Theory & Practice: The Risks and Benefits

Recently, I began reading the fifth Edition of Social Work Treatment: Interlocking Theoretical Approaches edited by Francis J. Turner. Chapter  One, “Theory and Social Work Treatment”, written by Turner briefly discusses the goals of the fifth edition, what constitutes theory, theory in social work history, theory in social work practice, other roles of theory, the potential harm theory can influence, the classification of theory, and  how the edition is organized.

In particular, I like the criteria Turner uses to determine if a body of work is a theory or not, and what the benefits and potential harms are. Turner discusses the benefits of theory as: having the ability to explain and more accurately predict phenomena; help to recognize, understand, and explain new situations; compare and contrast different experiences; help explain decisions and actions to others; and help to identity gaps in our knowledge and research. Turner warns against the following potential harms involving theory: a client becoming an interesting subject for study; losing sight of the importance of a client’s self determination; seeing experiences through the colored lens of one theoretical perspective; a theoretical perspective becomes dogmatic; and the potential political and social attributes associated with particular theoretical perspectives.

As for determining what body of works constitute as new or continuing theory, Turner uses the ten following points:

“1. The ideas are new and are not restatements of earlier knowledge using only new terminology.

2. The ideas generated by the system give new insights into a important aspect of the human condition or a significant group of clients or into some aspect of relevant and environmental or societal systems.

3. There is a beginning body of tested knowledge that supports the new ideas.

4. The system has been found to be demonstrably useful by a significant component of the profession.

5. The interventions emerging from the theory are ethical.

6. The interventions and concepts can be learned, understood, and utilized by a significant component of the profession.

7. The system addresses a broad spectrum of practice and methodologies.

8. The system has some beginning acceptance by the profession.

9. The system is generally within the value system of the profession.

10. The system has not been formally rejected by the profession.”

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