Social Worker Conceptualization Description

Posted: November 1st, 2022

Describe how a social worker would conceptualize a presenting problem related to structural issues or barriers that contribute to a client's marginalization using the two theories you selected.

Ecological theory, according to Bronfenbrenner, speaks to how groups/communities are impacted/influenced by "systems" (family, friends, community, etc.) that are interactive and evolving throughout a person's lifetime (Turner, et al., 20017, p. 66).  In communities rife with SUD, these "systems" can, to varying degrees, affect/influence the behavior of its residents from a very young age.  Barriers, such as underfunded resources, discrimination, and underserved communities due to political bias are some of the external variables that contribute to the continued marginalization of people with SUD.  Ecological theory "shines a light" on the external circumstances that may have contributed to exacerbating SUD within the community and further societal marginalization according to a 2019 report by the Department of Health and Human Services.  The ecological approach helps social workers, community leaders, etc. “fight” for the necessary changes needed in meeting the needs of this population.         

Explain how this conceptualization differs from an individual-related versus a structural/cultural-related theoretical lens.

When used in the field of a substance use disorder, empowerment theory would consider the individual issues that contribute to the marginalization of a client.  Empowerment theory focuses on helping the client realize they have the power to change, reinforcing the concept of regaining control of their lives.  Despite the barriers, such as the stigmatization that many people with SUD experience, empowerment theory focuses on helping the client overcome such obstacles.  Language such as "you are not your disease" could be used to help alleviate the feelings of hopelessness and shame, which, paradoxically, are the feelings that "feed" the disease of addiction (DHHS, 2019).  According to Sen, society deprives "certain" populations of having any sense of power and control, and people with SUD are no exception.  (Turner & Lehring, 2007, p. 64).  This, in turn, creates a myriad of barriers (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), marginalizing the client all the more.  The role and goals of the social worker would be to connect the client with any/all SUD resources necessary to start the process of the “road to recovery,” setting timely goals, and “walking” with the client throughout the process.    

Compare how the two theoretical lenses differ in terms of how the social worker would approach the client and the problem and how the social worker would intervene.

Although both theories can be applied to micro, mezzo, and macro practice, their approach, in my opinion, are from two different viewpoints.  Empowerment theory works with the client from "the inside out," whereas ecological theory works from "the outside in.”  With empowerment theory, the client with SUD is helping them become more aware that they can have "access" to new freedom, security, and protection, according to Sen (Turner, et al., p. 64).  Empowerment theory, with regards to SUD and recovery, is an "inside job." It is the role of the social worker to help meet the needs of the client to "break the chains" of active addiction, however, it must be made clear by the social worker that to the client that their willingness to recover must come from within themselves.  

Ecological theory, for the social worker, assesses the multiple "systems" active in the client's life/environment.  For example, people with SUD may have grown up in a family/community system where SUD was common/familiar.  The social worker is informed by outside influences that may have contributed to putting their client at a higher risk of developing SUD.  The social worker's role would be to connect the client with all available resources that work with this population, one-on-one/family counseling, rehabilitation centers, etc.