Professor Carol H. Meyer
Columbia University School of Social Work,
New York, N.Y.
The key to "bridging the gap" is to develop a common focus between research and practice. The current communication difficulties may be a consequence of each endeavor operating out of separate domains, and the more enhanced the independent domains, the more difficult it is to attain productive interaction between them.
Common pursuit has been made more difficult by introduction of the eco-systems perspective which addresses breadth, and may include possibly extraneous variables in the context of uncertainty. On the other hand, research methodology addresses narrow phenomena, excludes extraneous variables, and relies on predictability. One solution to the broad perspective vs. the narrow focus issue is to use the environmentalists' dictum to "think globally and act locally."
Before the use of systemic frameworks, the linear cause to effect practice perspective matched the research methodology. It was the then a simple matter of introducing research into practice. Today, the need is for adaptation of research to the mainstr eam social work models. Both research in its emphasis upon evaluation of effectiveness, and practice in its emphasis upon methodology, need to address the substantive problems about which social work is expected to have expertise. Progress in both areas w ill come about through small, incremental steps… not through global change, but through acting locally.
I will focus only upon two issues in assessment that have particular relevance to the bridging problems we are assembled to discuss today. One has to do with epistemology, and the other with knowledge. In assessment, the ways in which we select, collect, order, and interpret case data are shaped by the perspectives we bring to beat upon the, and the knowledge upon which we draw shapes the way we understand and intervene. Rigorous assessment is not a hit or miss affair; it is scientific in its methodology, and it rests upon a knowledge base but it is also seasoned with the practitioner's intuition and experience… and biases, and the client's willingness and capacity to participate. Thus, assessment is both an objective and subjective pr ocess, and unapologetically, it will remain so as long as people practice with people.
There is no question that assessment as we have known it is waning in social work practice. The child welfare system requires reporting on the UCR, the mental health system on the DSM-III-R, the health care system on the DRG's. Practitioners must use r eporting forms, and these have become substitutes for individualized assessments. Place alongside the accountability mania, the rush to quantification and the general anti-intellectualism of our times, and we can understand the waning of assessment in soc ial work practice.
Yet, perhaps foolishly, and feeling somewhat like a dinosaur, I want to give assessment another go. It ahs had a checkered history, the criticism of being soft, aimless, and endless, bit there is nothing in principle that requires it to be any of these things. Assessment should and can be rigorous, were our analysis to indicate that it is indeed an empirical process. The scientific method applicable to both test tube experiment and clinical assessments is straight forward….study or explore the facts, i nterpret them through weighing them, and where they do not offer their own explanation of the situation, use inferential thinking, define the problem or situation, plan the treatment or intervention, act upon the findings or intervene, and finally evaluat e the results. There is nothing mystical or psychoanalytic about this process; it stands on its own as a method of investigation in chemical experiments and human problems, In order for assessment to reflect truth of the client's story, the clinician must think. Facts do not reveal themselves; clients do not tell their stories chronologically and in perfect sequence; cases always abound with contradictions and omissions. Note that I am trying to make a case for assessment here without even mentioning feel ings or the unconscious, for the process of assessment is not dependent upon a particular theory. Assessment is method of investigation, while personality theory and practice assumptions are substantive matters.