After completing this topic,students will be able to:

  • Describe the concepts of social work;
  • Understand why social work and social work are necessitated;
  •  Identify thedifferent types of methods of social work;
  • Define the concepts of change agents and client groupsand appreciate the role of health professionals as change agents;
  • Identify the different roles of health professionals aschange agents;
  • Understand the principles of professional behaviors ofchange agents; and
  • Describe and internalize the fundamental guiding principlesof social work and its relevance for health professionals.

What is Social Action?

As can be understood from thename itself, there are three fundamental points in the concept: first theexistence of social action, then those who do the action and third those whoare expected to benefit from the action.

Socialaction is described as an individual’s, group’s, or community’s effort withinthe framework of social philosophy and practices that aim at achieving socialprogress to modify social policies to improve social legislation, health andwelfare services. From this description, we can understand that social actionis an active, conscious, well thought effort.

This means any concernedindividual, group or the community itself may involve in the task and processof social action to help other individuals, and groups who are facing a certainsocial problem or for whom a positive social change is necessary. A communitycan involve in social action to solve its own problems.

A more formal definition ofsocial action is that it is the systematic, conscientious effort directed atinfluencing the basic social condition and policies, out of which arise theproblems of social adjustment and mal-adjustment to which our services associal welfare are addressed ( Morales and Sheafor, 1997). Social action ispart and parcel of social service. Both definitions make this fact clear:Social action is an effort. Whoever may make his effort, it should besystematic, programmed, and conscientious.

Methods of Social Work

Main Concern of Social Work

In the definition of socialaction, it has been pointed out that any social action effort should be carriedout in the framework of social philosophy and social work. The concept ofsocial work, here is worthy of definition.

Social work is a professionaldiscipline (within the framework of social welfare programs and services)designed to assist people in enhancing the quality of their lives and theirsocial relationships (Day 1996). The main concerns and objectives of socialwork are the following (Morales and Sheafor, op cit):

  • Service to individual in the performance of their variousroles and relationships;
  • To give assistance to individuals, groups or communitieswhen they face difficulties in making use of their capacities;
  • Avoiding negative factors that affect development;
  • To release potentialities in individuals, groups or communitiesand show the means to exploit those resources and potentialities; and
  • Development of capacity to manage one’s own life.

The justification for social workis that the complexity of modern life makes it difficult for the individual todevelop his optimum potential, and social workers in their role as mediators,are increasingly called on to help people to contend with society’s manifoldsocial problems (Suppes and Wells, 1996; Morales and Sheafor, op cit).

Basic Principles

The fundamental philosophy, whichmakes up the professional ethics of the field of social work involve thefollowing principles:

  • A belief in the value and dignity of humans;
  • Respect to people;
  • Self-direction;
  • Accepting and appreciating the idea and belief systemof people;
  • To work in collaboration with people, not to work forthem;
  • Dedication to human dignity; and
  • Respect for and understanding of uniqueness of everyhuman being and the values of client system. The main value here is that,social work agencies do not work for, but work with their client system(Morales and Sheafor, op cit).

Types of Methods of Social Work

The methods of social work aremeant to be the ways, the means and techniques through which social workers andsocial work agencies carry out their task (activity). It is the how of socialwork. The most effective and known methods of social work are:

  1. Working with individuals
  2. Working with groups, and
  3. Working with communities, or community based work(Suppers and Wells, 1996).

Working with Individuals

This method of social work iscalled casework. Here, the individual is taken as a case. The principlehere is to work with not for individuals. The purpose is to address to someonewho is in socially strainful situation thereby overcoming the problem (Ibid).Before engaging in casework, the following points must be considered:

  • Knowledge of the science of human behavior and relations,
  • Knowledge of theories of helping people,
  • Types of problems individuals face,
  • Why people are in socially strainful situations, and
  • The role of social forces and the environment on theindividual.

Group Work

Working with groups is calledgroup work. It is the method (technique) of sponsoring and working with voluntarysocial groups such as families, clubs and gangs in order to develop sociallydesirable goals (qualities). The emphasis is treatment of the individual.

Unlike casework, group workfocuses on the relation of the individual to the group and social growth of thegroup itself.

The aim is to give the individualsatisfying experience through group relation and eventually enable him/her to makehis/her own contributions to the life of the society.

Here, consideration is not onlyon the economic needs of the individuals, but other aspects such as affection, security,acceptance and other emotional and psychosocial needs of the individual. Someof the principles of group-work include:

  • A group worker has to be able to make the client systemsolve their problem;
  • Use of scientific methods like observation, analysisand fact-finding are essential;
  • Creating purposeful relationship between the groupwork agent and the group;
  • Conscious use of self: including self-knowledge, selfdiscipline, etc, in relation to client system; and
  • Acceptance of people without necessarily acceptingtheir behavior (Suppes and Wells, op cit).


Working with Communities

This method of social work iscalled community organization. It involves the process of creating and maintainingthe progressive and more effective adjustment between community resources and communitywelfare needs. The aim is to make adjustment between the two, which is possiblethrough the effort of professional workers on the one hand, and individuals andgroups in the community on the other.

The most relevant method ofsocial work is community organization in respect to the problem of developing countries.On the other hand, case group works are more applicable to the problems indeveloped societies.

This is because most of thesocial pathologies in industrialized societies are at individual and grouplevels (Morales and Sheafor, op cit).

The Limitations and Challenges of SocialWelfare Programs

Some of the limitations andchallenges of social work and welfare programs need to be mentioned here; puttingthe ideal philosophies and principles of social work programs alone does notsuffice. Some of such limitations include the following (Personal communication,Dr Teketel Abebe, AAU, Dept of Sociology and Social Anthropology):

  • There is often the possibility of creating dependencysyndrome on the part of the targets. The very term “client” may here imply somekind of dependence by affected people on service providers. Despite the mainaim of social work is to help people help themselves, there may often be therisk of creating dependency syndrome.
  • There is what may be called “charity mentality”, onthe part of those who provide social services. Thus it may be often the casethat the more underlying problems that might have caused the problems are left unaddressed,while attention is given to the superficial issues, the “symptoms” of theproblems. More structural issues such as the highly unbalanced distribution ofpower and resources are overlooked. Despite social work professionals oftenrealize that the underlying socio-political structures are responsible for povertyand social problems, the attitude of blaming the victims often remained in thepublic mentality (Day, 1996).
  • Bureaucratization and elitism: This refers to the problemof the risk of original ideals of social work being undermined, while moreattention is given to procedures, professionalism, standards, etc.Processionals my turn out elites, looking down upon the needy people.

Planned Social Change, Change Agentsand Client Systems

Despite the fact that humansociety seems to stick to its traditions, beliefs, customs and culturalpatterns, there is always an undercurrent of change taking place from time totime. Change is inevitable and universal; it may take place at the expense ofhuman social life and progress. Planned social change is essentially a social actionto bring about positive social change in the community; it is a conscientious,deliberate and purposeful action to achieve a determined change in the part ofa client system (Suppes and Wells, op cit; Indrani, 1998).

Clientsystems are also called target groups. These are people who are in need of the guidance andprofessional assistance of change agents. More specifically, by client system/target group, we mean an individual, group or community or any larger orsmaller system that are helped by the professionals.

Changeagents are persons who are trained to give guidance and assistance to thecommunity, in need of desired planned social change. They are different forms ofagents who work with (in) the community, helping the community and introducingnew useful ideas and innovation for diffusion.

The Role of Change Agents and ProfessionalBehavior

Change agents do not to imposetheir wish and decisions on the client system. The basic role is to helpthe client system help themselves. Change agents should play their rolesas catalysts, assistants, coordinators, leaders, guides, etc Suppes and Wells, opcit; Let us see some roles of the change agents.

  • The role of enabler: change agentswork with clients. They enable the people; supply the means and direction forthe client to do something. They temporarily stay among the people to show themthe means of doing things
  • The role of a catalyst: As catalysts,social workers stimulate the people. They act as enzymes, so to speak. When thepeople face lots of problems and fail to know which problem are the mostserious ones, change agents may show them to select one or two problems whichare easily handled by deploying community resources.

As regards professional behavior,change agents should not be guided by their own personal prejudices and beliefs,but by the professional ethics and standards.

And health professionals are noexception to this. If they intend to bring effective, desired and positivechange in the lives of the client system, they should be guided by professionalbehavior. The health worker as change agents should take into account thefollowing points

(Morales and Sheafor, op cit):

  • Learn the way the people think; in other words, understandingthe thoughts of the people in the community before asking a community to assumenew health habits;
  • Learn to break from ethnocentric ideas, assumptions,and views;
  • Learn to work patiently with the target groups; and
  • Know about the community’s culture, health views andbeliefs, social structure and institutional arrangements, groupings and organization.


Social action and social work arerelated concepts. They refer to any action or work that aims at bringing about positive,desirable change in the lives of people.

Individuals, social groups orcommunities may find themselves in any kind of strainful, psychosocially difficultcircumstances, and affected by forces beyond their capacity. They are calledclient systems. Those who make any kind of systematized and conscientious effortsto help the clients help themselves are called change agents.

Change agents should be guided bythe fundamental guiding principles of the methods of social action or socialwork. Whether the change agents work with an individual person, i.e., casework,a social group, i.e., group work, or community, i.e., communityorganization, they have to take into account the basic working principlesand approaches. In any case change agents should play their roles as catalysts,leaders, organizers, researchers, guides, counselors and brokers; and they shouldcarry out their duties in ethically and professionally appropriate ways. Theyshould also be equipped with appropriate knowledge of relevant theories, and besensitive to the client systems culture, social or community situations,institutional arrangements, ecology, and other dimensions.


  1. Explain the term social action?
  2. Define the concept of social work and discuss its fundamentalguiding philosophies. Discuss the relevance of these principles in your future professionalpractice as a health worker.
  3. Mention the three methods of social work. Which of themethods of social work is more relevant to the conditions of developingcountries? Why? Which one of them is more suited to the conditions of developedsocieties? Why?
  4. Define the term change agent. What kind of changesare the health professionals expected to bring about in the lives ofcommunities? Discuss.
  5. Who are client groups?
  6. Mention and discuss the key roles of health professionalsas change agents.
  7. Discuss the appropriate professional behavior of healthworkers.
  8. Discuss the basic principles of casework as one of methodsof social work.