CRITICALLY ASSESS THE IMPACT OF TASK CENTRED SOCIAL WORK ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF SOCIAL WORK
Critically assess the impact of Task-Centred by Ester Moreira
practice on the development of Social Work
CRITICALLY ASSESS THE IMPACT OF TASK-CENTRED PRACTICE ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF SOCIAL WORK
The task-centred model is a short-term, problem-solving approach to social work practice. It was developed by William Reid and Laura Epstein in 1969 and appeared as a response to the criticism that long-term casework was time-consuming and it wasn’t very successful in a significant percentage of clients.
It is a way of working with people that highlight partnership and the clients’ participation in decisions that affect them. Task-centred work is one of the few models of social work that encourages clients to decide what they wish to improve or change, rather than having to work on problems that the practitioner considers most important. It also emphasise the client’s motivation, responsibility and the improving of problem-solving capacity.
“… task-centred casework has become task-centred practice, an indication of its development from individualised, therapeutic beginnings to a broader stage; a move away from relatively conservative practices into more radical territory, embracing notions of partnership, empowerment and anti-oppressive practice, and signalling practical ways of realising these ideas.” (Adams, 2002, p. 192)
It’s a practice that is heavily influenced by behavioural model, problem-solving approach and the learning theory.
Like in the behavioural model, task-centred work is a short-term service, usually 6 to 12 sessions and it focuses on problems and behaviours, not in emotions.
As in behavioural approaches, task-centred practice covers a wider range of problems, involving clients’ relationships to diverse environmental systems, for instance, homelessness problems, poor financial resources and conflicts between client and organisations have always been among the targets of the task-centred practice, but in
contrast they fall outside the usual range of behavioural approaches. (Reid, 1992).
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Techniques for single case evaluation of task-centred practice have been recently increased by qualitative methodology. This introduction has been an additional attempt to investigate aspects of social work processes and outcomes not adequately captured by quantitative methods – another point of contrast with typical behavioural approaches, which generally do not use qualitative methods in single-case evaluation. (Reid and Davis, 1987, pp 56-74; Davis and Reid, 1988, pp 298-306).
The impacts on task-centred social work have been wide and different. From its origin in the psychosocial tradition, it became under the controversy over behaviourism. The traditionalist behaviourists considered that task-centred work was to “soft”. This controversy led to a growing influence of the learning theory as a way of understanding why people behave as they do.
As referred above, the task-centred practice is greatly influenced by the problem-solving approach that also became popular in the late 1960s. The problem-solving approach has also a short-term focus on problems, instead of emotions, suggesting modalities for a particular client. It is in this sense more scientifically rigorous than the common-sense problem-solving.
The vogue for social skills training in the late 1970s and early 1980s made its marks on the task-centred methodology, in the use of techniques such as 5 W + H (what? when? who? where? why? and how? ) when investigating the specific nature of the problems, and coaching and practice methods to help people to achieve success with tasks. (Adams, 2002, p. 192).
Finally, the learning theory contributed with some theoretical principles to task-centred practice: it is used to explain some of the value of task completion. Although task-centred practice does not rely as heavily on learning theory as it does on the behavioural approach, it shares the focus of change through task completion (learning new behaviours). (/taskcentered/).
The task-centred practice, around the 1980s, was in the right position to give voice to the clients’ rights/consumer choice movement (BASW, 1979). Its connections with open and shared recording (qualitative methodology) and the demands for transparency about the purpose of the work, gave task-centred practice ambiguous attraction to both radical and managerial elements in social work. This pressure continued through the 1990s and beyond; task-centred practice provides clear methods to shape the good intentions of partnership and the firm expression of anti-oppressive principles, but also attract interest from agency managers interested in having measurable outcomes and clear systems of accountability. (Adams, 2002, p. 193).
As referred in a website about task-centred practice () this model is split in 3 phases - the initial phase, the middle phase and the termination phase, and as a time limit set at the beginning of the intervention, in collaboration with the client. Usually the interventions will last between 6 to 12 weeks.
In the initial phase the practitioner works with the client to identify problems. Next, target problems are selected and prioritized, in order of importance to the client. Finally the client set goals that will show that progress has been made towards resolution of the problem during intervention. Assessment, process and outcome data are collected systematically.
In the middle phase, both client and practitioner mutually agree to tasks that will take the client step by step towards a resolution of their problems. This could be a written agreement – contract.
There are 3 kinds of tasks: Session tasks: actions that are taken during the counselling sessions (e.g. reviewing progress since last sessions);
Client external tasks: the most important ones. The client practice outside of sessions, attempting to learn and use new behaviours; and
Practitioner tasks: they take place, also outside the session and might include preparing psychoeducational information on new behaviours (e.g. training a parent in coping skills), locating resources (regional services), or preparing a reading list for the client.
During the middle phase the client is engaged in self-directed problem –solving. Every task should lead to increased independence and client’s sense of control - empowerment.
The last phase is the termination phase that begins in the first session when the practitioner outlines suggested time limits for the intervention. It is in this phase that the practitioner reviews with the client the task accomplishments and what remains to be done, highlights the new life skills learned and being exhibited by the client and makes recommendations for future plans. Sometimes, it is necessary to re-contract during this phase for a defined extension of the intervention to work on the goals that weren’t completed or new problems that arose during the intervention.
The task-centred practice can be used in many fields, such as, working with children, families and elderly, voluntary agencies, probation, schools, hospitals and with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds, among others, and it is quickly becoming the new eclecticism (a combination of various models), popular but undifferentiated.
Although task-centred approach is considered as one of the most effective of all approach to social work (Marsh, 1992), there is some criticism to this practice. Some critics suggest that it is reductionist (reduces complex problems to simple terms), because the focus is on measurable outcomes, factors that are not easily measured are ignored, like emotions. Empowerment and social justice, or more individual objectives such as the development of self-esteem, are not pursued simply because they are not easy to measurement.
“For example, a problem-solving or mediation approach to family work might be successful in reducing family conflict. However, such an approach might maintain a patriarchal or even abusive family structure. The work undertaken with the family might therefore achieve one of the goals of the intervention, reduced conflict, but not another more value-based goal—for the family to interact in a more equal manner. (Trotter, available from: [see bibliography]).
Others say that the limitation of time is good for the practitioner and for the agencies (saves time and money), but it doesn’t real help the client because the intervention is too short to resolve the real problems.
In conclusion, some researches and development works showed that task-centred practice is very relevant in Social Work, but it isn’t sufficient to have knowledge of the model to apply it. It is also important to train practitioners, to implement and to support this practice at personal, team and agency levels, mainly because the transition from knowledge to understanding and then to delivery it to clients is not simple. (Doel, 2006, available from [see bibliography]).
“Task-centred work has a solid pedigree of more than 40 years of research development. It fits so many of the developments in social work in recent times that it has come of age. Its long-standing commitment to involving service users at its core now chimes with current thinking in social work… We hope this approach will become mainstream to the development of social work practice over the coming years”. (Doel, 2006, available from [see bibliography]).
- Doel, M (2006), “Across to divide” [online], available from [28.10.2006];
- Trotter, C, (no date), “Working with involuntary clients. A guide to practice”, [online], available from [28.10.2006];
- Adams, R, Dominelli, L and Payne, M (eds) (2002) Social Work: themes, issues and critical debates, Basingstoke, Palgrave.
- BASW (1979), Clients are fellow citizens, Birmingham, British Association of Social workers.
- Davis, I. P., & Reid, W.J. (l988). Event analysis in clinical practice and process research. Social Casework, 69;
- Marsh, P. and Doel, M. (1992). Task-centered social work. Hampshire, Ashgate.;
- Reid, W. J. (l992). Task strategies: An empirical approach to social work practice. New York, Columbia University Press.
- Reid, W. J., and Davis, I. (l987). Qualitative methods in single case research. In N. Gottlieb (Ed.), Proceedings of conference on practitioners as evaluators of direct practice , Seattle, School of Social Work, University of Washington.