Social Work Essay: Strengths and Weaknesses of Theoretical Categories - Systems Theory

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Wesleyan University
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Systems theory can be defined as an interdisciplinary theory about every system in societies, nature and in many scientific applications or domains as well as a framework with which individuals can investigate phenomena from a holistic approach. There are numerous diverse types of systems, for instance, humans, animals and physicochemical systems, machines, and social systems (Healy, 2014). The key focus of the systems theory is how individuals interact with their environment. This paper will discuss the strengths and limitations of the systems theory.

Strengths of systems theory

One of the main strength of the Systems theory is that it provides a framework for comprehending and responding to individuals in their environments. Systems theory discourages the pathologization of either the environment or the individual; instead, it encourages social workers to analyses the interactions across and within the systems.

Secondly, systems theory can offer an amalgamating conceptual foundation for social work as a profession that is focused on the comprehension and responding to individuals in their environment. Due to the increasing dominating nature of neoclassical economic discourse, individuals often find it difficult to identify their contributions to social service delivery. The systems theory enables such professionals to define their contribution.

The third strength of systems theory is that it encourages social workers to respect the contributions that other methods make to practice while at the same time developing the basic competencies across a range of intervention practices. It is imperative to comprehend that the systems theory can provide an antidote to competition that exists between practice methods.


One of the key weaknesses of the systems theory is that it lacks clarity regarding the core systems concepts. The system does not provide clarity on what constitutes a system, the various attributes of the system selected and the boundaries of the system. As a result, there is an absence of empirical and theoretical research justification of the systems viewpoint. This means that systems theory often provide appealing metaphors for practice. In actual sense, the theory has not been developed through empirical research.

The second weakness is that systems theory does not offer any explanations reading why certain things happen or give guidance regarding how to bring about change or act. In some instances, the systems theory may overemphasize on the bigger picture at the expense of details that individuals would want to discern (Parrott and Maguinness, 2017).

Finally, systems theory tends to value integration and maintenance over conflict. This means that the systems theory may not explicitly challenge inequality and due to its status quo, the systems theory does not challenge or encourage oppressive systems.

In terms of applications, leaders in the business world can use systems theory to deal with the potential chaos or issues of complexity of the marketplace especially when dealing with numerous variables when plotting a future strategy. Secondly, through systems theory, many business organizations can no longer compete with nimble market entrants that are potentially aggressive. Whenever businesses are faced with such challenges, they tend to partner, outsource and enter alliances that have all in the past challenged the traditional boundaries of the company. Due to systems theory, what was initially a clear demarcated boundary for organizations is no longer the case. When systems theory is applied in this mode, then leaders can have a holistic approach to view the impact of the organization in creating a conducive environment to achieve goals.



Healy, K. (2014). Social work theories in context: Creating frameworks for practice.

Parrott, L., & Maguinness, N. (2017). Social work in context: Theory and concepts.


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