Introductory Principles of Social Work Research Paper

Introductory Principles of Social Work Research Paper

Introductory Principles of Social Work Research Paper

The scientific approach to unsolved problems is the only one which contains any hope of learning to deal with the unknown.

A -Bertha Capen Reynolds (1942, p . 20)

Struggling to meet your deadline ?

Get assistance on

Introductory Principles of Social Work Research Paper

done on time by medical experts. Don’t wait – ORDER NOW!

n emphasis on the value of scientific research has always characterized professional social work education and practice. Indeed, this emphasis is one of the hallmarks that distinguishes genuinely “professional” services from other forms of private/public philanthropy and charity and the provision of social care motivated by religious, familial, altruistic, or

philosophical reasons. In the history of social work in )Jorth America and Great Britain, as well as in other European nations, the system of poor laws and other rel- atively unsystematic attempts to care for the destitute gave rise during the latter part of the 19th century to an orientation labeled scientific philanthropy. Coincident with the emergence of “friendly visiting;’ settlement houses, formalized academic train ing, and other precursors to the professionalization of social work, the development of charitable services guided h y a scientific orienta tion has evolved to the present day.


Social work historian John Graham provides a good case study on a Toronto charity home for women called The Haven, established in 1878 by religious elites, that gradually made Lhe transition Lo a rnore secularly o riented and p rofessional service. Graham (l.992) describes the completion of this transition in 1927 ::is follows:

Professional social work, therefore, had been firmly installed at The Haven, and the last vestiges of the benevolent philanthropy of the nineteenth century were aban- doned. A growing sense of professional identity moreover demanded a strict delin- eation bet.ween the social worker and the social agency volunteer. Differentiating the former from the latter was a scientific knowledge base and specialized skills which were the social worker’s alone. (p. 304, italics added)

Such a transition can be said to characterize the. majority of social work programs across orth America by the early part of the 20th century. Currently, one widely used definition

of social work can be found in The Social Work Dictionary published by the N’ational Association of Social Workers- “the applied science of helping people achieve an effective


lerel of psychosocial function and effecting societal changes to enhance the well-being of all people” (Rilrker, 2003, p. 408, italics added). Many states further defme the practice of clinical social work, and Florida’s definition provides a representative example of the inter- connectedness of social work and science: “The ‘practice of clinical social work’ is defined as the use of scientific and applied knowledge, theories and methods for the purposes of describing, preventing, evaluating, and treating, individual, couple, fa mi ly or group behav- ior” (Florida Departmen L of Hea.lth, 2008, italics added) . These definitions illustrate the close linkage between the practice of social work and the world of scientific inquiry.

’’here do we social workers come from organizationally? Vlc have many roots, but a central one was the establishment in 1865 of the American SocjaJ Science Association (ASSA), a generalist organization influenced by French sociologist Auguste Comte’s then novel philosophy of science labeled positivism, which called for the objective study of human society and behavior using the same tools of scientific inquiry that were proving so successful in the biological and physical sciences. rrom the ASSA sprouted numerous offshoots, some of which thrive to this day, although the parent group crumbled in 1909. from the ASSA, in 1879, emerged the Conference of Charities, which in 1.881 evolved into the National Conference of Charities and Correction (NCCC), described as “a forum for the communication of the ideas and values connccLcd with scientific charity” (Germain, 1970, p. 9). In turn, the NCCC was renamed the National Conference on Social Work in 1917. This label lasted until 1957, when it was altered to the National Conference on Social Welfare, which gradually expired during the 1980s.

More recently, in 1994, a small group of social workers led by Janet B. W. Williams estab- lished a new scientifically oriented social work membership organization known as the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR). AIJ social workers with an interest in scien- tific research in social work are eligible to join. The SSWR quickly grew from 271 members in 1995 to more than 1,300 in 2009, and the organization has an active newsletter and program of annual in ternational conferences. The first professional SSWR conference was held in 1995 in Washington, D.C., and has been followed annually since that time with very successful and high-quality conferences (see The SSWR conferences offer a hos t of competitively reviewed symposia, papers, and posters; P.lcnary addresses by promi- nent social work researchers; and an awards program that recognizes outstanding e..xamples of recently published social work research. Because of its superb organization and the top quality of its presentations, the SSWR conference has rapidly become Lhe preferred venue for social work researchers to present their research findings. Moreover, it has become the conference ol choice for schools of social work to seek interviews with potential new faculty and for potential new faculty to seek academic positions. In 1999, lhc SSWR began provid- ing its members a subscription to Lhc bimonthly peer-reviewed journal Research on Social Work Practice, an independent periodical established in 1991. This growth of the SSWR augurs well for the continuing voice of science within mainstream social work.

A related but independent development was the establishment of the Institute for the Advancemc11l of Social Work Research (IASWR) in 1993. The mission of the IASWR is to create infrasrructure for social work research, to lead advocacy efforts to fund social work research, to help stakeholders view social work research as valuable, to provide training and professional development programs for social work researchers, to persuade social workers to undertake careers in research, to provide a free Web-based research-focused newsletter, and to promote discipl.inary and interdisciplinary research collaboration . Pive nalional profess ional social work organizations contributed to the developrncn l of the IASWR and are represented on its governing board. Its original p urpose of advocating for the establishment of a federally funded Na1ional Center for Social Work Research failed in the face of fiscal austerity, but the IASWR has expanded its remit as described above (see http://ww>


Anolhcr organizalional resource for social work research is the Social Work Topical Interest Group (TIG) found within the American Evaluation Association (AEA) . The AEA has about 5,000 members, and several hundred of these comprise the social work TIC. The AEA holds an annual conference as well as regional ones, has an active journals program, and provides training and consultation services, and its Web site has a wealth of useful resources (e.g., locating measurement instruments, how to locate an evaluator; see hup://

The National Association of Social Workers is the largest professional social work group in the world, with about 150,000 members. Almost aJJ are M.S.W. and B.S.W.-lcvcl trained professionals, and the organization primarily serves Lhc needs of ils practitioner member base, not those of social work researchers. The NASW does not host an annual conference but does have one research journal, Social Work Research J new initiative is a social work research Well page (see, cosponsored with the IASWR, which is itself ostensibly independent but is actual1y housed within the NJSW offices in Washinglon, D.C.

Social work researchers also find welcoming organizational support from various dis- ciplinary (e.g., American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, Associalion for Behavior Analysis) and interdisciplinary (e.g., American Public Health Association, Association fo r Advancement of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, American Orthopsychiatric Association, the Gerontological Society of America) groups. These groups typically have thriving annual conferences, a wcll-cslablished journals program, and training opportunities social workers can take advantage of. Thus, both budding and experienced social workers have ample opporlunities to network with research-oriented colleagues both within and oulsidc of lhe discipline.

Scientific Perspectives on Practice

The role of scientific research in social welfare can be seen through many early writings, including a11 article titled “Scientific Charity,” presented at the 1889 meeting of the NCCC (cited in Germain, 1970, p. 8), and one titled “A Scientific Basis for Charity” (Wayland, 1894), which appeared in the influential journal The Cha.rities Review. Such perspectives cu lminated in the publication of Richmond’s (1917) Social Diagnosis, an influenLial text that wholeheartedly extolled the virtues of positivist science. lndeed, in 1921, Richmond received an honorary M.A. degree from Smith College for “esLablishing th e scientific basis of a new profession” (cited in Germain, l 970, p. J 2).

The possible examples of conference talks, journaJ articles, chapters, and books illus- trating the central reliance on scientific research as a guiding force within early social work arc roo numerous to mention further here. Germain (1970) remains one of the very best reviews of this “ancient” history of our profession. More recent is the history of the Social Work Research Group (SWRG), a short-lived professional membership organization established in 1949 that became one of the original seven constituents of the l’ational Association of Social Workers (NASW) in 1955, transmogrifying itself into the NASW’s Research Section. In 1963, this became the NASW’s Council on Social Work Research, where it gradually faded from view by the mid-1960s as the NASW allowed the research mission established in its bylaws to Largely lapse. Graham, Al-Krenawi, and J3radshaw (2000) have prepared an excellent historical study of the rise and demise of the SWRG.

Coincident with these organizational and policy developments related to the integra- tion of science and social work during the past quarter century have been three related perspectives on practice. The first is known as empirical clinica.l practice (ECP), the second


is called empirically supported treatments (ESTs), and the third is labeled evidence-based practice (F.BP). These are reviewed briefly in turn.

Empirical Clinical Practice

Empirical clinical practice was the name of a book authored by social workers Siri Jayaratne and Rona Levy (1979), who describe the characteristics of the ECP model they espouse: “Empirical practice is conducted by clinicians who strive Lo measure and demonstrate the effect of their clinical practice by adapting traditional experimental research techniques to clinical practice” (p. xiii). The authors focus on teaching social workers the use of relatively simple research methods called single-system research designs to empirically evaluate the outcomes of their work. l’hey believe that “clinical practice that can empirically demonstrate its effect provides the basis for the best service to the client” (p. xiv). They contended that ECP ca n be ::idopted by p ractitioners using vir- tually any theoretical model of practice so long as it is possible to measure changes in the client, relate t·hese changes (provisionally) Lo social work inlervcnlion, and Lhen base future services on these observations. The authors advocate that social workers should rely on previo us research to help guide their choices of interve11tions that they offer clients. In their words, “The clinician would first be interested in using an in tervention strategy that has been successful in the past . . .. When established techniques are avail- able, they should be used, but they should be based on objective evaluation rather than subjective feeling” (p. 7) . ECP involves the careful and repeated measure of client func- tioning, using reliable and valid measures repeated over time, combined with selected treatments based on the best available scientific evidence. Their entire book is devoted to describing how to do these activities. A similar social work text by Wodarski ( 1981 ), titled The Role of Research in Clinical Practice, advocated for much the same thing- a preference to make use of psychosocial treatments that scientific research had really demonstrated to be of benefit to clients, measuring client functioning in reliable an<l valid ways, and empirically evaluating outcomes with individual clients and larger groups.

The banner of ECP was picked up by a number of subsequent social workers, and a rather large (and not uncontroversial) literalure has grown around Lhese nolions (e.g., Corcoran, 1985; Ivanoff, Blythe, & .8riar, 1987; Ivanoff, H.obinson, & Blythe, 1987; G. MacDonald, 1994; Thyer, 1996). The influence of ECP has not been inconsiderable. For example, in 1982, just 3 years fol lowing the publicalion of F.mpirical Clinical Practice (Jayaratne & Levy, 1979) , the curriculum policy statement of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE, 1982) included a new mandate Lhal research co urses musl now Leach “designs for the systematic evaluation of the student’s own practice . . . [and should] pre- pare them systematically to evaluate their own practice and contribute to the generation of knowledge for practice” (pp. 10- 11). Similar standards still ca n be found in the current CSWE guidelines. Insisting that individual practi tioners conducl systema tic outcome evaluations of their own services was a remarkable professional standard, one that has not ycl bee11 cm ulalcd by educational and practice guidelines wiLhin clinical psychology or psychiatry in the present day. Reid (1994) provides a nice overview of the rise, influence, and dissemjnation of the ECP movement.

Empirically Supported Treatments Subscquenl lo Lhc ECP movement within social work, a rclaled iniLiaLive developed within clinical psychology called empirically validated treatments. During the mid- l 990s, the president of Section lll (Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology) of Division 12


(Clinical Psychology) of the American Psychological Association convened a Task Force on Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures, a group charged with two functions: (a) develop a scientifically defensible set of criteria that can be used to deter- mine whether a given psychological technique ca n be called empirically validated and (b) conduct co mprehensive reviews of the research literature, apply these criteria, and come up with, in effect, lists of psychological procedures that fulfill these criteria and, therefore, can be co nsidered, in a scientific sense, empirically validated.

The evidentiary standards ultimately decided on by the task force were actually rather modest, consisting of the following criteria:

I. At least two good between-group design experiments demonstrating efficacy in one or more of the following ways:

A. Superior to pill or psychological placebo or to another treatment B. Equivalent LO an already established treatment in experiments with adequate

statistical power

II. A large series of single-case design experiments ( N > 9) demonstrating efficacy that must have done the following:

A Used good experimental designs B. Compared the intervention to another treatment (as in I.A.)

Among the further criteria are that the psychological techniques must be based on well-proceduralized treatmenL manuals, that the characteristics of the client samples are clearly defined, and that the positive effects must have been demonstrated by at least two different investigators or investigatory teams. A psychological treatment meeting the preceding criteria could be said to be well established. A somewhat less stringent set of cri- teria could be followed to potentially label a treatment as probably efficacious (Chambless et al., 1996).

With the criteria in place, the task force busily got to work in seeing which psycholog- ical treatments could be labeled empirically validated and probably efficacious, and reports soon began appearing indicating empirically validated inLerventions for a wide array of psychosocial disorders such as depression, panic disorder, pain, and schizophrenia. As with the ECP movement within social work, the task force within psychology did not escape controversy. For one thing, the task force recognized that labeling a treatment as empirically validaled seemed to close the discussion off, implying perhaps a stronger level of research evidence than was justified. Subsequent reports of the task force used lhe more tempered language of empirically supporled lreatments (ESTs) . Entire issues oflead- ing professional journals (i.e., a 1996 issue of Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, a 1998 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, a 1998 issue of Psychotherapy Research) were devoted to the topic, as were considerable independent lit- eratures (e.g., Sanderson & Woody, 1995). The influence of the EST movement also has been strong, and the work of the Division 12 task fo rce was commented on extremely favorably in Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (Hatcher, 2000). The volume titled A Guide lo Treatments That Work (Natha n & Gorman, 2007), now in its third edi- tion, i.s an exemplary resource for social workers seeking relatively current information about empirically supported treatments for a wide variety of mental health problems. Division 12, Sec.:Lion HT (The Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology) continues its work in defining the criteria and language used to describe empirically supported treat- ments and maintains a Web site providing current information on this influential initia- tive (see


Evidence-Based Practice Coincident with the EST initiatives in clinical psychology have been related activities in med ic ine labeled evidence-based practice, defined as “the conscientious, explicit, and judi- cious use of the current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients” (Sackett, Richardson, Rosenberg, & Haynes, 1997, p. 2). On its face, EBP would not seem to be a radical notion, and indeed, most readers would assume that such a stan- dard already was in place in most of the hea Ith professions. St’tdly, to a great extent, this is not the case, although a small but in fluen tit’tl group of health care providers is attempting to make it so. EBP and EST actually are much more sophisticated variants of the earlier ECP model of social work, but the spirit and intent of all three movements ECP (devel- oped within social work), EST (developed within psychology), and EBP (developed within medicine)-are the same. EBP is gradually supplanting the ECP and EST initia- tives within social work and psychology. The current president of the Society for the Science of Clinical Psychology (a section of Division 12 of the American Psychological Association) published an editorial titled “Evidence-Based Psychotherapy: A Graduate Course Proposal” (Persons, 1999), and some social workers have begun using the EBP language, most notably Gambrill (1999) with her thoughtful arLicle titled “Evidence- Based Practice: An Alternative to Authority-Based Practice,” which introduced El3P to the social work literature. The past decade has seen the publication of enough social work books on the EBP topic to fill a bookshelf. The melding of these disciplinary perspectives i11lo an interdisciplinary human services movemen t generically called evidence-based prac- tice seems likely. Consider Persons’s ( J 999) description of EBP:

The evidence-based practitioner:

• Provides informed consent for treatment • Relies on the efficacy data (especially from RCTs [randomized clinical trials]) when

recommending and selecting and carrying out treatments • Uses the empirical literature Lo guide decision-m aking • Uses a systematic, hypothesis-testing approach to the treatment of each case:

o Begins with careful assessment o Sets dear and measurable goals o Develops and individualized formulation and a treatment plan based on the

formulation o Monitors progress toward the goals frequently and modifies or ends treatment

as needed (p. 2)

WeU, perhaps Jayaralne and Levy ( 1979) were simply two decades al1cad of their time. An issue of the NASW News contained an article on the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health and noted, “A challenge in the near term is to speed transfer of new evidence-based treatments and prevenlion interventions into diverse service delivery settings and systems” (O’Neill, 2000, p. 6, italics added). The Surgeon General’s report itself states clearly,

Responding to the calls of managed mental health and behavioral heaJth care sys- Lcms for evidence-based interventions will have a much needed and discernable impact on practice …. It is essential to expand the supply of effective, evidence- based services throughout the nation. (Hatcher, 2000, chap. 8, p. 453)

EBP requires knowing what helps social work clients and what does not help them. It requires being able Lo distinguish between unverified opin-ions about psychosocial


interventions and facts about their effectiveness. And separating facts from fictions is what science is prelly good at doing. Jot perfectly, and not without false starts, but the publicly verifiable and potentially testable conclusions of scientific research render this form of knowledge building an inherently self-correctin g one (in the long nm), a con- siderable advanLagc over other “ways of knowing.”

EBP differs from its precursor initiatives in that it does not tell socia l workers what interven tions should be provided to clients. TL does not list so-called best practices, create practice guidel ines, or develop lists of supposedly empirically based treatments. Nor docs it unduly privilege certain forms of evidence above all others. Each of the above three sen- tences represents common misconceptions of EBP. EBP is actually a process of inquiry offered to practitioners, described for physicians in Straus, Richardson, Galsziou, and Haynes (2005), but readily adaptable to providers in all of the h uman service professions. These steps are as follows (from Straus ct al., 2005, pp. 3-4):

Step l: converting the need for information (about prevention, diagnosis, prognosis, therapy, causation, etc.) into an answerable qucsLion.

Step 2: tracking down Lhe besl evidence with which to answer that question.

Step 3: critically appraising that evidence for its validity (closeness to the truth), impact (size of the effect), and applicability (usefulness in our clinical practice) .

Step 4: integrating the critical appraisal with our clinical expertise and wil11 our patient’s unique biology, values, and circumstances.

Step 5: Evaluating our effectiveness and efficiency in executing steps 1-4 and seeking ways to improve them both for next time.

Each chapter in Straus et al. (2005) addresses on.e of these steps, and they have been adapted for use by social workers in an excellent series of entries appearing in 171e Social Worker’s Desk Reference (see Roberts, 2009, pp. 1115-1182). EBP states that social workers need to be familiar with the best available evidence addressing the questions related to client services and to their particular practice situation and to integrate their appraisal of this information into an assessment of their own skills, the client’s preferences, relevant professional and personal values and ethical standards, cost, feasibility, and resources. All of these factors a re rclevan L, not just what the research evidence indicates. And by best evidence, what is meant is not so-called gold-standard studies such as randomized con- trolled trials or meta-analyses (see later chapters on Lhesc LOpics in this book) but simply the best available relevant ev idence. If there are no stud ies of superlative quality, then you locate and assess those of lesser quality. Lots of evidence can go into the mix, including quasi-experimental studies, single-subject studies, corrclational studies, descriptive work, epidemiological evidence, qualitative investigations, case histories, theory, and infom1ed clinical opinion. There is always evidence for a social worker to consult, even if it is nol evidence of the highest quality. As with ECP, EBP also encourages practitioners to evalu- ate the outcomes of their work with individual cl ients using a research methodology called single-subject designs.

Another option is for social workers to consu lt systematic reviews (SRs) of the research evidence related to various answerable que~tions involving assessment and interventive methods. The two groups most responsible for preparing high-quality and independent SRs are called the Cochrane Collaboration (sec, focusing on issues related to health care, and the Campbell Collaboration (see www.campbellcollaboration .org), focusing on social welfare, education, and criminal justice. SRs are prepared by



qualified research teams who obtain articles and reports from all over the world dealing with a specific issue. These reports are minutely analyzed and critiqued and the collected information surrunarized in a readable format, with a take-away .message something like Treatment Xis well-supported as an effective treatment for clients with Problem Y; The avail- able evidence indicates that Treatment X is ineffective in helping clients with Problem Y; Clients with Problem Y who receive Treatment X demonstrated impaired outcomes, com- pared to clients who receive no treatment. You can see hmV” this information would be of immense value to social workers. Here is a sampling of SRs currently available on the Cochrane database that is of relevance to social workers:

• Behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder in children and adolescents

• Family intervention for bipolar disorder • Family therapy for depression • Psychological debriefing for preventing posttraurnatic stress disorder • Psychotherapy for bulimia nervosa and binging • Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy for common mental disorders

And here are some fonnd on the Campbell Collaboration Web site:

• Cognitive-behavioral therapy for men who physically abuse their partner • Cognitive-behavioral intervention for children who have been sexually abused • Interventions intended to reduce pregnancy-related outcomes among adolescents • School-based educational programs for the prevention of childhood sexual abuse • Work programs for welfare recipients

These systematic reviews represent the highest quality and up-to-date critical appraisals of the existing research literature addressing particular psychosocial and health problems e:>..’})erienced by social work clients. They are a wonderful resource for practitioners seeking such information and are integral to the conduct of evidence-based practice.

To summarize, ECP suggested that social work treatment should be chosen based on support via randomized controlled studies and that social workers need to evaluate the outcomes of their practice with clients using single-system research designs. The EST ini- tiative came up with a list of evidentiary criteria needed to label a given treatment as “empirically supported.” Once these criteria were in hand, lists of psychosocial interven- t ions meeting these standards were published. RBP provides more of a process to guide clinical and practice decision making, which explicitly embraces evidence from many sources (albeit urging one to pay particular attention to evidence of the highest quality) and explicitly includes nonscientific considerations such as client preferences and values into this decision-making process. In many ways, EBP is a more sophisticated and mature conceptualization of the conduct of practice than ECP and EST, and these latter two ini- tiatives largely have been subsurn.ed by EBP.

On Terms

The preceding brief overview helps to bring us to the present, wherein social work is attempting to really implement our original aspirations pcrtainiillg to being based on a foundation of scientific research. As in most intellectual undertakings, it always is helpful

Struggling to meet your deadline ?

Get assistance on

Introductory Principles of Social Work Research Paper

done on time by medical experts. Don’t wait – ORDER NOW!

Open chat
WhatsApp chat +1 908-954-5454
We are online
Our papers are plagiarism-free, and our service is private and confidential. Do you need any writing help?