Practical Applications of Ecological Social Work
- Improve One-on-one Therapy
- Promote Community Resilience
- Assist Migrant and Immigrant Populations
- Enhance Community Resources
- Influence Public Policy
Taking a cue from environmentalist work, ecological social work understands that an individual does not exist in a vacuum. We are part of complex systems with physical, mental, and spiritual properties. While traditional social work methods aim to enable the client to better adapt to their environment, using an ecological approach to social work can expand the focus to include positively impacting the environment. This holistic method can create not only better results for the client, but also for their social, political, and spiritual community.
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1. Improve One-on-one Therapy
A social work practice that uses an ecological framework focuses on the ever-changing relationships between all variables. The awareness of social, political, and cultural environments places the individual in context rather than as an isolated set of symptoms. This approach acknowledges that the environment, including the presence of the worker and their respective social and political roles, has an impact on the situation.
2. Promote Community Resilience
While individual resilience has long been a concept in social work, community resilience is a newer factor that ecological social workers consider. Activities in Canada regarding water rights has informed and invigorated the study of community resilience. Workers in this field can help mobilize resources and develop strategies to help communities thrive despite adversities. A healthier community better sustains a healthy individual.
3. Assist Migrant and Immigrant Populations
Curriculum for ecological social work includes understanding the differences and similarities between groups of people. Cultural sensitivity will help the worker understand and alleviate the problems immigrants may face in adapting to their new environment. Work with these populations demands an understanding of the systems of oppression as well as understanding how real, physical problems in the environment affects the individual.
4. Enhance Community Resources
Helping improve the living conditions and surrounding ecology can be part of the job of an ecological social worker. Minority communities are often located within food deserts, areas that don’t have access to fresh, affordable produce and other elements of a healthy diet. As mentioned in the article “Eco-social Work in Action: A Place for Community Gardens” in Volume 71, 2018, Issue 1 of Australian Social Work: Journal of the Australian Association of Social Workers ,social workers using an environmental framework can connect with and promote projects such as community gardens. Other examples would include advocating for cleaner water or access to quality education.
5. Influence Public Policy
Corporate and public policy can have devastating impacts on certain marginalized populations. Taking an ecological perspective of social work veritably mandates that the social worker not only helps the individual adapt to their situation but also advocates to change the social and political environment to better support the individual. Promoting sustainable development and working for social justice can be areas of focus in this field.
As physical, social, and political stressors dominate headlines, the role of ecological social work becomes even more important. Taking a holistic look at individuals includes taking note of the complexity of multiple systems in the environment. This approach can lead to strategies to improve not only the individual’s situation, but also improve the community, the country, and the world.