The Theory Tree: An Extensive Representation of Social Work Theory for Use in Practice


  • Mim Fox University of Wollongong
  • Samuel Horder Family & Community Services (NSW)


Theory and Practice Integration, Theory Tree, Field Placement, Social Work Theories


The social work profession sources theory from a range of disciplines whilst training students in everyday practice. As a result of this diversity, students and new practitioners alike can face a challenge in the complexity of recalling large amounts of unstructured information while simultaneously performing social work interventions. Current theory-practice models cater to the application of theory, but leave the practitioner unclear as to how to recall, organise and retain the multitude of theories at their disposal. The Theory Tree has been developed as a visual model to support social work students and new practitioners in their everyday theory–practice identification and application. This model has unique features in its capacity to respond to the relational interaction of theory and sub-theories, as well as crossing both professional and knowledge domains. The Theory Tree can be used effectively in the classroom setting and in field placement supervision.


Bell, K. (2012). Towards a post-conventional philosophical base for social work. British Journal of Social Work, 42(3), 408–423. Borden, W. (2010). Taking multiplicity seriously: Pluralism, pragmatism and integrative perspectives in clinical social work. In

W. Borden (Ed.), Reshaping theory in contemporary social work: Toward a critical pluralism in clinical practice (pp. ??–??). New York,

NY: Columbia University Press.

Collingwood, P., Emond, R., & Woodward, R. (2008). The theory circle: A tool for learning and for practice. Social Work Education: The International Journal, 27(1), 70–83.

Fisher, T., & Somerton, J. (2000). Reflection on action: The process of helping social work students to develop their use of theory in practice. Social Work Education, 19(4), 387–401.

Forte, J. (2014). An introduction to using theory in social work practice. Beaverton, OR: Ringgold.

Ghojazadeh, M., Aghaei, M., Naghavi-Behzad, M., Piri, R., Hazrati, H., Azami-Aghdash, S. (2014). Using concept maps for nursing education in Iran: A systematic review. Research and Development in Medical Education, 3(1), 67–72.

O’Donnell, A. (1994). Learning from knowledge maps: The effects of map orientation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 19, 33–44.

O’Donnell, A., Dansereau, D., & Hall, R. (2002). Knowledge maps as scaffolds for cognitive processing. Educational Psychology Review, 14, 71–86.

Payne, M. (2014). Modern social work theory. Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan.

Vayda, E., & Bogo, M. (1991). A teaching model to unite classroom and field. Journal of Social Work Education, 27(3), 271–278. Vågerö, D. (2006). Where does new theory come from? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60(7), 573–???.