwartz 2009 is an excellent graduate-level text that covers the major concepts of family therapy and traces the evolution of family therapy thinking. Becvar and Becvar 2009 is also a good text that can be used in both undergraduate and graduate classes. Those desiring a practical book with many exercises and a unique approach to diversity should refer to Coleman, et al. 2005. Collins, et al. 2009; Hull and Mather 2006; Kilpatrick and Holland 1995; Van Hook 2008; and Yanca and Johnson 2008 all approach family social work from a generalist perspective and are suitable for undergraduates.

  • Becvar, Dorothy Stroh, and Raphael J. Becvar. 2009. Family therapy: A systemic integration. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson.

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    Can be used in either undergraduate or graduate classes. It uses a contextual approach to working with families and presents a range of family systems concepts and postmodern approaches. Students who use this book would benefit from having a generalist background in families.

  • Coleman, Heather, Don Collins, and Tara Collins. 2005. Family practice: A problem-based learning approach. Peosta, IL: Eddie Bowers.

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    Presents key family concepts while showing how to use a problem-based learning (PBL) approach to learn about family social work in the classroom. It is designed as an undergraduate text and has many exercises and case studies to illustrate concepts. The chapter on diversity differs from other books that use a checklist approach.

  • Collins, Donald, Catheleen Jordan, and Heather Coleman. 2009. An introduction to family social work. 3d ed. Florence, KY: Cengage.

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    This generalist family book is aimed at undergraduates and places family functioning within an ecological and strengths-based approach. Students will focus on the stages of work, using family systems theory as a foundation. It also presents an integrated approach to family work from major schools of family theories.

  • Hull, Grafton H., and Jannah Mather. 2006. Understanding generalist practice with families. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks Cole.

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    A good undergraduate textbook designed to ground students in a theoretical foundation of basic family intervention, walk them through the stages of working with families, and help them understand the social policies that affect families.

  • Kilpatrick, Allie C., and Thomas P. Holland. 1995. Working with families: An integrative model by level of functioning. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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    This is a good textbook for family social workers. It classifies families according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and advocates for an ecosystemic and integrated approach.

  • Nichols, Michael P., and Richard C. Schwartz. 2009. Family therapy: Concepts and methods. 8th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson.

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    An excellent graduate-level book that situates major concepts within historical and current family therapy theories. Recent editions acknowledge social work’s contribution. The book depicts family therapy as a rich and vibrant field and traces evolutionary shifts in thinking over the last sixty years of the 20th century.

  • Van Hook, Mary Patricia. 2008. Social work practice with families: A resiliency-based approach. Chicago: Lyceum.

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    Covers the major bodies of family therapy, articulating resilience and strengths-based family practice as a foundation. Both graduate and undergraduate students would benefit from using the book as a text.

  • Yanca, Stephen J., and Louise C. Johnson. 2008. Generalist social work practice with families. Boston: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson.

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    A good undergraduate text that is grounded in generalist practice and promotes the use of ecosystems theory and ethnically sensitive practice with families. Case studies effectively illustrate key concepts.

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