Social work is rarely involved in areas in which answers are black and white. In social work practice the person is central, but other key players include the worker, families, the organisation, community and society. The social worker is dealing with information, values and perspectives from many areas as they work with any situation in their practice. Critical thinking is essential since it challenges values, assumptions, beliefs underlying knowledge, theories, practice and research. Critical thinking also questions and makes judgments about the relevance and validity of information.
About poverty, de Bono wrote: “If you consider that poverty is due to human failure and laziness, then your next stage thinking will consider how to penalise the poor or disregard them. If your perception tells you that poverty is an integral part of the three-enterprise system, then clearly that system has a responsibility to the poor.”
This suggests that perception is central in the thinking process. The ways people view others leads to different ways of how people react to social problems and ways of dealing with them. This also suggests that being innovative and creative in such an environemt may be difficult since not everyone shares the same ideas. People tend to have different values and beliefs. Edward de Bono’s techniques can come very useful when faced with dilemmas and dogmas.
I believe that creative thinking the way Edward de Bono puts it, is required for ethical reasoning. De Bono’s techniques are needed for practice in organisations if social workers are to retain their professional integrity in the face of pressure. These techniques could be said to be fundamental to our defence against becoming agents of social control rather than agents of social change. The ‘six thinking hats technique’ for example may be very effective in a social work agency. Obviously any subject matter can be discussed from various points of view. The concept of “lateral thinking” is that the entire room is required to think about the subject and discuss it from various points of view, but only one view at a time and everyone at the same time. This concept of lateral thinking is executed through a technique he calls the “Six Thinking Hats.”
The hats are used as a metaphor. Each category is identified with its own colour metaphorical “thinking hat.” Everyone mentally wears the same hat at the same time. Everyone is required to think about that specific view of the subject and only that view. Since people tend to typically see only a limited view of the subject and tend to naturally fortify their own position, the ‘thinking hats technique’ may be an effective way of coming up with solutions which will satisfy all and therefore allow such agency to progress.
As social workers, we need to think critically about our practice so that we can be sure that we are providing our clients with the best we possibly can. We need to critically evaluate the services they have received to date. I believe the ability to view one’s own practice in a critical manner can lead to a greater depth and understanding in all aspects of practice.
In 1996, Anthony M. Abela estimated that less than four out of every ten respondents in Malta are familiar with social work and counselling services that are available for people in need. Most accessible is found to be statutory social work closely followed by counselling and social work services of the Church. Today, social work practice is becoming more accessible to people considering that social work agencies are always loaded with cases. Social work is often said to be a challenging tool since it needs to challenge society and its norms in order to be more effective to its clients. In this sense, using de Bono’s techniques may be a good way to crop new ideas and restructuring old ways of dealing with social problems.
Being creative is also very important when working with children. One could invent simple games to make a child tell the worker how she or he is feeling without the need of talking a lot. This could be done by the use of colours which describe how she is feeling. This technique could also be used with disabled persons. Lateral thinking therefore, may be a very useful tool to use in a social work environment. Clients often find it hard or are reluctant to talk about their problem. By the use of innovative ideas the social worker helps such client to disclose himself.
Moreover, critical and creative thinking helps me look at how the world views of workers impact on the intake procedure and subsequent service offered to clients. It gives insight into the ways in which each practice environment is shaped by the particular culture of that agency. I can put myself in others’ shoes, try to think from their perspective, consider why people see things as they do and aim to understand where they are coming from.
In social work practise there are few simple issues and fewer simple
solutions. If we are proficient in our critical thinking skills we can better
address complex issues and are more likely to help than harm.