In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Evidence-based Social Work Practice

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Manuals and Guides
  • Bibliographies
  • European Views in German
  • Development of Evidence-Based Medicine and Health Care
  • Origins of Evidence-Based Social Work Practice
  • Policy
  • Dissemination and Implementation
  • Teaching

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Social Work Evidence-based Social Work Practice
Edward J. Mullen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0001


This entry identifies evidence-based practice (EBP) resources with specific reference to social work’s adaptation of evidence-based practice. Whereas the identified references are focused on social work applications, relevant ones dealing with evidence-based medicine (EBM) and evidence-based practice in other health professions (EBP or EBH) are listed. Evidence-based social work practice (EBSWP) may be defined as a professional decision-making process in which social workers and their clients systematically make intervention choices using practitioner expertise to identify (1) client conditions, needs, circumstances, preferences, and values; (2) best evidence about intervention options, including potential risk and benefit likelihoods; and (3) contextual resources and constraints bearing on intervention options. Intervention choices refer to action options about how to assess client conditions and circumstances, how to provide services, and how to evaluate the process and outcomes of services. Clients can be individuals, families, groups, communities, or large populations. Best evidence includes findings from scientific studies as well as from other reliable sources considered to be of highest quality, strength, and relevance.

Introductory Works

Excellent references provide introductory descriptions of evidence-based social work practice. Among the earliest is Gibbs 2003, a widely accepted practical text detailing the evidence-based practice process for human services, including social work. Although dated, the Gibbs text is still a good reference for faculty looking for a detailed evidence-based social work practice text to use in undergraduate as well as graduate practice courses. Mullen, et al. 2018 is a good reference for undergraduate as well as graduate students wanting a brief description of evidence-based social work practice with examples. Students and practitioners wanting a succinct description of the steps required to carry out evidence-based social work practice should read Thyer 2004. Faculty, students, and practitioners should read McNeece and Thyer 2004 for a succinct introduction to applications across the range of social work practice. Soydan and Palinkas 2014 provides a thoughtful overview proposing that evidence-based practice can provide a new professional culture of social work.

  • Gibbs, Leonard E. 2003. Evidence-based practice for the helping professions: A practical guide with integrated multimedia. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Thomson Learning.

    The most popular and straightforward evidence-based practice text written for students in the helping professions. The text adapts the evidence-based medicine process for use in the helping professions. An accompanying CD-ROM contains videos of enactments of evidence-based practice. The text’s website provides extensive resources for teaching and learning EBP, although now it is somewhat out of date.

  • McNeece, C. A., and Bruce A. Thyer. 2004. Evidence-based practice and social work. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work 1.1: 7–25.

    DOI: 10.1300/J394v01n01_02

    The essentials of evidence-based social work practice are outlined with reference to micro through macro practice. McNeece and Thyer present a strong argument for why social work should adopt evidence-based social work practice in its education and service programs, seeing such adoption as a professional and ethical imperative necessary for the profession’s survival.

  • Mullen, Edward J., Jennifer L. Bellamy, and Sarah E. Bledsoe. 2018. Evidence-based practice. In Social work research and evaluation: Foundations of evidence-based practice. 11th ed. Edited by Richard M. Grinnell Jr. and Yvonne A. Unrau. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This is a basic introduction to evidence-based social work practice written for social work students. This chapter describes evidence-based social work practice with examples, discussing the differences between evidence-based social work practice and other forms of social work practice; examines the fit with social work values and specifies benefits; and discusses the use of systematic reviews and identifies current issues.

  • Soydan, Haluk, and Lawrence A. Palinkas. 2014. Evidence-based practice in social work: Development of a new professional culture. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203077108

    In addition to providing a brief overview of EBP, including types of evidence, this work should be used to acquaint practitioners and students with organizational and cultural supports needed to make such practice possible. Most noteworthy are the commentaries on global and cultural extensions of EBP as well as contemporary controversies.

  • Thyer, Bruce A. 2004. What is evidence-based practice? Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention: A Journal of Evidence-Based Practice 4.2: 167–176.

    DOI: 10.1093/brief-treatment/mhh013

    Thyer provides a clear description of evidence-based practice, seeing it as a new, comprehensive model of health care that provides guidance for social work and other human services. Thyer notes that evidence-based practice is subject to considerable misinterpretation as those invested in the status quo attempt to distort this new and growing movement.

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