The Difference Between Micro, Macro and Mezzo Social Work

Sponsored by Aurora University

The social work profession is multifaceted, and the good news is these skilled practitioners are in high demand across all areas of practice. For instance, medical social workers have a projected growth rate of 20 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is about three times the average rate of all occupations and the highest for any social work specialty.

Another way to look at the profession is to consider it from the three divisions or types of social work: micro, macro, and mezzo social work. These terms help categorize virtually any type of social work that these human services workers perform.

Types of Social Work

The following sections explore micro, macro, and mezzo social work. Information on the work these types of social work cover and what education is needed to enter these areas is considered.

Micro Social Work

Micro social work is one-on-one counseling with clients. These social workers help individuals with social, emotional, or health-related struggles. This work could include helping a person who is homeless find a place to live or helping a veteran transition to civilian life.

Jobs that are considered micro social work include:

  • City social services caseworker
  • Crime victim advocate
  • Family therapist
  • School counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor

Most jobs that involve micro social work require education at the master’s level because those jobs are considered clinical work.

Macro Social Work

Macro social work involves working with whole communities. These communities can be defined by geopolitical boundaries, but often, they are not. They can be neighborhoods, religious communities, or political- or cause-driven groups. The macro social worker may make or shape policy, lobby for social change, or train others to do so.

Jobs that are considered macro social work include:

  • Community organizer
  • Lobbyist
  • Professor of social policy
  • Program developer
  • Researcher

There are jobs in macro social work that can be acquired with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, but others, like a professor or most lobbyist positions, require education beyond the bachelor’s level.

Mezzo Social Work

Mezzo social work involves working with a group of people. Sometimes this group is as small and intimate as employees who need conflict resolution and mediation services. Sometimes it is a group of strangers in a support group who share a life experience, like a recent death, problem, or addiction.

Jobs that are considered mezzo social work include:

  • Business social worker
  • Community service manager
  • Group therapist
  • Parenthood educator
  • Support group counselor

As with macro social work, whether you can obtain a job with a BSW depends on the employer and the population with which you work. Some therapist positions, for example, are clinical positions and require a license, which necessitates a master’s degree and experience in the field. Other positions, such as a community service manager, typically require a BSW.

Interconnectedness in the Types of Social Work

It’s important to understand how social workers can provide assistance across all three types of social work. Here’s a simple example to demonstrate this idea.

A medical social worker who works specifically with babies receiving neonatal care begins meeting with a new mother. After her baby experiences some complications, the mother is stressed and begins receiving therapeutic sessions with the social worker. Because this takes place in a one-on-one environment, that type of assistance would refer to micro social work. The social worker is providing individualized help, as well as therapy.

The scope of practice would extend to mezzo social work if the professional begins assisting the family. For instance, perhaps the father could be struggling with parenthood and supporting his wife. Another scenario may be that another child in the family is having difficulties adjusting to a lot of time in the hospital. In either of these cases, the social worker may meet with the entire family and provide help, such as short therapy sessions or information on services that will help the family adjust. The family is often the smallest unit for mezzo social work.

Although it may not be as common in a situation like this, macro social work could be relevant. An example would be if the social worker helps advocate in the community or the state in some way. Perhaps the baby’s medical issues are quite rare, and support is lacking for families. Or, perhaps the family is struggling to help the other child at school, and the social worker can work with the district on supporting children in these types of situations. There are several ways in which the social worker may reach out to the community or beyond for helping clients. If change needs to happen on a greater scale, then the professional will engage in macro social work.

The example shows the interconnectedness of the different forms of social work. In this process, the medical social worker performs micro (the mother), mezzo (the family), and macro (the community/state) social work.

The Future of the Social Work Profession

There is an expected job growth of 16 percent by 2026 for the social work field, according to the BLS. An aging U.S. population and the booming health care industry are two of the factors that are likely to contribute to the growth. Like most job fields, this percentage varies by specialty. Employment of child, family, and school social workers, for example, is projected to increase 14 percent by 2026, and employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 19 percent. Both are growing faster than the average for all occupations, which is only 7 percent.

People with a BSW are especially qualified for positions in mezzo or macro social work. With courses like Social Work with Groups and Social Work with Communities and Organizations, the online BSW program from Aurora University Online can provide you with concrete skills that will help you support the community with which you want to work. Graduates with a BSW degree are eligible to take the examination for the State Social Work license.

Clinical social workers must have an MSW and two years of post-master’s experience in the field. AU Online offers Chicagoland’s only CSWE-accredited online MSW graduate program, which includes four optional specializations: Faith-Based Social Work, Forensics, Health Care, and Leadership Administration. You may also pursue the dual MSW/MBA or MSW/MPA degree program.

Hillary Clinton Can Do Better on Race

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Hillary Clinton is currently using a rhetorical device otherwise known as an attempt to be “honest”, and it’s a call for us to be reflective about our own indifference to the racial divide. The problem is, former Secretary of State Clinton reinforces an irrational fear, masked in a logical fallacy, to justify an unsustainable ego defense. She meant well in the context of a larger discussion on race.

But, she could have engaged the same discussion by demonstrating the fear as irrational rather than leveraging the fear to elicit an emotional connection. Let’s apply the Social Work Next perspective to evaluate the rhetorical device. Our central question is one of Politics. How can policy and politics support empathy?

Exploring the Rhetoric
This speech was delivered July 23, 3015 in South Carolina. Some are attempting to use the clip without context to manufacture a Clinton gaffe. Presenting this as a gaffe, it would set up a narrative pitting open-minded Whites against other Whites using Black lives as the key factor in the decision point. Many may fall into that pit, but Social workers cannot.

If you took this position, it argues for Whites to advocate for and acknowledge that Blacks deserve to be treated as equals. Then, the other Whites should join the open-minded Whites and their action in creating a more tolerant United States. What this does is maintain the privilege of Whites as the center of the debate—the decision makers and the one group whose advocacy and opinion matters.

It also limits the debate to an individual level debate, one where each person needs to step up. The danger is to ignore mezzo and macro levels that also need attention. The danger is to miss the opportunity to ask a presidential candidate how he/she will legislate with the empathy necessary to create change. Policy should be the center of this debate leveraged by Justice for all, informed by Appreciation for all.

Clinton states in multiple events over the past month, some version of the following:

“Let’s be honest, for a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports that poverty, crime, and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege” (June 20, 2015 speech to US Conference of Mayors).

It’s still an inappropriate line. It could have been better. It serves to justify fear of Black males even while highlighting privilege.

Breaking down the Conceptual Semantics

The Social Work Next approach to this begins with the awareness of multiple systems levels: micro, mezzo, and macro. The individual or micro level is where much of this rhetoric resides. Rather than justifying the fear as a reminder to reflect with empathy and action, let us explore the fear as irrational.

The individual assessment would ask what biopsychosocial-spiritual-meaning experiences support the fear of Blacks. Only by addressing those fears at their origin, can the individual address the fallacy (most often) or the trauma (less likely) that supports the fear. The point at the individual level is that YOU have a choice regardless of the past or fear of the future. The risk in this moment is equal to the risk is all other moments.

At the mezzo level, we deal with institutions. What institutions support the idea that being Black is somehow threatening or precursor to harm? The solution is to move away from prejudice and determine the content of a person’s character no matter their race or clothing. The number of Blacks has no impact on your level of fear during a board meeting even if they all wore hoodies.

Let’s be clear, alley ways are scary no matter who is standing around in them. Anyone walking into a convenience store with a hoodie pulled over their head is going to raise your fear level. Remove the “being Black” offense from the evaluation of safety in context. Let us promote institutions that utilize the best in social engineering to support collaborative outcomes. You do that by moving away from social control and toward social capital. You know what I mean. “Protect and Serve” community policing versus “Stop and Frisk” raids and harassment.

At the macro level, we discuss environmental practice—the home for our discussion of politics. This is where we get into the depth of empathy. Empathy can begin with guilt. The problem here is that the guilt-to-empathy construct works at the individual level. The task is to expand the construct to the macro level, to collectively reflect, then politically act. What Clinton got wrong is that we don’t make this choice because of our guilt about our privilege or our fear of Blacks. We make the choice to create a politic of justice and appreciation because it serves our ends. The first level of empathy is to see ourselves or our children as the potential victim of unjust policy. The second level is to care that any other person would be subjected to such unjust policy without our ability to successfully navigate the system.

Policy-JusticeANDAppreciationPolitics of Change
As citizens, we are counting on our politicians to advance policy solutions. As social workers, we must educate a populous addressing a politic that lacks empathy. Clinton discusses empathy that leads to action, but only after justifying irrational thoughts. Reflection on assumptions and privilege is not enough. Many well-meaning people don’t have the energy and commitment for true empathy–understanding how my history makes my choices reasonable. And, how your insistence on my conformity criminalizes my existence. That is the point of #BlackLivesMatter. Not a redress to your privilege, but the assertion of my right to exist, under my own terms.

Use policy to grant me that right. Structure institutions that promote and bolster that right. Make equitably available the tools to defend myself and navigate the system.

In your speeches, structure your rhetoric to ensure a movement of justice and appreciation leading to empathy. Go beyond the guilt of having more, living outside stop-and-frisk zones, and living within successful school districts. Create, support, and enforce policies that provide equity of opportunity without asking me to become like you or more safe for you. I can’t change my color, but WE can change policy.

Afterward to the Social Worker
If you want to explore rhetoric and semantics further, may I suggest the following article as a starting point.

Complex speeches aren’t better speeches. In fact, they’re worse.

The most memorable lines in modern rhetoric—”Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”; “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; —are remembered precisely because they’re simple enough to understand, memorize, and talk about. Practically every modern sage of language—George Orwell, Steven Pinker, William Safire, Strunk & White—advises non-fiction writers to express themselves with simple language. Even if you like purple prose in your long-form narrative non-fiction, you’ll agree that it’s pleasing to hear complex policy points in clear sentences and parallelisms. (It’s hard to rule out that the dense language of the 19th century was pleasing and cogent in its own time.)

Read More

If you would like to explore the implications and the next steps for social work thought, keep reading this site, or you can do both.

Intro to Social Work: Understanding Macro, Mezzo, and Micro Levels of Analysis

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Barriers to a Healthy Lifestyle: From Individuals to Public Policy via JOE

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 more of a macro thinker.

Up until the last year, I was happily living in my own microbubble.  The trend or message from others on social media is that Macro Social work has lost its 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 interconnectivity 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 its versatility, but the profession can’t seem to get out of its own way. Rather than 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, and Macro are levels of analysis that 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 the 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 in groups, the individual skills I learned dovetailed well with group work. Also, I was learning more about group work theory which enhanced my family work. Although working 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 is 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.

Serving Our Veterans: Micro vs Macro (Part 3 of 4)

Part one of this series analyzed the impact of the Bonus Army, and part two looked at the survival of the Private vs. Public argument when providing services to those who fight our nation’s wars. In this third installment, I will be analyzing micro vs macro an even greater tension that has persisted from the Depression to present day, and it still continues to influence our effectiveness at serving our veterans.

Bronfenbrenn-system-bigSocial work as a field is constantly living within the Micro vs. Macro tension, as were the Bonus Army veterans also known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.). At the most basic micro level, social workers aim to assist individuals in need. At the macro level, social workers aim to change policy and environmental conditions that support social change and afford individuals some level of security and autonomy. All along the way, we can observe tension among individuals and agencies, who place a higher priority on one or the other.

In the Anacostia Flats during the summer of 1932, there were certainly veterans of the B.E.F. who were there for their own personal motives, operating from a micro perspective. There were also veterans among them, who were motivated by a macro perspective, hoping to effect change for the entire veteran population. Life in Anacostia for these WWI veterans during the Bonus March had its own Micro vs. Macro tensions as a result.

During the same time veterans of the B.E.F. were impacting macro level change; the field of social work was taking a similar approach. Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s social workers advocated for changes at the macro level, often taking the form of community organizing. Even the field of social work itself was founded in macro level approaches. Through Jane Addams’ Hull House and the settlement house concept of the late 1800’s, social work gained its foot hold as a profession by working with groups and communities, advocating for policy change, and even Addams herself was a political leader.  After a few decades however, the field of social work began to shift more toward micro level perspectives.

As time progressed and our society continued to challenge the status quo at the macro level, social workers by and large became distracted at the micro level. This change was largely fueled by an increase in Freudian ideology, which brought social workers out of the community and into their offices as individual counselors and case workers. With social work changing its focus to the micro level practice of diagnosing and counseling individual clients, the field had much less workers on the macro scale advocating for public services and had very little stake in the changing political climate of the 1960’s and 1970’s as a result. Only within the past decade or two has social work begun to step back into the macro level as a viable agent. So we observe this Micro vs. Macro tension shifting among social work over time.

As Bertha Reynolds (1935) pointed out, “social case work rather finds its function in dealing with difficulties in the relationship between individuals or groups and their physical or social environment”. Her observation, which was made during the same period as the events of the Bonus Army, was true before these events and is still true to this day. The tension between Micro vs. Macro is likely to continue to persist.

What can we learn from this? If these tensions will persist indefinitely, what’s the point? I would argue that by acknowledging the existence of these tensions, we are more apt to finding better solutions that will help us be more effective at serving our veterans for the long haul. So what are the implications of these tensions in how the U.S. government addresses it’s military veterans now? What can we do better? Stay tuned for the final segment of this series to find out.

References:

Addams, J. (1893). The objective value of a social settlement. Philanthropy and social progress (pp. 27-40). New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell.

Andrews, J. & Reisch, M. (1997). Social work and anti- communism: A historical analysis of the McCarthy era. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 8, 29-49.

Fisher, R. & Karger, H.J. (1997). Macro practice: Putting social change and public life back into social work practice. In Social work and community in a private world: Getting out in public (pp. 117-147). New York: Longman.

Perlman, H.H.(1957). Freud’s contribution to social welfare. Social Service Review, 31, 2, 192-202

Reynolds, B.C. (1935). Whom do social workers serve? Social Work Today, 2, 6, 5-8.

Seigfried, C.H. (2009). The courage of one’s convictions or the convictions of one’s courage: Jane Addams’ principled compromises. In M. Fischer, D. Nackenoff, & W. Chmielewski (Eds.). Jane Addams and the practice of democracy. University of Illinois Press.

Waters, W.W. & White, W.C. (1933). B.E.F.: the whole story of the bonus army. Mass violence in America. (1969). New York, NY: Arno Press & The New York Times.

As Consultant: What the Social Worker Already Knows (2nd in Series)

Social work professional education includes in its core curriculum some important constructs that are also vital to the social worker as consultant. In addition to reinforcing the mantra of individual change and social change, the constructs provide us with a vocabulary for discussing human behavior in the social environment.  Perhaps the most foundational of these is General Systems Theory. This theory organizes humans into individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities or IFGOC for short. Next, is Ecological Systems Perspective.

This perspective places IFGOC in an environment that we can describe. These lead logically to Sociocybernetics. This construct emphasizes behavior as the determinant of outcomes. The social worker as consultant will do well to use mastery of these toward the development of competence in Operational Research–a discipline useful in predicting outcomes.

Systems Simplified

Even if you are a social worker, systems talk can get abstract. But, that is the point, to map the complexity. Here it is as simply as drawing. General Systems Theory started by drawing circles on a sheet of paper. Ecological systems perspective drew lines connecting the circles. Sociocybernetics suggested that the connection lines were made intentionally, not by mistake. Operational research has the idea that we can predict what and how connection lines will be made.

General Systems Theory was advanced by Bertalanffy. The theory allows us to talk about the interactions between IFGOC. For the social worker as consultant, focus on the concept of holism. Each system is not simply defined by the sum of its parts. The interactions between the component parts form something different from the simple sum of parts. The social workers as consultant must master manipulation of this holism effect to define the expected outcome and manage the components to achieve that outcome.

Ecological systems perspective is credited to Bronfenbrenner. The theory allows us to talk about the relationships in and among systems. This includes the idea of individual complexity. This perspective introduces the fact that systems can be nested and interdependent. We can speak of the systems we focus on as the micro systems. They are nested within larger mezzo systems.

These are nested within still larger macro systems. Bronfenbrenner also introduced exo systems to describe those systems that are not nested with our system of focus. Systems can also be energy enhancing and energy-draining. The social worker as consultant is a functional intervention with awareness of multiple systems levels. The social worker as consultant does not see these ecological systems levels as dividing practice areas. He/she sees them as a reminder to review the potential and unintended consequences of a proposed intervention at multiple systems levels.

Sociocybernetics allows us to talk about the social contracts that provide priority to the interactions and complexity to the relationships in which humans participate. The social worker as consultant utilizes sociocybernetics to map the complexity that results when individuals relate in families, participate in groups, form organizations, and build communities. This mapping can take the form of a diagram of nested and individual circles connected by lines that denote strength of relationship, direction, and energy. Social workers typically refer to these diagrams as ecomaps.

Operational Research: The Next Step

General systems theory, ecological systems perspective, and sociocybernetics form the basic skills that the social worker as consultant will have mastered already after having completed a social work education. The social worker as consultant can combine these constructs to aid in comprehending operational research. Operational research employs systems knowledge to predict the behavior of individuals in specific environments. He/she makes predictions by specifically noting the inputs, interventions of the system, its outputs, and the feedback produced from systems operation.

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