Date of Award

Spring 5-13-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Jeffrey Applegate

Second Advisor

Roberta G Sands

Third Advisor

Jerome C Wakefield

Abstract

Despite the recent development of theories in the social sciences that define human development and functioning in an integrated, nuanced and complex manner, the social work concept of “person-in-environment” remains outdated and limited. This is in part due to the “person” and “environment”--the biological, psychological, and social environments--being defined in distinction from one another. In order to remain current and effective in arguing on behalf of a clear professional voice in the field, social workers must not only engender but also promote a fundamental practice perspective that addresses complexity. A reformulation of “person-in-environment” can help social workers more fully realize the desire to unite under the common professional mandates requiring that both a “person-in-environment” perspective and a full biopsychosocial picture be taken into clinical accounts. To meet this aim I develop the concept of contextual adaptation, a new definition of “person-in-environment” reliant on tenets of nonlinear dynamic systems theory, specifically chaos theory. Nonlinear dynamic systems theory offers a unique opportunity for social workers to retain the core potentiality and utility of “person-in-environment,” that which enables them to account for the importance of environment, but reformulate it so as to create a more viable concept. Contextual adaptation is defined as a biopsychosocial process allowing for an integrated focus on the influence and management of the overlapping contexts of self, interpersonal experience, and sociocultural demands. Human development and functioning are established as a spectrum of adaptive behavior based on the regulation of the needs and requirements of internal processes, relational experience, and external influence.

Included in

Social Work Commons

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