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Social Work: An Evidence Based Approach

Whitney M. Young Jr., School of Social Work Clark Atlanta University


Evidence-Based Practice. The term evidence-based practice (EBP) was used initially in relation to medicine, but has since been adopted by many fields including education, child welfare, mental heath, and criminal justice. The Institute of Medicine (2001) defines evidence-based medicine as the integration of best researched evidence and clinical expertise with patient values (p. 147). In social work, most agree that EBP is a process involving creating an answerable question based on a client or organizational need, locating the best available evidence to answer the question, evaluating the quality of the evidence as well as its applicability, applying the evidence, and evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of the solution.

Environment + organizational context. EBP. "Evidence-based Social Work Practice."  2012.  Accessed September 14, 2016.

The PICO Model

Critical Appraisal Tools (Joanna Briggs Institute)

Typically used in evidence-based medicine, the PICO model is a useful way of formulating client, community, or policy-related research questions. A well-built question or problem should include the four components of the model: Problem, Intervention, Comparison and Outcome.

See below for a client-problem research question example:

Problem   Describe the client/patient.  Important descriptors might include: age and gender.  Then describe the problem the patient is experiencing.  For example, you might say, "A four-year-old boy with PTSD"
Intervention Describe the intervention or treatment you are considering for the client/patient.  For example, "EMDR psychotherapy" for the child.
Comparison Ask yourself if there is a main alternative intervention that exists for the problem that you wish to use as a base of comparison.  Example: "cognitive-behavioral therapy." (Note: you may not always wish to compare interventions, so sometimes this part of your research question will be omitted.)
Outcome Ask yourself what result you want to see because of the therapy.  Example: "decreased PTSD symptoms, such as nightmares"

From Simmons University

Search Techniques

Here are some useful keywords to use when searching for books with evidence-based information:

  • treatment guidelines
  • best practices
  • guidelines
  • practice guidelines
  • evidence-based
  • treatment planners

Try any of these keywords listed above with words that represent the issue you are researching. Examples:

  • Anxiety AND treatment guidelines
  • evidence-based AND depression
  • guidelines AND eating disorders

 From Boston College Libraries

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