The debate about micro versus macro concentrations within the social work profession continues to rage on. For me, it was not that much of a debate until I began engaging with social workers around the world via social media. Since then, it has changed my lens of how I view the world into a more of macro thinker.
Up until the last year, I was happily living in my own micro bubble. The trend or message from others on social media is that Macro Social work has lost it’s appeal or the profession is being skewed into a clinical/micro focus. There also continues to be a lot of discourse about social workers’ roles on a larger stage. When students take Intro to Social Work, are we fully explaining the inter-connectivity between micro, mezzo, and macro levels of analysis in social work?
Has our role been stymied by this Micro and Macro separation? In my opinion, the strength of social work is it’s versatility, but the profession can’t seem to get out of its own way. Rather then widen the debate, we need to strengthen the two concepts, and Social work programs need to focus on “the space between”. Mezzo social work, also referred to as “meso” in other disciplines, is often left out of the conversation. Micro, Mezzo/Meso, Macro are levels of analysis which are the cornerstones of ecological systems theory and practice. The application and understanding of these levels are not only germane to social work, but they are integral in the analysis of business, finance, politics, science, and more.
According to Social Work Degree Guide website, it has this to say about mezzo level social work:
Instead of working with an individual or a familial group to promote individual change, you will work with groups to focus on promoting cultural or institutional change. Because social workers practicing mezzo work face unique challenges, they generally will have experience in both micro and macro work and use this experience in tandem. You will need to be experienced with both interpersonal relations and community involvement when you choose this level of work. Read More
In a recent Twitter chat about Sustaining innovation in macro social work, the importance of macro social work came up. Most importantly, Carly Levy responded to the chat stating that “Our desire to be recognized as licensed clinicians dominates social work culture and distorts macro social work purpose”. As a direct clinical provider with a growing appreciation for Macro work, this perfectly illustrates the impasse social work is facing. Rather than clinical social work distorting macro social work, we need to examine ways clinical social workers can enhance macro process as well as ways macro theory can enhance clinical practice.
To illustrate my point, the first therapy group I ran was about 4 years into my career. I had already been practicing family and individual work for quite some time. During this time of clinical growth into groups, the individual skills I learned dovetailed well with group work. Also, I was learning more group work theory which enhanced my family work. Although work in groups enhanced my thinking about organizational change and the tone an organization sets, facilitating organizational change is where social work can excel. Taking clinical skills and growing them into macro skills can make for a powerful combination.
Individuals with Macro social work skills for systems analysis, community organizing, grant writing, and coalition building in policy making positions will affect how we practice. Community Organizer, Mozart Guerrier, stressed in his TedxSyracuse talk the need for listening and consensus making. He says without listening to what people need, it will limit trust and change will not happen.
As social workers we are often referred to as “change agents”. Change can happen through direct practice but also can be achieved through change at the organizational and community level. There is a huge space between what happens in an individual therapy session and what happens on Capitol Hill. We should attempt to get away from where change happens but how it happens.
No matter what our concentration in graduate school, social workers all have a notion of how change happens. By making the micro distinction this distorts how change happens, and we have the tools and the talent to make change happen at many levels. It is where micro and macro meet that can cause a significant amount of change. Utilizing the macro, mezzo, and micro levels of analysis in all of our practice areas is the best holistic approach to helping our profession and our clients improve outcomes.
Sean Erreger is currently a Clinical Case Manager for youth with a mental health diagnosis.I have a decade of direct social work practice experience including adolescent day treatment, psychiatric emergency room, adult inpatient, and foster care prevention. Blogging and sharing social work resources at Stuck On Social Work