The primary purpose of the social work profession is to work with client systems to alleviate social and psychological problems and promote health and well-being. There are a number of theories of human development that inform specific interventions, techniques, and approaches utilized in social work practice, all of which are included as part of the generalist practice model. The generalist practice model “uses an eclectic knowledge base and broad skill set within a professional practice model to effect changes in clients’ environments,” according to social work scholars Ebear, Csiernick, & Béchard (2008). The generalist practice model helps social workers to identify potential stressors and other disruptions to the client systems’ equilibrium at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels, so that social workers can work with clients to plan and implement appropriate interventions that will support clients in attaining optimal social functioning.

Most Master of Social Work programs are rooted in the generalist practice model, while offering opportunities to specialize in key populations or areas of interest through concentration and specialization options. This ensures that all MSW graduates possess a comprehensive foundation of professional knowledge to draw on in their practice.

In addition to offering social work practitioners a broad knowledge base, the generalist practice model provides a 7-stage model to guide the problem-solving process. The stages are: engagement, assessment, planning, intervention, evaluation, and termination. These 7 stages serve as a roadmap for social workers, and facilitate client involvement throughout the problem-solving process, protecting their right to self-determination and ensuring that goals, tasks, and changes reflect the client’s perspective, preferences, and capabilities. Following the 7 stages of the generalist practice model will assist social work practitioners in effectively supporting clients to attain their change goals, and knowing what to do each step of the way.


During the engagement stage, the social worker should focus on building trust and rapport with the client, so that mutually-agreed upon goals can be determined. In engagement, the social worker is actively involved with the client, listening to her/his perspectives on problems, reasons for seeking treatment, and desired outcomes of therapy.


During the assessment stage, the focus shifts to information gathering. In assessment, social workers should collect key data about the client through interviews and other assessment techniques and instruments and collateral contacts. This information will assist both the client and the social worker in defining problems and possible solutions. During assessment, social workers must remember to operate from a strengths-based perspective, with careful attention to seeking information about client’s skills, capacities, resources, and other strengths.


The planning stage is focused on goal development, based on a mutual understanding of the client’s problems, lifestyle, and environment. During this stage, the social worker and client work together to develop an action-plan that is suited to the client’s unique circumstances. This action-plan should include specific objectives and tasks that work toward accomplishing the stated goals, with a clear timeline for action, and expectations of who will do what.


Intervention is the stage when the client and social worker mobilize resources to implement the action-plan, both complying with their agreed-upon expectations. During this stage, the social worker should monitor client progress, and the client should bring to the social worker’s attention any challenges, obstacles, or threats to carrying out the action-plan. Plans and timelines can be adjusted as needed to ensure that the intervention is working for the client.


During the evaluation stage, the social worker and the client focus on goal attainment, continuing to monitor progress to determine when goals are met, and/or whether new goals should be set. Clients can be directly involved in the evaluation stage through self-monitoring, allowing them to track and reflect upon their own progress. The social worker, at this stage, critically evaluates how an intervention is working based on client progress. If goals are not being met, it may be necessary to return to the assessment stage to better define the problem.


The ultimate goal of any therapeutic intervention is that a time will come when the client is able to maintain progress on their own. Termination is thus the last stage of the generalist practice model. During this stage, the client reflects on her/his accomplishments, and client and social worker work together to identify resources and supports in place to help the client should problems re-emerge.

Following these 7 stages of the generalist practice model assists social workers in effectively intervening with clients to resolve problems and improve well-being, while keeping the client involved in the entire problem-solving process. It is important to remember that there is no set length of time for any stage, and in some cases, social workers and clients will need to return to a previous stage, depending on client progress. The client should be at the center of any problem-solving process, and the generalist practice model offers a useful to guide to supporting clients on their path to self-determination and biopsychosocial health.