Theories Used In Social Work Practice & Practice Models

Last Updated: 04 Jul 2021
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Within this Essay I am going to discuss a range of psychological and sociological theories that could help a social worker to understand issues in case study Four. This discussion is going to focus on Winston who is 75 years old and experiencing hard time due to the death of his wife Doreen after living happily for 45 years together. As a social worker it is important of knowledge of the psychosocial theories. This is helps to understand why Winston stuck in this situation and he cannot see the light in the tunnel. He lost his beloved wife, and also many other things which were important for him and for his life. The loss of income, loss of hobby, loss of his social life, friends, social interaction, health and homeland are the big issues in Winston’s life. Winston feels lonely, socially excluded with health issues as arthritis, depression and anxiety. His sons are not visiting him so often. All these problems are seems endless and there is no way to get out of this situation, and that is why important to look through the different aspects of the psychosocial theories.

Psychological theories

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Firstly need to understand how psychological and sociological theories define in Winston’s case. There are few psychological theories would be appropriate to understand why Winston feels the way he is now and it is important to outline them: Bowlby’s Attachment theory, Erikson’s Eight stages of the development, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, Bereavement, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Winston is 75 years old and it is important to understand what changes occurred in his age stage. There are many positive and negative sides in this stage of the life. Obviously by getting older people have gain more wisdom, but circumstances could change the angle of mind, which could lead to the negatives outcomes. Erik Erikson’s (1902-1994) stage Eight of the human development describes how during the old age people are focused on reflecting back on their life. There are some people who are successful and feel proud and have a sense of integrity. Winston is an opposite for this type, he feel that his life has no sparkle and experiencing many regrets. He is left with feelings of hopelessness, depression and despair. This theory helps to define diverse categories of people in older age and what responses will arise in different circumstances. Due to Winston’s bereavement on his wife he developed so many other problems. He is not able to force himself to move on and leave passed event behind him. Psychology studies describe two categories of people who experienced death of close person which is “determinism” and “free will”. Those with “Free will” is have a positive approach to live and can make positive own decisions evaluating passed events. Winston is belongs to the opposite group where individuals whose passed events controlling over. Winston is too weak to approach the line and get positive outcomes. This is explains why he choose to isolate himself from the society due to his loss. He would not let off his hopeless dream of happy retired life with his beloved wife Doreen. He feels guilty, angry maybe with himself or could be with Doreen who left him on his own.

Winston and Doreen’s was a happy couple with strong and close relationship. He was so much attached to his wife. Now when he is left on his own he feels very lonely. Psychologist J. Bowlby (1907–1990) explains “Whenever loss is permanent, as it is after bereavement, anger and aggressive behaviour are necessarily without function. The reason that they occur so often none the less, even after a death, is that during the early phases of grieving a bereaved person usually does not believe that the loss can really be permanent; he therefore continues to act as though it were still possible not only to find and recover the lost person but to reproach him for his actions.” (J.Bowlby, 1973). The death of someone close is one of the hardest life’s experiences. The first reaction for grief is shock follows with denial, when person may refuse to accept the loss. A wish to escape from grieving may follow with acceptance in time or willingness to accept the loss and move on. In Winston’s case he kept his grief for himself. It is important to understand that grief of a spouse often last longer than other people may realise. Most of the time spouse may experience grief not only in the first year after but for a long time beyond that. Winston’s attachment to his wife was positive for the time when she was around, but affected negative after the loss. He sometimes feels cheated that they could not have enjoyed retirement together. This type of feelings was analysed by J.Bowlby (1973) as ‘dysfunctional anger’. Anger could be presented not only in the aggressive way. The anger could be silent when individual keeping in ‘silence’ and not letting it out. In this condition individuals will get drained not only mentally, but physically exhausted. Winston’s arthritis is getting worse and he is not able to do all activities which he could do and therefore he doesn’t have any other hobbies that could keep his mind occupied. Winston may experience of being useless and his self esteem and self actualisation is really low.

Abraham Harold Maslow’s (1908-1970) hierarchy of needs explains why Winston’s self-esteem and self-actualisation are missing or shown in very unfortunate condition. Winston has poor health condition. Important to identify how good is his diet, and if he is suffering of sleepless nights. He has a shelter, but missing level of love and belongingness needs affected on his self-esteem and self-actualization needs. Winston lost his identity and self-respect and could not anticipate respect from others. He doesn’t have need of ‘purpose for living’ and cannot realise all of his potentials. His three sons live in other parts of the country and Winston has a very little joy to see them. Winston has a little contact with other people as well and lost his contacts with his close friends. That is another reason why he feels lonely and depressed. “Depression affects our thinking, our emotions, our behaviour and our physical health. You might feel down, or empty. Some people have difficulty remembering, or can’t make decisions like they once did.” ( visited on 20.05.2011). Psychology recognises two types of the depression which is ‘reactive’ and ‘physical’ depression. ‘Physical’ depression is based on deficiencies in neuron communications in the brain. Winston depression is ‘reactive’ which is explains as a response to stressful and traumatic event loss of his wife followed by other losses as loss of income, loss of close relationship with his sons, loss of hobby, loss of other people, friends, loss of the social interaction, loss of homeland, loss of identity.

Winston suffers with his anxiety which caused by the grief and hopeless wish to visit his homeland. He wants to visit Jamaica but money issues together with fear that things in Jamaica could be a lot different than it used to be stopping him to make that step. For social worker it is important to understand feelings towards loss of identity and homeland. On while Winston was younger, happy with his family life, busy with his work he did not realise the meaning of the “homeland”. By the older age when he is lonely he wants to go back to the place where once he was happy in his childhood. At first, this is seems like easy and achievable to do and this step could bring sparkle in Winston’s life, but anxiety of being not accepted in his homeland, and money issues stopping him to make this decision.“The diagnosis of anxiety is difficult and complex because of the variety of its causes and the highly personalized and individualized nature of its symptom formation.” ( visited on 20.05.2011)

Sociological theories

Sociological theories are important as psychological theories in Winston’s case to recognise for social worker what issues would be prioritised to resolve his problems. First of all would be appropriate to look through Family structure, Structural theory, Social action theory of Webber (Interaction of people have with others)

Theory of Family structure is one of the important elements to recognize issues in Winston’s case. Through history there were different changes in family structure, but mostly is important to understand what the meaning of the family is and how members of the family could value their roles. “Definitions of the family are based on the notion of kinship, blood, ties, marriage or adoption that joins individuals into family group.” (A.Llewellyn etal, 2008, p183). As called “normal married family” Winston and Doreen lived together 45 years and raised three sons. “Marriage between adult men and women is the arrangement through which adult personalities are supported and kept healthy” (Giddens, 2006, p 175) At first there look as if no any issues was in this family, but the fact that Winston sees his sons not very often is odd. Analysing Winston’s life and his lost connection with his relatives and family there is a clear line why his sons do not have a responsibility for their father. Family is institution where adults pass their life experience, values and meaning of the family unit to their children. Children who were not taught to appreciate and have respectful relationship with older generations do not have a close family bond including parents. Winston’s sons did not see their father’s responsibility towards grandparents and their connection. That could be why they do not see themselves being irresponsible towards their father’s condition and for them it is absolutely normal to visit Winston (their father) not very often.

Theory of Family structure leads to another theory in sociology known as a Social structure theory. This theory studies a relationship between different groups in the society what relates these groups, setting roles, what functions, purpose and meanings will connects them all groups together. Karl Marks, Max Webber, Emile Durkheim and many other social scientists had a great influence in this study. Winston isolated himself not intentionally from the society. He needs to realise that he is a human being and he is taking his part in the society he lives. Being socially excluded does not take his pain away. Karl Marx believed that human being “are able to choose what to act and or not to act. Furthermore, they are capable of choosing what kind of action to undertake” (G. Ritzer, 2000, p50). Winston cannot exist in isolation he needs to find strength to be a part of the society and make the most out of his life. This could be easier to say than to do especially taking into account his age, his financial situation, his emotional needs, and his cultural differences.

Max Webber (1864-1920) articulated ‘conception of social action’ (G. Ritzer, 2000, p121). He emphasized the importance of ‘social action’ as ability of “individuals to influence the nature of their social relationships in sociologically significant ways” ( viewed on 22 May 2011) According M. Webber Winston have to act as an individual who can make his own moves should be an active creator of his social behaviour. He should have his own motives and beliefs and be a part of the society. With own interpretation of the meaning of his situation Winston should be able to control his own actions. The reality of the Winston’s situation shows the opposite. He needs a guide from the professional to achieve his potentials and move on in his life.

There are certain risk factors in Winston case. According to functionalist Durkheim (1858-1917) who studied suicide factors one of the reasons of the suicide cases is losing values and isolation from the social environment including family. An individual who becomes “detached from the society,” could make their own devices towards loosen bonds which previously were attached to the society or specific relationship. These losses may lead into negative emotions and may develop ‘egoistic’ or ‘individualistic’ suicide.


Therefore this discussion has shown how different psychosocial theories and approaches could be used in social work practice. It is important to recognize and understand different psychosocial studies and interpret correctly for appropriate use in the different social work case studies. In Winston’s case was important to understand issues with his loss and bereavement, depression, anxiety, social deprivation, social interaction, social exclusion, family structure. It was important to understand his age concern, human needs, and what complications caused via attachment theory. It is crucial to identify every case as a unique case within specific circumstances. Therefore social work practice has to work in person centred approach taking into account service users wishes and what is important to them. This is means to listen to each person and help them to live the lives they choose with no discriminatory factors including age, gender, race, disability etc. Help to understand their situation via psychosocial theories and guide to set their own goals.


  1. Ritzer G., (2000), Sociological Theory. 5th edition. Mc Graw-Hill Higher Education.USA
  2. Llewellyn A., Agu L.,Mercer D. (2008). Sociology for Social Workers, Cambridge, Polity Press
  3. Bowlby J., (1973). Separation, Anxiety and Anger. Volume two of Attachment and Loss. London. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis
  4. Giddens, A. (2006) Sociology. 5th edition. Cambridge, Polity Press
  5. Beckett C., Taylor H. (2010). Human Growth and Development. Second Edition. London. Sage Publication Ltd
  6. Goldberg S., Muir R., Kerr J., (2000). Attachment Theory. Social Developmental, and Clinical Perspectives. NJ. The Analytic Press, Inc

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Theories Used In Social Work Practice & Practice Models. (2019, Apr 13). Retrieved from

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