IU School of Social Work is headquartered on the IUPUI campus with locations on 8 IU Campuses. The school also has the Department of Labor Studies
Indiana University School of Social Work Professor Patrick Sullivan will be among those recognized when the University of Kansas celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Strengths Perspective, a school of thought he worked on while at KU in the early 1980s.
The event will take place in April at KU’s at its annual Social Work Day event.
The Strengths Perspective not only put KU’s School of Social Welfare on the map; it changed social work and education across the globe, the university noted in announcing the upcoming event which marks the 25th anniversary of a seminal publication touting the Strengths Perspective, a revolutionary way of approaching social work. The perspective has helped countless individuals across the world recover from mental health, substance abuse and numerous other issues in a way that previously hadn’t been done.
“For the preceding century at least, social work looked at ‘what’s your problem and how do we solve it,’” said Alice Lieberman, professor of social welfare and director of the bachelor’s of social welfare program at KU in a university news release. “This really turned that model on its head as helping professionals began to inventory not only the talents and resources of the client, but their dreams and aspirations. No one ever solved their problems with resources they didn’t have, and no one has ever realized their potential by relentlessly focusing on their problems.”
The news release noted that while the idea of focusing on an individual’s strengths and available resources to solve a problem may seem like common sense, it was anything but at the time. Patrick Sullivan, professor at Indiana University School of Social Work, worked with Professor Charlie Rapp, who was instrumental in developing the Strengths Perspective, in the early 1980s as a case manager on the pilot project. The perspective was first implemented with seriously mentally ill individuals at Bert Nash Mental Health Center in Lawrence, Kan. Sullivan returned several years later as a doctoral student and was working with the perspective when the seminal 1989 article was published.
“It’s omnipresent now,” Sullivan said of the Strengths Perspective. “But when we went out and started giving presentations on it, people would literally get up and leave.”
By 1989 Rapp, Sullivan and colleagues had documented enough successes and potentials with the perspective they submitted an article on the approach to Social Work, the leading academic journal in the field. While there was some initial resistance from the journal’s reviewers, eventually they decided to run the article. The ramifications were felt nearly immediately.
Social workers, mental health professionals, educators and others working in social welfare at nearly every level began focusing on individual’s strengths, abilities and personal goals to set treatment and recovery plans. Sullivan gives credit to Ann Weick, former dean of the KU School of Social Welfare, for not only championing the Strengths Perspective from an early date, but for recognizing its potential and using it as the foundation for KU’s school.
“Ann is brilliant. I really can’t say that enough,” Sullivan said. “She picked up the Strengths Perspective and saw it on a slightly different conceptual level than others. This resonated in many ways. Not only did she lead the KU School of Social Welfare based on the principles of the perspective, she helped take it beyond the university. I don’t think you can overstate the impact the Strengths Perspective had in social work, in education, in practice and more.”
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