General Systems Theory is an interdisciplinary field that studies systems in their entirety. It was first developed by biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy in the 1940s, and has since been applied to many fields, including social work.

What Is General Systems Theory?

General Systems Theory is a way of thinking about the world that emphasizes the interconnectedness of different parts. In this view, everything is a system, and every system is made up of smaller systems. These smaller systems interact with each other to form larger systems, which themselves may be part of still larger systems.

Applications in Social Work

In social work, General Systems Theory can be used to understand complex social problems and develop effective interventions. By looking at a problem as a system, social workers can identify the various parts that contribute to it and how they interact with each other.

For example, consider the issue of poverty. Poverty is not simply a lack of money; it is a complex system involving economic, political, cultural, and psychological factors. General Systems Theory can help social workers understand how these factors interact to create and perpetuate poverty.

The Ecological Perspective

One important application of General Systems Theory in social work is the ecological perspective. The ecological perspective emphasizes the importance of understanding how individuals are influenced by their environment.

According to this perspective, individuals are not just passive recipients of services; they are active agents who interact with their environment in complex ways. By understanding these interactions, social workers can develop interventions that are more effective and empowering.


In conclusion, General Systems Theory is an important tool for social workers. By understanding how systems work and how they interact with each other, social workers can develop more effective interventions and help individuals and communities thrive. The ecological perspective is one important application of this theory in social work, emphasizing the importance of understanding how individuals are influenced by their environment.