Foundations of Interpersonal Practice in Social Work: Promoting Competence in Generalist Practice


Brett A. Seabury, Barbara H. Seabury & Charles D. Garvin

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    CSWE Objectives

    All accredited social work schools and programs must cover mandated content in a variety of curricular areas. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has developed objectives for the foundation area of the curriculum. In preparation for CSWE accreditation in 2008, the University of Michigan School of Social Work (UMSSW) developed 15 primary objectives and 44 sub-objectives that reflected CSWE's criteria. The framework presented below represents the key words of the 15 primary foundation objectives and indicates the specific chapters and pages in these chapters devoted to these objectives:

    Key Words from the 15 Primary Foundation Objectives
    • Apply knowledge of critical and creative thinking
      • Ch 2. Basic Concepts and Assumptions, p. 5
      • Ch 3. Values, Ideology, and Ethics of Professional Social Work, p. 23
      • Ch 4. Interpersona1 Practice Beyond Diversity and Toward Social Justice, p. 53
      • Ch 5. Violence and Trauma, p. 15
      • Ch 8. Contracting, p. 7
      • Ch 10. Assessing Individuals, p. 60
      • Ch 11. Individual Change, p. 8
      • Ch 12. Assessing Families, p. 20
      • Ch 14. Assessing Groups, p. 15
      • Ch 16. Assessing Organizations and Communities, p. 5
    • Describe the value base, ethical standards, and principles of the social work profession
      • Ch 3. Values, Ideology, and Ethics of Professional Social Work, p. 23
      • Ch 7. Becoming a Client, p. 4
      • Ch 8. Contracting, p. 5
      • Ch 9. Monitoring and Evaluating Change, p. 5
      • Ch 15. Change in Groups, p. 7
      • Ch 17. Change in Organizations and Communities, p. 4
    • Practice without discrimination
      • Ch 3. Values, Ideology, and Ethics of Professional Social Work, p. 5
      • Ch 4. Interpersona1 Practice Beyond Diversity and Toward Social Justice, p. 53
      • Ch 7. Becoming a Client, p. 7
      • Ch 10. Assessing Individuals, p. 6
      • Ch 14. Assessing Groups, p. 3
      • Ch 15. Change in Groups, p. 5
      • Ch 16. Assessing Organizations and Communities, p. 3
      • Ch 17. Termination, p. 2
    • Identify the major forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination
      • Ch 3. Values, Ideology, and Ethics of Professional Social Work, p. 23
      • Ch 4. Interpersona1 Practice Beyond Diversity and Toward Social Justice, p. 53
      • Ch 5. Violence and Trauma, p. 30
      • Ch 6. Engagement and Relationship, p. 3
      • Ch 7. Becoming a Client, p. 22
      • Ch 8. Contracting, p. 4
      • Ch 10. Assessing Individuals, p. 5
      • Ch 12. Assessing Families, p. 3
      • Ch 16. Assessing Organizations and Communities, p. 8
    • Identify the major milestones in the history of social welfare
      • Ch 1. Interpersonal Practice in Social Work: Nature and Scope, p. 2.
    • Use a bio-psycho-social, strengths-based, multi-system perspective
      • Ch 2. Basic Concepts and Assumptions, p. 15
      • Ch 5. Violence and Trauma, p. 30
      • Ch 7. Becoming a Client, p. 12
      • Ch 10. Assessing Individuals, p. 21
      • Ch 12. Assessing Families, p. 26
      • Ch 14. Assessing Groups, p. 4
      • Ch 18. Termination, p. 5
    • Use theoretical frameworks supported by empirical evidence
      • Ch 2. Basic Concepts and Assumptions, p. 3
      • Ch 5. Violence and Trauma, p. 30
      • Ch 6. Engagement and Relationship, p. 22
      • Ch 7. Becoming a Client, p. 40
      • Ch 8. Contracting, p. 9
      • Ch 9. Monitoring and Evaluating Change, p. 39
      • Ch 11. Change in Individuals, p. 17
      • Ch 13. Change in Families, p. 32
      • Ch 14. Assessing Groups, p. 5
      • Ch 15. Change in Groups, p. 17
      • Ch 16. Assessing Organizations and Communities, p. 11
    • Analyze, formulate, and advocate for changes in social policies
      • Ch 11. Changes in Individuals, p. 3
      • Ch 16. Assessing Organizations and Communities, p. 43
      • Ch 17. Change in Organizations and Communities, p. 44
    • Apply research findings to practice and integrate evaluation measures into practice
      • Ch 9. Monitoring and Evaluating Change, p. 39
      • Ch 11. Individual Change, p. 12
      • Ch 13. Family Change, p. 10
      • Ch 15. Group Change, p. 8
      • Ch 17. Change in Organizations and Communities 3
      • Ch 18. Termination, p. 10
    • Effectively communicate with and establish culturally appropriate collaborative relationships
      • Ch 1. Interpersonal Practice in Social Work: Nature and Scope, p. 10
      • Ch 4. Interpersona1 Practice Beyond Diversity and Toward Social Justice, p. 53
      • Ch 6. Engagement and relationship, p. 50
      • Ch 8. Contracting, p. 9
    • Use supervision and consultation appropriate to social work practice
      • Ch 3. Values, Ideology, and Ethics of Professional Social Work, p. 5
    • Assess the structure and processes of organizations and service delivery systems
      • Ch 7. Becoming a Client, p. 40
      • Ch 16. Assessing Organizations and Communities, p. 30
    • Assess the structure and process of neighborhoods and communities
      • Ch 16. Assessing Organizations and Communities, p. 12
    • Evaluate the structure and processes of social policies on service delivery
      • Ch 7. Becoming a Client, p. 2
    • Recognize when information is needed to inform professional decision making and how to access that information
      • Ch 3. Values, Ideology, and Ethics of Professional Social Work, p. 5
      • Ch 5. Violence and Trauma, p. 15
      • Ch 16. Assessing Organizations and Communities, p. 3


    The aim of this book is to teach the fundamental values, knowledge, and actions that constitute direct practice of social work. This book offers basic generalist practice methods that form the foundation and common elements in social work with individuals, families, and groups. The goal of the book is to teach social work students how to enhance clients' social functioning by helping them become more proficient in examining, understanding, and resolving clients' social problems.

    Our approach stresses common elements in work with individuals, families, and groups. Our approach includes the value and ethical considerations that underlie interpersonal practice with an emphasis on enhancing individual-environmental transactions. Interpersonal practice is viewed as a problem solving, goal-oriented, contractually based set of procedures, which are designed to help people examine and resolve problems in living and improve their social functioning. In addition, we believe that a common pool of knowledge from the behavioral and social sciences as well as social work practice experience should form the basis of all interpersonal helping methods. Interpersonal practice should employ procedures that have been or can be tested for effectiveness, and interpersonal practice interventions should be continually monitored and evaluated by practitioners.

    We hold several value positions that guide the way we present our view of interpersonal practice. We view social work throughout its history as having a strong commitment to working with people who are oppressed by social and environmental circumstances. Such people include but are not limited to African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and Latinas, gay men and lesbians, people suffering from disabilities, and people living in poverty. We also believe that women have been disadvantaged and harmed by the patriarchy that exists in our society. Consequently, we have sought throughout this book to emphasize social work methods that help these people to cope with oppressive circumstances and to work toward a socially just society.

    The idea that practice should be committed to the pursuit of social justice means to us that this is a practice in which the worker recognizes that we live in a society in which many parts of the population are oppressed by their social status, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability. This evolution of a critical consciousness is expected to lead practitioners and consumers to enhance their own and others' empowerment and to eradicate oppressive social circumstances. Although content about diversity issues is interwoven throughout the book, we have brought forward from the second edition the special chapter on economically and socially oppressed groups, which was written by known experts in the field.

    We divided the book into three sections. The first section focuses on the foundation of the profession of social work (Chapters 15): ethics, values, assumptions, knowledge base, and contemporary societal problems. The second presents the basic generic knowledge and skills that interpersonal practitioners need in direct practice with individuals, families, and groups (Chapters 69)—that is, building relationships, engaging applicants in the helping process, contracting and planning service goals, and monitoring and evaluation measures that can be implemented in practice. The third section focuses on basic knowledge and skills in the assessment of individuals, families, and groups in their surrounding communities and organizations (Chapters 10, 12, 14, and 16). These assessment chapters are followed with intervention chapters for promoting individual, family, group, organizational, and community change (Chapters 11, 13, 15, and 17). The final chapter looks at the issues and tasks of termination with individuals, families, and groups (Chapter 18).

    The third edition of the text has been thoroughly revised, and each chapter has undergone revision to make the content more “user-friendly” for students. We have used our partnership as a university social work professor and a social work practitioner to make the text both theoretical and practical by including many application exercises, practice case examples, and interactive simulations of practice. We have also included many links to Internet resources (in the Bibliography) that will enhance the learning opportunities for contemporary, Internet savvy students.

    Two new chapters have been added that expand the earlier editions' discussions of social work practice issues: a chapter on values (Chapter 3) and a chapter on violence and trauma (Chapter 5). We have added practice case examples to the chapters in the text to engage students and help them apply concepts and skills to their field experience. The conceptual and theoretical discussions have been saturated with practice case examples, questions for critical thinking, and experiential exercises. The chapters on family and group change are organized around an interactive case of practice over several sessions. This structure encourages students to imagine that they are the interpersonal practitioner and to comment on the actions that are taking place in the case narrative.

    Since social work practice often involves working with involuntary clients, we present difficult case situations in which an applicant is mandated or forced to see the practitioner. The authors believe that many of the barriers that exist with “unmotivated” clients can be successfully addressed, and clients can be empowered to make significant changes in their lives.


    We want to thank Charles Garvin for his senior authorship of the first two editions of this text and his presence in this third edition in the organization of the text and many of the conceptual discussions of practice interventions that have carried over from the earlier two editions. Charles has graciously bowed out of any authorship of this edition, and encouraged me (Brett A. Seabury, or BAS) to take over the authorship of this third edition at SAGE. He also encouraged me to find a successful practitioner, which I did (Barbara H. Seabury, or BHS), who could collaborate with me on this third edition. Because Charles has left his footprint on this edition, we have included his name in the title page of this text. However, any errors, omissions, and/or problems with this third edition are the responsibility of our authorship and revisions.

    We also want to thank Kassie Graves, the acquisitions editor at SAGE, and her assistant Veronica Novak for their support, encouragement, and responsiveness while making revisions to this text. We also want to acknowledge the careful and comprehensive editing that Megan Markanich performed as a skilled copy editor. We also want to thank the feedback from outside reviewers who expressed their opinions about changes that should be incorporated into this edition:

    • Thomas E. Broffman, Eastern Connecticut State University
    • Marcia B. Cohen, University of New England
    • Lorri L. Glass, Governors State University
    • Elaine M. Maccio, Louisiana State University

    We hope they will be able to see their suggestions in this third edition when it is published.

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    About the Authors

    Brett A. Seabury (BAS) became interested in social work during his undergraduate education at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He participated in a companion program for chronically mentally ill patients at a nearby state psychiatric hospital. Brett also was a member of Connecticut's First Service Corp, which placed college students in a summer program at Norwich State Hospital and as staff at Connecticut's camping program for psychiatric patients. These progressive programs influenced his decision to pursue a master's degree in social work at Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston. After graduating from Simmons, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps as a social work officer in lieu of his impending draft. Most of his tour of duty for 3 years was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in the Mental Hygiene Consultation Division where he worked with military dependents and also provided psychiatric emergency screening to the ER in the small base hospital. After completing his tour, he attended the doctoral program in social work at Columbia University in New York City. Brett's academic career has involved 4 years at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and 34 years at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. His academic career has included teaching many direct service courses involving individuals, families, and groups; courses in advocacy, metaphors, alternative, and indigenous healing; and contemporary treatment techniques. His publications have focused on pedagogical innovations such as the use of computer conferencing, computer tutorials, and interactive video simulations. Many of these innovations are reflected in the revisions to the third edition of this book. While at Michigan, Brett and his wife, Barbara, have engaged in small scale, natural farming and now have the opportunity to expand their farming operations and to reduce their environmental footprint by raising grass fed beef and sheep for the local community.

    Barbara H. Seabury (BHS) began her social work career with an interest in children and their families, which was reflected in her field placements at Simmons College School of Social Work. Upon graduation, her first job in social work was in a child psychiatry clinic and later as a school social worker in Columbia, South Carolina. Later in Maryland, she worked part-time as a social worker in a public health clinic. When she moved to Michigan, she became interested in treating kids who had been physically and sexually abused. Barbara has been in private practice for the past 25 years. As an outgrowth of her earlier work with abused children, she became interested in multiplicity, dissociation, and other consequences of trauma in adults. Her primary interest has been the treatment of adults who have experienced severe trauma. She received additional training in the treatment of dissociative disorders and is a member of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. In addition, Barbara also received training in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). She lives on a farm in Michigan with her husband, Brett. They currently raise grass fed beef, sheep, pigs, and dwarf dairy goats.

    Charles D. Garvin, PhD, received his social work master's degree and doctorate from the School of Social Service Administration of the University of Chicago. Before he studied for his doctoral degree, he worked for a dozen years as a social worker at a residential treatment center for children (Chapin Hall), the U.S. Army (into which he was drafted in 1952), a settlement house (Henry Booth House), and the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago. He was a faculty member of the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan from 1965 until 2002 when he became a professor emeritus. During this period, he taught courses in direct practice, group work, community organization, and administration. He also taught research courses and in the 1990s was director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Social Science. He was one of the founders of the International Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups and its second president. He is the author or coauthor of Contemporary Group Work, Social Work in Contemporary Society, and Generalist Practice: A Task Centered Approach. He was coeditor of Handbook of Social Work With Groups. He has written many articles and book chapters on various aspects of social work and social work practice. He is currently a principal investigator of an action research project on training high school students as leaders in intergroup conflict resolution. He is now completing books on group work, group work research, and social justice in social work. He is a consulting editor with SAGE with reference to several social work book series.

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