Social Worker Approaches: Systems and Person-Centred Theories

School has raised safeguarding concerns about Felix who is 13 years old boy. Primary teacher of Felix noticed that over the past few weeks his physical health has deteriorated, and one day he went to school with bruising around his neck. School is concerned about Felix being a victim of child abuse. Besides, he has become selectively mute and isolated himself from others. The right choice of the theory is essential to provide the proper support to Felix.

In this essay, we have discussed how the social worker assigned to Felix’s case has used Systems theory as the most suitable approach in contrast to Person-centred theory. Furthermore, effective communication is an essential element of social work theory and its practice. Therefore, we have explained the significance of communication by integrating it into the Systems and Person-centred approaches to assist the social worker in communicating with Felix and his family.

Starting With the Systems Theory 

It is the practice theory with a framework that has a fix sequence of actions to set goals and achieve them. It is a short-term intervention with the theoretical objective of problem-solving. The social worker has used an inductive style of working to identify the essential factors of Felix’s case by generating ideas from his past experiences and followed the framework to set goals for Felix to get the successful outcomes afterwards.

Systems theory is all about communication. The social worker has to maintain effective communication between Felix and other individual involved in the social services process to provide the right support to Felix. Systems theory incorporates the ecological approach which can provide social worker with some strategies to work at the micro level of intervention along with the macro level of social treatment for Felix.

The social worker has to identify the different levels of systems in Felix’s case. Therefore, social worker and Felix carried out a genogram (a visual family tree) together which provided an early multigenerational assessment to the social worker to understand Felix’s family functioning and family processes. The social worker found out that Felix’s parents are married to each other, and he also has an older sister ‘Fatima’ age 20 who lives in Birmingham for studies. So, the first macrosystem for Felix identified as “Family” consisting four microsystems – four individuals; and four mesosystems – four pairings of individuals, Felix and Anna, Felix and Memut, Felix and Fatima, Anna and Memut. The social worker identified further systems connected to Felix’s family as a part of different macrosystem which is “Community” where the microsystems remain same but the mesosystem changes – Felix’s school relationship, Anna’s work, Memut and his work, and Fatima with her studies.

Furthermore, to organise and capture the complexity of Felix’s social network at different levels of the system, the social worker asked Felix to complete an ecomap. The ecomap enlightened that Felix’s relationship with his mother is stressful. Felix mentioned to the social worker that his mother is from Poland and his father is from Turkey. Both parents moved to the UK 20 years ago and have lived together ever since. Felix is unable to communicate with parents because they speak broken English and he also disclosed his abuse by mother to the social worker. His sister ‘Fatima’ who studies at Birmingham University, comes to visit family in her term break. Felix has presented to have a healthy relationship with his sister than both parents on the ecomap diagram.

Further drawing on ecomap demonstrated a positive and robust relationship of Felix to his school. The social worker contacted the school and found out that Felix is a bright student in his class. However, over the past few months, Felix’s class teachers have noticed his loss of interest in studies and isolated himself from others.

In summary of integrating communication in Systems theory, social worker conducted an initial interview with Felix to build rapport and get to know each other. Then social worker arranged the family group conference meeting along other multi-professional to figure out the issues. The social worker started the investigation by identifying the communication circle of Felix using the ecomap and the genogram. Then, he reconstructed the communication circle drawing on the ecomap and disclosure of abuse by providing support to Felix and his family. After identifying the mother as the perpetrator, the social worker removed the support from the mother by involving social services. Based on the initial assessment of the genogram, ecomap and understanding of the different macrosystems, the social worker engaged the family into the ‘Structural’ and ‘Systematic’ Family therapy to support Felix and his family. The structural and systematic family therapy will help social worker to seek the changes in the structure of family relationship that are not working correctly and identify any hidden rules within the family that are adversely affecting the relationships respectively. Also, family therapy can help Felix and his family to develop their family system by looking within the network for possible targets and for strengthening the relationship with each involved in this social work process.

Social worker followed the life model of social work practice liaise within the systems approach. Through effective communication, he identified the severe stressors of Felix over his life course, then carried out the necessary appraisals as Felix is on serious harm. Finally, the social worker provided Felix with a support system integrated with excellent communication where the social services enabled and coordinated according to the people’s action. The family conference group meeting and ecological system created a safe environment for Felix to cope with stressors and help him with recovery.

Person-centred Theory

In contrast to the Systems theory, Person-centred theory is a perspective approach established on practice theory which emphasises on personal development through shared experiences of the client and the social worker. It is a long-term intervention with the theoretical objective of introducing social changes. The person-centred approach determines the problem seen as located in Felix’s behaviour; therefore, the solution lies within the Felix instead of his social system. Using person-centred approach can enable the social worker to work on the micro level of intervention where he can work individually with Felix (the victim of abuse), his mother (the perpetrator of abuse) and other individuals involved in his care. Person-centred approach (sometimes also termed as Humanistic approach) can allow the social worker to communicate in a more humanistic way where he can approach Felix first and foremost as a human being . The social worker can seek to change Felix’s isolating behaviour, but Felix will have to accept to engage with the social worker in therapeutic manners by promoting his self- esteem, authenticity and actualisation in his life.

Furthermore, the person-centred approach can help social worker to challenge Felix’s mother behaviour by communicating in empathetic and self-centred manners. The social worker can explain to Felix’s mother that she is unable to care for Felix adequately and she might need a Mental Health assessment due to her current mental state and might get detained in the hospital against her will. The person-centred approach fulfils value-based objectives of empowerment, social change and problem solving as a vital element of humanistic theory. However, the person-centred approach is more flexible, non-judgemental and less deterministic, it does not enable the social worker to understand the different level of systems and complexity of social network in order to communicate at the macro level of intervention.

The social worker applied systems theory in Felix’s scenario because of its holistic view of individuals within Felix’s environment as there are several systems connected and influence one another. The social worker wants to strengthen one part of the system to strengthen the other social components of Felix’s system. System theory is useful but ethical as we keep personal values aside; however, the person-centred is more effective because it is a more humanistic interpersonal approach of achieving Felix actions. Empowerment, holism and anti-oppressive aspects of the systems ideas are the essential values of the Systems theory. However, the issue raised in Systems theory is that it can over assess the full range of systems in Felix’s life (without valid consent) which can be difficult for Felix to understand. A single miscommunication can lead to the dysfunction of the system which can lead to the failure of the application of this theory.


It is debatable if the Systems theory (a practice theory with framework) which tells us how and what to do is essential than the Person-centred theory (a practice theory with perspective) which tells us what social work is. Therefore, in this scenario, both theories are working simultaneously. However, Person-centred theory in practice might fail to meet all the goals set to resolve Felix’s case if we take out the system besides we need a set framework to practice and successfully resolve the issues for the Felix and his family.

07 July 2022
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