Social work

academic discipline and profession

Social work is the professional and academic discipline which seeks to improve the quality of life and well being of an individuals, groups, or communities by intervening through research, policy, crisis intervention, community organizing, direct practice, and teaching on behalf of those afflicted with poverty or any real or perceived social injustices and violations of their civil liberties and human rights.


  • Social workers help people increase their capacities for problem solving and coping, and they help them obtain needed resources, facilitate interactions between individuals and between people and their environments, make organizations responsible to people, and influence social policies.
    • Barker (2003, p. 410), cited in Charles Zastrow The practice of social work. (1995) p. 2.
  • The generalist social worker, the equivalent of the general practitioner in medicine, is characterized by a wide repertoire of skills to deal with basic conditions, backed up by specialists to whom referrals are made. This role is a fitting one for the entry-level social worker.
    The generalist model involves identifying and analyzing the interventive behaviors appropriate to social work. The worker must perform a wide range of tasks related to the provision and management of direct service, the development of social policy, and the facilitation of social change. The generalist should be well grounded in systems theory that emphasizes interaction and independence. The major system that will be used is the local network of services...
    The public welfare worker in a small county may be a classic example of the generalist. He or she knows the resources of the county, is acquainted with the key people, and may have considerable influence to accomplish service goals, including obtaining jobs, different housing, or emergency food and clothing. The activities of the urban generalist are more complex, and more effort must be expended to use the array of resources.
    • Brieland, Costin, and Atherton (1985, pp. 120–121), as cited in Charles Zastrow The practice of social work. (1995) p. 8.
  • It is one of the peculiar curses of the social work profession that we often find ourselves guests in another's domain.
    • Jonathan Fast, "An in-law comes to stay: Examination of interdisciplinary conflict in a school-based health center." Social work 48.1 (2003): p. 45.
  • The basic principle of generalist practice is that baccalaureate social workers are able to utilize the problem solving process to intervene with various size systems including individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. The generalist operates within a systems and person-in-the-environment framework (sometimes referred to as an ecological model). The generalist expects that many problems will require intervention with more than one system (e.g., individual work with [a] delinquent adolescent plus work with the family or school) and that single explanations of problem situations are frequently unhelpful. The generalist may play several roles simultaneously or sequentially depending upon the needs of the client (e.g., facilitator, advocate, educator, broker, enabler, case manager, and/or mediator). They may serve as leaders/facilitators of task groups, socialization groups, information groups, and self-help groups. They are capable of conducting needs assessments and evaluating their own practice and the programs with which they are associated. They make referrals when client problems so dictate and know when to utilize supervision from more experienced staff. Generalists operate within the ethical guidelines prescribed by the NASW Code of Ethics and must be able to work with clients, coworkers and colleagues from different ethnic, cultural, and professional orientations. The knowledge and skills of the generalist are transferable from one setting to another and from one problem to another.
    • Hull (1990, p. 7), as cited in Charles Zastrow The practice of social work. (1995) p. 8.
  • All the lessons of psychiatry, psychology, social work, indeed culture, have taught us over the last hundred years that it is the acceptance of differences, not the search for similarities which enables people to relate to each other in their personal or family lives.
  • Anthropology is not social work.
    • Vanderstaay (2005, 371) cited in: Susan Dewey (2011) Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in a Rust Belt Town. p. 19.
  • Social work as a profession is of relatively recent origin. The first social welfare agencies appeared in urban areas in the early 1800s. These agencies, or services, were private and were developed primarily at the initiation of the clergy and religious groups. Until the early 1900s, these services were provided exclusively by the clergy and affluent “do-gooders” who had no formal training and little understanding of human behavior or of how to help people. The focus of these private services was on meeting such basic physical needs as food and shelter and on attempting to cure emotional and personal difficulties with religious admonitions.
    • Charles Zastrow 'The practice of social work. (1995) p. 1; On the history of social work.
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