Theory for Practice
In social work there has always been a tension between practice and theory. At times students and practitioners have protested that it was necessary to forget theory once in practice placements, that it reduced spontaneity in caring for people. Theory implied distance and objectivity which contrasted with feelings and the living reality of social work encounters. As such it was seen to be a stumbling-block to developing individual style, and the most that could be hoped for was that students would admit that they might subconsciously be using theory which they had absorbed during training. In recent years students have become less antagonistic to theoretical ideas, naming and trying to integrate what can at first glance appear to be a smorgasbord of apparently contradictory explanations of behaviour. There is an irony that this acceptance occurs at a time when changes introduced are based on assumptions that social work is a set of functions, and that practitioners need to be trained merely to perform these functions. Education in theories which might underpin decision-making, or which might inform what action to take, is seen as unnecessary. This approach, known as the competence-based approach, was heralded by the introduction of requirements for social work education and training in the Diploma in Social Work Studies, but is reflected in policy implementation which is now controlling much social work activity.
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