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Social Theories for Social Work 1


Social Theories for Social Work 1 Understanding and Using Psycho-dynamic Theories in Social Work Adapted from the work of Phil Lee Hull School of Social Work, UOL – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Social Theories for Social Work 1

Social Theories for Social Work 1
  • Understanding and Using Psycho-dynamic Theories
    in Social Work
  • Adapted from the work of Phil
  • Hull School of Social Work, UOL

What this session will cover
  • What is psycho-dynamic theory?
  • Freuds Contribution as philosopher / doctor
  • The Human Mind libido stages of childhood
    development Oedipus complex id, ego superego
    defence mechanisms
  • Does any of this make any sense - fit in with our
    own experiences?
  • What Use is all this to Social Work?
  • Later developments particularly attachment
  • Strengths and weaknesses as a theory, and as a
    guide to practice

What is psycho-dynamic theory?
  • The MIND is central - unlike in behaviourism
  • Both conscious and unconscious mind
  • - biological aspects
  • - cognitive
  • - affective dimensions / feelings
  • All of this is taking place within our minds
  • - singly and interactively
  • Taking account of the culture - social
  • Recognition of actual and potential conflicts
    within us between our selves the environment
  • OK, but what does it have to offer as a theory
    and a guide to social work practice?

Freuds Contribution philosopher and doctor
  • As a philosopher interested in
  • Mental functioning the mind
  • How civilisation was possible (after Darwins
  • How humans think distinctively
  • As a doctor interested in
  • Behaviours that caused distress and not seen as
    normal hysteria neuroses phobias
    irrational fears
  • In short, Mental illnesses / mental disorder

a) Civilisation How is it Possible?
  • Humans are directed by 2 conflicting principles
  • - Pleasure provides energy and
  • drives us to do what pleases us
  • - Reality attempts to subordinate
  • pleasure to immediate vital tasks
  • Reality Principle subordinates through the
    mechanism of sublimation
  • ..desires that cannot or should not be
    fulfilled can be sublimated the direction of
    their energy altered into activities that allow
    us to be more productive

Example Sexual Pleasure
  • Sex is pleasurable but can human beings pursue
    it without rules? Such as ages of consent?
    Monogamy v polygamy?
  • So, Sexual energy/desire is sublimated
  • Without these types of processes altering basic
    instinctual drives civilisation would not be
  • But original sexual desires do not disappear -
    some of them become packed away or repressed -
    into the unconscious

b) The Human Mind
  • The unconscious contains repressed desires - that
    the conscious mind cannot deal with
  • This unconscious mind is not easily accessible
    but can reveal itself in
  • - dreams symbolic fulfilments of wishes that
  • have been repressed
  • - slips of tongue revealing repressions
  • - jokes indication of repressed wishes
  • These all involve condensation complex meanings
    being rendered into more simple ones, and
  • displacement one image or symbol gets pushed
    onto something closely associated with it

Mental Distress
  • Freud rejected the conventional physiological
    explanations of abnormal behaviour
  • He recognised that the key to explaining much
    mental distress lay in the study of normal
    human behaviour
  • All behaviour could only be understood by seeking
    out its meaning for the person
  • This was not easy the unconscious etc and
    required a method of analysis

Libido The Force
  • For Freud as we have seen - humans are driven
    by an energy (drives) directing what we think and
  • Untrammelled the human is a seething cauldron of
    fear, emotion and irrationality
  • At root is the Libido sexual desire but not
    simply genital sexual desire
  • Freud later argued that aggression too was part
    of this libidinal force (the natural fight v
    flight instinct)

Stages of Childhood Development
  • For Freud the newly born child was anarchic,
    sadistic, aggressive, self-involved
    remorselessly pleasure seeking.
  • He identified specific developmental phases
  • Oral ingesting - allows selfs boundaries to be
  • Anal expelling toilet training boundaries
    between inside/ outside
  • Phallic pleasure principle - centred upon
    sexual identity
  • So, people can become stuck /or return to one
    stage eg Anal excessive tidiness Oral
    excessive eating, smoking, drinking Phallic
    attention seeking, flamboyant dress, loud displays

Id, Ego Superego
  • During childhood, psycho-social development
    Freud also identified 3 concepts within the human
    subjects mind
  • Id the Unconscious source of untrammelled
    instinctual drives/irrational impulses wanting
    immediate gratification
  • Ego the control centre conscious and
    unconscious attempts to meet the demands of the
    Id. So, love and work are socially acceptable
    ways to satisfy the Ids desire for sex and
  • Superego the internal judge the value base of
    parents, peers, family, society. It punishes or
    praises accordingly

The Developed Adult
  • So we all develop influenced expressly by the
    way we have experienced these various necessary
  • Of crucial importance is the nature of our early
    up-bringing particular our relationship with
    our parents and other siblings
  • Each of us is unique for Freud we can see the
    imprints of how we have negotiated the stages he
    describes through the defence mechanisms that we
    employ as an adult

Defence Mechanisms
  • These distort/falsify our experiences to make it
    easier to face - they operate on an
    unconscious level
  • Two very common defence mechanisms
  • 1. Fixation
  • If too much gratification is received at
    any psychosexual stage, the person may become
    stuck / fixated, and return to that stage when
  • 2. Repression
  • An ego defence mechanism, when the ego
    pushes discomforting thoughts into the
    unconscious, to protect a persons self image.

What Use is all this to Social Work?
  • Very influential in early periods as social work
    established its most secure theoretical base in
    Child Guidance clinics, in Mental Health
    settings, in Counsellingthe psychodynamic
  • There clearly is important insights here for
    social work. What are they?

Insights such as..
  • That how people form early attachments has
    enormous implications for their lives
  • Peoples early experiences can be crucial, have
    crucial - possibly damaging - effects
  • People can be very well protected so much so
    that it is very tough for them to see their own
    fallibilities they lack insight
  • How relationships can cause stress for people
    even when there is no such intent
  • That many people suffer psychological distress
    without being fully aware of it
  • That many of our social conventions protect power
    holders are impositions

Later Psycho-dynamic Developments
  • After 2nd World War British psycho -dynamic
    thinkers split into 3 groups
  • - Anna Freud
  • - Melanie Klein
  • - The Middle Group Bowlby, Rutter
  • Winnicott
  • This latter group developed Attachment Theory ,
    which has undoubtedly been and remains very
    important in child care social work.

Social Workers need to be able to
  • Evaluate the quality of care provision - good
    enough parenting via child/carer interactions
  • Assess attachment styles their impact
    understanding the signs of secure attachment
    the symptoms of insecure attachments -
  • Recognise that the immediate social caring
    environment promotes internal mental models in
    the psychodynamic dynamic sense
  • Plan to prevent chain of adversity reactions
    for children who have experienced prolonged
    damaging separations...leading to permanency

Potential Weaknesses of Psycho-Dynamic Theory
  • Very difficult to test empirically a form of
    historicism (Popper) potential criticisms can be
    easily dismissed by the cognoscenti
  • Possibly very elitist only a very few people
    can really understand it fully
  • It is very top down and reinforces professional
  • It is historically bound eg Freuds
    understanding of the development of female
    identity and sexuality, and his failure to
    recognise sexual abuse as anything other than
  • It reinforces sexist, homophobic, racial and
    cultural oppression
  • It seems irrelevant. As CaseCon coined the phrase
    how do you feel about the rats?social work
    is largely much concerned with structural
    problems like poverty, not feelings. Tends to
    possibly under-estimate the role of material
  • Very time consuming and easy to apply clumsily

Potential Strengths of Psycho-Dynamic Theory
  • Opens up areas of study that are clearly
    important to human behaviour
  • Has had a huge impact on the way that we think
    about human behaviour culture e.g. childhood
    sexualities the unconscious instincts drives
    the creativity of everyday life
  • Allows us to communicate about our feelings
    understand why dialogue with others can become
    distorted Habermas calls it an emancipatory
  • Tries to link instinctual, biological,
    psychological and sociological factors in a most
    intriguing and vital manner. Its an example of
    Modernity, an integrated universal model

Potential Strengths of Psycho-Dynamic Practice in
Social Work
  • Opens up internal spaces in ways that can both
    add potential to human experience, and in other
    senses make it more difficult.impossible to
  • Very important resource for SWs dealing with
    child safeguarding, statutory interventions,
    child welfare, complex family interactions
    difficult life transitions, bereavement, loss,
    confused older people, drug addictions,
  • So, of clear importance as a practice guide in
    child care matters, and some mental health
  • Useful where strong defence mechanisms have
    developed some parents of children with
    learning or physical disabilities
  • Key insights can be utilised in more focussed
    ways crisis intervention task centred work
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