What is social work intervention?

Social workers provide interventions to individuals, families and groups in order to assist them with their needs and issues. Interventions are intended to aid clients in alleviating problems impeding their well-being. The interventions used by social workers are those that are identified as potentially helpful on the basis of the social worker's ongoing assessment of the client.


Social workers work in many different types of settings, including hospitals, mental health facilities, child welfare centres, guidance clinics, schools, substance abuse programs and prisons/correctional facilities. These program and service areas vary on the type of problems that clients bring to a particular setting, representing specialisations in social work. Thus, the function of social work interventions is determined by the types of issues and needs which clients bring to the social work setting as well as the social worker's specialisation area.


Social work interventions are selected on the basis of the issues, needs and strengths of the client. These are determined as a result of a psychosocial assessment conducted by the social worker. In initial meetings with the client, the social worker will obtain extensive information from the client in order to develop a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the client. The assessment will be used to develop a treatment plan with the client, in which interventions, action steps and desired outcomes are specified. A time-frame will be established for each outcome, with a means to measure the client's progress towards achieving his/her goals on a regular basis identified.


The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has identified a number of speciality practice areas where social workers work that influence the types of interventions selected for use with clients. Areas of practice include ageing, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, children, adolescents and young adults, child welfare, health, mental health, private practice, school social work, social and economic justice and peace. Interventions can include: psychotherapy (individual, couples, families, group), counselling to aid with loss and adjustment, case management, crisis intervention, brief therapy, relaxation training, anger management and stress management.


The degree to which social work interventions are effective is determined by the degree to which client goals and outcomes are achieved. When goals and outcomes are achieved as demonstrated by the results of the work done between the social worker and client, the interventions used are then recognised as effective.


When providing services and interventions, social workers have been criticised in a number of areas and are not always viewed in a positive light. Social workers are often thought to be untrained, uncaring and disruptive in the lives of clients. In a recent report in 2007 by Peter Beresford on client feedback, it was found that clients frequently complain that little social support is provided by social workers and prevention services are rarely available. Clients continue to feel stigmatised and looked down upon after working with a social worker. There remains a need for continued efforts to improve and strengthen the role of social workers as they intervene in the lives of those with whom they work.

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About the Author

F. Anne Humphrey has been a social worker for over 30 years. She has a B.S.W., an M.S.W. and has completed work towards her Ph.D. at Florida State University. She has worked as a social work educator and has presented at professional meetings.

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