Maslow for the Social Work Exam

maslow's hierarchy of needs It's Abraham Maslow's birthday (4/1). Happy Birthday, Maslow! It's as good a time as any to review Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Picture it as a big, pyramidal birthday cake, if that helps you get them understood. Here's Wikipedia's quick summary:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" in Psychological Review. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans' innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, some of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans. Maslow used the terms "physiological", "safety", "belongingness" and "love", "esteem", "self-actualization" and "self-transcendence" to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through.

Which is probably more than you need to know to breeze through a question on the social work licensing exam. You might find a question about prioritizing treatment by following Maslow. For Maslow, it's not "safety first"--physiological needs are more crucial still. Food, shelter. Just like life.

Want more? Here's more:


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Interpersonal Psychotherapy and the Social Work Exam

interpersonal psychotherapy What is Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)? We could go into some detail, but then Wikipedia has it laid out so nicely, why waste your time? Here's the short version, just the bullet points about IPT:

  • Created in 1969, a hybrid of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Theory (Harry Stack Sullivan).
  • Short-term, time-limited, empirically validated.
  • Focuses on relationships, communication patterns. Identification and expression of emotion, dealing with unresolved grief are stressed.
  • Used at first primarily in research with depression. Use has widened some to clinical practice.

Will this be on the social work licensing exam? IPT shows up more often as a distractor (an incorrect answer) than not. But, just in case, it doesn't hurt to have these basic lodged somewhere at the back of your exam-taking brain. Having a sense of what various therapies offer helps avoid that stomach-churning, confidence-busting experience of being mystified by material the exam. "Wait, what's IPT? I've never heard of it!" Yes, you have!

More on Interpersonal Psychotherapy from around the web:

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Defense Mechanisms and the Social Work Exam

defense One way to anticipate what may appear on the social work licensing exam is to think what you might write as a question if the task fell to you. Of all the potential material that could be on the test , what lends itself to clear, relevant exam items? Certainly vignettes probing Code of Ethics knowledge would be on the short list. Diagnostic questions too. And also questions pulling from the greatest hits of psych knowledge. Which may in not too long lead you (the hypothetical exam item writer) to generate a question or two about defense mechanisms.

Defense mechanisms have the allure of being both an ancient offering (by psych standards) and having entered common parlance. "You're in denial"..."You're being passive aggressive"..."You're projecting." People use them all the time, though not always correctly. As you prep for the exam, it's worth taking a moment to get them sorted out and understood. Don't be in denial--a defense mechanism question could help you get those crucial points you need to pass.

There's no need to rehearse the list of defense mechanisms here. Plenty of people have written them up in detail around the web. Here are some choice places to brush up:

Once you've done some review, consider testing your knowledge with this Defense Mechanism Quiz. Done that? Congratulations, you're not in denial anymore. You're ready to face down defense mechanism questions on the exam. Good luck!


For realistic, licensing exam-style questions about defense mechanisms and a while lot more, sign up for SWTP practice exams!

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The Transtheoretical Model and the Social Work Exam

the stages of change While the social work exam may not refer to the Transtheoretical Model (TTM), there's a pretty good chance you'll encounter an exam question about the Stages of Change. The Stages of Change, part of the Transtheoretical Model, were proposed by alcoholism researchers, Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska. You've most likely encountered them before, but here's the list (via Wikipedia):

  • Precontemplation (Not Ready)-"People are not intending to take action in the foreseeable future, and can be unaware that their behavior is problematic"
  • Contemplation (Getting Ready)-"People are beginning to recognize that their behavior is problematic, and start to look at the pros and cons of their continued actions"
  • Preparation (Ready)-"People  are intending to take action in the immediate future, and may begin taking small steps toward behavior change"
  • Action - "People have made specific overt modifications in modifying their problem behavior or in acquiring new healthy behaviors"
  • Maintenance - "People have been able to sustain action for a while and are working to prevent relapse"
  • Termination - "Individuals have zero temptation and they are sure they will not return to their old unhealthy habit as a way of coping"

The easiest way for licensing exam writers to test you on this material, is with a question describing a addicted client's level of readiness to make change. Something like this:

A social worker sees a client who has been addicted to pain killers for several years. The client has read some Narcotics Anonymous literature, but so far has not attended any twelve-step meetings. Which of DiClemente and Prochaska's Stages of Change BEST fit the client?

A) Contemplation

B) Preparation

C) Action

D) Precontemplation

Right now, with the list in front of you, it's easy enough to dart your eyeballs around and come up with the right answer. Let's see...has taken some steps (reading N.A. lit)...not quite Action...sounds more like "small steps"...that means Preparation! Check B.

During the exam, you won't have the list in front of you, but you will have the sweet memory of having read this post. Smile to yourself once you're there, get that answer checked correctly, and move on. Next thing you know, you're licensed. Congratulations in advance!


For more practice questions about the Stages of Change and lots more, sign up!


[Post by Will Baum, LCSW]

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Bowenian Family Therapy and the Social Work Exam

bowen book Murray Bowen is credited by some with generating a wholly new way of thinking about human behavior. That new way: Family Systems Theory, put into action as Bowenian Famliy Therapy. The web is chock full of simple descriptions of what it is and how it works, so we'll save typing time--and your time--and get right to the links.

What it is (via The Bowen Center):

Bowen family systems theory is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit.

The theory's eight interlocking concepts (via Wikipedia):

  • Differentiation of Self (the most important concept)
  • Nuclear Family Emotional System
  • Triangles
  • Family Projection Process
  • Multigenerational Transmission Process
  • Emotional Cutoff
  • Sibling Position
  • Societal Emotional Process

As usual, passing the social work exam usually requires just being able to identify concepts rather than actually being able to explain them. (That makes some long for the old days of oral exams--and makes others wildly grateful that the old days of oral exams has past). You can, for better or worse, often reduce social work exam knowledge into a cheer. "I say differentiation, you say Bowen!" "I say triangles, you say Bowen!" "I say multigenerational transmission process, you say Bowen!" That last one's kind of a mouthful, but see if you don't remember this post if/when you encounter a Bowenian Family Therapy question on the exam!

Find plenty more about Bowen's theory and therapy at these places:

Good luck on the exam!

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