Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Psychiatric social work, Psychodynamic psychotherapy, Social justice, Qualitative research, Clinical social work practice, Psychodynamic social work, Psychoanalysis, Therapist attitudes, Therapist values, Social work ethics


This research study explored the ways in which psychodynamic social workers use social justice values in clinical practice. The qualitative study was based on interviews with 12 practicing clinical social workers who self-identify as integrating social justice values into psychodynamic work. Using grounded theory, the study examined this question by exploring individual definitions of and professional commitments to social justice values and ways these are applied to their work. The interviews also explored participants' personal views on the alignment of psychodynamic practice with social work values, how this concern was addressed in clinical training, and how different bodies of psychoanalytic theory offer varied approaches to incorporating social justice values. Case vignettes provide real-world examples of both successes and challenges faced by the members of this sample. Key findings include that core tensions remain between the value-laden field of social work and that of psychoanalysis, which in many ways still aspires to be value-neutral, and maintains this aspiration as a core tenet of the discipline. At least for the sample in this study, the extent to which this is experienced as a struggle by clinicians is contingent upon how comfortable they are navigating the moments in which their values and those of their clients diverge. This study suggests that the practice of clinical social work could benefit from an engagement in the production of psychoanalytic theory that explicitly speaks to the social justice mandate of social work, as well as the challenges unique to the field.




iii, 87 pages : color illustration. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, 2015. Includes bibliographical references (pages 76-81)