Promoting Reflective Social Work Practice: Research Strategies and Consulting Principles

Presenter: Irwin Epstein, Professor, Hunter College School of Social Work, City University of New York, NY

Dr. Epstein asserted that the research/practice dilemma is not, as some have argued, a result of an insufficient number of highly trained methodologists. Rather, he believes that the dilemma stems from each perceiving that other values his or her a rena less. He proposed solutions such as developing integrated practice-research methods that empower practitioners, thereby enhancing practice effectiveness. He suggested that approaches would not require compromising practice principles or ethical manda tes. Dr. Epstein noted that the challenge is to develop practice-research approaches that can be routinely and unobtrusively incorporated into decision-making at every level of practice -- research in practice, rather than research on practice. Practice-b ased research rather than research-based practice.

Dr. Epstein recommended three strategies to promote practitioner reflectiveness: 1) grounded theory development and testing; 2) differential clinical and program evaluation; and 3) practice application of research analogs. He applied each strategy to t he case presented by Ms Lukas. He noted, for example, that a grounded theory approach to Nicole's case could clarify the implicit theoretical assumptions and guiding metaphors that govern what a clinician does, why actions are taken in practice, why a cli nician continues to engage in such actions, why changes are made, what is perceived as the impact of practice and how this knowledge is achieved.

Dr. Epstein also suggested that instruction in and application of practice/research analogs would promote reflective practice and possibly practice effectiveness. He concluded with a set of consultative principles that he believes support practice-rese arch partnerships.