Holistic Worldview and A Comparasson with Social Work

The topic and concepts of a holistic worldview are intriguing to me. I teach a number of classes for Heritage Universities Social Work Program. Two courses that I have taught for a number of years are Theories of Practice I and II. In general, these two classes are focused on skills and interventions for working with clients and the theoretical background for those. The first semester is about working with individuals. The second semester is about working with families and groups. In looking at the theoretical background for these interventions, we dive briefly into some layers of abstraction in what are perspectives, theories, and frameworks or models. Frameworks and models are a type of blueprint for actions. In direct practice with clients, it would the specific tasks that we would be doing. For example, somebody can practice using a solution-focused framework or using the specific treatment model of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT). Each of the models or frameworks are couched within their own theories and understanding of the world. At an even broader level of understanding is that of a perspective. A perspective is an overall way that you see the world and kind of influence everything through that lens. Kind of like a worldview or somebody’s paradigm.

What I find the most interesting about the idea of a worldview or a paradigm is that it really does involve a value judgment. The same way taking a less holistic world view such as atomistic or reductionistic. Miller (2000) arguing for a more holistic perspective on education states:

“A holistic worldview is a profound respect for the diversity of life, of cultures, of species, and a profound understanding of their subtle but vital interconnections. A holistic worldview sees the earth as a whole, and perhaps in some sense living, entity — Gaia” (p. 391).

In defining reductionistic Miller goes attempts to summarize reductionistic through how he describes current psychology in the modern age as “fundamentally materialistic, mechanistic, objectivistic, atomistic” (p. 383).

Gregory Bateson, an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician, and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields, would appear to fall squarely on the holism side. Where Reductionism seems to be focused on understanding the parts of systems and that understanding parts would provide the information necessary to understand the whole. Bateson spoke about generalizations versus specialization. He appeared to focus on the context of systems, their relationships, and the function and purpose (the difference that makes a difference). That these ideas are comprised of a mass tangle of ideas and relationships (Bateson, 2010).

In social work education, the framework of person-in-environment is a tentpole and found throughout the practice behaviors of social workers (Council on Social Work Education, 2015). That when looking at engaging, assessing, intervening and evaluating with clients, it is an approach that decidedly looks both the individual and the environment. More than looking at them separately it is about the transactions between them, interdependence, and interfaces (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2012). While Martin Luther King Jr didn’t self describe himself as a holist (Wood, 2012), King looked at the connections in the world, where he seemed to “emphasize the connections between racism, militarism and economic injustice, and to see continuities across social movements” (Dellinger, 2017, para. 3). King looked into the interrelated nature of the world, the world’s ecology, and even the cosmos (Dellinger, 2004).

Wood (2012) describes holism as a type of wrestling with problems and probing them for understanding. That is is a broader focus that the individual thinker, but how does it connect and intersect with the community. Woods describes that holistic thinkings don’t end up being mired in the angst and turmoil of the problems that they are wrestling with. That they are able to have a sense of optimism about the future. I think this for me, is a valuable thought for us to take with us as we dive further into our understandings of the world. What are the ways that we can help the world reconcile? That we can be like King during his last Christmas sermon

“I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and goodwill toward men” (Recording found on Sudekum, 2014)


Bateson, N. (Producer), Boren, M. (Producer) Bateson, N. (Director) (2010). An ecology of mind [Motion Picture]. Germany: Mindjazz Pictures.

Council on Social Work Education. (2015). Educational policy and accreditation standards for baccalaureate and master’s social work programs. Alexandria, VA. Retrieved from http://www.cswe.org/File.aspx?id=81660

Dellinger, D. (2004). Martin Luther King, Jr. Ecological Thinker. Common Ground Magazine, 38(2), 329-347. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0021875804008461

Dellinger, D. (2017, December). Dr. King’s Interconnected World. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/opinion/martin-luther-king-christmas.html

Kirst-Ashman, K. K., & Hull, G. H. (2012). Understanding generalist practice (6th ed). Australia/; Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Miller, R. (2000). Beyond reductionism: The emerging holistic paradigm in education. The Humanistic Psychologist, 28(1-3), 382-393. https://doi.org/10.1080/08873267.2000.9977003

Sudekum, J. (2014, December 3). Martin Luther King, Jr., Christmas sermon. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jeyIAH3bUI

Wood, L. S. (2012). A more perfect union: holistic worldviews and the transformation of American culture after World War II. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Author Note

This essay was originally posted in a forum for coursework for TSD 8005 - Introduction to Transformative Studies as a part of the California Institute of integral Studies.