Emergence of task-centred work

As the social work profession expanded and the scope of social workers' responsibilities extended, concern about the limits of the casework approach emerged. Traditional casework was criticised for being resource intensive; lacking in focus; and with outcomes that were difficult to quantify and evaluate.

In the late 1960s in North America Reid and Shyne (1969) undertook an extensive four year study to explore an alternative approach to traditional casework This new approach involved brief, highly focussed periods of intervention. Clients were offered up to eight sessions concentrating on clearly defined and explicit goals. The approach was client directed with the social worker acting as a facilitator. The study found that clients' difficulties improved quickly and that significant change could sometime occur after only one session.

The work of Reid and Shyne was replicated and developed further in the United Kingdom by Goldberg et al (1977). Three hypotheses emerged from these studies to account for the difference in outcomes between psychosocial case work and the new approach:

  1. The first hypothesis was that unfocussed help extended over a protracted period diminishes hope and reduces clients' confidence in their own abilities.
  2. The second hypothesis was that the psychosocial approach results in negative dependency and attachment to a particular organisation or individual worker.
  3. And the third hypothesis was that setting time limits on defined and desired outcomes can create an expectation that rapid change is possible thus increasing the motivation and energy of all participants. Put simply, that all participants would benefit from a deadline!

The findings of these studies resulted in the development of what became known as the task-centered approach to social work and the model was further developed and refined in practice. The task-centered model was supported by evidence of practical benefits for clients; and also met a pressing organisational need to ration scarce social work resources.

In addition, the adoption of the task-centered model signalled a move away from the assumption of the professional as the source of expertise; and was a first step towards a more empowering approach. Rather than viewing the individual and their psychological history as the primary source of their difficulties; more attention was paid to the social and external factors impacting on the individual.