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Practice Model: Task Centred

Outline, espoused values, basic characteristics, strengths and limitations; initial, middle and terminal phases of practice approach in detail

This page has three sections:

  1. Background Material that provides the context for the topic

  2. A suggested Practice Approach

  3. A list of Supporting Material / References

Feedback welcome!

Background Material

Task-centred social work is a way of working with clients to achieve their goals and alleviate immediate problems. The problems can include one or more of the following: interpersonal conflict; dissatisfaction in social relations; relations in formal organizations; difficulty in role performance; problems of social transition; reactive emotional distress; and/or inadequate resources. The key to identifying problems is that the client must express a desire to work on the problem either independently or in collaboration with the social worker.

The basic process of the approach includes identifying the problem(s) as perceived by the client, exploring the problem(s) in detail, selecting the problem that is causing the client the most distress as the target for intervention, defining a goal which removes or diminishes the problem, establishing tasks for both the client and social worker that moves the client towards the goal, and evaluating the end work. Evaluation explores whether the client has reached the desired goal and whether the problem has been removed or diminished.

The following values are inherent in the task-centred approach and are particularly useful for social work (Doel, 1991).

1. Partnership and empowerment The relationship between the client and social worker is one of partnership and collaboration. The client should specify problems from her or his perspective and establish goals that are personally meaningful. Inequalities in the sense of power, roles or responsibility, these need to be made explicit in order to create a true partnership.

2. Clients are the best authority on their problems Clients should describe the problem from their perspective and establish personally meaningful goals. At times external sources may define the problem.

3. Builds on people’s strengths rather than their deficits Social workers should identify each person’s strengths and resources

4. Provide help rather than treatment The social worker’s responsibility is to acknowledge and make explicit this power imbalance while seeking to work collaboratively with the parents to reach their goals as well as those mandated by the courts.

Basic Characteristics

1. Focus on Client-Acknowledged Problems The focus of service is on resolving specific problems that clients explicitly acknowledge as being of concern to them (problems-in-living).

2. Planned Brevity Service is short-term, 6 to 12 weekly sessions within a 4-month period.

3. Collaborative Relationship Relationships with clients emphasize a caring but collaborative effort. Client and practitioner contract explicitly about the target problems to be worked on, goals, and duration. The practitioner’s role includes structuring sessions for collaborative problem-solving work and occasionally carrying out tasks on behalf of clients.

4. Structure The intervention program is structured into well-defined sequences of activities that focus on resolving target problems. The middle phases include systematic task planning and implementation activities.

Several strengths include the following:

  • The task-centred approach is a generic approach in the sense that it can be applied to a variety of problems / difficulties.

  • The task-centred approach can be easily used in combination with other theories and methods and across many settings. For example, a social worker may begin by utilizing motivational interviewing with a client who is ambivalent about making a change and then switch to task-centred social work when the client is ready to work towards alleviating the identified problem.

  • The approach is empowering in that the social worker and client enter into a partnership where the client identifies the problem, specifies a goal and participates in small tasks that lead to reaching the goal. The social worker and client equally participate in this process, are both accountable and are able to receive feedback about their work together.

  • The approach has continually been subjected to research and has been found to be a cost-effective method of working. The approach incorporates aspects of social systems theory and therefore, although clients define the problems and goals, they do not have to be the focus of intervention and the problem does not necessarily have to reside with them.

The limitations of the approach include the following:

  • The task-centred approach may not be appropriate for all clients. For instance, the approach requires that the client make links between problems, tasks and goals (that is, actions and consequences), yet some clients may experience limitations or difficulties to this type of thought.

  • The task-centred approach may be difficult to implement if the client is mandated to work with you.

Practice Approach

Supporting Material

(available on request)

Teater, B. K. (2010). Introduction to applying social work theories and nethods. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education. Retrieved from

Fortune, A. E. & Reid, W. J. (2011). Task-centered social work. In F. Turner (Ed.), Social work treatment: Interlocking theoretical approaches (5th ed.), (pp. 513-532). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

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