The Role of Formal Theory in Social Work Research: Formalizing Family Systems Theory

Suzanne Taylor Sutphin, Shannon McDonough, Amber Schrenkel


Formal theories are critical to accumulating knowledge through scientific research to advance the discipline and practice. The use of formal theory in social work research is currently absent. Family Systems Theory (FST) is commonly used in social work; however, it currently lacks the criteria to be considered a formal theory. We use FST to demonstrate the formalization process and its potential effect on social work research and practice. Currently, FST is being used as a perspective, to develop theories and models used in marriage and family therapy, and to develop assessment tools. We identify the components of a formal theory while presenting a formal version of FST. Directions for future research are suggested including the benefits of using formal theory to direct scientific research and guide the development of evidence-based practice.


Family systems theory, formal theory, social work research

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Copyright (c) 2013 Suzanne Taylor Sutphin, Shannon McDonough, Amber Schrenkel


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