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General System Theory The Biological System of the Individual Human Behavior and the Social Environment SSS 571 September 27, 2010 Christine Anlauf Sabatino, Ph D, LICSW, C-SSW Associate Professor Director, Center for the Advancement of Children, Youth, and Families
The Biological System of the Individual
Human Behavior and the Social Environment SSS 571
September 27, 2010
Christine Anlauf Sabatino, Ph D, LICSW, C-SSW
Director, Center for the Advancement of Children, Youth, and Families
National Catholic School of Social Service
The Catholic University of America
(Four philosophical frameworks)
(Classical knowledge development)
Two types of change –
human behavior/conduct is a explained by ________.
natural change is brought about by _________.
guided change is brought about by _________.
An overview of the theory – the basic premise/definition
Historical context – original theorists & variant forms
Key concepts –
Application to social work
A system is a
A system achieves its goal
by taking in energy/information/inputs/resources,
using or processing these elements,
then expelling energy/information/outputs/products
that are different from the original inputs
GST incorporates knowledge and principles from many disciplines including
The wide usage of the systems approach since the late nineteenth century by the physical sciences was fostered by the necessity to overcome the overpowering skepticism that was occurring with sciences whose principles were based on the naïve conception of a simple one-way cause-and-effect ideas (Turner, p. 602, 1996).
Prior to general systems theory, there was little examination of the relationship between system parts and their effects on one another.
GST developed in part as a response to psycho dynamic theories which focused exclusively on internal mental processes, without any recognition of the impact of external forces on internal dynamics and social transactions.
These theorists’ works on cybernetics, information theory, game theory, and network theory were applied to the social and behavioral sciences that was looking for a way to make conceptual connections between disparate phenomena.
**Urie Bronfenbrenner introduced the term “human ecology” because he thought socio-cultural phenomena were intrinsic to all systems.
Lead the discussion about GST as a meta-theory and conceptual framework for professional social work.
Carole Germain & Alex Gitterman adapted GST and developed a social work practice model.
Germaine, C. & Gitterman, A. (1996). The life model of social work practice: Advances in theory and practice. New York: Columbia Press.
Ellen Netting adapted GST for development of a macro practice text book.
Orren Dale, Rebecca Smith, Julie M. Norling, and Wayne A. Chess adopted GST as the framework for their HBSE textbook.
The biological person
The presentation for each of these systems has included detailed information about illness and disease processes.
What it does not present is a detailed discussion of the pharmacology associated with the prevention and treatment of various illnesses. Discuss this issue with your field instructor.
These interior biological systems are influenced by social, political, cultural, and economic environmental systems.
We are obligated to rule out a physiologically-based reason for the current psychosocial challenge/issue/need/problem.
Each agency setting attends to specific facets of the biological system for their client population and service delivery system.
The individual system
The structure of a system determines its function; hence the structural definition of a system takes primacy over the functional definition. Without structure, function is impossible.
A multidisciplinary approach adapted to social work practice in the form of the “Life Model” wherein the overarching focus is on the transactions between people and their environments. Major concepts include stress, adaptation, goodness-of-fit, habitat, niche, mutuality, and transaction.
Some therapist have applied GST concepts to their work with families, leading to various forms of family system therapy.
(disorganized, lower socio-economic families)
(focus is on communication patterns, rules, and distribution of power)
How GST Describe HBSE
Human, institutional, and community conduct is a function of the actions and activities designed to achieve a specific goal.
a focal system that is simultaneously –
a whole with it own distinctive qualities;
a part of larger systems, and ;
a container of subsystems.
Enmeshed boundaries: too permeable
Disengaged boundaries: too rigid
with supra-systems or sub-systems
from outside the system
with the environment
about actions the system has performed;
used as input for subsequent action
to open and allow more inputs
close and to cut off or reduce inputs.
Feedback loops serve
to support current course of action or
indicate a new course of action is necessary
to achieve the system goal.
Prepare for planned change or interventions after a thorough assessment
Review the key concepts to determine which one helps to explain the system’s problem:
Create system change through specific techniques
Determine which actions
will bring about the greatest movement
toward the goal
(maximum point of reverberation)
Moves from a linear cause and effect analysis of issues/concerns/challenges/problems to a reflection on the multiple dynamic transactions between persons and their environments
Recognizes the value of the formal and informal social contexts (supra systems)
Does not pathologize situations
Concepts are specific but the application of the concepts is inferred and very abstract
One may question the underlying assumption that change in one part of the system will bring about change in another part of the system. Resistance to change is a powerful force in the system
Can be used to deny individual responsibility
Q. What specific aspect of human development and human relations does the theory address and emphasize? Which dimensions are addressed and which dimensions are omitted?
A. All aspects and all dimensions are included in GST
Q. What is the theory’s relevance to individuals, families, groups, organizations, institutions, and communities? Where on the micro-macro continuum is the theory most relevant?
A. GST may applied to all units of attention along the micro/mezzo/macro continuum of abstraction
Q. How consistent is the theory with social work values and ethics?
The problem is that one has to take the concept and infer/link/apply it to the specific concrete issue/challenge/need/problem under discussion
Q. What is the empirical evidence to support GST?
A. The empirical base is limited but it is developing.
Q. On what grounds does the theory base its appeal?
A. It is a dynamic theory that is applicable to multiple populations, problems, and settings across the micro-mezzo-macro continuum
Bolland, K., & Atherton, D. (1999). Chaos theory: An alternative approach to social work practice and research. Families in Society: The Journal of contemporary Human Services, 80(4), 376-373.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1989). Ecological system theory. Annals of Child Development, 6, 187- 249.
Dale, O., Smith, R., Norlin, J.M., & Chess, W. (2006) Human Behavior and the Social Environment: Social Systems Theory (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Friedman, B. (1997). System theory. In J. Brandell, Theory and Practice in Clinical Social Work (pp.3-17). New York: Free Press, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Germaine. C. & Gitterman, A. (1996) The Life Model of social work practice: Advances in theory and practice. New York: Columbia University Press.
Halmi, A. (2007). Chaos and non-linear dynamics. International Social Work, 46(1), 83-101.
Hudson, C. (2000). At the edge of chaos: A new paradigm for social work? Journal of Social Work Education, 36(2), 215-230.
Netting, E. F., Kettner, P.M., & McMurty, S. (2007). Macro Social Work Practice (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Warren, L., & Streeter, C. (1998). New directions in systems theory: Chaos and complexity. Social Work, 43(4), 357-372.