Reflecting on Theoretical Orientation

Throughout this course, you have explored an array of theories and models and the ways in which theories provide a framework to view and conceptualize the problem, the therapeutic change process, your role within this change process, and assessment and interventions.

By now, you may be asking what your own theoretical orientation is. Before you determine your theoretical orientation, you should be aware that your personal values, worldviews, life experiences, spiritual or religious perspectives, personality, and biases influence your choice of theoretical orientations. At the same time, remember that your choice of a theoretical orientation is not static. It can change and evolve as you continue your professional and personal life journey. And, if you choose to conduct research and pursue doctoral education, you may even contribute to the body of knowledge upon which theories are built.

This week, you reflect on how theory affects you, and thereby affects your practice.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Determine theoretical orientation(s) that are most appealing and comfortable to apply in social work practice
  • Determine theoretical orientation(s) that are most challenging to apply in social work practice
  • Reflect on how personal values and worldviews influence the choice(s) of a theoretical orientation

Learning Resources

Note: To access this week’s required library resources, please click on the link to the Course Readings List, found in the Course Materials section of your Syllabus.

Required Readings

Pruitt, N. T. (2014). From dodo bird to mindfulness: The effect of theoretical orientation on work and self. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70(8), 753–759. doi:10.1002/jclp.22110

Coleman, D. (2008). Theoretical evaluation self-test: An interactive test of theoretical orientation for mental health clinicians or graduate students. Retrieved from

Optional Resources

Coleman, D. (2003). Learning about therapy theories: An empirical test of an experiential technique. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 23(3/4), 73-89.

Discussion: Reflection

Developing self-awareness starts with taking time to reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses, what distresses you, and what you find most comfortable in social work practice with your clients and colleagues. You have read about many theories and models at this point. There may have been theories and models that you were more inclined to use. Or there may have been theories and models you were not comfortable using.

The Theoretical Evaluation Self-Test (TEST) was developed by Daniel Coleman. It is a quantitative instrument that measures a therapist’s theoretical orientation. It consists of 30 close-ended statements with a 7-point Likert scale, asking the extent of agreement about “psychotherapy, the human psyche, and the therapeutic process” (Coleman, 2003, p. 74). The seven theoretical orientations that are measured are psychodynamic, biological, family systems, ecosystems, cognitive, pragmatic, and humanistic.

Coleman (2003) cautions that the TEST is not meant to give therapists a conclusive and definitive sense of their theoretical orientation. Rather, the goal is to promote self-reflection about their personal tendencies toward approaching therapy.

For this Discussion, you take the TEST to stimulate self-reflection. You will also take some time to reflect on all the different theories and models covered in this course.

To prepare: Take the TEST. There is both a web-based version, noted in the Learning Resources, and a paper version of the TEST.

By Day 3


  • After taking the TEST, post your results.
  • Explain in 2 to 3 sentence the extent to which you were surprised or not surprised by the TEST results, and explain the reasons why you were surprised or not surprised.
  • After looking back at the array of theories and models that were covered in this course, identify the top three theories or models that most appealed to you.
  • Explain in 3 to 4 sentences how your personal values, worldviews, life experiences, and/or your personality influenced your selection of the top three theories or models.
  • In this course, you were asked to select one case study to use throughout the entire course. Describe this experience—for example, the degree to which it was helpful to focus on one case, what you learned, what could perhaps be done differently.

By Day 5

Respond to two colleagues in one of the following ways:

  • Compare your TEST results or other aspects of your post with your colleague’s responses.
  • Provide suggestions for how your colleague could connect their theoretical orientation to future courses, in the discipline, and/or in practice.
  • Share an insight you learned from another colleague in this Discussion or from earlier in the course.