adequate day care for her young children. Taken together, all these difficulties may prevent her from finding a job and getting off public aid.
In assessing behavior, one must be aware of lim- itations imposed by the environment. Otherwise, im- possible alternatives might be pursued. In practice, a social worker who does not understand these things might continue to pressure the young woman in the example to go out and get a job. Since she was al- ready trying and failing, this additional pressure might make her turn against the social worker and the social service system. She might just give up.
Awareness of how prejudgments and stereotypes affect people is important because it involves profes- sional values, one of the foundation blocks of social work. Reamer (1995) articulates basic social work values and emphasizes the importance of adherence to them. These values include “individual worth and dignity, . . . client self-determination, . . . com- mitment to social change and social justice, . . . client empowerment, equal opportunity, nondiscrimina- tion, [and] respect for diversity” (p. 894).
Focus on Empowerment, the Strengths Perspective, and Resiliency The second cluster of vital concepts for understand- ing human behavior includes empowerment, the strengths perspective, and resiliency. They constitute ongoing themes stressed throughout social work practice.
Empowerment Empowerment is the “process of increasing personal, interpersonal, or political power so that individuals can take action to improve their life situations” (Gutierrez, 2001, p. 210). The empowerment ap- proach is a perspective on practice that provides “ways of thinking about and doing practice” (Lee, 2001, p. 32). Throughout the assessment process and our quest to understand human behavior, it’s critical to emphasize, develop, and nurture strengths and positive attributes in order to empower people. Empowerment aims at enhancing the power and control that individuals, groups, families, and com- munities have over their destinies.
We have also determined that some groups of people suffer from stereotypes, discrimination, and oppression. It is social work’s task to empower cli- ents in general and members of oppressed groups in particular.
Cowger and Snively (2002) explain:
Promoting empowerment means believing that peo- ple are capable of making their own choices and decisions. It means not only that human beings pos- sess the strengths and potential to resolve their own difficult life situations, but also that they increase their strength and contribute to the well-being of society by doing so. The role of the social worker is to nourish, encourage, assist, enable, support, stimulate, and unleash the strengths within people; to illuminate the strengths available to people in their own environments; and to promote equity and justice at all levels of society. To do that, the social worker helps clients articulate the nature of their situations, identify what they want, explore alternatives for achieving those desires and then achieve them. (p. 110)
The Strengths Perspective Focusing on strengths can provide a sound basis for empowerment. Sometimes referred to as the strengths perspective, this orientation focuses on client resources, capabilities, knowledge, abilities, motivations, ex- perience, intelligence, and other positive qualities that can be put to use to solve problems and pursue positive changes.
Assessment of human behavior establishes the ba- sis for understanding people’s problems and issues, and subsequently helping them improve their lives. Social workers address people’s problems every day, but it’s the identification of people’s strengths that provides clues for how to solve their problems and improve their life situations. Saleebey (2009, pp. 15–18) cites at least four principles involved in the strengths perspective:
1. Every individual, group, family, and community has strengths. The case example in the next sec- tion concerning the Fernandez family will illus- trate this idea.
2. Trauma and abuse, illness and struggle may be in- jurious, but they may also be sources of challenge and opportunity. Have you ever experienced a se- rious problem or disappointment that turned out to have opened other, perhaps better, opportu- nities for you? Days after my 16th birthday, I was in a car accident in which my face was crushed. (It happened at about midnight on
Introduction to Human Behavior and the Social Environment 13
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