This short study takes up the evaluation and assessment of two social work intervention theories, namely the Task Centred Approach and the Crisis Intervention Method, with special regard to their implications and applications for social work practice.
Social workers, in the course of their practice, are often called upon to help people in coping and dealing with different types of difficulties in their lives. Human beings face situations of crisis at one time or the other during their lives (Roberts, 2000, p 11). The crisis theory postulates that the occurrence of crises is normal to life. Such crisis situations can occur suddenly, like family illnesses or a loss of jobs, or be unpredictable, like entering school or growing older (Roberts, 2000, p 11). Individuals attempt to cope with crises with their available mechanisms, but face problems when such mechanisms do not work or when earlier unresolved crises get reactivated. Social workers are often called upon to intervene with individuals and help them in coping with their crises (Roberts, 2000, p 11).
The task-centred approach is a progressive and goal-orientated method for social work practice. It constitutes a practice-based approach that is built on research and is being used in a diverse settings and circumstances (Nash, et al, 2005, p 33). It represents a social work method wherein clients are assisted in carrying out problem reducing tasks within specific time periods. It is structured, problem focused and time-restricted and is being increasingly used in contemporary social service interventions (Nash, et al, 2005, p 33).
Crisis intervention is often grouped together with the task centred approach. Malcolm Payne (1991, p 4) sees significant common ground between crises intervention and task centred approaches to social work practice. Both methods focus on problem solving, deal with brief interventions and are related to learning theory.
This essay takes up the examination and assessment of these two theories, with especial regard to their communalities, their differences and their relevance for social work practice. Due regard is given to the implications of anti-oppressive practice.
2. Crisis Intervention Theory
The crisis theory states that it is important for people to resolve their crises situations and experiences in order to cope with new developments and crises (Aguilera, 1998, p 47). If individuals are unable to resolve their earlier crises, they become more vulnerable to inability to resolve new crises. Individuals who learn new skills to resolve their crises are on the other hand strengthened in coping with future crisis situations (Aguilera, 1998, p 47). Human beings have considerable capacities for handling or dealing with difficult situations. It is only when such difficulties assume significant proportions and people do not have appropriate resources, personal, emotional, social, spiritual or physical, to deal appropriately with stressful circumstances or events that they become involved in crises. Difficult or stressful events do not by themselves result in crisis situations (Aguilera, 1998, p 47). Crises are actually determined by the responses of individuals to specific stressful circumstances or events and their responses to them. Crises develop only when individuals perceive specific events to be significant and threatening, try to handle such events with their usual coping strategies without success, and are not able to use other alternatives (Aguilera, 1998, p 47).
Behavioural and psychological experts perceive crises to be akin to states of psychological disequilibrium. Individuals experiencing crises are likely to experience a range of emotions like feelings of apprehension, anxiety, fear, guilt and helplessness (Nash, et al, 2005, p 37). Other indicators include alterations in eating and sleeping patterns, activity and energy levels and ability to concentrate. People in crises are also commonly known to suffer from depression and withdraw from social intervention (Nash, et al, 2005, p 37). Social work experts argue that whilst the majority of crises run their course or reach some semblance of stability within one or two months, it is necessary for skilled intervention to take place to strengthen the coping mechanisms of individuals. The failure to do so will result in the existence and continuance of crisis associated behaviours, even as the opportunity for change will be forgone (Nash, et al, 2005, p 37).
People in crisis often have little by way of solutions and are receptive to external help and assistance (Roberts, 2000, p 19). The provisioning of skilled intervention by social work practitioners during the occurrence of the crises can result in opportunities for individuals experiencing crisis to learn new skills, achieve beneficial behavioural change, and regain stability. Individuals who have been able to successfully cope with crises are strengthened by such experiences and can use their skills in future times of difficulty (Roberts, 2000, p 19).
Crisis intervention is essentially a professional response that is limited in terms of time and is used to assist individuals, families, and groups (Hepworth, et al, 2002, p 83). Social workers aim to assess the openness of individuals experiencing crises to learning of new skills and mechanisms for coping. They also help individuals in reducing their feelings of helplessness, isolation, and distress and use social resources to help in restoring individuals to their prior functional levels, as soon as practically possible (Hepworth, et al, 2002, p 83). Such social work intervention is done through “listening, validation, acceptance, normalisation, reassurance, education, advocacy and brokering resources” (Nash, et al, 2005, p 38). Crisis intervention can be specifically segregated into 7 stages, namely (a) establishment of communication and development of feelings with individuals that circumstances can become better, (b) assessment of situation, (c) exploration of available strengths and resources, (d) goal setting with the use of such strengths and resources, (e) implementation of plan, teaching of new skills and mobilisation of other support if required, (f) evaluation and adjustment of the plan and (g) follow up and termination of relationship (Hepworth, et al, 2002, p 83).
It is important for social workers to be skilled in crisis intervention because of the constant demand upon them for helping people in crisis situations (Roberts, 2000, p 19). Social workers are liable to encounter clients with diverse needs, which may in turn require research, strategic planning and the providing of individualised person centred support (Roberts, 2000, p 19). The nature of crisis intervention work also calls for confidentiality and emotional separation in order to deliver services in a professional manner (Roberts, 2000, p 19).
3. Task Centred Approach
The task centred approach emerged in response to the slow and inadequate results that were being achieved through traditional casework methods (Reid, 1997, p 134). Traditional casework methods in social work were felt to be of limited use because of their resource intensive nature, their lack of focus, and their ambiguous outcomes, which were difficult to assess and quantify (Reid, 1997, p 134). Reid and Shyne engaged in extensive study in the late 1960s to explore alternate approaches to casework and developed the task centred approach for social work practice, which called for limited but intensely focused intervention periods. The approach was essentially client oriented and required the social worker to act as a facilitator (Reid, 1997, p 134). With the task centred approach helping clients to improve their difficulties quickly, the process was soon adopted for replication and development in the United Kingdom (Reid, 1997, p 134).
Studies on the task centred approach revealed that unfocused help, as was provided by the psycho-social approach and the case study method, over long periods, resulted in reduction of hope and self confidence on the part of the client (Nash, et al, 2005, p 42). It also resulted in negative dependency and unnecessary attachments to specific organisations or particular social workers (Nash, et al, 2005, p 42). It was also seen that the setting of time limits for achievement of specific outcomes helped in building expectations of the possibility of rapid change and enhanced participant energy and motivation (Nash, et al, 2005, p 42).
Whilst the task centred approach proved to be practically beneficial for clients and also served, reduce and optimise utilisation of limited social work resources, it also facilitated a shift towards the person centred approach, the negation of the assumption of the professional being the only source of expertise, and helped in achievement of greater empowerment and reduction of oppression (Naleppa & Reid, 1998, p 63). The task centred approach calls for attention to be paid to social and external issues that affect individuals rather than on perceiving individuals and their psychological histories to be the main cause of their difficulties (Naleppa & Reid, 1998, p 63).
The task centred approach involves a structured method wherein the social worker firstly assists the service user in articulating the problems in the ways perceived by service users (Hepworth, et al, 2002, p 87). The social workers subsequently helps the service user to detail and breakdown the problems, taking care to redefine them wherever necessary and helping the service user to locate important areas for action (Hepworth, et al, 2002, p 87). The social worker finally motivates the service user to categorise and prioritise his or her individual problem in line with his or her perceptions (Naleppa & Reid, 1998, p 63). The social worker and service user thereafter work in partnership to (a) specify and identify outcomes, (b) agree to contracts and (c) review and assess progress. Social workers who use the task centred approach should be able to positively engage service users and instil trust and confidence (Hepworth, et al, 2002, p 87).
Commonalities in Task Centred and Crisis Intervention Approaches
Task centred approaches and crisis intervention methods appear to merge well in both theory and practice (Watson, et al, 2002, p 96). Social work research indicates that the use of these methods have proved to be effective with a wide range of clients. Both theories emerged in response to the apparently ineffective outcomes of case work approaches that were grounded in psychodynamic theory (Watson, et al, 2002, p 96). Both methods additionally focus on brief and short term interventions. They are connected to learning theory and based upon problem solving ideas (Watson, et al, 2002, p 96).
Both these approaches call upon social workers to engage in participative and joint activity with service users, first to assess and analyse problems and their causes and then take action to deal with such problems (Sandoval, 2002, p 63). The application of these methods thus calls for the use of the person centred theory, the need to place the service user at the centre of the issue and the urgency of viewing the issue from his or her perspective (Sandoval, 2002, p 63). Social workers need to be very good listeners in order to be able to locate the real issues that are troubling service users and thereafter be able to help them with measures to tackle their difficulties (Sandoval, 2002, p 63).
Like other social work methods, the task centred approach does have its limitations. It is in the first instance predicated upon the rationality of service users and their willingness to work with social workers (Nash, et al, 2005, p 53). It is also difficult to apply it without appropriate agency support. Despite such limitations the two approaches continue to be very useful, especially because of their instrumentality in increasing empowerment and their integral anti-oppressive approach (Nash, et al, 2005, p 53). The methods increase the abilities of service users through the inculcation of new skills and allow them to deal, not just with their current situations but with future circumstances of difficulty and oppression (Nash, et al, 2005, p 53).
Social work practice is influenced by many factors that require the taking account of the perspectives of service users, social workers, agencies and society.
The approach of individual workers is bound to be influenced by numerous factors that can leave them confused and looking for guidance in their task of assisting service users in difficulties. The task centred approach and the crisis intervention theory provide useful tools to service users to assess the true conditions of service users, participate with them in structured, time bound and joint resolution of problems and empower them to face and overcome oppression. Social workers do however need to understand the implications of these theories and refrain from labeling their actions in all difficult situations to be task centred or critical intervention in nature. The true understanding of the potential and use of these theories will help them significantly in their practice scenarios.