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This assignment will critically reflect upon the learning that I have gained through group participation. It will also look at what knowledge I have learnt in relation to how I look at putting theory into practice. It will also explore how these theories interconnect and how I used elements of psychology and sociology to explain how I might work with individuals in future practice.
As a group we chose to analyse scenario two, the case of Fiona and mainly focused on her mental health issues, her lack of support as a result of family breakdown and her social isolation. To begin with we identified that Fiona seemed to have a lack of control in her life and as a group we felt that this was a huge area that needed to be addressed. To begin to support Fiona she needed to be ‘given meaningful choice and valuable options’ (Clark, 2000, p.57) in order for her to gain greater control over her life and her circumstances. As a social worker we promote ‘social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment of liberation of people to enhance well-being’. (IFSW, 2000, cited in Banks, p.3).This was an important aspect to remember when applying theory to Fiona.
Theory in social work is an attempt to explain situations and social relationships. So to be begin with as a group we began to look at theories that may help Fiona holistically such as Marxist theory and in particular conflict theory which seeks to examine structural inequality within society. This theory argues that society is structured along lines of inequality such as wealth, health and income thus providing people with different life chances which in turn can result in different life experiences. So whilst this theory could be linked to Fiona with her structural issues of deprivation and relative poverty and the issue of crime and deviancy in her neighbourhood, this was not the main focus that our group were concerned with and we wanted to concentrate more on her social isolation and her lack of a support network.
Systems theory was looked at by the group and I came to understand that this theory would fit perfectly with what we were focusing on. Although I did not do much research into this theory for the group work I did get a greater understanding of how this theory would link to Fiona. Systems theory is a functionalist perspective that takes into account how individuals relate to one another and society as a whole. It would seem that this theory is popular with social work texts and in practice as it has been suggested that it ‘can be attributed to the consistency with social work’s long-standing mission to understand and respond to people in their environment’ (Bartlett, 1970, cited in Healy, 2005, p.89). This theory seeks to provide ways to understand problems and issues and after perusing through some of the literature, I had to agree that this theory links closely to an empowerment approach which aims to seek social change at both an individual and a social level for a service user and as I already know, empowerment is a core component of social work practice.
From the start as a group we always knew that we were going to apply cognitive theory to Fiona. As part of my individual research I focused on cognitive theory and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) as this was the perspective that we felt as a group would be most beneficial to Fiona. While researching this theory my understanding of it was that Fiona needed to address the distorted picture she had of herself as she was blaming herself for experiences not of her making. She had low self-esteem and low self-efficacy and as such she had developed faulty cognitions about herself. Wessler (1986, cited in Gross, 2005, p.286) suggests that CBT is ‘the attempt to change cognition and is always a means to an end, that end being lasting changes in target emotions and behaviour’. This I felt is exactly what Fiona needed to do. She needed to change the ways she thinks (her cognition) so she can change what she does (her behaviour) and as such this is the theory that we are a group used in our presentation. It became evident the more I researched CBT that this is a theory that could be applied to many service users as the struggles of daily life can be stressful and CBT could help them cope better in the future as it can be completed in a relatively short time.
I gained a vast amount of knowledge about why social workers use theory as we prepared for the group presentation. I understand now that theory helps to explain a situation and perhaps how that situation came about. I recognise that theory can be seen as helping to describe (what is happening), explain (why it is happening) and predict (what is likely to happen next). In practice, if I understand all the above I can help to control a situation and bring about change for the service user. I began to recognise that there is no one single theory that can explain everything. Theories have limitations too and will not work for everyone. I learnt that much of the theory that is used in social work is drawn from outside the profession and has its roots in psychology and sociology and that we should always apply the value base to theory. Theory can help to avoid discrimination and as social workers we are orientated towards anti-oppressive and empowerment practices which seek social change. Dominelli (2002 p.4) suggests that social workers can help ‘individuals to understand their situation, make connections between their personal plight and that of others, examine power relations and their impact on the specifics of their daily routines and acquire the knowledge and skills for taking control of their lives’. When theory is used in practice it can undo jumbled information and give the social worker more direction in their work with the service user. Using theory in practice can give an explanation about why an action resulted in a particular consequence and as such can help the social worker to review and possible change in an attempt to make the consequences more effective. It became clear to me as I researched that theory is important in practice both for the service user and for the social worker to be more valued in society.
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