Task-Centered Practice in Social Work is an active, direct, and easily measurable way to focus on actionable solutions to specific problems. It’s one thing to recognize and appreciate the socioeconomic factors contributing to a client’s issues. However, using this information to determine the best practice model for the client is one of the most significant challenges of social workers. Sometimes, it’s more appropriate to reinforce a client’s support structures and let the problems resolve passively. However, in task-centered practice (TCP), the social worker’s approach is more direct.
The task-centered practice focuses on actionable solutions to specific problems. It is active, direct, and easily measurable. Present in many disciplines, this method was first adapted to social work in the 1970s by two practitioners from the Chicago School of Social Service Administration, William Reid and Laura Epstein. Their process is taught in schools worldwide, though often as a part of other practice models. Since TCP is adaptable, practitioners use it “accidentally” to address specific client problems. The anatomy of this model is as straightforward as the name implies. It identifies the client’s issues, outline goals, creates and execute a task-centered plan, and evaluate the results.
Identify the Target Problem(s)
The problem(s) that clients present may vary greatly depending on the social work practice setting, the region and population served, and several other factors. Regardless of the environment, social workers must rely on a range of methods, including intake assessments, counseling sessions, psychotherapy, and more, to determine the target problem or problems.
In many cases, clients may be unaware, hesitant to explain, or dishonest about their problems, significantly if it could threaten their parental custody and job status. Social workers must have systems in place to make their clients feel supported and protected, which encourages greater transparency in stage one of the TCP model.
Let’s say that the client has met with their social worker at a private addiction counseling center, and through assessments and private counseling, the two have agreed on two target problems:
- Prescription opioid addiction.
- Potential bipolar disorder (undiagnosed).
We will follow this case study throughout the remaining steps. The target problems have been identified. So, now it is time for the social worker and the client to delineate specific goals in the task-centered practice model.
Set Goals Collaboratively
We have already identified the target problems. Therefore the goals may seem obvious in this case. For example, quitting prescription opioids and seeking an evaluation for bipolar disorder would be the solution. However, these goals need to be detailed to serve as a proper foundation for the next step. In this step, you create and execute a task-centered action plan. Simply stating that one wants to run a marathon, for example, doesn’t help a person to formulate a workout and diet plan for that first week of training.
The social worker should personalize the client’s goals. This way, every step motivates the client as they progress towards a realistic and vividly detailed outcome. This is also an ideal opportunity to give the client control which is a key component to self-motivating behaviors. When clients can choose their own goals, they are more invested in working towards them.
Create and Execute a Task-Centered Action Plan
The task-centered action plan is a reflection of the goals of the client. If the goals are the “what,” then the task-centered action plan is the “how.” Given our current case, the action plan could reasonably consist of the following steps:
- Identify and eliminate client-specific triggers for opioid abuse.
- Introduce safer, legal methods of pain control and stress/anxiety management.
- Start a mood diary and review with the social worker to assess possible bipolar symptoms.
- Eliminate any roadblocks preventing a psychiatric evaluation like no insurance, high copay, no in-network providers in the area.
- Refer client to mental health specialist for possible diagnosis.
Generally, the TCP model involves a series of eight or more sessions between the social worker and client carried out for at least six months. Throughout this time, the client and social worker will assess the client’s progress toward the broader goals stated above by checking off the action steps stated just above.
One of the most significant advantages of the TCP model is making appropriate adjustments in response to any unexpected developments. If the client, in this case, reported that the mood diary only worsened their negative thought patterns and mood swings, for example, the social worker may need to pivot to another form of self-assessment or eliminate the step.
Evaluate the Results and Assess Remaining Needs
First, the client must meet the agreed-upon number of visits and time limit for the task-centered plan. Then the social worker can evaluate its effectiveness. Then, like a patient being discharged from a medical facility, if the client needs more care, it is up to the provider to delineate the nature of this care and refer the client or patient when appropriate.
The assessment should not be undertaken from a “pass-fail” perspective. This evaluation style does not adequately reflect the client’s unique set of challenges. For example, a client with an opioid addiction may depend on sugary snacks. It may even worsen their health. This isn’t a failure to address the original addiction but an unintended consequence that needs to be addressed.
By documenting and reporting the results of a TCP plan, social workers support a constantly growing knowledge base. And then others in their profession can follow. TCP is an evidence-based practice by social workers and other practitioners. Its use lets others in the field assess the effectiveness of the many interventions and techniques.
Applications of TCP
In summary, the TCP model is one of the most broadly applicable techniques available across the social work umbrella. This method doesn’t differentiate between problems like joblessness, mental health issues, unplanned pregnancy, and criminal rehab. Instead, it offers a systematic, evidence-based approach for solving any set of problems. Clients and social workers cooperate to identify issues, set goals, develop an action plan and evaluate the results. Additionally, individuals can adjust to the flexible structure. Social workers use TCP in every conceivable environment, including hospitals, schools, mental health facilities, and private practices.