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Division of Social Work

Practice Models: The Architecture of Social Work

A critical contribution of the social work profession to our understanding of complex social problems is its development of practice models to help guide how to effectively understand and address these issues in order to help improve the lives of others.

Dr. Donna Leigh Bliss

Donna Leigh BlissSocial work practice is quite complex given the diversity of social problems and practice settings that social workers work in. For example, there is a big difference in working one-on-one with someone with a substance abuse problem and working in a community setting assisting with health promotion campaigns.  While theories help guide social workers in thinking about how to best intervene in a particular situation, they can be limiting in terms of just how much practical guidance they can give.  Practice models, which are built on theoretical foundations, provide an integrated framework for conceptualizing and operationalizing ways to address social problems.  They literally help guide how we think about a problem and how we intervene, while also including an evaluative component to assess how effective our efforts actually are.

Dr. Donna Leigh Bliss, who has many years of social work practice experience before entering academia, discussed how her interest in developing social work practice models came about.  "I had just started as an assistant professor at the University of Georgia School of Social Work just before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  One of the outcomes of the storm and flooding was that many people were evacuated to Georgia and ended up migrating to Athens because of the services the city offered.  When a local social service agency asked us if we could help, I took the lead in developing a service-learning project with students in my Introduction to Macro Social Work Practice class so that they could work with some of these families over the semester break.  We were literally making it up as we went along given the urgency of the situation.  Months later I decided to write an article on what we did, but rather than write something that just described our work, I wrote about the conceptual and operational frameworks we used to guide our work in the hope this might be of help to others down the road.  What we then called The Hurricane Katrina Project became my entry into the world of developing social work practice models as I realized it wasn't enough to publish descriptive articles on the work we do - that we also needed to present the "model" we used to guide us in our thinking, planning, intervening, and evaluating. If we provide this conceptual and operational framework first, the descriptive part becomes much more meaningful because it shows how the practice model was applied in a real life setting and perhaps can inspire others in how they can utilize what we did." 



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Division of Social Work

College of Health Sciences

University of Wyoming

Dept. 3632

1000 E. University Ave.

Laramie, WY 82071-2000

Phone: (307) 766-6112


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