The use of object relations theory in clinical social work practice : a case study

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The purpose of this study was to explore the value of a particular theoretical framework in terms of several issues relating to clinical social work practice. The selected theoretical framework was that of Object Relations theory, specifically the works of Melanie Klein and Margaret Mahler. The method of inquiry was that of a single case study. The investigation centred around the theories' usefulness in clinical social work practice regarding: assessment, particularly in terms of the development of insight into and understanding of human psychological development, and guiding practice and informing intervention. The selected theoretical framework was also evaluated according to: its sufficiency, in and of itself, and the extent to which its utilization facilitates avoidance of stereotyping and pathologizing. The study was undertaken in a psychiatric unit, run according to the principles of a therapeutic milieu, in a local hospital. The subject of the study had been admitted to the unit after a parasuicide attempt. He manifested many of the affects and behaviours associated with Borderline Personality Disorder, and was a transsexual who had undergone reassignment surgery. Ongoing assessment and intervention were undertaken in the residential unit on an individual basis and in group activities. Reference to literature, the writings of Klein and Mahler in particular, was a crucial and essential aspect of the study. The selected theoretical framework was found to be of great value in terms of the development of insight into and understanding of human psychological development, which in turn aided the assessment process. Whilst neither Klein nor Mahler wrote extensively or specifically of intervention, a model compatible with their opinions was identified in the literature and effectively used for this purpose. The approach used, both from a theoretical and a practical standpoint, encouraged expression and maintenance of individual uniqueness. The study highlighted the importance of a sound theoretical knowledge base underpinning clinical practice, particularly when practitioners are challenged by difficult cases. In addition, the need for practitioners to assume responsibility for continued dynamic learning, and the significant role of supervision were apparent. Further avenues for study and research were also identified.

Includes bibliographical references.