You are here

Human Behavior Theory for Social Work Practice

Human Behavior Theory for Social Work Practice

March 2019 | 456 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

Human Behavior Theory for Social Work Practice provides an in-depth examination of human behavior theories and helps students apply each theory to social work practice. Authors Terry Koenig, Rick Spano, and John Thompson cover a broad spectrum of theories—including ecological, psychological, and sociopolitical—before applying them to a wide range of case examples that represent different stages across the human lifespan. Drawing from their extensive knowledge and experience in social work practice and teaching, the authors also feature scholarly research and writing to support the understanding of the theoretical overview in each chapter.


About the Authors
Chapter 1 • Introduction to Theory and Its Application to Social Work Practice
How This Book Is Organized

Chapter Summaries

What Is Theory?

Theory and Science

Does Theory Really Matter? Theory Myth Busters

The Interactive Abstract/Concrete Continuum

Meta-Theories as Overarching Theories: Their Contributions to Practice


Chapter 2 • Critique of Theory for Use in Social Work Practice
What Does This Theory Say About Human Behavior?

How Does This Theory Address Growth and Change?

How Holistic Is This Theory?

How Consistent Is This Theory With Social Work Values and Ethics?

What Are the Sources of Knowledge That Support This Theory?

Chapter Summary


Chapter 3 • Contextualizing Human Behavior Theory
Rationale for the Chapter

Assumptions Regarding Our Discussion of HBSE Theories and Their Connection to Practice

Defining Historical Context

Application of Historical Context Framework

Historical Context Questions Applied to the Late 1800s to 1920

Chapter Summary

Classroom Exercise: Analyzing Current Events


Chapter 4 • Critical Theories
Critical Theories and Their Roots in Marxism

Broad and Narrow Definitions of Critical Theory

Key Themes in Critical Theory and Its Development

Critical Theory in the 20th Century: Feminist Criticism and Critical Race Theory

In-Depth Paulo Freire (1921–1997)

Theory Critique

Application of Critical Theories to Social Work

Environmental Conditions

Classroom Exercises: The Application of Critical Theory to Social Work Practice Examples

Chapter Summary


Chapter 5 • Psychodynamic Theory
Brief Introduction to Freudian Ideas

Key Conceptual Elements of Freud

Psychodynamic Theories’ Early Influences on Social Work Practice

Extensions of Psychodynamic Theory

Ego Psychology

More Current Developments

In-Depth: Otto Rank

Theory Critique

Application of Psychodynamic Theory

The Application of Psychodynamic Theory to Case Examples

Connections to Usefulness in Practice

Chapter Summary

Classroom Exercises


Chapter 6 • Systems Theories
Introduction to Systems Theories

In-Depth Exploration of Systems Theories as Applied to Social Work Practice

Social Work Frame of Reference Based on Systems Theory

Current Conceptualization of the Life Model

Theory Critique

Application of the Life Model to Social Work Practice: Eco-Maps, Genograms, and Beyond

Chapter Summary

Classroom Exercises


Chapter 7 • Environmental and Ecological Theory in Social Work
Connecting Social Work With the Natural Environment

Is Environmental Thought New?

Environmental Ethics

In-Depth: Arne Naess and Deep Ecology

Critique of Environmental and Ecological Theory

Social Work’s Historical Relationship With the Natural Environment

Social Work and the Natural Environment: Current Developments

Summary of Social Work and the Natural Environment

Chapter Summary

Classroom Exercises


Chapter 8 • Life Span Theories, Family Life Course Perspectives, and Historical Trauma
Overview of Life Span Theories

Advances Beyond Erikson

In-Depth: Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart and Venida S. Chenault

Critique of Life Span Theories and Beyond

Introduction to Social Work’s Understanding of Life Span Theory

Chapter Summary


Chapter 9 • Symbolic Interactionism
Overview and In-Depth Examination of George H. Mead

Critique of Symbolic Interactionism

Application of Symbolic Interactionism Theory to Social Work Practice

Chapter Summary


Chapter 10 • Behavior Theory, the Cognitive Turn, and the Influence of Mindfulness
Introduction and History of Behaviorism

Behavior Theory and Three Generations of Behavior Therapy

The Cognitive Turn and the First Generation of Behavior Therapies

Cognition and Second-Generation Behavior Therapies

Third-Generation Behavior Therapies

In-Depth: Mindfulness East and West

Critique of Behavior Theory and Behavior Therapies

Application of Behaviorism to Social Work Practice

Chapter Summary


Chapter 11 • Theories of Culture and White Privilege
Critical Consciousness for Ourselves and Our Clients

White Privilege and White Identity Development

Helms’s White Identity Development Model

Praxis as Action-Awareness-Reflection-Dialogue

In-Depth Theorist: Kimberlé Crenshaw and Intersectionality

Critique of Theories of Culture, White Privilege, Diversity, and Intersectionality

Application and Development of Diversity in Social Work Practice


Chapter Summary


Chapter 12 • Empowerment Theory and the Strengths Perspective
Historical Context for Empowerment Theory

Key Themes in Empowerment Theory

Positive Psychology

Applied Positive Psychology

Concerns About Positive Psychology

In-Depth Theorists for the Strengths Perspective

Critique of Empowerment Theory and the Strengths Perspective

Application of the Strengths Perspective

Classroom Exercise

Chapter Summary


Chapter 13 • Cognitive and Moral Development Theories
Piaget and Cognitive Development

From Cognitive to Moral Development Theory

The Emergence of Kohlberg’s Moral Development Theory

Public Education as the Just Community

Extensions From Piaget and Kohlberg

Current Trends in Moral Development

In-Depth: Carol Gilligan and Women’s Moral Development

The First Perspective

The Second Perspective

The Third Perspective

Adolescent Girls and Authenticity

Critique of Cognitive and Moral Development Theories

Application of Cognitive and Moral Development Theories to Social Work Practice

Chapter Summary




Instructor Resource Site  

Free online resources for instructors accompany this text on a password-protected Instructor Resource Site.        

  • Test banks provide a diverse range of pre-written options as well as the opportunity to edit any question and/or insert personalized questions to effectively assess students’ progress and understanding.         
  • Editable, chapter-specific PowerPoint® slides offer complete flexibility for creating a multimedia presentation.

I like the way the Authors tie theory to practice. I believe students should be thinking about how the environment is structured and how it affects human behavior. 

Donald Cooney
School Of Social Work, Western Michigan University
August 11, 2020

This text was a really good fit for the course we adopted it for.

Dr Travis Wade Cronin
Social Work Education Dept, California State Univ-Fresno
April 9, 2021
Key features

  • Case examples from social work practice help theory come alive for students.
  • Ethics spotlights provide brief case examples for students to reflect on before answering accompanying discussion questions.
  • Chapter summaries allow students to review and reinforce the material at the conclusion of chapters.
  • Chapter-ending boxes of key terms provide page numbers where terms appear for students to easily look up definitions.
  • Class exercises prompt students to put chapter content into practice and answer questions to discuss in groups.

Sage College Publishing

You can purchase or sample this product on our Sage College Publishing site:

Go To College Site