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Linear versus Ecological Perspective in Clinical Judgments of Social Work Students

Teitelbaum, Ezra

This study explores the dialectic between the older, linear-mechanistic approach of the clinical-normative-individual-system model, and the newer, ecological-systems approach of the life model. Theoretical issues are outlined as they have unfolded during several decades.

The principal independent variable is clinical-orientation of clinician-subjects with regard to degree of adherence to linear-mechanistic and/or ecological-systems approaches. Secondary independent variables are duration-severity and interpersonal-context of client problem/situations, described in four situational vignettes. Hypotheses predict positive correlations between measures of each independent variable, and degree of linear versus ecological weighting to clinicians' assessments and intervention plans for each vignette.

Data were collected in 1980 from 152 second-year graduate students in casework and direct practice, who represented an initial pool of 1,007 students from fourteen CSWE-approved schools which provided unrestricted cooperation, through lists of eligible students.

Three instruments were utilized: (a) An informational questionnaire inquired about students' willingness to participate, and characteristics which would enable the researcher to determine eligibility, and identify extraneous effects. (b) The second sought graded measures of subjects' adherence to specific theoretical principles of linear or ecological approaches. (c) The final instrument sought repeated measures of type of assessment and intervention plan (linear or ecological), formulated in response to systematically varied vignette conditions.

Findings include several positive correlations between self-rated clinical-orientation and assessment measures, and fewer positive correlations between clinical-orientation and intervention measures. The interpersonally isolated client whose problem/situation is chronic tends to pull judgments in the direction of linear-mechanistically weighted assessments and intervention plans, regardless of clinician's orientation.

Implications for teaching the ecological approach are explored. Use of the clinical-orientation instrument for student self-observation is suggested.

Research implications include refining of instrumentation, and comparison of seasoned and student clinicians, to test empirical applicability of the ecological approach.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Whiteman, Martin
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 28, 2015
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