Relationships between Social Work and Other Disciplines



  • Introduction
  • Evolution of Social Work as an Academic Discipline
  • Sociology and Social Work
  • Psychology and Social Work
  • Medicine and Social Work
  • Psychiatry and Social Work
  • History and Social Work
  • Public Administration and Social Work 
  •  Law and Social Work
  • Philosophy, Ethics and Social Work
  • Economics and Social Work
  • Conclusion
  • References


A helpful profession, a problem-solving profession, or an enabling profession have all been used to describe social work. Social work must meet certain criteria in order to be considered a profession. One of the most important requirements is that it have its own knowledge base (Greenwood,1957; 44-55). It should be able to generate information, and its use should be repeatable. Theories and concepts that describe the interaction between various factors that influence human behaviour should be developed. To solve problems, intervention models should be developed. However, because social work is a helpful profession, it has a significant constraint in this field. Most social workers are preoccupied with their work and have little time to think about theoretical issues. Academics in the field of social work are sometimes chastised for providing research (knowledge) that is of little use to practising social workers.

In its early stages, social work relied heavily on knowledge from other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, economics, and political science. Since the 1970s, however, social work scholarship has extended and deepened. The profession's self-generated knowledge base has grown significantly (Reamer in Reamer, 1994; 1). However, this does not imply that social work's connection with other disciplines has decreased or been constrained. Mr. Joseph Varghese, Christ College, Bangalore This chapter will offer you an understanding of how social work and other disciplines interact.

Evolution of Social Work as an Academic Discipline

In the nineteenth century, modern social work arose to address the issues brought on by the industrial revolution (Friedlander, 1967; 3). While it is true that individuals and institutions from all faith traditions have helped the less fortunate, it was only in modern society that 'helping' became a vocation and professional social work evolved. The assisting profession's professionalisation was both a result of and a driver of social change.

Social, political, and economic factors all influenced the emergence of social work in the West. A slew of new difficulties arose as a result of the industrial revolution. Some of the most significant impacts were urbanisation and large-scale movement of individuals from rural to urban regions in pursuit of work. Traditional means of social control, as well as rural communities, declined. Moral and material difficulties were common among city dwellers. Institutions such as the family and churches, which had previously been responsible for welfare, were no longer able to cope with the societal issues. Volunteers, mostly middle-class white women, laboured among the impoverished and needy to ameliorate their social and financial issues, giving birth to modern social work. However, there was a rising recognition that charity needed to be better structured in order to save money and become more humanitarian (Desai, 2002). The first steps in this approach were taken by the Charity Organization Societies (COS) and the settlement home. The COS was created in 1869 in the United Kingdom and 1877 in the United States. The COS hired a number of "visitors" to look into the clients who were deemed needy by the volunteer organisations. This system brought some structure to the chaotic situation that existed at the time when it came to distributing charity to the destitute. Second, the question of therapy was brought up, as the COS gave not only aid but also social and psychological support. As a result, the COS attendees might be considered forerunners of the method –case work.Finally, the establishment of specialised bodies to coordinate and administer welfare services was widely employed. These movements may be seen as the beginning of utilising a systematic approach to dealing with the impoverished. In the United States, settlement houses were first established in 1889. Settlement houses were organisations where university students remained with the underprivileged to help them and learn about their lives at the same time. The three Rs-residence, reform, and research-are the strategies followed by these houses. The distance between the client and the practitioner was minimised by living among individuals who required assistance. The COS's main goal was to reform the poor through counselling and support, whereas the settlement house's goal was to understand the poor and try to address the causes of poverty.

Another significant effect was the rise of social movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Some of the most well-known were labour movements, socialist movements, women's movements, and racial justice movements. The rights of the physically and mentally impaired, children, refugees, and the homeless are increasingly being recognised. Several social workers either started or were heavily affected by these movements. For example, Jane Addams, the founder of Chicago's settlement houses, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to peace movements. Social workers were at the vanguard of attempts to enact laws protecting the disabled, minorities, and women's rights.

The expanding role of the state in welfare programmes was another major aspect in the development of professional social work. The government was given the obligation of giving financial assistance to the needy parts of society through the Social Security Act of 1935. In most European countries, the welfare component of the government has expanded. The welfare programmes were organised and implemented by professional social workers, giving the profession more prominence and respectability.

The growing importance of social work in society necessitated the development of a structured educational system that would prepare social workers to perform their duties successfully. Columbia University was the first university to offer formal education, offering a six-week training programme for volunteers working in the humanitarian sector in 1896. As the number of courses available grew, so did the number of courses available. As the number of subjects studied grew, so did the duration. Newcomer (1959) cites three events that aided the rise of social work education in the United States: I the development of social sciences as academic disciplines; (ii) the founding of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections; and (iii) the founding of privately sponsored women's colleges and co-educational public universities (cited by Desai, 2002). By the early twentieth century, social work courses had become a part of the American university system. The content and duration of the social work courses, on the other hand, were a source of contention. The Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW) established a one-year minimum curriculum in 1932 that includes mandatory courses in medical and psychiatric information research, social law, and legal aspects of social work (Dnnear). Public welfare, social case work, group work, community organisation, medical information, social research, psychiatry, and social welfare administration were recognised as eight subjects that should be taught in social work courses by the AASSW in 1944. In 1952, the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) was established to oversee social work education. It established the first systematic curriculum policy in 1962, dividing the curriculum into three areas: social welfare policy and services, human behaviour and the social environment, and social work practise methods. In 1982, the following assessment highlighted the importance of liberal arts in the curriculum, identifying five key areas: human behaviour and social environment, social welfare policies and services, social work practise, research, and field practicum. Values and ethics, cultural and ethnic diversity, population at risk, human behaviour and social environment, social welfare policy and services, social work practise, research, and field practicum were all highlighted in 1992. In the United States, there is currently broad agreement on the areas that must be included in formal social work training. (Reamer, 1-12 in Reamer, 1993).

Sociology and Social Work

Sociology is the scientific study of human society (Latin "socius" means "companion" and Greek logos means "study"). The science of society is what it's called. Although the social sciences investigate human behaviour, sociology differs from other fields in terms of content, approach, and context. Sociology includes three separate topic matters, according to Inkeles (1999;14-15). To begin with, sociology is the study of society as a unit of analysis. It investigates intrinsic differences, how they interact with one another, and how they influence one another. It investigates the distribution of functions among society's various structures. For example, Max Weber investigated the relationship between religion and capitalism, as well as how the latter aided capitalism's development. Sociology also looks at the population's outward characteristics, as well as its rate and stage of development. These elements are used to explain society's difficulties. Second, sociology is the study of intuitions, such as political, economic, social, legal, and social stratifications. It investigates the characteristics that these institutions have in common as well as those that distinguish them. Their level of specialisation and autonomy are also looked into. One of the founding fathers of sociology, Emile Durkheim, defined sociology as the study of social institutions. Sociology, on the other hand, is the study of social relationships. Individual interactions are referred to as social relationships. Individual interactions are mediated by societal norms and values and are intended to achieve goals.

The study of human collective behaviour was the subject of sociology. Sociology explores and studies ideas such as society, community, family, religion, nation, and groups. Natural sciences have a big effect on its approaches. Sociology, moreover, studied a polarised and divided European society based on ideological lines. The society was on the verge of collapsing. Sociologists responded to the big problem they perceived around them by contributing theoretical contributions. They were proposing strategies for societies to deal with the issues brought on by modernity.

Professional social work and sociology evolved in European society during the nineteenth century, a time of significant societal transformation. Both responded to the crises brought on by modern society's transformations. They employed scientific methods to prove their methods of operation, obtain approval, and popular support. Within each discipline's supporters, there were heated ideological discussions over the best way to tackle problems. The COS approach and the settlement approach, for example, have affected the course of social work. The COS advocated for a person-centered strategy that relied on casework to solve social problems, whereas the settlement house advocated for structural reform. The debate about the best strategy to solve societal problems continues in various forms. Dominelli (2004), p. 47.

However, there are numerous differences between sociology and social work. Sociology takes a theoretical approach to society, and theory development is a primary issue. On the other side, social work must be practical and deal with issues. As a result, social workers spend more time working with people in the field rather than in libraries with books. Sociological theory is founded on facts gathered from a complicated social environment. They provide a clear cause for social phenomena. Many other elements come into play that must be taken into account in order to arrive at a realistic answer, hence these ideas are often of little use to the practitioner. Sociologists, on the other hand, believe that social workers' job is fragmented and focused solely on the situation at hand. Another significant difference between social work and sociology is that the latter professed to be a value-free profession. Being neutral and unbiased was regarded as a virtue. Social work, on the other hand, is a humanitarian-based value-based career. Johnson (1998), p. 14

Social work is heavily influenced by sociology. Charles Booth's work on poverty provided the society with new perspectives. Sociological analysis provides theoretical viewpoints that can be used to subject policies and practitioners' work to systematic study, allowing us to better understand what is done and why (Dominelli, 1997;5). The following are some of the areas where sociology makes a significant impact. 
  1. In the ecological model of social intervention, the client systems are considered as being part of the environment and being influenced by it, and the systems theory in sociology is employed. (Carel, Germain, in Reamer(ed), 1994: 103)
  2. Social work practise has been affected by the major three sociological approaches: structural functionalist, Marxian, and interactionist. Marxist views have aided social workers in understanding that conflict is a natural element of life and that different segments of society have opposing interests. These viewpoints have aided social workers in critically examining their own practises and determining who the profession serves. They've also given social workers the ability to influence social policy by pushing for laws and programmes. Subcultures and delinquency have been better understood thanks to the integrationist school. Foucault's concept of power, Marx's class relationship, and Goffman's closed institutions are some of the main theories and concepts that have been widely applied in social work. (Dominelli, 1997; 82; Dominelli, 1997; 82; Dominelli, 1997; 82 
  3. In casework, group work, and community organisation, sociological notions such as role, status, authority, power, rights, responsibility, groups, communities, and nations are applied, which has enhanced social work practise. 
  4. The study of the family, including the many forms of families, the changing roles of family members, the changing functions of the family and its members, as well as the challenges and solutions to these issues. 
  5. Senior citizen issues and solutions

Psychology and Social Work

The study of mental processes and human behaviour is known as psychology (Latin psyche soul and logos study). Psychology is described as the science of human and animal behaviour, as well as its application to human issues (Morgan,C.T. et al, 1993; 30). It is a science that studies human behaviour using the instruments of observation, measurement, and classification.

The subject of psychology is dominated by three primary approaches. 
  1. Freudian and neo-Freudian approaches to psychoanalysis. This method emphasises the unconscious mind, which plays a significant influence in influencing an individual's behaviour. Sigmund Freud is the most famous proponent of this technique, but many others, such as Carl Jung, have contributed to give it fresh life. 
  2. A behavioural approach that considers behaviour to be learned. Skinner, a proponent of this approach, argued that empirical methods should be used to investigate human behaviour. 
  3. The gestalt approach, which takes a holistic perspective to the study of human behaviour, is the third approach.
Clinical psychology, abnormal psychology, industrial psychology, counselling psychology, developmental psychology, and sports psychology are all specialities of psychology. While much of psychology is descriptive and analytical in character, there are some exceptions. Psychology is a practice-based profession as well. Psychologists are employed by a number of organisations to help with recruitment, counselling, and training. Clinical psychology diagnoses mental illnesses and suggests treatments to treat them. There are similarities between the fields of social work and clinical psychology in other areas, such as child development, and there are also overlapping topics of concern.

Psychology, like sociology, had a significant impact on the field of social work. Due to the following reasons, the introduction of Freud's psychoanalytical approach offered a tremendous push to case work in the early twentieth century. 
  1. In its early phases, case work was a highly general method that simply required common sense and logical reasoning to implement. The psychoanalytical approach provided it with a well-established (medical) foundation from which to grow into a specialised strategy. 
  2. The requirement for knowledge in order to explain challenging phenomena encountered in practise. 
  3. The introduction of psychoanalytical ideas into the wider culture.
  4. Political and economic circumstances that, at times, prioritised personal accountability over social fairness and societal duty. (Reamer 1983, Germain quoted in Reamer, 1997) Social workers who were trained in this discipline expanded the profession's clientele beyond the impoverished to the middle and upper classes. When customers from other parts of society began to use social work services, the profession's entire identification with the poor, impoverished, and crippled was reduced. The majority of these clients were well-off and part of society's mainstream. They were mostly afflicted by mental illnesses rather than poverty. As a result, rather than just caring for the impoverished, social work has come to be considered as a helping vocation. This new function of social work was also more lucrative than previous positions.
The field of social work has benefited from a number of psychological methods.
  1. Theories of behaviour modification, psychoanalysis techniques such as dream analysis, and so on. 
  2. Child development, with a focus on role expectations at all levels. 
  3. The many classifications of mental illness and abnormal psychology.
  4. Counseling psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on helping people.

Medicine and Social Work

In the health-care field, social work had a strong presence. As a result, the social worker must be knowledgeable about numerous diseases, their causes, diagnosis, and treatment options. The societal implications of these disorders should be recognised by social workers. The social worker is concerned about the impact on the family, the resources accessible to the client, and the governmental and nonprofit resources available to assist the client.

Psychiatry and Social Work 

Psychiatry is the science of diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. Psychiatric social workers are professionally trained social workers who are adept in conducting interviews, compiling family histories, and identifying social aspects that contribute to psychological problems. (G-18, Clifford et al, 1999). As one of the most important areas of intervention in social work is the mental health field, social work and psychiatry have a tight relationship. Psychiatry provided a wealth of information to social work, including varieties of mental disease, classification, causes, impacts, and treatment approaches. They rely on the medical paradigm, often known as the disease model, in which organic and biological reasons are used to explain mental disorder. Golightlry (2004), p. 22. Psychiatrists are thus concerned with the biological and physiological elements of mental disorder. They determine the cause of the sickness and provide the appropriate treatment. Despite the fact that the medical model is widely utilised and accepted by the medical community and the general public, its usefulness has been questioned. (ibid)

On the other side, social workers deal with the social elements of sickness. They enlist the help of the community to help the patient. It could be a job or money from the person who has been rehabilitated. A social worker will also assist his family in coping with their terrible situation. A social worker sees a mentally ill individual as a whole person, not just a patient. For the holistic treatment of patients, collaboration between social workers, psychiatrists, and other health experts is required. The American Psychiatric Association, formerly known as the Association of Superintends of American Institutions of the Insane, is responsible for the treatment and rehabilitation of mentally ill people in the United States. There is currently no equivalent body in India.

History and Social Work

In its most basic form, history is the documentation of previous occurrences. History, on the other hand, has been able to uncover the underlying forces that influenced those occurrences. Political history, social history, and economic history, history of ideas, and global history are the specialities of history. The goal of history is to have a greater understanding of the past so that the present can be better understood. If we want to understand who we are, we must first understand where we came from and how we got here. So history is the study of previous events, the elements that impacted them, and the situations that led to them.

History is significant in social work for the following reasons. First, the profession's history must be researched in order to determine the profession's current condition. We have been able to go beyond previous techniques in history thanks to new methods in historiography. This has shed new light on some of the issues that the profession is now dealing with. For example, according to a feminist perspective on the history of social work, the profession's purported low status can be traced back to its beginnings. The profession's pioneers were white women who had been disadvantaged by society and carried that marginalisation into their job. Second, the role of social work, particularly in the west, is inextricably related to the welfare state's fortunes. Because of the advent of neoliberalism, which supports a minimal state, the welfare state is now experiencing more frequent problems. To counteract this political trend, social work has frequently used history to explain the development of the welfare state and the current issues it must solve.

Public Administration and Social Work

'Public administration is that element of the science of administration that has to do with government and hence concerns itself largely with the executive branch where government is done,' according to Luther Gulick. Public administration is a discipline that investigates how this branch of government operates. Administrative theory, financial administration, welfare administration, administrative law, and personnel administration are all disciplines of public administration. As it relates to the provision of social welfare and penal services, social work is involved with welfare administration.

'Administration,' according to the American Council on Social Work Education, is "the process of translating community resources into a programme of community service in conformity with the goals, policies, and standards agreed upon by those involved in the enterprise." It is innovative in the sense that it organises responsibilities and relationships in such a way that the whole result is altered and improved. It entails the research, diagnosis, and treatment or action of a problem, as well as the evaluation of the results.'

The scope of social welfare administration includes
  1.  Analysing social problems and determining the appropriate administrative response, P
  2. lanning and delivering social services, 
  3. Organising social security programmes, 
  4. Administering social welfare agencies, and (5) formulating social policies.

Law and Social Work

The fields of social work and law have a close association. (1) Social work has been given statutory authority in many countries, particularly in the West, to interfere in specific sectors of social life, such as the family to safeguard children or prevent domestic violence. (2) As a result of scandals in the social services sector, legal regulation has increased in these sectors. (3) The judicial system and its constraints have made it impossible for ordinary people to obtain justice. This chronic malady plaguing the legal system has been recognised by social workers. As a result, law is becoming increasingly important in social work education and practise. 12 (Cull and Roche, 2001). The advent of human rights-based practise is another significant development that has increased the importance of legislation in social work. (20) (Johns, Roberts, 2005)
When performing their jobs as counsellors, social workers require legal knowledge. Second, as previously stated, social workers fulfil a variety of quasi-judicial tasks in the fields of corrections, childcare, adoption, and mental health. Third, in developing nations such as India, social workers require legal understanding in order to safeguard the poor from the powerful's abuse of the law. PIL is a tool used to protect persons whose rights have been violated.

As a result, social workers must have a fundamental grasp and knowledge of the following: 
  1. The Constitution, with a focus on rights and the directive principle. 
  2. Legal Assistance 
  3. Marriage, divorce, child support, adoption, and succession legislation 
  4. Special laws to safeguard marginalised groups, such as the Dowry Prohibition Act, the People with Disabilities Act, the Prevention of SC&ST Atrocities Act, and the Juvenile Justice Act. 
  5. Litigation in the Public Interest 6) Arrest, bond, First Information Report, charge sheet, and other basic processes

Philosophy, Ethics and Social Work

Social work is a value-based profession concerned with people's lives. As a result, its interaction with philosophy, particularly moral philosophy, is crucial. The goal of moral philosophy, often known as ethics, is to figure out 'what ought to be' in each given scenario. With simple terms, it aids in the differentiation of right from wrong. The study of ethics can be split into three categories:
1)Metaethics, which deals with the ultimate concerns of human existence; Bioethics, which deals with the ultimate questions of human life. What exactly qualifies as "good"? What should all decisions be based on?
2) Normative ethics is concerned with the transformation of Meta ethics into principles that may be used to guide social life. (iii) Applied ethics is the application of ethical principles to real-life situations. Human people and human interactions are the focus of social workers' work. Frequently, social workers are faced with ethically difficult judgments. The means cannot be justified by the end. The proper action towards the client is founded on ethics. Large segments of the population are becoming increasingly conscious of their rights, and value systems are continually shifting. On certain subjects, several opinions, often contradictory, are accessible. For example, there are a variety of viewpoints on abortion, and the question of which is the best strategy arises.

Professional social workers face three types of ethical dilemmas: (i) concerns concerning individual welfare and rights; (ii) issues concerning public welfare; and (iii) issues concerning inequality and institutional oppression. (Banks, 2001, pp. 11-12.) 
Professional bodies in social work develop codes of ethics for its members. It governs the professional-client connection, the professional-fellow professional relationship, and the professional-society interaction. (Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers) To address new questions and resolve challenges occurring in the field as a result of new issues such as same-sex marriage, euthanasia, cloning, and stem cell use, social work will increasingly rely on philosophy and ethics.

Economics and Social Work

 The study of economics is the study of how products and services that we want are created and distributed in society. Agricultural economics, development economics, finance economics, industrial economics, and so on are all areas of economics. Economic policy is concerned with improving the efficiency of the production and distribution system. Economic policy has an impact on every aspect of society. Many challenges in social work, such as income, poverty, unemployment, and migration, are inextricably linked to the state of the economy. A social worker must comprehend the issue and conduct a thorough investigation of it, which frequently includes the examination of economic factors. Individual and relational difficulties are frequently rooted in the economic situation, which is exacerbated by causes beyond the control of those who are impacted. Unemployment, for example, can raise the likelihood of divorce and despair.

Social work has a solid foundation for providing services to individuals because to Amartya Sen's notion of entitlements and Mahbub ul Haq's Human Development Index (HDI). It has clear evidence that these policies not only protect people's rights, but also improve society as a whole.


Social work is a job that requires a lot of hands-on experience. The first and most important goal of social work is to assist clients. Knowledge, skill, and attitude are the three qualities that influence the quality of the professional service provided by a social worker. Knowledge denotes the ability to comprehend, skill denotes the ability to perform, and attitude denotes an individual's general response to a problem. Knowledge is crucial since it increases one's ability to perceive and analyse, whereas competence aids in service delivery. Other fields have contributed to the social worker's knowledge and skill. The social worker was able to go beyond the obvious and identify cause and effect relationships thanks to the concepts, theories, and ideologies.

As previously said, social work frequently borrows from a variety of fields in society. However, this is unavoidable, as social work cannot stay oblivious to the expansion of diverse disciplines' knowledge bases and must adapt to these changes. In reality, knowledge in social work comes from a variety of sources, including precedent, experience, and common sense. Social work, on the other hand, should and does adapt many theories to its practise. Younghusband (1964; 124) and Payne (1997; 39) are two examples. These theories frequently lose their connection to the larger theoretical framework from which they arose, which is of little significance to social workers. To attain his goal, he frequently employs the most appropriate tactics. The efficiency of the methods has been aided by this eclecticism.

Case work, group work, and community organising are the three primary techniques of social work practise. The goal of social work is not to create knowledge for the sake of knowledge. In any event, there is a growing awareness that a single disciplinary approach is limited and restrictive. Theoretical sciences such as sociology and history are embracing an interdisciplinary approach to research in their own fields. It is not rare for historians to use sociological approaches and vice versa. Political sociology is a burgeoning field of research resulting from the intersection of political science and sociology. When theoretical issues go in this approach, social work does not need to be apologetic about how much knowledge from other disciplines they employ.

Social work, according to Alex Flexner in 1915, does not qualify as a profession because it lacks its own knowledge basis. However, social work has amassed a substantial body of knowledge over time. It has not, however, been able to theorise these experiences. As a result, there are no broadly accepted theories. The borrowing of other disciplines by social work helps to fill in the gaps.


  • Desai, Murli, (2002) Ideologies and Social Work, History and Contemporary Analyses, Rawat Publications, New Delhi Dominelli, Lena.(2002) Social Work , Polity Press, London 
  • Dominelli, Lena (1997) Sociology for Social Worker, Palgrave, New York. 
  • Friedlander, Walter(1967), Introduction to Social Welfare, Second Edition, Prentice Hall of India (Private) Limited, New Delhi. 
  • Reamer, G. Frederic(ed)(1994), The Foundations of Social Work Knowledge, Columbia University Press, New York. 
  • Johns, Robert(2006), Using the Law in Social Work, learning matters, Exeter. 
  • Lymbery, Mark(2005), Social Work with Older People; Context, Policy and Practice, Sage Publications, London. 
  • Banks, Sarah(2001), Ethics and Values in Social Work, Palgrave, New York. 
  • Younghusband, Eilleen(1964), Social Work and Social Change, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London. 
  • Payne, Malcolm(1997), Modern Social Work Theory, Palgrave, New York.

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