Behavioral Social Work Practice

Bruce A. Thyer

in Social Work

ISBN: 9780195389678
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:
Behavioral Social Work Practice


The practice of social work is often seen as centered around various theories of the etiology of psychosocial problems, various theories related to the proposed mechanisms of action of psychosocial interventions, various models of practice, and perhaps more overarching practice perspectives. Behavioral social work provides the practitioner of social work with an integrated set of theories and models and represents the original person-in-environment perspective that has been deemed central to the discipline. The central organizing principle is learning theory, specifically types of learning that have been labeled as respondent (simple behaviors elicited by preceding stimuli), operant (more complex behavior evoked by past consequences that followed behavior that have produced rewarding or aversive events), and observational (acquiring behavior by imitating others). This comprehensive perspective not only includes ways to inform practice but also provides a well-developed methodology useful in the evaluation of the outcomes of social work practice, called single-system research designs (SSRDs), and an integrated philosophy of science known as behaviorism. Learning-theory principles can also be used to account for much of normative and dysfunctional human development across the life span, including those repertoires commonly labeled as one’s “personality.” One can practice behavioral social work in terms of intervention without evaluating practice using SSRDs or without subscribing to the philosophical principles of behaviorism. Those who embrace all three aspects of this approach used to be called radical behaviorists, with “radical” used in the sense of “complete.” However, the term “behavior analyst” is more widely used in the early 21st century. Most social workers who use the methods of behavioral social work are not radical behaviorists but, rather, employ such methods in the context of practice eclecticism.

Article.  5880 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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