There’s been an ongoing debate over evidence-based practice in social work. I understand the concerns over a one-size fits all mindset in what is meant to be a person-centered practice. I also understand the concerns that sometimes numbers are simply tweaked to satisfy newly instituted, often unwanted changes to standard performance protocols. There is also the argument that evidence-based practice fails to value long time practice wisdom. What I do not understand, or agree with, is resistance to building a sound evidence-base for a core set of therapeutic interventions based on documented successful implementation and outcomes in social work practice. What I also don’t agree with is continuing to do things in ways that are not set-up to become more and more effective.
Some things are very difficult to measure, to quantify, and to define in terms of monetary value, and social work, as in many other professions, billable hours matter. Some issues require long-term, ongoing care, such as serious and persistent mental illnesses and emotional disorders like schizophrenia, and personality disorders. However, some things can also readily be treated with short-term, goal-directed interventions. There is a place in social work practice for long-term care and for short-term care, and as long as a solid evidence-base of recorded success does not exist, the trend toward shorter treatments might continue unimpeded to the detriment of issues requiring long-term, on-going care.
So I offer a challenge: instead of resisting the professionalization of social work practice on every level by arguing against evidence-based practice, consider ways to build a foundation of knowledge, to design research studies, and to provide a base of documented success and continual improvements for therapeutic interventions. With technological advances, information is much more readily available and easier to disseminate. Why resist embracing it? Why continue trudging along as a profession with a business as usual attitude? Doing so only serves to keep individual practitioners, as well as larger social service programs, from benefiting from the potential such advancements offer. If we keep reinventing the wheel, instead of establishing a base upon which to build future research and program direction and therapeutic intervention, do we really expect to improve outcomes, especially in terms of macro practice? Practice wisdom has a sound place as do best-practices, let’s use what we know works and establish protocol for sound practice and future growth of professional social work.
by Michelle Sicignano, LMSW
Staff Writer, Social Justice Solutions