The Problem-Solving Approach in Social Case Work

The problem-solving approach in social cases work: empowering change and well-being.

In the realm of social work, professionals are confronted with a wide array of complex and challenging issues faced by individuals, families, and communities. These challenges can range from economic hardships to mental health struggles, substance abuse, domestic violence, and more. To effectively address these issues and bring about positive change, social workers employ a problem-solving approach that focuses on understanding, empathy, collaboration, and empowerment. This approach, known as the problem-solving approach in social case work, aims to holistically assess and assist individuals in overcoming their challenges, leading to improved well-being and enhanced quality of life.

Understanding the Problem-Solving Approach

The problem-solving approach is a systematic and client-centered method used by social workers to assist individuals in resolving personal, emotional, social, and practical difficulties. It involves a structured process that includes assessment, goal-setting, intervention, and evaluation. This approach is rooted in the principles of person-centered care, where the individual's unique circumstances, strengths, and needs are at the forefront of the intervention.

Key Principles of the Problem-Solving Approach

Empathy and Active Listening : Social workers engage in active listening and empathetic communication to fully understand the client's concerns and emotions. By creating a safe and non-judgmental environment, social workers establish trust and rapport with their clients.

Holistic Assessment : The problem-solving approach emphasizes a comprehensive assessment of the individual's situation, considering their physical, emotional, social, and environmental factors. This helps social workers understand the root causes of the challenges and tailor interventions accordingly.

Collaborative Goal-Setting : Social workers and clients collaboratively set realistic and achievable goals. These goals are specific to the client's aspirations and needs, which increases the client's sense of ownership and commitment to the intervention process.

Strengths-Based Perspective : Instead of solely focusing on deficits and problems, social workers identify and build upon the client's strengths and resources. This approach empowers individuals and encourages them to tap into their own capabilities.

Evidence-Informed Interventions : Social workers employ evidence-based interventions that have been proven effective in addressing similar challenges. These interventions are adapted to suit the individual's unique circumstances and preferences.

Continuous Evaluation and Feedback : Throughout the intervention process, social workers regularly assess the progress made towards the established goals. Feedback from clients is valued and incorporated into refining the intervention strategy.

Steps in the Problem-Solving Approach

Engagement and Rapport Building : Social workers establish a trusting relationship with the client, ensuring they feel comfortable sharing their concerns.

Assessment : A thorough assessment is conducted to understand the client's challenges, strengths, resources, and the broader context in which they exist.

Goal-Setting : Both the social worker and the client collaboratively identify and prioritize the goals they aim to achieve.

Intervention Planning : Social workers design an intervention plan that outlines strategies, activities, and resources required to achieve the established goals.

Implementation : The intervention plan is put into action, with the social worker providing guidance, support, and skill-building as needed.

Monitoring and Evaluation : Progress is consistently evaluated, and any necessary adjustments are made to the intervention plan.

Termination and Follow-Up : Once the goals are met, the intervention is gradually concluded. Social workers may provide follow-up support to ensure the client's continued success.

Benefits and Impact

The problem-solving approach in social casework yields numerous benefits for both the social workers and the clients they serve.

Benefits for Clients

  • Empowerment : Clients are actively involved in the intervention process, enhancing their sense of control and empowerment over their lives.
  • Holistic Solutions : By addressing multiple dimensions of challenges, clients receive comprehensive solutions that consider their emotional, social, and practical needs.
  • Improved Well-Being : Successful problem-solving leads to reduced distress, improved mental health, and overall well-being for clients.
  • Skill Development : Clients acquire valuable life skills that enable them to overcome future challenges more effectively.

Benefits for Social Workers

  • Fulfilling Relationships : Social workers develop meaningful and trusting relationships with clients, contributing to personal and professional fulfillment.
  • Enhanced Skills : Social workers refine their communication, assessment, and intervention skills through hands-on experience.
  • Innovation and Flexibility : The problem-solving approach encourages creative and adaptable interventions tailored to individual cases.
  • Measurable Impact : The approach facilitates clear goal-setting and evaluation, allowing social workers to track and demonstrate their impact.

Challenges and Ethical Considerations

While the problem-solving approach is highly effective, it is not without its challenges and ethical considerations.

  • Cultural Sensitivity : Social workers must navigate diverse cultural backgrounds and perspectives to ensure interventions are culturally appropriate and respectful.
  • Boundary Maintenance : Maintaining professional boundaries while being empathetic can be challenging. Social workers need to balance their role as helpers with maintaining appropriate boundaries.
  • Resource Limitations : Limited resources may hinder the implementation of optimal interventions, requiring social workers to find creative solutions.
  • Ethical Dilemmas : Some situations may present ethical dilemmas, such as when a client's goals conflict with their safety or the well-being of others.

The problem-solving approach in social casework is a powerful tool that social workers employ to create positive change in the lives of individuals, families, and communities. By fostering collaboration, empathy, and empowerment, this approach enables clients to overcome challenges, build resilience, and enhance their overall quality of life. Social workers who embrace this approach demonstrate the transformative impact of person-centered care and contribute to the betterment of society as a whole.

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Online MSW Programs / Social Work / 6 Important Theories in Social Work

Six important theories in social work

Social work theories attempt to describe, explain and predict social events based on scientific evidence, studies and research. Social work perspectives draw from psychology, philosophy, economics, education and other fields to attempt to explain what drives and motivates people at various stages of life.

Some social work students studying for a  bachelor’s degree in social work  or  master of social work  may wonder, “Why is theory important in social work?” Studying theory ensures that aspiring professionals are both competent and confident when the time comes to apply social work theories to practice.

Why is theory important in social work?

Social work theories help social workers analyze cases, understand clients, create interventions, predict intervention results, and evaluate outcomes. While the theories are constantly evolving as new evidence is produced, referencing social work theories that have been used over time enables social workers to explore causes of behavior and identify potential solutions.

A crucial objective of learning social work theories is to train and encourage social workers to set aside personal assumptions and beliefs when engaging in social work practice. Social workers should use evidence-based theories to investigate issues and drive their decision making.

Applying social work theory to practice

Social work theory provides a starting point for social workers to address client problems through a research-based lens.

The theories help social workers better understand complex human behaviors and social environments, which influence their clients lives and the challenges they face. A good grasp of theory that is backed by research-based scientific evidence helps guide social workers by providing them with a sense of direction and purpose.

One challenge when applying social work theories to practice is choosing the right theory for the situation. It can be difficult to assign a single theory to complex client issues. Often, it’s more practical to draw upon the knowledge of multiple theories and use that understanding to design multifaceted interventions.

List of important social work theories

The following list of social work theories includes some of the most widely referenced theories used in social work.

1. Social learning theory

Social learning theory , which is also known as social cognitive theory , was developed by psychologist Albert Bandura. This theory posits that learning occurs by observing others and modeling their behavior.

In order for social learning to occur, a person must want to emulate the person they’re watching. The individual pays close attention to the action and retains the action in memory. Then, the individual must experience a situation where the behavior can be repeated and must be motivated to repeat the behavior.

Social workers can use this theory to better understand how role models affect the behaviors and emotions of their clients. Social learning theory can also help social workers form intervention strategies that use positive modeling and reinforcement to encourage their clients to engage in new positive behaviors.

2. Systems theory

Systems theory proposes that people are products of complex systems, rather than individuals who act in isolation. According to this theory, behavior is influenced by a variety of factors that work together as a system. These factors include family, friends, social settings, religious structure, economic class, and home environment.

Systems theory can be used to treat issues like eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, school trauma, and risky behavior. In ecological systems theory, individuals are observed in multiple environments so that behavior is fully understood. Family systems theory examines the family as a social system influencing behavior and thoughts.

Social workers using systems theory will work to understand how their clients are influenced by the systems they’re a part of. Social workers then identify where systemic breakdowns are affecting behavior.

3. Psychosocial development theory

Psychosocial development theory  was introduced by German psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, who believed personality develops in a series of stages. Erikson created an  eight-stage theory of psychosocial development . According to the theory, the eight stages of development that people pass through in life are:

  • Trust versus mistrust
  • Autonomy versus shame and doubt
  • Initiative versus guilt
  • Industry versus inferiority
  • Identity versus confusion
  • Intimacy versus isolation
  • Generativity versus stagnation
  • Integrity versus despair

Psychosocial development theory explains that humans pass through these stages as they age. By identifying which stage of development their clients are experiencing, social workers can better understand the challenges their clients face.

4. Psychodynamic theory

Psychodynamic theory  was introduced by the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. This theory is founded on the idea that humans are biologically driven to seek gratification. The theory states that people do this based on processes that have developed outside of conscious awareness, with origins in childhood experiences. This drive influences everyday behavior, leading to actions like aggression, sex and self-preservation.

In social work, psychodynamic theory can help to explain the internal processes individuals use to guide their behavior , some of which may be unconsciously motivated. Social workers may also examine how early childhood experiences have played a role in influencing their clients’ current behavior.

5. Social exchange theory

Social exchange theory suggests that relationships are based on cost-benefit analysis. Each person seeks to maximize their benefits and is expected to reciprocate for the benefits they’ve received. When risks outweigh potential rewards, relationships may be abandoned. When one person in a relationship has greater personal resources than another, that person is predicted to have greater power as well.

Social workers can use social exchange theory to understand their clients’ relationships,  including why they continue to maintain certain relationships or abandon them.

Social exchange theory can also be applied to the techniques social workers use to connect with their clients. This theory can influence how social workers position the social worker-client relationship as one that benefits their clients.

6. Rational choice theory

Rational choice theory helps explain why people make the choices they do, by weighing risks, costs and benefits. This theory suggests that all choices are rational because people calculate the costs and benefits before making a decision. Even when a choice seems irrational, there is reasoning behind it.

This theory can help social workers understand the decision-making processes and motivations of their clients.

Six practice models in social work

Social work practice models enable social workers to implement theories in their day-to-day work. Just like a social worker may use various theories to guide their interventions, social workers may also use various practice models depending on the problems their clients encounter.

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on how thoughts and feelings influence behaviors, which can sometimes lead to psychological problems. Social workers using cognitive behavioral therapy methods help clients identify self-destructive thoughts that influence negative emotions and behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used for individuals who are experiencing mental health issues, mental illness or depression resulting from crisis or trauma. Social workers using cognitive behavioral therapy help their clients eliminate negative thoughts to prevent destructive behaviors and adverse outcomes.

2. Crisis intervention model

The crisis intervention model is used for clients who are experiencing crisis and trauma, such as victims of domestic violence, and for clients who require intervention to prevent physical harm or suicide. Albert R. Roberts, PhD, and Allen J. Ottens, PhD, developed a  seven-stage crisis intervention model :

  • Take a psychosocial and lethality assessment.
  • Rapidly establish rapport.
  • Identify the major crisis cause(s).
  • Enable the client to express their feelings and emotions.
  • Generate and explore safe alternatives for coping.
  • Create an action plan.
  • Follow up after the intervention.

This social work model can be used for clients who are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm or who have undergone an acute crisis, like rape or violence.

3. Narrative therapy

Narrative therapy is the process of helping the individual recognize that they have the power to change their life story, also known as the narrative. Narrative therapy helps individuals realize that they are separate from their problems and can fix them when they view the narrative from an outside perspective.

Using narrative therapy, a social worker can help an individual create a new narrative with different positive actions. The social worker enables the individual to understand how the broader context is contributing to their narrative, so that they can be aware of pitfalls to avoid and can utilize various strategies to tackle their problems.

4. Problem-solving model

The problem-solving model was created by Helen Harris Perlman , a social worker and author of “Social Casework: A Problem-solving Process.” Using the problem-solving model, a social worker helps an individual identify a problem, create an action plan to solve it, and implement the solution. Together, the social worker and individual discuss the effectiveness of the problem-solving strategy and adjust it as necessary. The problem-solving model enables the social worker and individual to focus on one concrete problem at a time.

5. Solution-focused therapy

Solution-focused therapy involves the social worker and client identifying a problem and creating a solution based on the individual’s strengths. It’s a short-term practice model that focuses on helping clients cope with challenges using specific behaviors. Instead of focusing on changing who a client is, solution-focused therapy attempts to change a client’s actions in certain situations to achieve more favorable outcomes.

Collaborating to create solutions allows the client to play an active role in implementing necessary actions and achieving positive change.

6. Task-centered practice

Using task-centered practice, a social worker breaks down a problem into manageable tasks. The individual has deadlines to complete the tasks and agrees to meet them. Task-centered practice is a goal-setting form of social work that helps individuals make consistent steps toward improving their lives.

Instead of focusing on the past, this type of practice encourages clients to live in the present and think about how completing certain tasks will positively impact their future.

Resources to explore social work theories

Social work theories have been practiced over decades and continually evolve when new research is completed. Learn more about social work theories by exploring the resources below.

  • Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work : This journal features research on evidence-based practice in social work and evaluates social work theory, techniques, and strategies.
  • Journal of Social Work Practice : This journal focuses on psychodynamic and systemic social work perspectives. It features research on theory and practice and includes articles offering critical analysis of systemic and psychodynamic theory.
  • Journal of Social Work : This journal includes social work research and short “think pieces” on social work theoretical understanding, policy, and practice.
  • Social Work:  This journal is the official journal of the National Association of Social Workers and features articles on social work and social welfare, including new techniques and research.
  • Clinical Social Work Journal:  This journal features peer-reviewed articles on clinical social work practice with individuals, groups, families, and couples. It also has articles on theory developments, practice and evidence-based clinical research.

Introductory books

  • “A Brief Introduction to Social Work Theory” : This textbook by David Howe explains how social work practice is influenced by various social work theories and shows how social work theories have evolved over time.
  • “An Introduction to Applying Social Work Theories and Methods”:    This book by Barbra Teater explains the most prominent social work theories and how those approaches can be used in practice.
  • “Social Work Theory and Practice”:  This book by Lesley Deacon and Stephen J. Macdonald explains how social work theory informs practice for various individuals and contexts.
  • “Modern Social Work Theory”:  This book by Malcolm Payne introduces the major social work practice theories and explains how to apply theory to practice.
  • “An Introduction to Using Theory in Social Work Practice”:  This book by James A. Forte covers 14 social work theories and explains how to use them from engagement through evaluation.

Note: the links in this section on Social Work Theory all go to Google Books and are solely provided for your information. edX does not receive any form of compensation for these links.

Other online resources

  • NASW Clinical Social Work : This section of the National Association of Social Workers website covers clinical social work practice. It features content, publications, and related resources for clinical social workers, like the “ NASW Standards for Clinical Social Work in Social Work Practice (PDF, 135 KB) .”
  • Encyclopedia of Social Work:  The Encyclopedia of Social Work by the National Association of Social Workers Press and Oxford University Press features tools for applying social work theory to practice. These resources include scholarly articles and bibliographies.
  • Social Work Today :  This publication features articles on current social work trends in categories like behavioral health, addictions, children and family, aging and professional practice.

Science-based social work theory helps social workers and their clients succeed

Social work theory helps professionals in the field identify and implement effective interventions for clients. An understanding of the most prominent social work theories gives social workers the tools they need to provide evidence-based treatment and help their clients overcome their problems. As social work theories continue to evolve and emerge, social workers can apply their multifaceted knowledge to unique situations and clients.

Are you considering a career in social work? Read more about the field of social work and the steps to becoming a social worker , which can vary by location. 

Last updated: November 2023

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Social Work Theories

January 18, 2022 

problem solving method in social work

Why Are Social Work Theories and Practice Important?

Humans are complex beings living complicated lives. Social work uses theories based on research and scientific evidence that help guide social workers to understand how a person may be affected by the past, how the past affects the present, and how new actions can affect the future. Social work theories and practice help keep social workers from drawing conclusions based on their own opinions or experiences, which could be limited or incorrect.

Here’s an example: A teenager is becoming a discipline problem both at home and at school: Her grades are falling; she’s hanging out with new, questionable friends; and she spends all her time at home in her room, resisting family interaction.

An untrained person might jump to the assumption that the teen has a substance use problem and is becoming a troublemaker. 

But a trained professional applying social work theories and models has more information available to them. Through informed practice, a social worker may learn or recognize that the teen is being bullied at school, she is too embarrassed to tell her teachers or parents, and the situation is causing anxiety and depression. That social worker may be able to help the teen see the situation more objectively, connect her with people who need to know about the issue and give her guidance on how to address and change the situation. 

What Are the Theories of Social Work?

There are a wide variety of practices that may appear on a social work theories list. Different sources emphasize anywhere from four to a dozen theories and practice models as being most important. But there is general agreement on several of the main theories of social work:

  • Systems theory is based on our roles in our families, places of work, and social circles and how those systems interact and affect one another.
  • Conflict theory is based on how inequities in power can affect how individuals react to conflict.
  • Psychodynamic theory is based on the premise that our behavior is in large part a result of the desires and drives of our subconscious.
  • Social learning theory is based on the fact that we also learn by observing others and modeling their behavior.
  • Family systems theory is based on learning how our role in the family affects our understanding of events and life. 
  • Rational choice theory is based on our innate habit of weighing benefits and consequences before we make a decision.
  • Psychosocial development theory is based on a premise of eight stages of development in life.

Systems Theory

Systems theory social work is based on understanding a client’s unique set of circumstances. These can include but are not limited to family, friends, school, work, religion, socioeconomic standing, and ethnicity. All of these settings — or systems — have different expectations, beliefs, and levels of influence. At its core, systems theory tries to understand an individual or circumstance as a whole of its parts, not one individual factor.  

Social workers may use systems theory to dissect how different interactions with a client’s systems influence behavior overall. Analyzing these interactions between people and their social environments can lay a foundation for planning and executing social work interventions. 

Conflict Theory

Conflict theory social work explores relationships, specifically conflict in relationships. This could be disagreements between romantic partners, siblings, or family members; conflicts at work; legal issues; or conflict between how someone sees themselves and how they are perceived externally. Conflict theory uses this knowledge to help analyze the situation and the actions most beneficial to the client. 

Conflict theory suggests that conflict is part of social life and that change, not stability, is normal. Under this theory, it is understood that conflict generates change through societal responses to oppression. Conflict theory also suggests that conflict is inevitable when resources are unevenly distributed. 

Psychodynamic Theory

Based on the work of Sigmund Freud and his followers, this theory rests in the foundational belief that our behavior is a result of our inner drives and desires, especially in the unconscious mind, and that our childhood experiences shape our personalities and affect us into adulthood. 

Freud’s theories hold that we have three main parts of our personality: the id, which is impulsive and instinctual (and present from birth); the ego, which balances the id’s desires with the realities of the outer world; and the superego, which holds a person’s conscience, values, and moral standards. 

Using psychodynamic theory in social work, a professional aims to understand the present situation partly in the context of what has come before it and can envision likely outcomes in the future from evidence in research studies.

Social Learning Theory

Also called social cognitive theory, this concept is based on our ability to learn by observing others and then repeating those behaviors in our own lives once the opportunity presents itself. The theory holds true for both positive and negative behaviors: A student may be inspired by a teacher who spends extra time cultivating their talents and decide to make teaching a career; conversely, a student may start down the path of substance abuse after witnessing peers using drugs and believing that they will be accepted if they participate. Social learning theory social work involves understanding from whom or where a behavior originated and using this knowledge in intervention or positive reinforcement techniques.

Family Systems Theory

As in general systems theory, a family systems practice is based on the premise that a family is a complicated system on its own in which family members connect in various hierarchies and influence one another’s behavior, as well as react as a unit to the world around them. In general, parents and older siblings carry more power than children or younger siblings, which affects the dynamics of everything from behavior (both inside and outside the home), interactions with others, and expectations of each other in the world. If an individual has experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse within a family, it adds extra layers of complexity. Someone practicing family social work theory would work to understand the complexities in the family and treat the client from within that context.

Rational Choice Theory

When we have decisions to make, we tend to weigh the pros and cons before we choose which way to go. This can play a role in either positive or negative acts and is present in a decision as simple as whether to paint a house in a bold color (“We like this color, but it will probably affect resale value”) or as complex as whether a person who needs money decides to rob a convenience store (“This is wrong, but I need the money and that store will never miss it”). 

In rational choice theory social work, a professional who knows the details of a client’s deliberations can better understand why they chose a certain behavior, regardless of whether the outcome was good or bad.

Psychosocial Development Theory

Created by renowned psychologist Erik Erikson, this theory is based on the concept that our personalities progress through eight stages of development as we go through life:

  • Infants (birth to 18 months) begin by learning trust versus mistrust (Can I trust this person?)
  • Early childhood (up to age 2 or 3) , when children progress to understanding autonomy versus shame and doubt (I can do it by myself!) 
  • Preschool (between ages 3 and 5) , when children advance to initiative vs. guilt (Am I good or bad?)
  • Older kids (between about 6 and 11) learn to understand industry versus inferiority (How do I earn approval?)
  • Adolescents (between ages 12 and 18) progress to identity versus role confusion (Who am I?)
  • Young adults (between 18 to 40) learn to understand intimacy versus isolation (Am I loved or am I alone?)
  • Middle-aged adults (between 40 and 65) advance to generativity versus stagnation (What is my purpose? How do I contribute?)
  • Mature adults (age 65 and older) can experience integrity versus despair (What did my life mean?) .  

Professionals who understand the stages of psychosocial theory in social work can better understand where their client is and help with their challenges.

Social Work Practice Models

So, how does a social worker know how to implement the theories above? They do this by understanding social work practice models, which illustrate different types of therapy based on what’s appropriate for each client. Think of them as guides or blueprints. Practice models help a social worker take a theory (or multiple theories) and apply methods specific to a client’s needs. The most common social work practice models are:

  • Narrative therapy , in which a social worker helps a client narrate his or her own story from a distance, rewriting the script in ways that will benefit their psychological state.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy , in which a social worker or therapist helps a client actively challenge and change thoughts that may be distorted.
  • Crisis intervention therapy, used for clients who have experienced trauma and/or are still in crisis.
  • Problem-solving therapy , in which the focus tends to be on action plans for one problem at a time.
  • Solution-focused therapy , in which the focus is on improving the client’s current and future worlds, rather than on the past.
  • Task-centered therapy , an even more streamlined approach — perhaps eight to 12 sessions — focused on achieving measurable goals with specific action plans. 

Narrative Therapy

Narrative theory social work focuses on the therapist and the client having conversations in which problems or negative events are “stories” for which you can rewrite the script in more positive ways without blame. Instead of simply focusing on an event that caused anxiety, for instance, the client would be encouraged to see other times in which he or she acted with confidence and rewrite the script. 

The basis behind narrative therapy is the idea of experiences. The people and experiences in your life have shaped you in many ways, resulting in narratives that intersect in your psyche and tell you who you are. Narrative therapy seeks to help you see problems with some distance, empowering you to understand and change your thoughts about them.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Distorted, negative, or inaccurate thought patterns affect our behavior in challenging situations. Professionals using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) seek to identify and change those thought patterns, thereby helping you to better manage those situations. CBT may be used in clients who are experiencing depression, anxiety, grief, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance-use disorders, bipolar disorders, and other mental disorders that affect behavior. 

Cognitive behavioral theory social work allows clients to explore why they feel the way they do and where painful or negative emotions are based. Because CBT can deal with stressful emotions, it can be a difficult process and is typically short-term therapy, lasting between five and 20 sessions. 

Crisis Theory Model 

A psychological crisis occurs when a person’s normal abilities to manage stress and life events is insufficient to manage a difficult situation. The crisis may be a singular event — the death of a loved one, an accident, a trauma — or from layers of challenges that seem insurmountable, such as the loss of a job with its resulting loss of health insurance and inability to pay bills. Even a person who normally has good coping skills can be overwhelmed by an unexpected situation and may experience depression, anxiety, anger, feelings of defeat, or thoughts of suicide. 

Using crisis theory social work — also called a crisis-intervention model — social workers attempt to turn the crisis situation into an opportunity for healing by responding quickly; analyzing and stabilizing the situation; and helping the client reframe the circumstances, reestablish equilibrium, and regain access to their coping skills.

Problem-Solving Theory

Problem-solving theory involves working constructively and effectively through the process a person takes while attempting to solve a problem. They first encounter the problem, then decide to try to solve it, then work to understand it, then figure out the possibilities for solutions, and then choose the actions that will mitigate or solve the problem. 

In problem-solving theory social work — also called problem-solving therapy or emotion-centered problem-solving therapy — the social worker focuses on identifying tools and skills that will help the client work through the situation. This entails making sure that the client’s thinking about the problem is not distorted, that they are attacking the problem in a constructive way, and that they follow through on actions that will begin to solve the problem instead of getting stuck and overwhelmed. 

Solution-Focused Model 

Rather than focus on a client’s past experiences, solution-focused therapy (also called solution-focused brief therapy, or SFBT) focuses on the problem at hand with an emphasis on immediate thoughts and actions to help manage the problem in the present and improve the situation for the future. 

In solution-focused theory social work, a social worker asks a series of questions to lead the client down a path of dissecting the situation and setting goals that lead to solutions. Some of the techniques include asking the so-called “miracle question” in order to get a client thinking creatively and in a positive direction (“If a miracle were to occur and this problem was solved while you were asleep tonight, what would your life look like tomorrow?”) and guiding the discussion to help a client see that they have managed difficult situations in the past and can use the same skills to manage this one.

Task-Centered Theory

The task-centered theory of social work focuses on just that: finding and performing specific actions, or tasks, that will help reduce or resolve a client’s problems. It is short-term therapy, so success rests in large part on the social worker’s questioning techniques and the client’s honesty. A person with a substance-use problem, for example, may hesitate to admit it, instead focusing on smaller problems that may be a result of the large one. Once the problems have been correctly identified, the therapist and client work together to set goals and create a detailed action plan of measurable tasks to work toward those goals and resolve the problems.  

Earn Your Master of Social Work Degree Online With Baylor University

Baylor University offered its first course in social work in 1936 and has offered a fully online master’s of social work degree (MSW) program since 2019, the same year the university celebrated the 50 th anniversary of its School of Social Work. 

The school offers two specializations: clinical practice, which focuses on direct social work practice in health-care settings, and community practice, which focuses on working with nonprofit or public agencies and groups. 

In addition, Baylor offers two online program tracks: Its standard MSW, a 60-credit program for students with a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university, can be completed in 16 to 36 months, depending on whether students choose the part-time, full-time, or accelerated option. Baylor’s advanced standing MSW is a 32-credit program for students who have earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a college or university accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) within the last five years. It can be completed in as few as 12 months. The school has been accredited by CSWE since 1977.

Request more information about the MSW Online Program at Baylor University . 

Citation for this content: Baylor University’s  online master’s in social work  program.

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  1. Problem Solving Model

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  3. Community Organisation as a Problem Solving Method

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  5. Teaching Social Problem-Solving with a Free Activity

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