Generalist Social Work Practice

Generalist Perspective

Generalist social work practitioners seek to enhance the well-being of client systems of all sizes including individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities in a variety of settings, acknowledging the interconnectivity and interdependence of these systems. The social worker understands that humans function together in a network of systems. Each person's life is influenced by biological, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual factors, and each person lives in a matrix involving families, groups, and communities. These social environments differ in many aspects: age, class, color, culture, disability and ability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, immigration status, marital status, political ideology, race, religion/spirituality, sex, sexual orientation, and tribal sovereign status to name a few. Understanding the intersections of these systems is a key element of the generalist perspective and demands the ability to use multiple theories, methods, and research findings to understand client systems.

Guided by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics, generalist social workers promote social justice with an emphasis on an appreciation for diversity, cultural responsiveness, elimination of systems of oppression, and realization of human rights and social, economic, and political justice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. Integral to generalist social work practice are the professional values outlined by the NASW Code of Ethics:

  • Service
  • Social justice
  • Dignity and worth of the individual
  • Centrality of human relationships
  • Integrity
  • Competence

Generalist practice is further defined as ethical social work practice grounded in the knowledge, values, skills, and cognitive and affective processes associated with a set of professional competencies characterized by the following:

  • Ethical and professional behavior
  • Engagement of diversity and difference in practice
  • Advancement of human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice
  • Engagement in practice-informed research and research-informed practice
  • Engagement in policy practice
  • Engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation with client systems of all sizes (planned change process)