Since the 1980s, social workers have increasingly left the service of the public sector and entered into private practice. A substantial number of today’s social workers practice for-proﬁt client-based therapy rather than agency-based public service. These recent changes are causing critics to question whether social work’s new focus on for-proﬁt services has deviated from social work’s original purpose to forge allegiances with the poor, the disadvantaged, and the oppressed. Is this change in focus an abandonment of social work’s historical principles? Or is it simply a modern and logical evolution? This paper examines the debate between private and public social work practice. It describes how social work historically emerged and evolved on two interconnected fronts, one with a focus on change at the community level, and one with a focus on change at the individual level. This paper posits that the two approaches are not irreconcilable and that healthy debate has led, and continues to lead, the profession forward.
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