Social work, psychology and values-based practice

Social work, psychology and values-based practice

It is sometimes assumed that when we talk of a 'psychologically informed' environment, we have in mind services and environments that draw their inspiration from ( and so are 'informed' by ) academic or clinical psychology. Its is an understandable mistake, but a mistake all the same.

One of the surprise discoveries from the PIElink editor's field trip to the US in Spring 2016 was that the profession most involved in managing homelessness support services and outreach in the US seemed to be not psychologists, but social workers.

This is not the case in the UK, where 'social care' client groups have been defined more narrowly, in terms of disability, illness or childcare. Being homeless is NOT seen as grounds in itself for social work assistance, in the absence of some other factor that confers eligibility, in the UK.  In this, it seems that the UK that is out of step with the rest of the world; and this has had both advantages and disadvantages.

On the one hand, it has meant that much of the creativity in homelessness work evidence in the UK in recent years has been more led by an action learning culture free of centralised professional presuppositions about 'best practice', and so more 'needs-led'. Much of the development of homelessness and comparable project in the UK were under the banner of social inclusion - and even the 'social model of disability - but not of social work.

On the other hand, it has meant that there has been little equivalent to the work of individuals such as Jay Levy, who, in his writings on the 'pre-treatment' approach, has analysed and articulated the work of homelessness services there in terms derived from a blend of social theory and research - and with the immediacy of active engagement. Instead, the theorising on PIEs in the UK has often been led by psychologists; and whist there are now many psychologists very actively involved and 'embedded' in homelessness services in the UK, this has sometimes led to the belief that psychologists are the experts here, the ones who 'do the informing' in a PIE.

Accordingly, the revised version of the core elements of a PIE has proposed that instead of PIEs 1's 'a psychological model', we take 'psychological awareness' as the essential feature; and that we reserve the term 'psychological model' for those concepts derived specifically from research psychology (laboratory, clinical or community) , and 'psychological approach' for ways of working with their origins in psychology, but which can be adopted by any service.

This also puts in a rather different light the values-based practice - person-centred, pragmatic, holistic and systemic - that characterises Housing First in the US. It is an issue that is explored, especially in the context of the new social psychiatry, in Red Herrings and Real Achievements, the concluding section of Robin Johnson's trilogy of monthly essays following that US field trip.


Further background reading/listening/viewing

PIElink pages

What psychology? :  HERE

Pretreatment (page)  HERE

Psychological awareness (page) HERE

The ethics and politics of PIEs (page)  HERE

Services and systems : Pending

Library items

Does it take a psychologist to make a PIE? HERE

Three models of the causes of homelessness  : HERE

Red Herrings and Real Achievements HERE