Human Behavior Theory
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Human Behavior Theory

A Diversity Framework

Roberta Greene

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eBook - ePub

Human Behavior Theory

A Diversity Framework

Roberta Greene

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In recent years, advocates for civil rights for minorities, women, and gays and lesbians have become more informed consumers of mental health services. As a result, social work practitioners need to prepare themselves to serve diverse constituencies for who previously held behavioral and cultural assumptions have proven not to be universally applicable. The purpose of Greene's book is to help students and practitioners better understand how social workers have used human behavior theories to more competently address variations in group and community membership within the social worker-client encounter.

The book's approach is largely thematic. Most of the chapters explore how particular assumptions of a human behavior theory--psychoanalytic theory, psychodynamic/ego psychology theory, systems theory, behavioral theory, symbolic interaction theory, feminist theory, constructionist theory, small group theory, and an ecological perspective --have been used to answer issues related to cultural diversity. The challenges and limitations of each theory's applications across varying client constituencies are discussed throughout. What sorts of new conceptual issues for the practitioner of family services are raised in work with minority families, for example, or with lesbian families? How does a specific theory help, or not help, in group-specific interventions and evaluations?

Intended as a companion volume to the widely adopted human behavior text by Greene and Ephross, Greene's new book fills the need for a wide, synthetic reading of the recent literature.

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1 Social Work Practice Within a Diversity Framework

Roberta R. Greene
The idea of cultural pluralism, the enrichment which comes from the acceptance and enjoyment of cultural differences, should increasingly affect all disciplines concerned with constructive human relationships.
(Hamilton, [1940] 1951, pp. 206-207)
During the past 20 years, American society has become increasingly diverse. Although the United States has always been a multigroup society, in recent years the metaphor of America as a melting pot with its goal of homoge-nization has been challenged as never before. The debate is joined in the social and political arena by those holding an alternative vision: a multicultural society that supports a variety of ethnic group values and life-style choices.
The United States has experienced, and will continue to experience, marked growth in the numbers of people who belong to diverse cultural groups. People have become increasingly aware of or have rediscovered their ethnic identity and cultural group membership. In addition, advocates for civil rights for minorities, women, and gays and lesbians have become more informed consumers of mental health services. The theories and practices for assessment, psychiatric diagnosis, and a range of mental health interventions have come under increasing attack for their gender, race, cultural, and social class bias. Hence, social work practitioners will undoubtedly need to prepare themselves to serve diverse client groups.
These societal forces, combined with accompanying political factors such as increased participation of minorities in the political process, have profoundly affected social work education. As a result, educators have come to better appreciate the importance of teaching social work students within a diversity framework, and researchers are further examining how best to deliver culturally competent social work services.
The consequences of diversity in ethnic background, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and culture in a pluralistic society also have received increasing exposure in the professional literature. Social work practice with diverse groups in particular requires that practitioners understand the principies of cultural dynamics and how they relate to human functioning (Pin-derhughes, 1989). Human behavior theories are used “to deal with vast quantities of data by formulating significant questions, selecting and organizing data, and understanding the data within a larger framework” (Specht & Craig, 1982, p. 8). Social work theorists and practitioners have not had as great an interest in some theories as in others (Ephross-Saltman & Greene, 1993). For example, from the 1950s to the 1970s, Freudian theory and ego psychology dominated the practice world; in 1970, general systems theory also was adopted and gained prominence (H. Goldstein, 1986c; see Greene & Ephross, 1991b, for an extended discussion). In addition, some theory bases have had specific practice applications, such as that of Carl Rogers’s theory and its influence on social work interviewing techniques (see Chapter 3).
An ongoing concern related to the human behavior curriculum has been its applicability for practice within a diversity framework (Berger & Federico, 1982; CSWE, 1984; Federico, 1979; Franklin, 1986; Gibbs, 1986; Granger & Portner, 1985; Lowenstein, 1976; Schlesinger & Devore, 1979; Wetzel, 1986). Among the questions raised are:
  • How is culture-specific information infused in the social work helping process?
  • What theories, or what concepts and assumptions from certain theories, are best suited for transcultural social work practice?
  • How has human behavior theory most effectively been used transcul-turally to explain behaviors and structure the helping process?
As a result of these concerns, the social work profession has reexamined its use of human behavior theory, and social workers have engaged in a lively debate about whether the theoretical foundation of human behavior theory applies across cultural boundaries or equally to females and males within diverse cultures (Collins, 1986; de Anda, 1984; Longres, 1990).
The social work profession can play an important role in affirming ethnic and cultural pluralism by effectively serving its varied constituency (Sanders, 1975). This chapter outlines the various groups that fall under the umbrella of diversity. It also discusses the scope of diversity content available for effective transcultural social work practice.

Historical Advocacy

The skilled [social work] bureaucrat is able to negotiate the constraints of the organizational environment in order to maintain maximum range for discretionary behavior to be enacted in the client’s behalf. (Solomon, 1976, p. 15)
Over the past three decades, historical and social events in the United States have brought about an increase in the number of groups that either define themselves as minorities or seek redress from the general society. Starting in the 1960s, the tumultuous changes in the body pol itic, including urban upheavals and the demand for community control, presented social work with “formidable challenges” (Tidwell, 1971, p. 59). The civil rights and women’s liberation movements, with the accompanied acceleration in social change, required that the social work profession reassess its priorities and direction.
These social and political forces particularly gave impetus to an advocacy approach to the social work curriculum (see Chapter 12 and Epilogue for a discussion of gay and lesbian content in the social work curriculum). Students and faculty activists asserted that variations in cultural group patterns that historically were less visible in the curriculum should be given more attention (Arnold, 1970; Glasgow, 1971). The strain and struggle to incorporate the study of ethnic and minority group life into the social work curriculum was reflected in professional journals, in professional conferences, and in the task forces appointed by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) (Francis, 1973;Mackey, 1973; Miranda, 1973; Murase, 1973; Ruiz, 1973). Moreover, faculty groups within CSWE urged that information about the life-styles of diverse client groups become an integral part of social work education.
Reassessment of curricula eventually led to a heightened commitment to understanding diverse groups and “activities related to ethnic minority concerns” (Pins, 1970, p. 32A). As a result, CSWE established accreditation standards that required schools to make a special effort to assure cultural diversity in their student body, faculty, and staff and to provide a curriculum that would include a body of knowledge on women and various diverse groups (CSWE, 1970; 1971 ; Dumpson, 1979).
Currently, three CSWE curriculum standards reflect the profession’s interest in a curriculum that respects diversity (Table 1.1). According to CSWE (1991-1992), such populations include, but are not limited to those diƟtin-guished by age, religion, disablement, sexual orientation, and culture. CSWE also mandates that content on social justice and the dynamics and consequences of oppression as well as on populations-at-risk be included in curricula.

Defining Diversity

There are many perspectives on how ethnic group membership, social class, minority group status, and culture affect individual and group life. . . . Those who have been assigned official responsibility “to help” have a particular obi ig-ation to be aware of inequality. (Devore & Schlesinger, 1987a, p. 3)
Table 1.1 Curriculum Policy Statement
Clearly, the history of social work education suggests that there has been growing attention to curriculum content relevant to a diverse client constituency. Select human behavior theory and practice issues as they relate to members of these various constituents are discussed throughout the text. However, it is important to understand that there is often as much diversity within a particular group as between groups. Therefore, each client must be seen as an individual who may or may not subscribe to general group norms and beliefs. Therefore, a client should be asked to differentiate his or her own experiences as a member of particular diversity or reference group.
In this section, there is a general introduction to nine diverse groupings that are often affected by social, economic, and legal bias or oppression. The list should not be considered exhaustive. In addition, terminology preferred by various racial and ethnic groups has changed over time, and currently may not reflect unanimous agreement. Therefore, terms used here and in various chapters generally reflect the terminology used at the time a particular piece of literature was written. For example, although the term Native American was used in journal articles of the 1970s, the term American Indian is currently more prevalent. Furthermore, social workers should be alert to how individuals or a group of individuals describe or define themselves. For example, people who are deaf are increasingly arguing that they are a subculture characterized by language, the American Sign Language. That is, instead of perceiving deafness as a disability or as merely a medical condition, growing numbers of people who are deaf consider themselves members of a shared cultural group (Dolnick, 1993).
The groups discussed here are:
  1. minority groups, as they are defined by limited political power;
  2. ethnic groups, which are characterized by a shared peoplehood;
  3. women, in terms of gender roles and power issues;
  4. the aged, who are affected by devalued status;
  5. members of certain social classes, in terms of their economic and educational (dis)advantage;
  6. developmental^ disabled people, who are perceived as limited by handicap;
  7. people of varying sexual orientations, affected by misconceptions of life-style and affectional ties;
  8. religious groups, as defined by their spiritual needs, religious beliefs, and practices; and
  9. oppressed populations, who face discrimination and limited political power.
Case studies that illustrate social work practice with these diverse groups appear in subsequent chapters.

Minority Groups

Social work practice with minority clients addresses individuals, families, and members of communities who historically have been oppressed or have had limited power in U.S. society (Green, 1982; Lum, 1986). Devore and Schlesinger (1987a) have suggested that the term minority group be used to mean “the underprivileged in a system of ethnic stratification” (p. 13). However, Hopps (1987) proposed the term people of coloras the best term to define those individuals “most affected by racism and poverty” (p. 161). Because minority group members are in a relatively less powerful position in society, they may be denied access and opportunities available to others, such as adequate housing, employment, and health care.
The term minority has been extended over the years to include more groups, including people affected by racism, poverty, or discrimination. Among the groups that have been included by law in the term minority are American Indians, Alaska Natives, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Americans from the Pacific Islands, and Hispanics of various national ancestry. Developmentally disabled persons also are protected by law (P.L. No. 95-602). Women, gays, lesbians, the elderly, and people with Spanish surnames sometimes are referred to as minorities. However, the term has no sei-entific criteria; moreover, it often is defined differently by government policy and regulations as well as by group members themselves (Hopps, 1987). Also, there is considerable variation in culture and life situations among subgroups of people identified as members of a particular minority or ethnic group.
In addition, there is no scientific agreement about the term race (Green, 1982; Johnson, 1987). Race is currently considered by most social scientists to be a social concept with “no standing as a scientific or analytic category” (Green, 1982, p. 6). The disuse of the term race as a scientific category relates to the understanding that there are only superficial physical differences between people, such as skin color, and that people differ more within a race than between races.
However, because people of color have experienced oppression, stereotyping, and denial of opportunity, the term race is often associated with stratification of power (Green, 1982). Therefore, there is concern among members of the social work profession about how color differences are portrayed and “the uses to which [group classification] might be put.... [At the same time,] social workers must be alert to the possible misuse of ’color blindness’ as a way to avoid remediation of the effects of past discrimination” (Hopps, 1987, p. 162).

Ethnic Groups

Members of an ethnic group think of themselves as a “people” or as having a common culture, history, and origin. An ethnic group maintains a distinction between itself and perceived outsiders; however, it is “a dynamic system constantly changing, adjusting, and adapting to the wider environment of which it is a part” (Holzberg, 1982, p. 254). Ethnic groups consist of subgroups with diverse life-styles, languages, histories, and cultural strengths and supports.


Every known society has a gender-based definition of economic and social roles. Although every society makes a distinction between gender roles, the way in which gender is symbolized varies across cultures. Stockard and Johnson (1992) have pointed out that although women’s status in a culture is multidimensional, “there is no evidence, historical or contemporary, of any society in which women as a group have controlled the political and economic lives of men” (p. 91).
In addition to possible structural inequities, the concern in social work practice is whether practitioners have differential perceptions of clients by gender that adversely affect the help rendered (Jayaratne & Ivey, 1981). Gender-sensitive social work practice, although variously defined, usually incorporates a therapeutic model that rejects traditional power arrangements for both males and females. Many feminists have suggested that gender-sensitive practice follows a therapeutic model that would produce a nonsexist role model, espouse self-actualization regardless of role stereotyping and social demand, and provide for women a unified feminist ego ideal (Orlin, 1979-1980).

The Aged

Every society ascribes certain qualities to its aged members. Reviews of the contemporary literature indicate that attitudes toward older adults are mixed at best(Hooyman & Kiyak, 1988). In the youth-oriented society of the United States, the image of the older person as unproductive is commonplace (Butler, Lewis, & Sunderland, 1991). The view has been so pervasive that the term ageism was coined to describe the prejudice and stereotypes applied to older people solely on the basis of their age (Butler, 1969). Ageism is an attitude that can result in actions that subordinate a person or group because of age, and thereby brings about unequal treatment. That ageism exists in the mental health field has been well documented in numerous studies indicating that allied health professionals are reluctant to enter the field (Greene, 1984...

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