27 Oct The human condition is influenced biologically, psychologically, and socially.? Which multidimensional influence do you believe most impacts human functioning?? How can understandin
The human condition is influenced biologically, psychologically, and socially. Which multidimensional influence do you believe most impacts human functioning? How can understanding these influences positively impact the social worker's decision-making?
In response to your peers, engage openly and respectfully comment on their perspective.
How do ideas about “normal” and “abnormal” human behavior influence the experience of the individual? Taking this a step further, how does the concept of “normal” vs. “abnormal” become a form of oppression for an individual or group.
In response to your peers, engage openly and respectfully comment on their perspective.
Human Service Providers strive to empower individuals and strengthen the environment in which they live. Which of the key social work activities do you believe is most important given the issues being faced in today’s society?
In response to your peers, engage openly and respectfully comment on their perspective.
Readings and Resources
Zastrow, C., Kirst-Ashman, K.K. & Hessenauer, S.L. (2019). Empowerment series: Understanding human behavior and the social environment (11th Ed.). Cengage Learning.
· Chapter 1: Introduction to Human Behavior and the Social Environment
Articles, Websites, and Videos:
How do we define “abnormal” behavior? This video provides a brief animation while looking at the three definitions of abnormality and the challenges of defining behavior in this manner.
Albert Bandura is a Psychologist most widely known for his work on aggression which found that children can learn behaviors from watching adults. The Social Learning theory is attributed to his work and this video guides the students through the components of this theory and its importance while assessing and understanding human behavior.
Chapter 1 Introduction to Human Behavior and the Social Environment
This chapter will help prepare students to
· LO 1 Explain the importance of foundation knowledge for social work with an emphasis on assessment
· LO 2 Review the organization of this book that emphasizes lifespan development
· LO 3 Describe important concepts for understanding human behavior (that are stressed throughout the book and include human diversity, cultural competency, oppression, populations-at-risk, empowerment, the strengths perspective, resiliency, human rights, and critical thinking about ethical issues)
· LO 4 Employ a conceptual framework for understanding human behavior and the social environment: ecosystems theory
· LO 5 Recognize people’s involvement with multiple systems in the social environment
· LO 6 Recognize social worker roles
· LO 7 Identify knowledge, skills, and values necessary for generalist social work practice
Why do people behave the way they do? Are behavior and personality caused mainly by a person’s genetic makeup and given nature? Or are they due to the environment and a person’s treatment in that environment?
Human behavior and its dynamics can be remarkably complex. A fascinating example concerns the case of a boy, sometimes referred to as “the wild boy of Aveyron,” who grew up alone in the Aveyron forest of southern France at the end of the eighteenth century (Papalia, Olds, & Feldman, 2007). On various occasions, French villagers sighted the boy, who was naked, filthy, and covered with scars, as he roamed through the wilderness, foraging for roots, nuts, and whatever other food he could find (Yousef, 2001).
In January 1800, the boy, eventually named Victor, was caught burrowing for vegetables in a tanner’s garden in the French village of Saint-Sernin. Although he was only about four and a half feet tall, he appeared to be about 12 or 13 years old (Lane, 1976). He had “delicate white skin, a round face, long eyelashes, a long, slightly pointed nose, an average-sized mouth, a rounded chin, generally agreeable features, and an engaging smile.” Externally he appeared much like any other boy; however, he could make “only weird, meaningless cries,” could not speak, vehemently refused to wear clothing, and rejected any prepared food (Saskatchewan Psychology Portal, n.d.; Shattuck, 1980). Victor also failed to respond to others, neither communicating with them nor paying attention to what they were doing. It became apparent that Victor had been abandoned at an early age and, without human company, had learned to fend for himself in his own way.
Victor was eventually sent to Paris, where he came to the attention of two important Parisian physicians, Philippe Pinel and Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard. A basic question they addressed was the reasons for Victor’s behavior. They focused on the nature–nurture controversy. In other words, was Victor’s behavior the result of nature (i.e., inborn traits), or was it a consequence of nurture (i.e., the influence of his background, experience, and environment)? Pinel, a psychiatrist, determined that Victor was not really wild, but rather mentally deficient and an “incurable idiot” (Human Intelligence, 2004). He believed that nature had caused Victor’s pattern of behavior. But Itard, who was chief physician at the National Institution for Deaf-Mutes in Paris, disagreed. Itard credited Victor for his self-sufficiency and survival, asserting that Victor’s deprivation of human interaction had denied him the opportunity to learn how to fit into society. Itard believed that Victor could learn to interact, communicate, and conform if he were taught to do so. He argued that Victor’s behavior resulted from the nurturance, or lack thereof, he received from his environment.
More specific questions can be raised. Why couldn’t Victor speak? He had a horizontal scar across his throat, apparently caused by a knife, that may have damaged his vocal cords (Yousef, 2001). However, he could utter some sounds, which suggested that his vocal cords were not damaged. Could Victor hear? He would often ignore human speech and even the sound of a gunshot (Human Intelligence, 2004), yet would react to the sound of a walnut being cracked behind him, an unseen dog barking outside, or a door creaking open in the dark (Yousef, 2001). Was Victor autistic (a condition characterized by intense inner-directedness that is discussed further in Chapter 3)? Some believe he presents the first documented case of autism (FeralChildren.com, 2005; Human Intelligence, 2004).
Far ahead of his time, Itard worked with Victor for five years, using behavior modification principles to teach and reinforce desired behavior ( Chapter 4 elaborates on behavior modification concepts and techniques). Victor learned to “read and speak a few words, demonstrated affection for his caretakers, and could carry out simple commands” (Human Intelligence, 2004). Consider what great accomplishments these were! However, Itard was greatly disappointed that Victor could not achieve much more and become “normal.” Victor never learned to communicate well; nor did he care much about interpersonal interactions. His focal point continued to be his own desires. Ultimately, he could not survive independently in the civilized world as he had in the wild. Victor spent the remainder of his life being cared for by Madame Guerin, who had been Itard’s housekeeper. He was in his early forties when he died in 1828.
1. Was it ethical for Dr. Itard and the others to remove Victor from the wild against his will?
Victor’s story raises many questions about how human behavior and personality develop. Why do we behave the way we do? How much of our behavior is a product of our genetic heritage? To what extent do we think, feel, and interact the way we do because we’ve been taught to do so by other people—our family, school, the media, our culture, and our government? Understanding Human Behavior will explore various dimensions of human behavior to enhance your understanding of why people have developed as they have and why they behave the way they do.
The goals of this book are to explore the dynamics of human behavior and prepare a foundation of knowledge upon which to build social work practice skills. What do we mean, exactly, by human behavior and the social environment, the title of this book? First, let’s break down and define the terminology. Human behavior involves people’s actions, conduct, and responses as they go through life. Individuals, of course, demonstrate human behavior. Groups of people ranging from couples to families to communities to nations also exhibit human behavior. People, then, behave within the context of their environment. An environment includes “the surroundings or conditions” in which people or other organisms live and function (Lindberg, 2007, p. 460). For our purposes, the social environment involves the systems of other people, including economic, political, legal, social, spiritual, and cultural, with whom any individual interacts as he or she operates within the encompassing environment.
Why is understanding human behavior and the social environment important for social workers and other helping professionals? Social workers help people solve problems and get access to resources. They must recognize what conditions people are faced with in their social environments and how these conditions affect people’s behavior and functioning. The social environment may vary on many levels. It may be urban or rural. It may be wealthy with many resources or impoverished with very few. It may be liberal or conservative. On an international level, it may be democratic, socialist, or communist. Social workers must understand the social environment in order to help people figure out what options are available to them and get the resources they need.
One of the primary steps in the helping process—and the focus of this book—is assessment, the identification and exploration of variables affecting people’s behavior, functioning, and well-being. Assessment for social workers entails investigating people’s strengths, problems, needs, and issues to begin understanding how to help people and improve their lives.
Human behavior can be fascinating and, sometimes, quite puzzling. For example, I (Karen Kirst-Ashman) once got home from work, walked into the master bedroom, and observed my partner ironing the mattress. Befuddled, I thought, “This is a new one. What in the world is he doing?” Mattress ironing had never been part of my repertoire of logical behavior. As it turned out, my partner, who is an engineer, explained his actions quite rationally. We had recently bought a new mattress, and its covering was so slippery that neither a mattress cover nor sheets would stay in place. This was quite annoying when we were trying to sleep. My partner was using the iron to attach a sheet with Stitch Witchery, a bonding tape that melts and secures materials like hems after heat is applied to it. It’s an easy way to get cloth materials to stick together if you don’t want to bother with needle and thread. My partner’s idea was that we’d put another sheet over the one bonded to the mattress; in effect, the bonded sheet would be a permanent—and nonslippery—mattress cover. As it turned out, his plan worked. The sheets no longer slipped off. This experience reinforced my hypothesis that people always have a reason for doing what they do, as baffling as it might appear at the time.
Social work is unique in that it emphasizes a focus that stretches far beyond that of an individual. Assessment in social work addresses all aspects of a client’s situation. Many times, it’s not the client’s fault that problems exist. Rather, something outside the client may be instigating the problem. The client’s whole family may not be functioning well. There may be difficulties beyond the client’s control in his or her workplace. Existing social service organizations may not be providing what clients need. Resources may be too difficult to obtain, inadequate, or even nonexistent. Organizational policies or laws affecting the client may be unfair. As part of assessment, social workers focus on families, work groups and environments, social agencies, organizations, neighborhoods, communities, and even local, state, and national government in addition to the individual. Figuring out what to do about any specific problem may directly involve any of these entities.
1-1 Explain the Importance of Foundation Knowledge for Social Work with an Emphasis on Assessment
In order to recognize the significance of foundation knowledge, including that presented in this book, the purpose and process of social work must be understood. Social work may be viewed as having three major thrusts (Baer & Federico, 1978, p. 68). First, social workers can help people solve their problems and cope with their situations. Second, social workers can work with systems, such as social agencies, organizations, communities, and government bureaucracies, so that people can have better access to the resources and services they need. Third, social workers can “link people with systems” (Baer & Federico, 1978, p. 68), so that clients themselves have access to resources and opportunities. Much of social work, then, involves social functioning.
People interact with other people, with organizations (such as social service agencies), and with small groups (such as families and colleagues in the workplace). Social work targets not only how individuals behave, but also how these other systems and people affect each other.
An example is a family of five in which both parents work at low-paying jobs in order to make a marginal living. The father works at a small, non-unionized leather-processing plant. The mother works as a waitress at a short-order diner. Suddenly, the father is laid off. For a short time, the family survives on unemployment compensation. When that runs out, they face a serious financial crisis. Despite a great effort, the father is unable to find another job. In desperation, the family applies for public assistance. Due to some unidentified error in the lengthy application process, the payments are delayed for two months.
Meanwhile, the family is forced to eat poorly and is unable to pay rent and utility bills. The phone is disconnected, the electricity is turned off, and the landlord threatens to evict them. Reacting to the externally imposed stress, the parents begin to fight verbally and physically. The children complain because they are hungry. This intensifies the parents’ sense of defeat and disillusionment. As a result of stress and frustration, the parents hit the children to keep them quiet.
Although this example has not been presented in detail, it illustrates that people are integrally involved with other systems in their environment.
A social worker reviewing this case might assess how the family and other systems in the environment have had an impact on each other. First, the father’s life is seriously affected by his place of employment, the leather factory, when he is laid off. He then seeks unemployment compensation, which affects that system by dipping into its funds. When those benefits cease, the family then affects the public assistance system by drawing on its funds. The public assistance system, in turn, impacts the family by delaying their payments. The resulting frustration affects all family members, as the parents are unable to cope with their stress. The entire situation can be viewed as a series of dynamic interactions between people and their environment.
1-1aThe Profession of Social Work
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the primary professional organization for social workers in the United States. NASW (1982) defines social work as follows:
Social work is the professional activity of helping individuals, groups, or communities to enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning and to create societal conditions favorable to their goals.
Social Work practice consists of the professional application of social work values, principles, and techniques to one or more of the following ends: helping people obtain tangible services; providing counseling and psychotherapy for individuals, families, and groups; helping communities or groups provide or improve social and health services; and participating in relevant legislative processes.
The profession of social work is recognized as having the primary responsibility to implement society’s mandate to provide safe, constructive, and effective social services. Social work is thus distinct from other professions (such as psychology and psychiatry) because it has the responsibility and mandate to provide social services.
A social worker needs training and expertise in a wide range of areas to effectively handle problems faced by individuals, groups, families, organizations, and the larger community. Although most professions are increasingly becoming more specialized (e.g., most medical doctors now specialize in one or two areas), social work continues to emphasize a generic (broad-based) approach. The practice of social work is analogous to the old general practice of medicine. A general (or family) practitioner has professional education to handle a wide range of common medical problems; a social worker has professional education to handle a wide range of common social and personal problems.
Generalist Social Work Practice
There used to be an erroneous belief that a social worker was a caseworker (who worked with individuals and families), a group worker (who worked with groups), or a community organizer (who worked on people’s behalf in organizations and communities). Practicing social workers know that such a belief is faulty because every social worker is a change agent working with individuals, groups, families, organizations, and the larger community. Social workers today are generalists. A generalist practitioner is one who uses a wide range of knowledge and skills to help people with an extensive array of problems and issues. These include anything from personal issues that affect an individual to extensive, far-reaching problems that involve entire communities. The amount of time spent at these levels varies from worker to worker, but every worker will, at times, work at each of these levels and therefore needs training in all of them.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE, the national accrediting entity for baccalaureate and master’s programs in social work) requires that all bachelor’s (BSW) and master’s (MSW) programs train students in generalist social work practice. MSW programs, in addition, usually require students to select and study in an area of concentration. They generally offer several choices, such as family therapy, administration, corrections, or clinical social work.
The Council on Social Work Education (2015), in Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards, defines generalist practice as follows:
Generalist practice is grounded in the liberal arts and the person-in-environment framework. To promote human and social well-being, generalist practitioners use a range of prevention and intervention methods in their practice with diverse individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities based on scientific inquiry and best practices. The generalist practitioner identifies with the social work profession end applies ethical principles and critical thinking in practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. Generalist practitioners engage diversity in their practice and advocate for human rights and social and economic justice. They recognize, support, and build on the strengths and resiliency of all human beings. They engage in research-informed practice and are proactive in responding to the impact of context on professional practice.
This text focuses on the generalist-practice approach in social work by describing a variety of assessment strategies. Once you have learned these strategies, you can select the approaches that hold the most promise in facilitating positive changes in your clients.
In working with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities, social workers use a problem-solving approach. The process can be described in a variety of ways, but includes these steps:
1. Identify as precisely as possible the problem or problems; in other words, conduct an assessment of the situation.
2. Generate possible alternative solutions, evaluate their potential effectiveness, and establish a plan of action for intervention.
3. Implement the plan and carry out the intervention.
4. Evaluate the intervention’s effectiveness.
5. Terminate the process.
1-1bThe Process of Social Work: The Importance of Assessment
Accurate assessment is a critically important step in the social work process. Information about the problem or situation needs to be gathered, analyzed, and interpreted. Regardless of the specific type of situation, careful thought is necessary in order to make effective decisions about how to proceed. Assessment also involves basic knowledge and assumptions about human behavior. There are always reasons why people behave the way they do.
For example, a social worker who is trying to help a potentially suicidal adolescent needs certain types of information. The worker needs to know some of the reasons why people consider committing suicide so that he or she knows what questions to ask, how to respond to and treat the person, and what alternatives and supports to pursue.
Additionally, the worker must be able to identify what resources are readily available to suicidal adolescents. How can the crises be addressed immediately, simply to keep them alive? What supportive resources are available to keep them from suicidal thoughts in the future? Where can a social worker refer them to get help? ( Chapter 7 explores adolescent suicide in greater depth.)
1-1cIdentifying and Evaluating Alternative Courses of Action
Clients come to social workers with problems and needs. The worker must understand these problems and needs in order to help the client. One primary task for the practitioner is to help the client define the alternatives available to him or her. Often people have tunnel vision: because of stress or habit or lack of experience, they can fail to realize that various alternatives exist. Not only must alternatives be defined, but they also must be evaluated. The positive and negative consequences of each alternative should be clearly stated and weighed. Figure 1.1 illustrates the process of evaluating alternatives.
Much of generalist social work practice involves individual clients and small groups. Highlight 1.2, “Case Example: Unplanned Pregnancy,” shows how an individual client might be helped to identify the various alternatives available, evaluate the consequences of each, and finally select a course of action.
Case Example: Unplanned Pregnancy
Mona, 16, is a high school sophomore who has just found out that she is two months pregnant. The father is Fred, a 17-year-old high school junior.
Mona and Fred have been dating for two years. They think they love each other. Mona is a vivacious, outgoing cheerleader, and Fred is a muscular, handsome quarterback on the school football team. They are both involved in school activities and have never thought very much about the future.
Mona hasn’t told Fred about being pregnant. She’s very confused about what to do. She doesn’t know how he’ll react. Mona hasn’t told her parents either. They’re very religious, and Mona is afraid they’ll be terribly disappointed in her. She doesn’t know what to do.
Mona finally gets up enough courage to talk to the school social worker, Ms. Peterson. Ms. Peterson is a warm, empathetic individual who encourages Mona to talk about her situation. Mona shares her shock and dismay over what is happening. She had simply avoided thinking about contraception or possible pregnancy. It had been easier not to worry about it.
With Ms. Peterson’s encouragement, Mona considers her alternatives. One alternative would be to have an abortion. The positive consequence of that would be a relatively fast termination of the problem and its implications. The negative consequences would include the cost, any difficulty Mona might encounter in setting up an appointment, and any physical discomfort the procedure would cause. The most serious negative consequence for Mona would be the guilt she says she would feel. She believes that abortion is morally wrong.
A second alternative would be to keep the baby and raise it herself. The positive consequence would be the fact that she would accept responsibility for the child she has conceived. The negative consequences would be the financial, social, and educational difficulties she would have to face in order to support and care for her child.
A third alternative would be to keep the child and eventually marry Fred. Mona feels that this is a rather uncertain alternative. She doesn’t know if Fred would want to get married. Although the positive consequence would be a two-parent home for the baby, Mona doesn’t feel that either she or Fred would be ready for the responsibilities of marriage, and she would have to live with her parents until they were ready.
A fourth alternative would be to have the baby and place it up for adoption. The positive consequences would be that her baby would live and have a home. The negative consequences would be that she would have to face the social consequences of being a pregnant high school sophomore. The other major negative consequence would be the pain and regret she would experience when she gave up her baby.
Ms. Peterson should not, nor does she want to, make Mona’s decision for her. It is up to Mona to weigh the positive and negative consequences of each alternative and make a decision. However, Ms. Peterson helps Mona think through her situation and her various alternatives.
Mona finally decides to have the baby and place it up for adoption. After weighing each positive and negative consequence within her own personal value system, she decides that this is the best route for her to take. She knows she will have to talk to Fred and to her parents first, but feels that at least she has defined her own perspective.
1-2 Review the Organization of This Book That Emphasizes Lifespan Development
Understanding and assessing human behavior includes being knowledgeable about human development. It also involves comprehension of the wide range of issues facing people as they progress through life. For a coherent approach to changes that take place during a person’s lifespan, this text will assume a chronological perspective. The lifespan is divided up into four main phases: infancy and childhood, adolescence, young and middle adulthood, and later adulthood. Three chapters, respectively focusing on biological, psychological, and social development, address each life phase.
Biological development and theories concern the physical aspects of a person’s life. For example, biological dimensions for children include when they begin to walk and develop coordination. For adolescents, biological development includes puberty and the physical changes related to it. Biological aspects for older adults concern the physical changes that normally occur as people age.
Psychological development and theories emphasize individuals’ functioning and cognitive or thought processes. Psychological aspects concern how people think about themselves, others, and the environment around them. For children, this
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