Sample Social Work and Human Services Essay Paper on Social Work Theories

Social Work Theories

            The use of theories in social work practice is one of the most common aspects of practice accepted by many social workers. Social work theories make it easier to address the complex issues that prevail in the social work practice environment through following practice models that have been tested over time. There are various types of social work theories including models, explanatory theories, frameworks and perspectives. However, the most commonly applied types are the frameworks, models and the explanatory theories. Despite being a type of social work theories, frameworks are often confused with the general definition of social work theory. According to Payne (2014), is a set of ideas generalized to explain and describe the surrounding world in an organized way. On the other hand, frameworks are defined as types of theories that organize knowledge systematically such that one can only highlight and focus on the specific knowledge required in order to practice in particular situations. As such, it can be argued that frameworks are theories that focus on the situations rather than on persons or social worker.

The combination of various types of theories can be very essential in social work practice. Theory influences social work practice through different ways based on the theory type and the roles they are supposed to play in practice. For instance, theories can help in explaining the meaning of social work. This in effect causes the social worker to understand their responsibilities to the clients and thus act within their mandates. Apart from this, theories can also be important in explaining how to go about different situations by identifying the key defining factors and basing the social workers’ actions on them (Cameron and Keenan, 2010). Furthermore, theories also influence social work practice by creating an understanding of the client world. In this way, practitioners can be able to make decisions from the perspective that would be held by the client rather than their own convictions (Cameron and Keenan, 2010). These influences direct the application of theory to social work and subsequently the implications of the theories on social work practice.

While using social work theories, the practitioners are bound to experience some implications on their practice. For instance, Payne (2014) asserts that one of the impacts that theory can have on practice is helping to understand as well as contest ideas. Besides this, understanding human behaviors can be difficult since these behaviors are complex and unpredictable. It is only through the application of social work theory that human behaviors can be understood, explained and eventually used to assist the clients where there is need. Theory application also enhances the self-discipline and accountability of the practitioners since they have a perceived credo by which their actions are guided (Osmond & O’Connor, 2006). Moreover, the social work theories also provide frameworks for action hence they enhance the acceptability of solutions offered (Payne, 2014). Because of the frameworks available for practice, it is difficult for a practitioner to subject a client to practices that may be out of essence in practice.

There are various social work theories that could be applied in practice. The most common theories include the cognitive/ behavioral theory and the systems theory. These theories have found use in most cases where social workers intend to help clients address personal issues such as drug use and abuse as well as in cases where individuals develop personality disorders due to the social interactions in the family (Osmond & O’Connor, 2006). The cognitive behavioral theory emphasizes on rationality in behavior management by understanding the origin of certain human behaviors and helping clients to modify their behaviors. The main focus of the cognitive behavioral theory is to enhance problem solving where problem behaviors have been identified. This theory has been found to be useful in social work practice where the objective is to assist the client in dealing with negative behaviors such as drug abuse and financial mismanagement (Hutchison, 2013). It can also be applied where the issue pertains to inability to take control of one’s life completely. In applying this theory, the practitioner interacts with the client substantially to dig into their past and understand the possible stimuli of their negative behaviors. The client would then be guided into managing their behaviors through identification of the triggers and reacting positively to the triggers. In the case of a habitual smoker intending to smoke, the intervention would involve recognition of triggers such as observing others who smoke. This would be followed by actions such as using nicotine patches.

On the other hand, the systems theory bases its argument on that individuals are part of families and instabilities in such social settings can result in other personal problems (Hutchison, 2013). This theory is mostly applied among teenagers who identify the source of problems such as depression, and aggressiveness to their family settings. In most cases, such teenagers may be from families where parents are undergoing relationship strain and possibly divorce. When dealing with such youths, practitioners tend to include the whole family into practice to help parents notice the impacts of their actions on their children’s well-being and thus find ways of helping their children be better.


Hutchison, E. D. (2013). Essentials of Human Behavior: Integrating Person, Environment, and the Life Course. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Cameron, M. and Keenan, E. (2010). The Common Factors Model: Implications for Trans theoretical Clinical Social Work Practice. Social Work Journal, 55(1), 63- 73.

Osmond, J. and O’Connor, I. (2006). Use of Theory and Research in Social Work Practice: Implications for Knowledge Based Practice. Australian Social Work, 59(1).

Payne, M. (2014). Modern social work theory 4th Ed. Chicago: Lyceum Books.