An Introduction to Using Theory in Social Work Practice, by James A. Forte, Routledge, New York, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-415-72669-6, 220 pages, $52.95.
Skills for Using Theory in Social Work, by James A. Forte, Routledge, New York, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-415-72683-2, 328 pages, $52.95.
In this brief review, the content of two books is summarized and a view shared on the usefulness of the texts for social work students, educators, practitioners, and clients. Leaning in but not participating is the feeling often experienced with students and faculty who do not write about, teach, or use theory in their everyday practice. The idea of “leaning in” allows them just enough knowledge to understand and apply when applicable, but to not engage in active theorizing or teach others how to theorize. The reasons are many, so conjecturing to the “why” would be ineffective. What is known, however, is that many of our students and colleagues engage in a form of social work practice often devoid of active theorizing. This, in my view, is largely because they themselves have not been taught how to theorize. We know theorizing happens and when it happens, but “how” has been somewhat undocumented.
With big grins, smiles, and a butterfly-filled stomach of relief that Forte has noted this void and captures it in a succinct, undergrad-layman format, complemented with 32 evidence-based lessons, I believe Skills for Using Theory in Social Work is value-added for the profession. The scaffold 32-lesson text moves through steps of identifying, constructing—deconstruction and reconstruction—to translating and critiquing.
The second text, Introduction to Using Theory in Social Work Practice, is a four-section, 19-chapter text. It presents ideas on the purpose and orientation of theory to guiding practice, translating theories for use at points of engagement, information gathering, assessment, and goal setting. It also presents on intervention identification, selection, implementation, and evaluation through to the ending process. The last sections present content on social work across a career path where multi-theory can play into a multi-theory translation social work practice.
The puzzle pieces fit just right with these texts. They can be effective for the everyday practitioner who wants to enhance and evaluate his or her own practice. They are similarly effective for budding undergrad students who have been told they should join social work because they are good at helping others. Yet, I found the book was just right for those who love theorizing and grapple with the pedagogical quandary of helping students think about how they think and what goes into authoring their own ending. The texts use illustrations, tables, grids, and sequential knowledge grids allowing individuals to use them for their own gain. This simple concept helps the practitioner or graduate student spring to page 60 and the undergraduate student use it as a dictionary approach to learning concepts versus simply reading page 1 to page 220.
These books are like sweet victory where you feel you have scored. This is the best we have done in theory and theory education to date. Forte hits the homerun and we celebrate.
Reviewed by Carolyn Gentle-Genitty, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Director, Bachelor of Social Work Program, IUPUI, Indiana University School of Social Work.