Learning theory applications in social work

Behavioural social work

Behavioural social work developed in the United States in the 1950s, and is a leading approach in relation to people with milder forms of mental illness and problems of living. (l4,15ยป Its application within social work does not differ in any significant way from its application within psychiatry or psychology. In this sense it is not a social work approach.

It has been known to British mental health social workers since the 1970s. A number of influential texts appeared in the United Kingdom which demonstrated the research evidence pertaining to the effectiveness of the approach in a number of social work areas. (1. I7 and 18>

Task-centred social work

Reid and Epstein, two American social work academics, developed the task-centred approach in social work.(19.) This orientation takes further the crisis perspective and the lessons from learning theories and behaviour modification.

They proposed that people work better on their problems if focused on specific targets and if the problem solving effort leads to success, however small, without the systematic use of the behavioural approach. Research evidence also demonstrated the usefulness of this approach to different aspects of social work, such as direct work with children and their parents, as well as with people suffering from mild mental distress symptoms.

Marsh and Doel have popularized the approach in the British context. (29

All of the approaches outlined above concentrate on the psychological dimension much more than on the social dimension, though work with groups has been both possible and encouraged.

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