Social Worker Perspectives- Critical Thinking

Critical thinking as a Social Work Practitioner

By Ryan Hill (Breathe Counselling Perth)

Imperative to social work practice is the application of critical thinking (CT). Adopting the skills and attitudes present in critical thinking ensures practitioners do not become complacent, gullible or naive (Facione P. A., 2013). Still, a definitive definition concerning CT does not exist (Flores, Matkin, Burbach, Quinn, & Harding, 2012). Consequently, this paper will consider various aspects of CT apparent in literature and emerging CT constructs for the author of this paper as a future social work (SW) practitioner. Specifically, this paper will examine the skills and attitudes consistent with CT. Next this paper will consider approaches to CT resulting from ways of knowing. Finally, this paper will discuss emerging ramifications of applying CT to SW practice. This paper emphasises the importance of CT in social work “as an appropriate way to understand and seek credibility of knowledge” (Schommer-Aikins & Easter, 2009, p. 130).

To gain a clear understanding of CT it is important to examine the skills and attitudes present in this way of thinking. Facione and Facione (1994, p. 12) describe “analysis, interpretation, inference, explanation, evaluation, and self-reflection” as the key cognitive skills involved in CT. Applying these CT skills challenges people to think about how they think and justify why they think the way they think. These cognitive skills allow social workers to challenge ideas, question right and wrong and ask why, and allow for dissent from mainstream thinking (Australian Association of Social Workers, 2010; Facione P. A., 2013). Expanding upon the key cognitive skills identified by Facione and Facione (1994), Facione, Sánchez, Facione, and Gainen (1995) consider assertively, logically and reasonably reporting judgement upon a topic to be important aspects of evaluation and explaination. Schommer-Aikins and Easter (2009) describe the need for self-reflection as evaluating one’s own bias, vested interests and values related to a subject. Furthermore, Facione (2013) indicates the ability to seek clarity of information, actively listen and appropriately decide which facts are relevant to make an informed judgement as CT analysis and interpretation skills. However more importantly, Facione (2013) suggests an overall disposition marked by the interaction of CT skills and attitudes defines strong CT. Thus, someone exhibiting an attitude congruent with CT ought to reflect an inquisitive disposition; demonstrate open-mindedness; honestly admit flaws in their own and in others arguments; be confident of their final judgement; and, before making an informed CRITICAL THINKING AS A SOCIAL WORK PRACTITIONER 3

Judgement based on all the known evidence, ought to acknowledge the possibility for further improvement on that judgement (Facione & Facione, 1994; Facione, Facione, & Sanchez, 1994). These attitudes towards CT in conjunction with the skills present in CT form a way of thinking to reasonably advocate one’s position which is crucial to SW practice (Schommer-Aikins & Easter, 2009).

Applying ways of thinking critically are indicated in CT skills and attitudes. In comparison, an examination of ways of knowing or how one learns identifies how to approach CT (Schommer-Aikins & Easter, 2009). Examining information from another’s worldview without being ego-centric, or embodying the need to be right, requires an ability to make meaning incorporating the other person’s worldview and the implications of decision-making in their situation (Flores, Matkin, Burbach, Quinn, & Harding, 2012). Therefore, a way of knowing which utilises CT is foundational to SW as practitioners socially construct knowledge and seek to make meaning of other’s worldview (Schommer-Aikins & Easter, 2009). Worthy SW practice reflects thinking that leads to a more humane world in which the rights of others are acknowledged and respected (Australian Association of Social Workers, 2010). Hence, CT in social work requires an open-mindedness which is sensitive to one’s own bias yet which embraces difference and diversity to ensure marginalised or disadvantaged clients are not precluded from services and intervention (Facione, Sánchez, Facione, & Gainen, 1995; Sims, 1997, 3-5 September ). As a result, CT ways of knowing recognise different worldviews dependent upon: cultural and historical background; indigenous ways of knowing and understanding the world; client’s unique narrative; power-relationships and differences; and, recognises the emotional, subjective, and logical, objective, experiences which influence how knowledge is constructed (Schommer-Aikins & Easter, 2009; Simonds & Christopher, 2013; Menzies & Gilbert, 2016).

New SW practitioners ought to consider their worldview and apparent emerging aspects of CT. The author of this paper acknowledges a non-Indigenous ‘white’ western worldview formed as a result of parental influence and a western-British education and Christian upbringing. This means, the author identifies with a worldview including a non-traditional protestant faith value-system acknowledging equality and human inherent value, shared with antiracism, anti-sexism and Rogerian-humanistic values (Pease & Fook, 1999; McLeod, 2015). However, the author acknowledges cognitive dissonance valuing both a Rogerian-humanistic perspective whilst drawing on CRITICAL THINKING AS A SOCIAL WORK PRACTITIONER.

An emerging structural and decolonisation SW approach which identifies social problems built into society (McLeod, 2015; Menzies & Gilbert, 2016). Hence, critical ways of knowing that are emerging for the author of this paper include considering another’s way of knowing that leads to their worldview; the importance of acknowledging how theories are constructed which may be interpreted differently from alternative worldviews; and analysing research and data from an Indigenous perspective (Simonds & Christopher, 2013; Menzies & Gilbert, 2016). This includes, evaluating if research has been conducted in a culturally sensitive manner and if data has been interpreted using culturally sensitive tools and methods (Simonds & Christopher, 2013). The author of this paper also recognises the importance of adopting a non-egocentric worldview where other people’s opinions are not judged in deficit to one’s own point-of-view (Flores, Matkin, Burbach, Quinn, & Harding, 2012). This means, applying a way of thinking critically to SW practice which is self-reflective and evaluates a client-in-situation whilst being able to soundly justify one’s own beliefs (Brickman, et al., 1982; Panhofer, 2011; Simonds & Christopher, 2013). Thus, emerging CT constructs important to the author are concerned with information analysis, appropriately deciding which facts are relevant to make an informed decision, and comparing and contrasting different points of view with reflection on one’s own bias.

CT is foundational to understanding and justifying SW practice which is based on ever-changing socially constructed worldviews. This paper has examined the skills and attitudes, or ways of thinking, consistent to CT, and the approaches to CT resulting from ways of knowing. Importantly, this paper recognises CT in SW requires an open-mindedness which is sensitive to one’s own bias yet which embraces difference and diversity to ensure marginalised or disadvantaged clients are not precluded from services and intervention.

Ryan Hill


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