In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Person-in-Environment

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Prehistory of a Social Work Perspective
  • Emergence of a Social Work Perspective

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


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–.

    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.

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

    DOI: 10.1093/acref/9780195306613.001.0001

    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.

  • National Association of Social Workers. Social Work Abstracts.

    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.

  • Proquest CSA Social Sciences. Social Services Abstracts.

    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.

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