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The Theories and Practices Social Workers Use to Help Their Clients
By: Marylie W. Gerson, PhD


Social Workers Gain Continuing Education Helping Profession

Social workers make use of a number of theories to guide their work with clients. Many of these theories have their roots in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, while others provide alternative lenses through which to understand human behavior and suffering.

Psychoanalytic Theory




Psychoanalytic theory—or more broadly, psychodynamic theory—is relevant to the conceptualization and treatment of a wide range of clients, from those with serious psychological disorders to those seeking greater fulfillment in their lives. Its theories and practices aim to help clients increase their awareness of their inner world and its influence over relationships.

The field of psychoanalytic psychotherapy encompasses a variety of theoretical approaches and techniques, from the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud, Abraham, and Fenichel, to the contemporary work of Kohut, Kernberg, Masterson, and Bollas.

Whether or not a clinician intends to specialize in this approach, knowledge of it can enrich clinical judgment and skill.

A Look at Classical Psychoanalytic Theory

Consider the five meta-psychological paradigms of Sigmund Freud, as well as his views on defense mechanisms, perversions, neuroses, and psychoses. Dr. Michael J. Gerson provides a comprehensive introductory level continuing education course in psychoanalytic theory for social workers.

The course explains the concepts of psychological determinism, levels of consciousness, and topographic, adaptive, dynamic-economic, genetic, and structural models.

The course is presented in an audio file, accompanied by an online manuscript, and earns 8 CE credits. It may also be applied to an institute specialization Certificate in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. Intermediate and advanced courses in psychoanalytic therapy are also offered.

Practice Models




Practice models provide lenses through which the clinician can understand a client and strategies to guide clinical work. It is helpful to be familiar with a variety of models so that the individual client’s needs can be best addressed. A foundation in such models as the following can provide tools for the social worker’s clinical work:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides strategies for helping a client overcome dysfunctional behaviors and recognize and challenge maladaptive thoughts.
  • Humanistic approaches focus on providing a therapeutic environment that facilitates a client’s independent growth.
  • Narrative therapy helps a client separate themselves from a problem so they can view and address it in a new way.
  • Positive psychology builds strategies to prevent mental disorders and maximize personal well-being.
  • Psychodynamic approaches work on unconscious processes that may be holding a person back from health or from realizing their potential.

Get the full details of our continuing education courses for social workers!

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