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Social Work Theories and their Importance in Social Work

Discuss about the Reflections Theory in Social Work Practice.

Social work is an important part of the society today. The job is mainly practical and involves interacting with people from all walks of life with the aim of changing their lives. Therefore, it goes beyond the theory in books and explanations but involves actual practice. As such, the profession is about attaining social change both at the individual level and the community level. Therefore, a social worker must have a grasp of the most important theories that inform the practice and profession in order to achieve the best results when interacting with individuals in the course of their work (Hart, 2017). Some literature materials suggest that social work is mainly about helping people to help themselves. Predominantly, this is because social workers help people to have an increased understanding about themselves and their situations. They may also help people in making important decisions, empowering individuals to change their situations, or even help people in creating a positive mentality about their situations (O’Neill, 2012). Either way, their main aim is to correct social problems that exist within a community. In the practice of their roles as social workers, they apply a set of ideas and theories to help inform the framework of their decisions (Johnsson & Svensson, 2006). Today, the main theories of social work that are applied in practice include the psychosocial theory, psychodynamic theory, transpersonal theory, social learning theory, and systems theory (Teater, 2014). By and large, these theories are critical in social work for various reasons. First, they help in ensuring accountability in social work, helps avoid discrimination and provides a means of making sense of complex and uncertain cases in the course of their work. In this regard, this paper will apply the various theories of social work in the analysis of a case of Jimmy Ravuvu.

In this case study, Jimmy is a young man aged 16 years who performs the role of a primary care giver of his 45 year old mother. The mother was hit by a car five years ago and suffered a chronic back injury. As a result, she has become fully dependent on her son, since she also lost her husband a few years back. The boy has been attending a young carers group for the past two months, and through the program  he has been able to socialize with other young carers. Jimmy appeared to be accepting of role as a carer to his mother. However, he also mentioned the intention to look for other carers to help him out with taking care of the mother so that he can also live a normal life just like people his age. In the last session, he appeared less jovial than usual and when asked to share his concerns, he revealed that his mother fell the previous evening while being transferred into her bed. This made Jimmy quite angry as he sees that her mother is too dependent on him. This is an unusual thing for Jimmy as he has never experienced the same feeling before.

Application of Social Work Theories: Case of Jimmy Ravuvu

Jimmy’s case is not unusual. Particularly, this is because human beings are bound to get tired of being depended on for everything by people close to them. In Jimmy’s case, it is even worse due to the fact that his mother fully depends on Jimmy to do everything for him since he is the only child and family member around.  Therefore, one may argue that Jimmy feels that he is somewhat overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being a young carer and desires to enjoy life just like his fellow teenagers who do not have to worry about taking care of their sick mothers back at home. Therefore, Jimmy’s case can be analyzed using major theories of social work such as social learning theory, systems theory, psychodynamic theory and conflict theory.

The systems theory is one of the most important theories for explaining human behavior. As a result, it is an important contribution to decision making in social work. According to this theory, human behavior is an intersection of the influences of various interrelated systems (Hutchison and Oltedal, 2014). Thus, even for personal issues, the family and society is inherently involved and must be taken into consideration when trying to understand what the individual is going through in order to assist. What this theory suggests is that all systems are linked and connected and therefore influence each other (Systems Theory). There is interconnectedness between families, groups, organizations and inter-professional relationships. Thus, an action by an individual is likely to invoke the reaction of other systems within the society. This is where social workers come in to assist.

Furthermore, the theory suggests that sometimes, there can be preoccupation between one or two family members, something that may result in the marginalization of other members of the family. When family members are not given priority, they are likely to act out and change their behavior. Therefore, in practice, one may argue that this is the case of Jimmy. For a while now, Jimmy has been taking care of his sick mother without having anyone to take care of his needs and concerns as well. As a result, he feels marginalized and neglected, and therefore desires more out of life. Yet, given the circumstances at his home, he is not able to achieve this dream of living a normal life like other teenagers in the society. As a result, his feelings have begun to develop into anger.  In this case, it is important for the social worker to carefully rediscover their core skills of assessment to ensure that the decision made as regards to the case is the best based on a sound case analysis and the understanding of Jimmy’s unique personality, history and circumstances.

Systems Theory

It is imperative to point out the fact that in this case, the theory advises that it is critical for the social worker to spend more time with Jimmy and his mother, and try and make a direct contact with the family. In so doing, the social worker will be able to determine the main cause of Jimmy’s frustration and also be able to advise accordingly (Gentle-Genitty, Chen, Karikari & Barnett, 2014). Notably, therapeutic communication between social workers and clients has been known to heal wounds and mend broken patches among members of the family. In turn, this technique focuses on therapeutic healing among members of the family while guaranteeing the effective results after the session. Thus, applying this theory n the case of Jimmy will go a long way in solving his problems about providing care to his mother.

By and large, the strengths of the theory lie on the fact that the theory brings about a significant contribution to the field of social work. For instance, the theory highlights the importance of interdependency, adaptability and exchange of resources from the different systems within society (Strengths and Limitations, 2015). Additionally, it emphasizes on the importance of compassion in social work while dealing with clients (Thyer, Dulmus, & Sowers, 2012). It is noteworthy that this perspective is very valuable to clients who are experiencing anger issues, self-worth issues and even isolation.

Regardless of the various strengths associated with the theory, it is associated with various limitations. Predominantly, the limitations of this theory lie in the fact that it overly emphasizes on the concept of homeostasis (Strenghts and Limitations, 2015). That is to say, the theory only agrees with changes that stabilizes the system. As a result, it can cause significant problems to the social worker when dealing with unconventional issues such as LGBTQ, racism and the poor (Strengths and Limitations, 2015). As such, the system does not accommodate abrupt changes in opportunities, rights and privileges of populations that do not conform to the system by creating disruption in the balance.  Thus, the systems theory major limitation is the fact that it is a rigid theory and, therefore, cannot be used in solving emerging social issues.

Just like the previous theory, this theory is also important in informing social work. In social work, people are viewed as part of their environment. Therefore, psychodynamic theory helps to develop an understanding the personality development and the difficulties that may appear in this development (Hutchison and Oltedal, 2014).  As such, the theory provides social workers with the terms to understand the relationships of people to others and their surroundings. In addition, it offers an understanding of how individuals can overcome challenges (Hutchison and Oltedal, 2014). Mainly, this is because of the fact that this theory focuses on the individual’s inner world, namely the id, the ego and the superego.

Psychodynamic Theory

In this theory, the id pertains to the prima desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. On the other hand, the superego consists of societal expectations, conscience and social mores. Lastly, the go tries to locate the realistic ways of obtaining these pleasures while avoiding pain and balancing the two (Engard, 2017). The theory also suggests that the unconscious parts of the mind (the super-ego and id) are in continuous conflict with the conscious mind (the ego) (Hutchison and Oltedal, 2014). In turn, this creates anxiety and forces a person to adopt a defense mechanism to help them deal with the stress of the inner conflict.

It can therefore be argued that in the case of Jimmy, his unconscious mind was in constant conflict with the conscious mind. While the id and the super ego tried to find a way to seek pleasure and enjoy life just like a normal teenager, the ego restrained these feelings by making him feel guilty about his actions. In the case study, we are informed about Jimmy’s desire to introduce other care givers to his mother who could take care of her, while allowing him to start living his life just like a normal teenager. One may argue that this was the desire of the unconscious mind to feel pleasure and enjoyment while avoiding the pain and burden of having to forego his social life for his sick mother. That is why it can be noted that he feels overwhelmed and angry by the fact that his mother is overly-dependent on him. On the other hand, the ego also set in and made him feel bad about the desires of his heart. This is why the social worker notes that he appeared dull and less social in their last encounter. Specifically, the conflict between the two parts of the mind caused him to adopt defense mechanisms to deal with the stress of inner conflict by keeping to himself during the meeting while appearing sullen.

In this context, it is important to appeal to both the ego and super-ego of Jimmy. Specifically, the social worker has to understand the desires of both the conscious and unconscious mind of Jimmy in order to come up with a solution that would bring inner peace to the young man. In this case, the solution should be able to create harmony between the minds of Jimmy in such a way that he will be able to obtain pleasure from life and enjoy his youth while at the same time be able to take care of his sick mother. In this case, as a social worker, the theory helps me to recognize the fact that conflicts always exists and no one changes their behavior without a good reason. Therefore, it is important to first establish the reasons behind the change in Jimmy’s behavior. Afterwards,   I have to determine the things that Jimmy appreciates and help him achieve them while at the same time ensure that he does not forsake his duties to his mother who depends on him entirely for his survival.

Strengths and Limitations of the Theories

It is imperative to note that the use of psychodynamic theory in social work has various advantages. First and foremost, the theory focuses on the individual’s inner world. As a result, it helps the social worker to understand the reasons why people behave the way they behave, and in turn help them face and solve their problems (Engard, 2017). The theory is also advantageous because it can help a social worker to better assess the needs of a particular situation or client and in turn provide them with the best service possible.

Despite being a good theory for social work, the psychodynamic theory has a couple of limitations. To begin with, the theory is highly deterministic. That is to say, it suggests that the behavior of people is predetermined and that they do not have free will. Indeed, this is untrue as it has been proven that each human has free will. Further, it can be noted that although the theory provides believable explanations for the changes in human behavior, it does not offer empirical and research evidence needed to support the theory. As a result, the ideas of the theory remain subjective to the opinions and perspectives of the individual interpreting them.

According to this theory, a person’s sense of self grows and develops as they come across a number of social crises during their lifetime. Each of these social crises then forces them to react and adapt to the situations. Normally, these situations comprise of trust versus mistrust, inferiority versus industry, self-worth versus competency as well as intimacy versus isolation (Theories Used, 2014). It is worth noting that each of these social challenges inform how people view themselves, how they react to the world and people around them, and what skills they develop in life. Therefore, as social worker can use the various elements from the theory to inform how they help solve the problems of their clients through the development of a maturation table (Theoretical Approaches, n.d.).

With respect to Jimmy’s case, the theory can help in determining the various social crises that he has faced during his lifetime and deduce how these challenges influence the way he reacts to things and adapt to life. It can be argued that growing up as an only child and taking care of his mother has forced him into the social crisis of isolation. For  a long time, he was okay with his life but after joining the young carers group he realized that he desired more out of life, thereby causing him to react in anger towards his mother. It is, therefore, my duty as a social worker to help him adapt to the changes in his life and create a stable ground for him.

One major strength of the theory is that the concept of psychosocial crisis offers a model for social workers to consider the individual differences that may exists within the framework of normal development. In addition, it provides insight into the direction of a healthy lifespan.

Although the theory is very useful, it has various weaknesses. For instance, the explanations of crisis resolution as well as the process of moving from one stage to another have not been explained well and therefore it needs more elaboration. Also, the theory fails to explain the specific ways through which culture encourages or blocks development.


All in all, all factors taken into consideration, theories of social work play an important role in informing decision making. Today, the main theories of social work that are applied in practice include the psychosocial theory, psychodynamic theory, transpersonal theory, social learning theory, and systems theory.


Engard, B. (2017). 5 Social Work Theories That Inform Practice. Retrieved 27 May 2018,

Gentle-Genitty, C., Chen, H., Karikarim I., & Barnett,  C (2007). Social Work Theory and Application to Practice: The Students’ Perspectives. Journal of  Higher Education Theory and Practice, 14(1), 36-50.

Hart,  D.  (2017). An Introduction to Using Theory in Social Work Practice / Skills for Using Theory in Social Work: 32 Lessons for Evidence-informed Practice. Australian Social Work, 70(3), 382-384.

Hutchinson, G. S. and Oltedal, S. (2014). Five Theories in Social Work. Retrieved 27 May 2018,

Johnsson, E., & Svensson, K (2006). Theory in social work—some reflections on understanding and explaining interventions. European Journal of Social Work, 8(4), 419-433.

O’Neill, L. (2012). Using theory in social work practice. (2015). The Guardian. Retrieved 27 May 2018,

Strengths and Limitations of Systems theory.(2015). Marri. Retrieved 27 May 2018,

Systems theory.(2015). Sage Publications. Retrieved 27 May 2018,,_Chapter_One.pdf

Teater, B. (2014). An Introduction to Applying Social Work Theories and Methods Retrieved 27 May 2018,

Theoretical Approaches: Social Work Systems Theory.(n.d.). Social Work License Map. Retrieved 27 May 2018,

Theories Used in Social Work Practice & Practice Models.(2014). Simmons School of Social Work. Retrieved 27 May 2018,

Theories Used in Social Work Practice (n.d.). Social Work Degree. Retrieved 27 May 2018,

Thyer, B. A., Dulmus, C., & Sowers, K. M. (2012). Social Environment: Theories for Social Work Practice. London: Wiley and Sons.

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