In this post Phil Musson, University of Lincoln, explains the rationale behind his new book Making sense of theory and its application to social work practice.
I look forward to reading the practice portfolios of social work students in which they describe their experiences, analyse their practice and showcase their skills. For many, these placements will leave career long impressions on the fledgling practitioners as they grapple with the complexity of social work practice for the first and second time.
More often than not I am reassured that they are developing their craft with appropriate reference to values, interpersonal communication skills, service user involvement, and legislation. However, I am generally left feeling underwhelmed by the quality of application of theory to practice in so far as it is used to explain circumstances and inform a plan of intervention in them.
OK, reference to Maslow or Bronfenbrenner may feature in a perfunctory sense and claims may be made that strengths based ideas or systems theory had been used but rarely am I left with the impression that the student had a real grasp of how a theory offers an explanation of what they see and how its corresponding method of intervention provides a cogent, structured way of trying to do something about it.
In my experience students tend to address the requirement to ‘apply theory’ with such statements as ‘I applied systems theory with service user A’ but without going on to explain how the work they did with A was an application of systems theory. Alternatively, they might bullet point a list:
On my placement the theories used included
Both expressions fail to reveal the student’s depth of understanding of theory and its application as an explanation of how what they did was an application of the theory claimed is avoided. Whilst I do not expect to see a confident application of theory to practice (especially in the first placement) I do expect to see a tentative exploration into this area so important to assessment, analysis and intervention.
Am I alone in this having this perspective? I do hope not as, in an attempt to address this and encourage students to embrace theoretical frameworks and to try road testing their application, I have written a book titled Making sense of theory and its application to social work practice.
It is written with a particular student in mind. This student wants to get the most they can out of their course, as they want to become the best social worker they can be and to be ‘tooled up’ to do the best they can for the people they will work with. Accordingly, they need to know about theory and well enough to try applying it in their practice. However, they would not describe themselves as an instinctive theoretician so they expect to find acquiring a working knowledge of this area of practice a challenge. The book sets out to minimise the ‘challenge’ and maximise the degree of ‘sense’ that can be made in this quest. It seeks to achieve this through its structure; four ‘theories of explanation’ are introduced with their respective methods of intervention and four approaches to social work practice are introduced also with their methods of intervention. One generic case study is used so the reader can see how each method of intervention can be applied in practice.
I hope it fulfils its promise.
Phil Musson June 2017
Details of Phil’s new book, Making sense of theory and its application to social work practice can be found on our website www.criticalpublishing.com