4 Social Work Practice Models

Illustration of social workers and their clients in various settings: at a formal desk; being counseled on a couch; having a face to face discussion in easy chairs; etc.
To best assist clients as they work to overcome whatever challenges they are facing, a social worker must employ proven techniques. Different clients have different needs, and each of the following techniques approaches social work from a slightly different perspective. Social workers can choose the technique that best resonates with them, and their clients, to offer the most effective assistance possible.

Task-Centered Practice (TCP)

Sometimes referred to as one of social work’s original “evidence-based” practice models, TCP has been around for nearly 40 years. At its core, TCP asks social workers and their clients to come up with specific, achievable goals in order to treat target problems.

Task-Centered Practice uses a four-step process to do this.

  • Define the problem
  • Establish goals
  • Work on goals
  • Review goals

Once the problem has been defined, the process guides the social worker and client to establish goals to deal with the problem, creating a contract between them. They then engage in several sessions over some short period of time during which the clients and social workers share the outcomes of their work toward these goals, and how well those outcomes have succeeded at overcoming the initial problem.

Narrative Approach

The narrative approach to social work involves helping clients to talk about their problems as if they were a story. This has several effects. First, it helps clients view the problem as external to themselves, rather than some intrinsic part of them. Second, it helps them see how the problem affects their lives, both in negative and positive ways, and can assist them in developing compassion for themselves and their own situations. Finally, it presents the opportunity for the social worker and client to come up with alternate stories as a way for the client to envision what his or her life might be like without the problem in question.

The primary benefit of the narrative approach is in helping the client gain distance and objectivity in regards to the problem. The narrative approach can also be used to guide clients into discerning the causality that led to the problem, which in turn can help inform their future behavior.

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Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

SFBT assumes that clients are the experts on their problems and that they are the makers, to some extent, of their own reality. The corollary to these assumptions is that clients already have the solutions to their problems and just need help recognizing them. SFBT then focuses on helping clients come up with their own solutions.

Much of this is done through hedging language, such as “I wonder what would happen if…”, and coping questions, such as asking clients how they manage to fulfill their daily obligations, even with the problem in question in the way. The “miracle question” is also a common technique, wherein the social worker asks a question like, “Suppose some miracle happened tomorrow and you no longer had this problem. What’s the first thing you’d notice?” By asking these questions in this way, the social worker and client work together to come up with achievable solutions and goals to help overcome or deal with problems.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The basic principle of CBT is that our thoughts and feelings shape our reality, and that by changing how we perceive the world, we can change how we experience it. For example, a person with anxiety might believe that everything is going to go wrong during a given day. This preconception then leads this person to pay disproportionate attention to things that go wrong, which confirms the belief and strengthens it. CBT challenges the client to confront that belief, to try to see things in a different way and be more aware of how things are, rather than perceptions.

CBT techniques often incorporate meditation, mindfulness, relaxation and out-of-session homework, in addition to traditional talk therapy. Through these techniques, CBT teaches clients to take control of their own therapy and their own world, to be more present in the moment and to be more aware of the reality around them.

Becoming a Social Worker

At Campbellsville University, the online Master of Social Work provides students with the knowledge and field practice for careers assisting people in need. Campbellsville also offers an online Bachelor of Social Work where students gain foundational skills for the profession. Learn in a dynamic and engaging online environment that allows you to advance your career on your schedule.