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Multidimensional Theory Applied to Social Work


Today’s social environment is characterized by the high degree of its complexity, which adds new dimensions to the context in which people live. These intricacies pose additional challenges for counselors and people seeking to preserve their mental health. The pressure of the surroundings can reach extreme levels without being obvious, often making it difficult to discern its detrimental impact. However, effective social work requires a complete understanding of all the environmental factors influencing a patient’s life. It is natural to seek the roots of all issues in the nearest surroundings, such as families, but, in reality, the external influence is conditioned by a complex combination of factors. They encompass all layers of a person’s social context, intersecting and complementing one another in surprising ways. The multidimensional theory of social work acknowledges these complex relations, providing effective instruments for counselors. The purpose of this paper is to review the potential means of the practical application of the multidimensional theory in social work.

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Multidimensional Theory in Assessment, Intervention, and Evaluation

The reality of 21st-century social work demands a comprehensive approach to assessment, intervention, and evaluation. In other words, it is vital for the specialist to acquire a complete understanding of all environmental factors shaping the behavior of a client. In fact, while social workers often feel inclined to investigate the familial level as the source of possible issues, whereas outer layers of society may also contribute to problems’ development. The concept of multidimensional theory acknowledges this reality, proposing an effective framework within which specialists can discern and investigate the connections between various factors. These relations were described, for example, by Urie Bronfenbrenner, who adapted the multidimensional model when designing his theory of bio-ecological development (Houston, 2017). Therefore, in the assessment stage, a social worker should demonstrate their broad view and divide the client’s surroundings into corresponding layers, from family to peers, organizations, and entire communities. In addition to improving the accuracy of the assessment, this approach facilitates the process by making it more structurally coherent.

The effectiveness of the multidimensional model spans across all stages of the social work cycle, making its application justified in intervention, as well. According to the model, society can be categorized into several major layers surrounding a person, and each of them has specific characteristics (Cassells & Evans, 2020). Therefore, the intervention should also be adjusted in accordance with the social area from which the issue originates. Familial problems are the most delicate ones, and the strategy is to be devised and implemented with caution. Simultaneously, issues stemming from the outer layers of society require a larger scale of discussions, which may, in fact, discourage a social worker to an extent. Many of these problems are related to greater issues, which exist on institutional and systemic levels. Accordingly, a social worker may feel daunted by the prospect of dealing with problems, which have existed for decades and are unlikely to disappear solely due to their efforts. However, the purpose of counseling, in this case, is not to tackle these global issues but to mitigate their effects on one certain individual, and the evaluation of the outcome should be done accordingly.

The Value of the Multidimensional Theory

The range of contexts in which the multidimensional theory appears appropriate is quite broad, making it even more valuable. The very nature of the model promotes the versatility of social work, encouraging counselors to pursue various context-fitting routes in therapy. Through the implementation of the multidimensional theory, social workers can devise a clear framework showing the complex relations between the elements of each social level. This way, the links between personal and systemic levels, as well as all the layers in-between, can be thoroughly examined for an effective action plan. Moreover, the immense potential of the multidimensional theory becomes particularly valuable in the case of working with children.

People at a young age may experience immense pressure from an array of sources, ranging from parents and closest friends to competition at school and global, nationwide disparities. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (n.d.), over 66% of all children report at least one traumatic experience by the age of sixteen. Therefore, the correct identification of risks to their mental health is essential for the well-being of society, in general, and the multidimensional theory is instrumental for this purpose. It helps social workers identify the ways in which profound underlying issues affect young people. This way, they will have an opportunity to address these problems at an appropriate time, contributing to the well-being of society in the long term.

Multidimensional Theory in Comparison

Social Learning Theory

The benefits of the multidimensional theory reveal themselves when it is compared to other dominant models and theories of today’s social work. For example, the social learning theory is widely accepted in the professional community, and it dictates that people, especially children, seek role models around them. Next, having identified those admirable figures, young people, both willingly and subconsciously, begin to imitate their behavioral patterns in certain situations. Horsburgh and Ippolito (2018) view role modeling as an important social mechanism, which is particularly valuable in learning. However, the multidimensional theory extends beyond that, viewing the social relationship as more complex than the process of role model selection. This framework acknowledges the convoluted nature of society, and its approach to learning is multi-faceted, as well.

Social Exchange Theory

At the same time, the social exchange theory adds a different perspective on the interaction between people. Cropanzano et al. (2017) state that it has become one of the leading models in contemporary management studies. According to this theory, each person is expected to make a decision based on internal cost-benefit analysis. Therefore, most people act in a way, which can lead to their preferred outcomes at the lowest cost possible. As per the model’s proponents, correctly identifying one’s paradigm of values is the key to effective social work. However, this model presents significant flaws when compared to the multidimensional model. In fact, the social exchange theory is largely bipolar, meaning that it mostly considers such categories as positive and negative, the latter simply being the lack of the former (Cropanzano et al., 2017). Furthermore, the very basis of a person’s system of values may be altered by the social landscape. The multidimensional theory is significantly more complex, as it provides deeper insight into the underlying processes behind interpersonal interaction.

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In conclusion, the multidimensional theory demonstrates excellent potential in the actual social work environment. Its principles are highly practice-oriented due to the broad scope of the theory and its complex methodology. While it demands substantial efforts on behalf of a therapist, the results can lead to significant improvements mitigating the impact of major systemic issues on the development of a person. The high level of applicability to children forms the primary advantage of the multidimensional theory as early stages of life are often affected by traumatizing experiences, which translate into mental health issues in the future. The correct implementation of the multidimensional theory in social work has immense potential, making it more beneficial than alternative models in the long term. Overall, it is demanding in terms of professional expertise, but the efforts are rewarded by positive treatment outcomes.


Cassells, R., & Evans, G. (2020). Concepts from the bioecological model of human development. In L. Tach, R. Dunifon, & D. L. Miller (Eds.), APA Bronfenbrenner series on the ecology of human development. Confronting inequality: How policies and practices shape children’s opportunities (pp. 221–232). American Psychological Association. Web.

Cropanzano, R., Anthony, E. L., Daniels, S. R., & Hall, A. V. (2017). Social exchange theory: A critical review with theoretical remedies. Academy of Management Annals, 11(1). Web.

Horsburgh, J., & Ippolito, K. (2020). A skill to be worked at: Using social learning theory to explore the process of learning from role models in clinical settings. BMC Medical Education, 18. Web.

Houston, S. (2017). Towards a critical ecology of child development in social work: Aligning the theories of Bronfenbrenner and Bourdieu. Families, Relationships and Societies, 6(1), 53–69. Web.

National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative. (n.d.) Understanding child trauma. Web.

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