Methods of Social Work


Social work profession works for the development and empowerment of the deprived and marginalised section of the society. To achieve holistic results various methods of social work practice has evolved over the period of time. Before delving into the methods let us first understand the concept of professional social work.

The global definition of social work as adopted by IFSW says that-

“Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. The above definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels.”

It is clear from the definition that social work profession derives its knowledge base from various disciplines to maximize the intervention outcome.

Primary methods and secondary methods

To achieve these goals the profession addresses social problems through different methods and techniques of practice. Various methods are applied as per the area of intervention.

There are basically 6 methods of social work practice which have been broadly classified as-

  • Primary methods
  • Secondary methods

This classification is based on the level of involvement of the social work professionals with their clients or beneficiaries.

Primary methods

Primary methods are also called as direct methods. It is called direct method since the social work professional directly works with clients or the beneficiaries to resolve their problems at individual, group and community level. The practitioner and the beneficiaries get into a professional relationship till the duration of intervention and work together to achieve goals. Primary method is further classified as

  • Casework
  • Group work
  • Community organisation

Casework or working with individuals

Image credit: NASW

In this method of practice the social worker deals with an individual client. The psychosocial problem of an individual client is studied, assessed and treated accordingly. The practice is guided by several basic principles and assumptions. The client and the caseworker get into a professional relationship and work together to resolve the problem. The Casework process consists of 4 basic steps: study, diagnosis, treatment and termination. Casework practice during the inception of social work was heavily influenced by the diagnostic school of thought, which laid emphasis on psychological aspects for understanding a problem. Later on several approaches to casework practice based on various theories came into practice. Contributions of Mary Richmond and HH Perlman gave casework practice a professional approach and a unique method of social work practice.

Social Group work

In this method the social workers deal with the psychosocial issues of clients in a group setting. There are certain problems which are best resolved in a social setting , hence a group provides that setting. A task or a treatment group as per the requirement is formed by the social worker and intervention is provided by different activities. A group progresses through various stages which is commonly termed as Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. A task group is formed to accomplish a particular task whereas a treatment group is formed to provide therapeutic intervention. Group work is also guided by specific principles and assumptions. The practice is also enriched by the application of certain psychological and sociological theories. The group worker also needs to acquire certain soft skills to work with various types of groups and group members.

Community Organisation

In this method, intervention is provided at the community level or to a specific set of population. A common problem existing within a community or a specific population is identified and intervention is provided in light of certain guiding principles. Problems such as sanitation, livelihood, child labour, domestic violence etc. cannot be treated at individual or group level. To address these problems intervention at community level is planned and implemented. In this method the people of the community are involved and participate in the decision making for bringing about change. The role of the social worker or the agency is to bring the community leaders together to take a planned action. Various scholars have given different models for practicing community organisation method.

Secondary methods

Secondary methods are also called indirect methods of social work practice as the social problems are addressed indirectly, i.e, direct contact of the social work professional with the beneficiaries is not there. The actions taken in secondary methods are at the macro level and work at a larger scale. Secondary methods are further classified as :

  • Social Welfare Administration
  • Social Work Research
  • Social Action

Social Welfare Administration

As described by the American Council on Social Work Education, social welfare administration is a ‘process of transforming the community resources into a programme of community service, in accordance with goals, policies and standards which have been agreed upon by those involved in the decision making.’ Its main focus is to ensure the suitability and availability of welfare services to the needy. Administration makes the service provision more organised and ensures accountability. Every society has some form of welfare policies which needs to be transformed into specific activities before it reaches the beneficiaries. Social Welfare administration forms the bridge of procedures through which the benefits of policies reach the beneficiaries. It requires optimal utilisation of the available resourcesresources.

Social Work Research

Social work research is the systematic process of investigating problems occuring in the field of social work. It tests the existing knowledge base of the social work profession and adds to it. It focuses on the problems faced by social workers in the realm of their practice and finds solutions for them. The process starts from identification of the problem of the client group and further goes on to assessing the need of the client, selecting a research design, data collection and analysis and introducing the intervention. After intervention the outcome is evaluated to assess the effectiveness. Social work research helps the social workers to implement pre-tested intervention methods hence reducing gaps in the programs. It also helps the profession in building a new knowledge base to enhance the existing methodologies and techniques.

Social Action

Social action as a method of social work addresses social issues by taking mass level actions like policy advocacy, education or awareness, campaigns etc. It tries to influence public policy for bringing about social change. There are various models of social change which the social work practitioners use as per the requirement. These models mainly focus on legislative changes or provisions, structural change in the social system and promoting mass actions to influence change. In this age of digital technology, social media has become a great medium for initiating social action, besides the traditional ways like journalism, television, radio etc. Leadership plays an important role in the success of social action hence social work practitioners who initiate social action methods need to develop their leadership skills.


To conclude, these methods of practice are guided by theoretical principles and evolve over a period of time. The choice of primary and secondary methods of social work practice depends on the nature of the problem. Often a combination of methods and techniques are applied by the social work practitioners to provide the best possible intervention.

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