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Types of Social Work Practice: Direct and Indirect

Your practicum experiences will include either direct practice, indirect practice, or a combination of both.

Direct Social Work Practice (Practicum 1 or Practicum 2)

Direct social work practice (also referred to as a micro practice) involves professional interventions to bring about personal or interpersonal change through:

  • work with clients, such as intake, assessments, counselling, psycho-education, providing emotional support, or coaching; and
  • work on behalf of clients, which can include making referrals, or acting as a broker, mediator, or advocate on a client’s behalf.

Clients or receivers of a service may include an individual, couple, family, or group. The work itself may include a range of practice modalities. However, each practice situation includes common features, such as:

  • an identified client system (the individual or group of people that a social worker is responsible for helping, the composition of which may change over time);
  • one or more interactions with the identified client system (via telephone, face-to-face, or written communication);
  • assessment and intervention that is focused on the specific client system that may lead to change in the client’s environment.

In direct practice environments, the Field Instructor will assess student learning through a wide range of written materials (such as agency reports, recording analyses, process recordings, and reflection logs). Audio recording and direct observation are also very important in order to assess interpersonal communication skills.

Note: As of December 31, 2019, psychotherapy is restricted under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 (RHPA) to members of six regulatory colleges. This includes members of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). Students engaged in psychotherapy in their practicum must be under the supervision of someone holding an MSW or BSW and registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW).

Indirect Social Work Practice (Practicum 2)

Indirect social work practice (also referred to as mezzo or macro practice) focuses on systemic changes in an organization, community, or a larger social systems. It may include:

  • work with clients that will benefit both the clients and others, which could include facilitating patient councils, outreach to form a community coalition, or lobbying with clients for new or improved services; and
  • work with non-clients on behalf of all clients in a similar situation, which could include research, fund-raising, policy analyses or development, advocacy, grant-writing, event planning, or social administration.

Specific indirect practice activities can include: data gathering to assess and report on needs; program planning, implementation, administration and evaluation; resource development; and policy formulation and review. Social work practice at this level involves participation and consultation with volunteers, client/consumer groups, or other professionals. Work may involve collaboration with individuals and groups such as committees, boards, task forces, community groups, and inter-agency networks or coalitions.

Past examples of student activities have included working with:

  • a group of parents in low-income housing to develop a co-operative child-care program;
  • tenants to enhance their physical neighbourhood and improve safety conditions;
  • community groups (such as hospital patients and/or their families) to assist them in exercising power within institutions to ensure they have formal representation on organizational committees; and
  • ethno-specific groups seeking to apply for and access government funding.

Practice in social policy development and social administration often takes place in municipal, provincial, or federal government settings, where students develop competence in committee membership and leadership, research, consultation, and writing. Examples of student assignments include: conducting surveys of large organizations to determine the perceived need for policies on daycare or employee assistance programs; developing policies and procedures for the implementation of equal employment opportunities within a large organization; and developing legislation for service providers in relation to specific issues such as long-term care.

In indirect practice, the Field Instructor will access student learning through a wide range of written materials (e.g., reports, process recordings, and reflection logs) as well as direct observation. When feedback from other staff is included in student evaluation, procedures for obtaining this information should be clearly articulated between the student, Field Instructor, and other staff.

Source: Middleman, R. & Goldberg, G. (1989). The structural approach to social work practice. Columbia University Press.