Our social work program aspires to provide students with a unique clinical educational experience. Students are challenged to deepen their understanding of internal and external forces that are manifest in the lives of people with whom we work, and in the clinical process. We believe that to fully understand presenting problems we must grasp the dynamic interplay between the individual and the social world. Given the current state of our knowledge, this means that no single theory, perspective or framework can fully explain the complexity of our lives, the personal suffering, or the achievement of well-being. Accordingly, the program broadly holds to a bio-psycho-social perspective that recognizes the relative contribution of each ontologically distinct domain. The program focuses attention on the complex interaction among these domains. This interaction is constitutive of the problems we want and need to understand to be helpful.
Thus, we situate the individual (family or group) in their ‘multiple environments’, not simply in static, descriptive terms, but rather in dynamic subjective and intersubjective lived terms. We want to understand their strengths and vulnerabilities as well as the deleterious consequences of oppressive social dynamics, which impact their life conditions and life chances – throughout the life course.
While faculty may even differ on the understanding, formulation and causal mapping of the problem(s), they will nonetheless, in all instances, provide a comprehensive in-depth analysis, with the requisite attention to the dynamic interaction of all three areas; the biological, the psychological and the social.
We relish and need this diversity to succeed in our aspirations for the program. Unequivocally, we value critical self-reflection of our own social identities and locations to understand the dynamics of power and privilege and its impact on our work.
In brief, a biopsychosocial perspective requires that we attend to theories of the brain, mind, body, and the social world. From a biological perspective, the program examines the role of genetics, temperament, and neurobiological development. Theories of the mind explore who we are, our personalities, our meaning making capacities, development in health and pathology, strengths, weaknesses, emotional and cognitive processes, spiritual awareness, relational capacity, conscious and unconscious functioning. Attention to the body recognizes the fundamental reality of our physical being and its contribution to health, well being, illness, ability and disability.
The properties of the social world are essential to our development, our current and future well-being and life chances. In particular, this clinical program draws on contemporary critical theories to examine the social world in terms of its potential for producing human well-being, and in terms of those forces of oppression and domination that inhibit human well-being. Further, the act of helping (and indeed the generation of social ills) is understood in the context of larger forces and an ethno-cultural context. These forces include historical legacies of social, economic and political policy, colonialism, globalization, physical environmental change, patriarchy, historical and modern capitalism, and modern ideologies. Consequently, the need to frame personal and social problems in terms of human rights, social justice and professional ethics, must also inform our analysis and solutions. We know that the deleterious effects of – racism, classism, social conditions, sexism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism, homophobia, stigma, and bullying, just to mention a few of these effects– are integral elements of presenting problems. The analysis of these problems, and the work to find innovative solutions, require that students and faculty strive to acquire advanced critical understanding, which provides the basis for attending to the dynamic complexity presented by people in need, in creative, scientific, culturally aware and ethical ways. Most poignantly, by way of example, the experience of Indigenous people captures the unjust legacies and continued oppression, requiring particular attention in the program.
More specifically, students require the knowledge and skills to engage diverse and vulnerable client populations, assess for strengths, vulnerabilities, barriers, and mental disorders, formulate, plan and intervene effectively and evaluate one’s practice. Moreover, the program aspires to explore the emancipatory possibilities in our client’s lives, and advocate for fundamental social change.