Plionis Course Syllabus MSW

Social Work Theory and Practice
Competency in Direct and Indirect Practice

Course Purpose

The purpose of this course is to equip students with the declarative knowledge they need for social work practice as first year interns in field placement. The course presents two skill sets; one needed for direct (clinical) practice and another for policy, advocacy, management, and community practice. It teaches the differential use of self in clinical practice (the art of healing) and in policy, advocacy, management and community practice (the art of leadership). Two different communication skill sets are taught; one for clinical practice and another for communication in macro practice. The course teaches students how to use the decision tree to navigate different client system sizes, methods, and theories to arrive at treatment decisions reflective of best practices in both direct and indirect practice. The course establishes the foundation for second year concentrations or specializations.

Standards of cultural competency applicable to all areas of practice are taught as are the legal and regulatory statutes and procedures that govern practice. The course encourages critical thinking by requiring students to prioritize interventions and access and evaluate the empirical evidence for or against a particular intervention. It requires students to access and appraise multiple theories and multiple methods consistent with generalist practice and open assessment. Client data is presented as complex and often in need of more than one method and more than one theory in the same case, therefore the course teaches students how to build a case-specific model of practice using more than one method and more than one theory in the same case. Constructs relevant to value analysis, ethical decision-making and moral scrutiny are taught.

Anchored to the decision tree, the course is designed to increase competency in generalist practice by providing students with a guide to theory and evidence-based decision-making at each step of the hierarchy. The course illustrates, through cases and process recordings, the process of moving from declarative knowledge to procedural knowing to the enactment of an intervention appropriate for clinical practice or for policy, advocacy, management or community practice.

Course Objectives
(See chapter objectives for refinement of course objectives)

>Knowledge (Declarative Knowledge)

By the end of this course should possess declarative knowledge about:
  1. The standards of cultural competency
  2. The legal and regulatory context of social work practice
  3. A wide variety of theories borrowed from psychology, sociology, political science, economics and moral philosophy and their applicability to social work practice
  4. How declarative knowledge leads to the enactment of a therapeutic or change process through procedural and tacit knowing.
  5. The desired end-goals of policy, advocacy, management, and community practice which are ideologically and value-based. e.g. normative and prescriptive
  6. How the practitioner"s use of self in clinical practice differs from the use of self needed for policy, advocacy, management and community practice
  7. Relationship as a key ingredient in therapeutic outcome
  8. Evidence-based social work practice
  9. Five models of clinical practice: the fiduciary model, crisis intervention, case advocacy, case management, and welfare services for children and families
  10. Therapy applied to individuals, families, and groups as a function of direct practice
  11. Four models of macro practice: the policy and program context of social welfare, crisis management, class advocacy, and the use of groups in 4 areas of macro practice: policy, advocacy, management and community practice
  12. Communication skills needed for clinical practice and those needed for policy, advocacy, management, and community practice.
  13. The limitations of a specific method, theory, or empirical finding
  14. The contra-indications of a theory, method, or empirically supported treatment
  15. Missteps and ruptures in the worker-client relationship
  16. The harmful effects of improperly applied practice models

Skills (Application of Knowledge- Procedural and Tacit Knowing)

By the end of this course you should demonstrate beginning competency in social work theory and practice by being able to:
  1. Apply two skill sets: one for clinical practice and another for policy, advocacy, management and community practice
  2. Engage in the differential use of self; the art of healing in clinical practice, and the art of leadership in policy, advocacy, management and community practice
  3. Apply the standards of cultural competency to all areas of practice
  4. Conform to the legal statutes governing clinical and macro practice
  5. Establish an appropriate working relationship with all client systems
  6. Access and appraise (levels of evidence) the empirical evidence relevant to the case situation at hand, regardless of the system"s size
  7. Access and appraise (critical thinking) the multiple theories and methods relevant to each step of the decision hierarchy.
  8. Prioritize interventions for the case/situation at hand, using the steps of the decision tree
  9. Build a case-specific model of practice (treatment plan) using more than one theory or more than one method as warranted by the facts of the case or situation at hand
  10. Move from declarative knowledge to the enactment of an intervention through procedural and tacit knowing while under field supervision.
  11. Engage in ethical analysis and decision-making when ethical dilemmas occur
  12. Examine theories, methods, and evidence for underlying value-assumption and for their cultural relevance or bias
  13. Use communication skills and formats appropriate to each area of social work practice: clinical, policy, advocacy, management and community practice
  14. Become competent in the use of crisis intervention, crisis management, case management, case & class advocacy, therapy with individuals, families, and groups, and services delivery to recipients of child and family welfare.
  15. Become competent in managing the dynamics of social groups used or found in policy, advocacy, management and community practice.
  16. Exercise effective and ethical leadership (leader and led)


  1. Respect different ways of knowing: faith, science, philosophical and moral reasoning
    1. Respect both direct and indirect practice as methods having value equal to one another and differential value in their proper or improper application.
    2. Appreciate the different skill sets required for direct and indirect practice
    3. Appreciate generalist practice as a framework that allows for open assessment of systems of different sizes, multiple theories, multiple methods, and appraisal of empirical evidence
    4. Respect the differences that may exist between personal, professional and client values
    5. Honor the legal and fiduciary context within which social work practice occurs
    6. Respect the regulatory and procedural context of agency-based policies and programs
    7. Adhere to the NASW code of Ethics and ethical decision-making processes; respect the importance of moral scrutiny.
    8. Commit to ethical and effective leadership (leader and led)
    9. Respect cultural differences and similarities
    10. Appreciate the linkage between research, theory and best practices.
    11. Respect the worth and dignity of all human beings and all client populations served by social work.
    12. Respect all venues of social work practice
    13. Respect the principles of democracy (deliberation, nondiscrimination, non-repression) as essential to rational discourse, critical thinking, and moral scrutiny.

    III. Course Requirements

    A. Required Reading
    Plionis, Elizabeth Moore (2007) Competency in generalist practice: A theory and evidence-based guide to decision-making. New York: Oxford.

    B. Recommended Reading
    Instructor preference-See Companion Website for suggestions

    C. Assignments
    See Companion Website for suggestions

    Lecture Schedule (Semester Format- 15 Sessions- One per week)

    Class One: Introduction to the Course and Text

    Preface and Chapter 1: Text
    The Decision Tree. Seven Case Scenarios
    Class Two: The Legal Context of Social Work Practice

    Chapter 2: Text
    The Fiduciary Model of Social Work Practice
    Client Rights and Worker Duties

    Class Three: The Context of Social Welfare as Social Work Practice

    Chapter 3: Text
    Mission statements, policies and programs
    Agency administrative structure

    Class Four: Communication Skills- Clinical Practice

    Chapter 4: Text
    Interviewing skills for clinical practice
    Process Recordings
    Class Five: Communication Skills- Macro Practice

    Chapter 5: Text
    Fiduciary, Task, Public Relations, Persuasive

    Class Six: Use of Self in Clinical Practice

    Chapter 6: Text
    Relationship and the art of healing
    Does therapy work? Does the therapist matter?

    Class Seven Use of Self in Macro Practice

    Chapter 7: Text
    The art of leadership
    Leader and led

    Class Eight Crisis Intervention and Crisis Management

    Chapter 8: Text
    Clinical Crisis Intervention

    Chapter 9: Text
    Crisis Management

    Class Nine Case Management with Highly Vulnerable Client Populations

    Chapter 10: Text
    Care vs. Cure paradigm
    Systems driven and consumer driven case management

    Class Ten: Case and Class Advocacy

    Chapter 11: Text
    Broker and adversarial case advocacy
    Public policy advocacy and human rights advocacy

    Class Eleven: Work with Individuals

    Chapters 12 and 13: Text
    Belief Bonding and Therapeutic Alliance
    A case-specific model of practice; Mr. R

    Class Twelve: Family Therapy

    Chapter 14: Text
    Four clinical models

    Class Thirteen Family and Child Welfare Services

    Chapter 15: Text
    Alleviating poverty
    Child and adult protective services

    Class Fourteen Group Therapy

    Chapter 16: Text
    Curative factors and the anti-group
    Therapeutic groups vs. analytic groups

    Class Fifteen: The Use of Groups in Macro Practice

    Chapter 17- Text
    Inclusion/exclusion- inter-group dynamics; tolerance
    Deliberation and decision-making: work and governance
    Reform and social change; conflict
    Community and individual rights

    Note: The syllabus does not set aside a class session for a mid-term exam nor account for holidays. Chapter eighteen is not included on the syllabus.

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