admin 14 October, 2018 0

Theories of Social Work in Practice

Social work as a practice was not defined as a profession until the early 20th century even in other countries there are different ideas as to what a social worker is; for example in some developing countries what in the United Kingdom as a youth worker is seen as a social worker. In England a probation officer does not need to be a qualified social worker whereas in Scotland it is necessary for the individual to be qualified. In Scotland social workers are registered with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) and have to abide by their professional code of conduct, which is important as a national guideline due to social work being such a diverse area. It is important for social work to abide by these guidelines but also to use theories that are of relevance to inform their practice.

Social work theory throughout the years has continued to be an important part of social work practice. The purpose of this assignment is to critically discuss and analyse the relevance to two of these theories into practice using the O’Donnell family. The two theories this assignment will look at is the attachment theory, Erikson’s eight stages of man and also to look at anti oppressive practice. It is important to look at these different types of theories as they are all important dynamics that are necessary for social workers to understand the society, individuals and politically and socially influenced world in which they have to work in.

An example of a mid range theory is the theory of attachment, the first theory of attachment was written by John Bowlby; Bowlby believed that the attachment between mother and infant was important to the child’s future development. Bowlby also believed in four characteristics of attachment: proximity management, safe haven, secure base and separation distress. If a child suffers separation from their primary carer (their mother) then this may manifest into social problems later in life however if the child has unpredictable contact with their mother then it will have insecure attachment. Bowlby later looked at attachment throughout different ages and stages of development, to understand how a person that losses or is separated from an individual they had developed an attachment with would be affected. It has been identified that attachment behaviour is inbuilt as it can be triggered if a child is scared or frightened. If a child feels loved and valued by their primary caregiver it is highly likely that the child will develop a good level of self-esteem and perhaps may be more confident and independent in later life due to a feeling of belonging and acceptance. However should a child feel they are rejected or neglected by their primary caregiver it is like they may feel unwanted and unlovable. The positive example of attachment would allow the child to develop a trusting bond which would not be the case with the negative attachment example. This relates to Erikson’s eight stages of man; this is an infant’s stage of psychosocial development which has two paths a child can take depending on the care they receive trust versus mistrust is established.

This theory of attachment was developed further by Mary Ainsworth in the 1970’s in her study “Strange Situations” based on observing children aged twelve to eighteen months, she described three types of attachment that she discovered during her studies these were; secure, ambivalent and avoidant attachment. Secure attachment is seen as the most preferred and beneficial to a child’s positive development; the care given by the primary caregiver would be attentive and provide a solid base for the child to progress emotionally, socially and intellectually. Ambivalent attachment tends to occur when the primary carer is unreliable and unstable this would be classed as emotional neglect which may leave the child unsure of their place within the family which may result in the child displaying distressing or anxious behaviour. Children who are victims of this type of behaviour may be very attention seeking in order to gain the focus of those around them that they do not get at home. A child however that is a victim of avoidant attachment would perhaps be less likely to show their true feelings or talk about them as they are afraid of those they are close to leaving them. The child’s lack of emotional response would possibly be because the primary caregiver in these cases will perhaps show more care and attention when the child is content however if the child shows visible signs of distress or need they will pull away from them. In some cases children exposed to avoidant care givers may take drugs or alcohol to cope with their fear of rejection from others.

This attachment theory was even further developed by Main and Solomon in the 1980s they outlined a further type of attachment called disorganised attachment or insecure attachment, a child’s primary caregiver in this stage is confusing to the child. Children who are subject to these varying behaviours tend to fear the loss of that attention even though they are given the attention they require.

A child who has been unable to have a secure attachment, for example through abuse, fostering or adoption, is more likely to have problems in future with their relationships with others or suffer emotionally.

Attachment theory has been used in social work to work with children and families and has more recently become part of mental health practice. It is important to acknowledge in social work how a person’s past in terms of the family unit they were brought up in and the level of care they received can affect them in the present; also how the individuals past experiences can affect their own children. However it is also important for social workers to look other theories as well to help inform their practice and not focus on a singular theory. This theory is also a past orientated theory as it looks at how the past effects the present.

In relation to the O’Donnell family Kate would appear to have been a victim of avoidant attachment due to being left by her mother and taken into care at an early age. Because of her past she may be fearful of her children rejecting her as her self esteem would have been affected due to being in and out of care homes. This difficulty in attaining meaningful attachments may also have contributed to her being a lone parent and Kate is repeating history with her own children as they are developing a meaningful attachment with her friend Frances. It is also significantly appropriate to examine how this is affecting Kate’s children and how this may manifest later if intervention is not made by social workers to bring a closer bond to the primary carer.

A further mid range theory that was touched upon in a previous passage was established by a psychosocial psychologist by the name of Erik Erikson. Erikson’s theory was loosely based around Freud’s past works however it was developed into what is called Erikson’s Eight Stages of Man. According to Erikson at certain ages throughout a person’s life they will go down one of two developmental paths, however it is necessary for those using this theory that it is not simply one path or the other. Erikson acknowledged the fact that although a person should go down the The eight stages are Trust versus Mistrust, Autonomy versus Shame, Doubt, Initiative versus Guilt, Industry versus Inferiority, Identity versus Identity Confusion, Intimacy versus Isolation, Generativity versus Self-Absorption, and finally the last stage Integrity versus Despair. The first stage takes place in infancy this is when a child is most vulnerable as they rely entirely on their care givers; if the child comes to know that they can rely on their primary caregiver as the care giver is continuously there for them then they will develop to trust more than a child whom is ignored or has unreliable caregivers and develops mistrust. Each oof these stages has an impact on the next stage of development and therefore it is detrimental to producing a balanced human being that the child passes through with more positive experiences of emotional development than negative. In the second stage autonomy versus shame this takes place when a child is around the ages of one to four the third stage initiative versus guilt takes place between the ages of four and six, if a child has in stage four the child between the ages of six to twelve industry versus inferiority

In stage five identity versus role confusion this takes place in adolescence generally between the ages of twelve and twenty; at this age an up and coming adult is most likely to be at the peak of peer pressure and will be discovering who they are both as a person and sexually. This can be a very hard time for individuals but with a good base they will be likely to find who they are with easae however it is possible that they will become confused for example the loss of a father figure for a boy may result in that person being unable to undersand why the Erikson’s eight stages of man have been criticized due to the fact that it was based ona study of men, it can be seen as a rigid document and does not take into account individual factors. For example an individual whom has a severe learning disability and perhaps has been psychologically examined to be at a mental age of five will not suffer from the complexities of stage five although that may be their corresponding age with Erikson’s chart. Although this criticism should be kept in mind, Erikson’s stages of man can be a useful tool as a guideline for use in social work.

Although Erikson’s model may seem very black and white it is important to remember that during each stage of development in order to have a healthy perspective in life, it is important in each stage that the strongest is the positive from the scale, there must be some level of negative development; for example a little bit of mistrust is healthy as to trust naively would eventually result in a individual putting themselves in danger. Trust versus Mistrust takes place during infancy; the route in which the infant’s personality takes depends on the parent to provide those needs that the infant cannot satisfy itself. If the mother does not take care of her child through neglect the infant will not develop basic trust and will take a negative step on the psychosocial scale. Autonomy versus Shame, Doubt takes place during early childhood, starting in a child’s second year of life, once again children are reliant on their parents to support them during this stage. This is when a toddler tries to become an individual. If the child’s vulnerability does not get the necessary support from the care givers then they will develop a sense of shame and doubt. Initiative versus Guilt takes place also during childhood normally developing during the ages of four and five; this is where a child tries to establish their own boundaries as they try to establish their identity

In stage four, Industry versus Inferiority, taking place up until puberty, this is when a child tries to be recognized for their achievements, for example at school for doing a project, however if they do not get this desired recognition and feeling of achievement then it can result on them developing a feeling of inferiority, inadequacy. Parents still play an important role in this stage however as it takes place primarily at school, teachers are important. Stage five, identity versus identity confusion takes place during adolescence this is when the individual try to find a sense of themselves, this Stage six, intimacy versus isolation is the first stage to take place during adulthood, intimacy with other human beings can only happen when identity is established. The intimacy can be with a friend or a lover it involves merging personalities with others. It is important for an individual to have this intimacy otherwise it can result in them being alone and withdrawn. Stage seven, Generativity versus stagnation, this is the second stage an individual goes through in adulthood, people who are generative are productive, tolerant and able to care for others and themselves equally. It is not always expressed through parenthood sometimes it can be through being a teacher. Those who are unable to develop in this stage result in a feeling of being stuck as they are unable to care for other people properly. The eighth stage is integrity versus despair, this takes place during old age, an individual in this stage establishes integrity being satisfied with their life and believing it was important and had a purpose. The person who reflects on life positively, according to Erikson, have an acceptance of death. However, a person who reflects on their life, feeling full of regret of their past it is also shown through a report to researchers that those who were more feeble through their body’s degeneration felt as though they had little control (Geppert & Halisch, 2001) and therefore despair would occur as they were not as willing to accept death. (Cloninger, 2008).

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development was based on clinical evidence there has been further research into this work specifically in the adolescent stage of identity versus identity confusion. This research was accomplished by James Marcia whom


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