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Task-Centred and Crisis Intervention Approaches

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    Both task-centred and crisis intervention approaches are popular and widely used methods of social work practice. Although these two approaches have different origins they have some common features. In order to focus on the advantages and disadvantages of task-centred and crisis intervention approaches for anti-discriminatory practice, I intend to look at the key features of each approach.

    Discrimination occurs when individuals or groups of people receive unequal or unfair treatment on account of prejudice. There are many forms of discrimination which include racism, sexism and ageism.Almost by definition, a large proportion of people seeking help from, or referred to, social services (or similar organisations ) belong to groups which are frequently discriminated against in our society e. g.

    people with disabilities and older people. As Thompson states- “We live in a society characterised by various forms of inequality. As a result of this, certain groups in society have less access to resources, fewer opportunities or ‘life-chances’, less power and influence, poorer health and so on. “(2000 p141)Many of the people who are social work clients or users of social services are subject to multiple discrimination and oppression.

    For the purpose of this essay I intend to use a broad definition of anti-discriminatory practice, which is that anti-discriminatory practice is practice that challenges unfairness. According to Thompson “a social work practice which does not take account of oppression and discrimination cannot be seen as good practice,” (2001 p11) I will try to examine the key features of each approach with this quote in mind.Task-centred work has its origins entirely within social work; it evolved from research in the 1960s in the United States by Reid and Shyne. This research discovered that “first contrary to expectations, that truncated long-term treatment was as effective as long term treatment which ran its full course, second that ‘planned short term treatment’ was effective and, third, that the task-centred model of practice devised as a result was effective.

    (Payne 1997 p96) Task-centred practice is essentially a problem solving method in which the social worker works in partnership with the client to try to alleviate the client’s problems in a rational and logical way. This method of work is based on agreement between the worker and the client, this is particularly important where the client has not chosen to be involved with social services for example some kind of court order or some child protection work.There is immediately a clear link here to anti-discriminatory practice as this approach “does not pathologise service users but sees them as fellow citizens who are encountering difficulties” (Doel in Adams 1998 p204). The worker and the client work together to first clarify, and then to explore the problem(s).

    The problems are then prioritised in order of importance to the client and a goal or goals are set. The next stage is to identify the tasks that need to be undertaken in order to achieve these goals. Tasks can be performed by the client, the worker or by others.There needs to be a clear agreement between the worker and the client about who is doing what.

    Task-centred work has clear time limits which also need to be part of the agreement between the worker and the client. Negotiations with and subsequent agreements between the worker and the client are fundamental to this way of working, however thought needs to be given to the best way of recording such agreements. For example how should agreements or ‘contracts’ be recorded when the client is visually impaired, is unable to read or whose first language is not English?There must be regular reviewing of the tasks which allows for the opportunity to celebrate successes, explore difficulties or if necessary, re-negotiate tasks or goals. Using a task-centred approach should provides real opportunities for empowerment for the client, by given them the chance not only to identify their difficulties, but to prioritise them.

    Another advantage for anti-discriminatory practice in using this approach is that the focus of the work is the problem itself not the client.It is important that workers are always aware of the power and authority, both real and perceived that they may have in relation to clients, Doel says of task-centred work that “Its value base is anti-oppressive in that it addresses issues of power and oppression, both in the immediate encounter between worker and service user and in the broader social context” (in Adams 1998 p198) Doel further maintains that “the task-centred model ensures that discussion of power is part of the work itself”. (in Adams p199)These quotes strongly suggests used properly, task- centred practice has definite advantages for anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice. The task-centred approach “builds on people’s strengths rather than analysing their defects, providing help rather than treatment.

    Perhaps the most empowering aspect of task-centred work is the fact that there is no mystique about the way it works; its success depends on people understanding the processes of the work, so that they feel worked with and not worked on. (Doel in Hanvey & Philpot 1994 pp22-23) In contrast the crisis intervention approach has its origins in mental health work. Payne says that “Theoretically, crisis intervention uses elements of ego psychology from a psychodynamic perspective.So it focuses on emotional responses to external events and how to control them rationally.

    ” (1997 p95) One disadvantage of this perspective for anti-discriminatory practice is that the psychodynamic perspective tends to have a white Eurocentric viewpoint, – psychological literature from the past 100 years has been based on observations primarily on European, predominantly male and overwhelmingly middle class. “(Robinson in Adams 1998 p78). The most important feature of this approach is to recognise that crisis in this context does not mean an emergency or dramatic event. (Although such an event may precipitate a crisis) The crisis may be a response to major life transitions, such as adolescence.

    Coulshed describes crises as “not necessarily unusual or tragic events, thy can form a normal part of our development and maturation.What happens in crisis is that our habitual strengths and ways of coping do not work; we fail to adjust either because the situation is new to us, or it has not been anticipated, or a series of events become too overwhelming. “(Coulshed 1991 p68) The focus of the crisis intervention approach is on the individual client’s presentation, that is their response or reaction, rather than a specific event (which may or may not have led to the current crisis). The client is likely to be displaying ‘symptoms’ such as poor sleep, restlessness and agitation.

    This crisis state is the point at which the worker needs to be available to the client.The main objective for the worker is to help the client regain their “sense of balance” The first stage of the work is enabling the client to make sense of what has happened to them. This may involve telling the story repeatedly. This helps the client to begin to understand it and thus to feel a bit more in control.

    Effective communication is obviously crucial and issues around language and understanding need to be considered. It is often helpful to encourage the expression of emotions, the worker must be able to remain calm, and not get caught up in the emotional confusion that may be going on.Once trust has been established the client can be helped to make connections with past events. Crises are generally resolved in 6-8 weeks and “intervention in crisis is more successful than at other times”.

    (Payne 1997 p101) However it is whilst the client is in a state of crisis, that they are particularly vulnerable, and workers need to be very aware at this point of the potential power they wield (over and above that which is inherent in the client / worker relationship already).The client may be unwilling or unable to make decisions; also their families may expect the worker to make decisions on behalf of the client. If statutory powers are being used (e. g.

    the Mental Health Act 1983) the worker must make sure that any decisions that they make genuinely represent the interest of the client, and take account of all possible areas of discrimination e. g. race, age, gender disability and so on. It is very easy for a worker in this situation to misuse the power or authority that they have.

    Despite these apparent disadvantages for anti-discriminatory practice, crisis intervention can be seen as empowering in that it aims to enable the client to regain a sense of control over their lives. In common with task-centred practice, crisis intervention is time limited. Both the task-centred and crisis intervention approaches are popular and generally successful models of social work practice. They can both be used in a variety of settings with all sorts of different people (and sometimes with groups too).

    Both these approaches are based on the establishment of a relationship between the worker and the client. there are advantages for anti discriminatory practice in both these approaches in that the concept of partnership or working together is central, particularly to the task centred approach, however the worker must always be aware that there are limitations as they (the worker) will always have, by virtue of their position, a degree of power and /or authority over the client.The setting of achievable tasks and goals in task-centred work and as Marsh says “the idea of searching for strengths, recognizing lack of them and developing ideas that reflect the actual reality of users’ relationships and lives” is clearly an advantage for anti-discriminatory practice.However a disadvantage of this same approach may be that the emphasis on tasks may allow the worker to ignore or simply miss aspects of the clients problem or difficulties that may be caused disadvantage or discrimination that the worker has not considered, for example concern about the practical issues for a women with a disability may mean that discrimination or oppression around gender issues is overlooked.

    In crisis intervention work, the clients openness to change at the point of crisis can be an advantage for anti-discriminatory practice as it presents an opportunity for the client to be helped to understand and to gain some control over their situation. It is essential that the worker ensures that they do all that they canto enhance and develop the clients control over their situation as soon as possible.Despite their different origins and differing emphasis i. e.

    risis intervention focusing on approaches emphasis on (mostly) concrete practical tasks both have a role to play in anti- discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice. Both these methods for anti-discriminatory practice are that they both offer a clear focussed way of tackling problems presented by clients. Anti-discriminatory practice and therefore according to Thompson, good practice (2001 p11) is not dependent on the use of any one method or approach, it is more to do using a method in an anti-discriminatory way.This means not only being aware of the potential for discrimination and oppression inherent in the worker / client relationship, and in the various approaches to social work practice but also the need to constantly look at ways of using the various approaches in order to reduce discrimination and oppression.

    In my own work (mostly with adults with learning difficulties) I can think of many occasions when either of the two approaches discussed here may have been helpful. Although much of the work that have done is essentially ‘task oriented’ i. e. ased on practical tasks, from my recent learning and reading I can see that it could not be described as task-centred work.

    Tina is a 30 year old woman with a learning disability and some mental health problems, she had recently moved into our area and was living with her brother and sister in law. Prior to this she had had supported accommodation in Wales. During her initial visit to social services Tina and her sister identified her priority need to be to housing. There were also a number of other areas to consider e.

    g. social contact, work/employment, and mental health issues.Having identified the major areas of need I set about looking for ways to met Tina’s needs, starting with what I (and Tina’s family) saw as being the priorities – mental health issues, housing , work or some kind of ‘constructive daytime occupation’. It is immediately obvious to me now with the benefit of hindsight (enhanced by reading and learning) that using the task-centred approach in a clear and focussed way would have been helpful not only to Tina, but also to me.

    In retrospect I can see where my own assumptions about Tina, as a person with a learning disability led me to allow myself and others make decisions on her behalf.Many of the tasks that I and other people undertook in order to meet Tina’s needs, she could have managed herself. One example of this was getting a prospectus from the local college, in order to find appropriate courses. Eventually Tina got her own flat in a supported housing scheme, and started some college courses.

    This all took some time and it is quite possible that Tina’s priorities would have been different for example Tina may have considered that making friends and increasing her social contact would be her priority ahead of housing.Although the greater part of the work with Tina was intended to maximise her independence, following the clear process of the task-centred approach (assessment, intervention, review, termination and evaluation) would have given Tina some control over her life, it would also have given her opportunities to enhance her decision making and other skills which would have potentially improved her perception of herself as an independent adult, and would also may have affected how her family viewed her maybe allowing people to see Tina as a person who may need some support rather than someone that needs looking after.Anti-discriminatory practice definitions are as follows.  Anti-discrimination practice is widely used in social work, when training social workers.

    It involves overcoming prejudices and inequalities in order to avoid discrimination. Discrimination manifests itself in all aspects of public life, and not only within the justice system. Physical and mental disorders, sexual orientation, age, and in some places, religious beliefs greatly reduce people’s chances of survival. Anti-discrimination practice includes the recognition of existing prejudices and ways to overcome them.

    Observation of all aspects of social work, taking into account the interests of oppressed groups, is a source of important information about the manifestations of discrimination.

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