Theories for Direct Social Work: The Case of Jason

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Object-Relational Theory

Object relations theory is a successor of ego psychology and psychoanalysis with a focus on interpersonal relationships. Walsh (2013) notes that “object” is an unfortunate term for such a humanistic psychological theory/ It does not allow for an easy association with people or parts of their personalities that the term “object” refers to. In a broader sense, “object relations” mean the quality of interpersonal relationships. However, a more specific interpretation would be a person’s internalized attitudes and beliefs about the external relationships in his or her life. Walsh (2013) points out that it is natural for relationships with other people to define one’s ability and even willingness to build nurturing relationships with oneself. Therefore, objects relations theory bridges a gap between persons and family systems studies, by providing its own perspective on both the external and internal aspects of human relationships.

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Shifting the focus from a person and his or her internal drives to the quality of relationships were the premise that distinguished object relations theory from its predecessors. The theory acknowledged the role of biological and social influences in shaping people’s lives. Probably the most significant contributions concerned early childhood experiences and parent-child attachment. Objects relations theories emphasized all children’s need for parents to survive, which is why any rejection or neglect may be profoundly traumatizing, even if not immediately putting a child in danger (Walsh, 2013).

In practice, object relations therapy handles problems such as the inability to start and sustain meaningful, mutually satisfying relationships. It helps people to overcome the splitting defense mechanism that makes them see others as good or bad. Walsh (2013) describes a problematic tendency to either idealize or devalue important people in one’s lives, which is mainly based on projective identification. In therapy, a person learns how to reconcile and integrate negative and positive qualities and understand the complexity of their personas.

Object relations therapy offers a change plan that comprises two stages. The first stage, or assessment, helps a person to identify compulsive, repetitive, harmful patterns in their interpersonal relationships. Walsh (2013) notes that since relationships are central to this theory, a practitioner needs to constantly monitor the therapeutic relationship. It is important to avoid enmeshment when a practitioner relives a client’s emotions in an unproductive way. According to Walsch (2013), a crucial part of client assessment concerns their level of separation and individuation. A practitioner should be attentive to defense mechanisms that are quite common in people with objects relational problems.

There are a number of questions that a client may want to answer to clarify the situation. The questions concern their present relationships, previous relationships that continue to affect them and harm their quality, and behaviors that the client wishes to get rid of. The result of the assessment stage should be a clear picture of a) what the client wants or needs; b) what their object relations are like; c) their emotional and cognitive interpretation of relations.

The success of the intervention stage largely depends on the quality of the clinical relationship. For this reason, a practitioner needs to create a nurturing atmosphere representing an ideal childhood environment where the client could feel at ease and open to exploring their life experiences. The second stage comprises interpretations of positive and negative experiences with others guided by the therapist. Lastly, the client is prepared to apply new knowledge to their existing relationships and take corrective measures.

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Jason’s case can be understood through the lens of object relations theory. From the case description, it becomes clear that Jason’s mom is the teenager’s closest person. She is his confidant and the only caregiver who is deeply concerned about his apathy and disengagement from the outside world. Another close relationship in Jason’s life is with his maternal grandmother who lives with him and his mom. The teenager is actively dating, though staying away from stable relationships, preferring sexual contacts that are not always safe. One important detail in Jason’s story from the theory’s standpoint is his absent relationship with his father. Though dad was always out of the picture, Jason’s awareness of his existence and social conventions about what a full family should be like might have affected his self-image and concept of self.

At present, Jason needs to mend his family relationships and ultimately heal himself. Given the fact that the father is absent and the mother had to support the family, it is likely that Jason had abandonment issues from an early age. Attachment theory suggests that such children may grow up to be avoidant because ignoring is a dysfunctional but effective mechanism against the pain of separation. Jason may benefit from understanding how he internalizes his mother’s involvement in his life. He may see her care as intrusive while the mother may be genuinely trying to help. The teenager should be able to learn that his mother is imperfect: she does not always know how to communicate her concerns and resorts to quarreling. The second direction could be working with a feeling of unworthiness after Jason’s father left the family. This unworthiness may as well be internalized and prevent the client from being more engaged in his life.

Behavior Theory

In psychology, behaviorism concerns itself with a person’s observable, physical behavior as opposed to internal mental processes. Behavioral practice builds on the “scientific method” for guiding clients in their attempts to get rid of unwanted behavior patterns. Some behaviorists have a certain distrust of vague concepts such as thoughts and feelings because they are challenging to operationalize in scientific studies (Walsh, 2013). Behavior, on the other hand, is observed with relative ease and can be a source of valid empirical evidence.

The three main approaches to behavior therapy are behavior analysis, the stimulus-response model, and social learning theory. These approaches stem from some basic ideas shared by behaviorists. For instance, it is assumed that all people seek pleasure and avoid pain, though the very definitions of pleasure and pain may differ from client to client. In addition, people are motivated by encouraging responses and positive reinforcement and discouraged by punishment and negative consequences. Responses and reinforcement constitute constant feedback from the environment that is not always consciously registered by a person but provides a basis for his or her behavior. Therefore, the main problem of behavior therapy is understanding why a person behaves a certain way, and since all behavior is amenable, what can be done to break destructive habits.

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The goal of behavior therapy is rather simple: it is to change behavior. However, it is easier said than done because each person has a multitude of potential environmental influences, not all of which ultimately shape his or her behavior. Therefore, it is a practitioner’s responsibility to locate the most powerful influences and devise a plan on how to change the reinforcement mechanism. According to Walsch (2013), even though behavior therapy is highly structured, it does not mean that a practitioner can afford to neglect the human connection. Ignoring or criticizing the client can easily become a negative reinforcement or even punishment, which may make him or her less interested in continuing therapeutic sessions.

Like other types of therapy, behavior therapy comprises two stages: assessment and intervention. The assessment typically starts with functional behavior analysis when a practitioner clarifies when, where, and how often an unwanted behavior occurs and if there are any external or internal cues to take action. Ideally, there should be enough information on all five domains of behavior information: environmental, social, physical, emotional, and cognitive. The problem needs to be formulated as concretely as possible, and the client should be fully aware of its presence and impact on his or her life. The intervention includes a step-by-step plan for eliminating the said destructive behavior. The client learns to identify cues and avoid succumbing to them. It should be noted that inaction is not a replacement for action: bad habits should be substituted with better ones. For this reason, it makes sense to propose new behaviors that allow clients to achieve the same reward without harming- or themselves.

In Jason’s case, at least two problematic behaviors can be amended via behavior therapy. Firstly, the teenager has a problem with truancy and school absenteeism, which typically results in explosive fights with his mom. Jason seems not to take any responsibilities seriously, by which he compromises his future (it is possible that he will fail GED). Right now, it is hard to conduct an adequate functional behavior analysis without gathering more information from Jason and, potentially, his mother. However, one can make some speculations about where the client’s destructive behaviors stem from. For instance, in the process of therapy, it may occur to the practitioner and the client that the latter misbehaves when he wants his mother’s attention. Because the woman is not particularly affectionate, the only expressions of love Jason knows are an intrusion, scolding, and fights. In this case, the client may still receive the reward (the mother’s attention) but achieve this goal by doing something else.

Secondly, Jason indulges in risky sexual behavior by not using adequate protection with girls. The focus on behavior analysis may be on the negative consequences of unprotected sex acts. The consequences should be relevant to the client so that he does not disregard them as something improbable. An additional focus of behavior therapy may be sexual compulsion, provided this is the case with Jason. If this is true, the client and the practitioner will need to identify the antecedents of compulsive sexual behavior and understand what reinforces it. An example of environmental reinforcements may be status in the peer group. Fighting feelings of loneliness may be a likely internal cue to seek casual sex. Regardless of the root cause, the practitioner will need to devise a gradual plan on how to remove the reinforcement while keeping the reward in place.


Walsh, J. E. (2013). Theories for direct social work practice. Cengage Learning.

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"Theories for Direct Social Work: The Case of Jason." PsychologyWriting, 29 Jan. 2022,


PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Theories for Direct Social Work: The Case of Jason'. 29 January.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Theories for Direct Social Work: The Case of Jason." January 29, 2022.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Theories for Direct Social Work: The Case of Jason." January 29, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "Theories for Direct Social Work: The Case of Jason." January 29, 2022.