Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Social workers-Political activity, Freire, Paulo, 1921-1997. Pedagogia do oprimido, Oppression (Psychology), Psychotherapy-Political aspects, Political action, Friere, Social justice, Power (Social sciences), Empowerment practice


In this study, I explore the integration of clinical and political levels of practice among clinical social workers who self-identify as political activists. Particular attention was paid to treatment issues with clients from oppressed populations, and to the benefits and drawbacks of particular clinical theories for addressing social conditions in the lives of these clients. Paolo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) serves a theoretical backdrop. Specifically, Friere's concept of conscientization, the practice of building the capacity for critical consciousness and reflective action, served as a framework for the study. Eleven social workers were interviewed for this study, which was qualitative and exploratory in nature. All participants were female, and most identified as white, while one participant identified as a person of color. Participants ranged in their clinical social work experience, but all had spent at least two and up to forty years in a clinical position. Thematic analysis indicated that most participants held a strong commitment to understanding and addressing social conditions in the lives of clients. However, results showed several barriers to a Frierean clinical practice. Participants overall lacked an integrated understanding of oppression and expressed uncertainty about bringing politics into the therapy room. Psychodynamic practice, which was strongly represented among participants, had potential to add to the complex and nuanced understanding of social factors, but lacked the egalitarianism of Friere's ideals. Findings indicate that better integration of clinical and political work is needed to fulfill social work's ethical objective of furthering social justice.




iii, 108 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)-Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2011. Includes bibliographical references (p. 96-102)