n 1925, the president of the new American Association of
Social Workers delivered a keynote address entitled,"Is Social Work A Profession? A
Re-examination of the Question". This paper strongly made the case for professional
status and was widely accepted as an effective rejoinder to Dr. Flexner's earlier denial.
There is no doubt that casework's strong link to
psychiatry and Freudian theory in large part accounted for this new, improved,
professional image. Many social workers felt that the new dominance of psychiatric social
work helped shed the profession of its stigmatizing attachment to the poor. They viewed
this traditional link with the poverty population as an encumbrance in the quest for
professional status. No longer would the social worker be viewed solely as a charity
worker delivering relief and moral uplift, but rather as therapist who could employ new
sophisticated psychiatric skills in aiding poor, middle class or even affluent clients.
There are other problems however, Social
works strong identification with psychiatric techniques and theories led historian
Walter Tratner to summarizes some of the more obvious flaws:
"More significant, was the fact that psychiatry
which at first seemed to be a blessing that would elevate social work to its deeply
cherished professional status created serious long term problems for the field. Aside from
undermining the capacity and desire for social workers to promote change and deal with
mass deprivation in an urban society, psychiatry threatened the very professional identity
which social workers were so anxious to attain, for if psychiatric knowledge was
fundamental to the profession, what distinguished psychiatric social work from
psychotherapy, except for social work's inferior education and training? Were psychiatric
social workers mere handmaidens to psychiatrists?"