Person-in-Environment (PIE) Theory

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  • 0:03 What Is PIE Theory?
  • 0:34 PIE Theory History
  • 2:07 PIE Theory Functions
  • 2:52 Case Scenario
  • 3:23 Assessment and Evaluation
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Children and adult clients of social workers often have numerous problems that negatively affect their life. Social workers always look at environmental influences using the PIE theory. Learn more about the history and function of this theory.

What Is PIE Theory?

Dustin is a master's-level social worker who works in a jail. His role is to perform assessments, provide counseling, and create goals and a plan for the convicts for when they leave. Dustin is currently providing counseling to Charles, a 40-year-old man who beat his wife until she was unconscious. It is not easy for many people to have empathy for a criminal like Charles, but social workers like Dustin garner empathy for their clients by using the person-in-environment (PIE) theory.

The person-in-environment (PIE) theory is the key concept and philosophy in the field of social work that states that a person's behavior can largely be understood by looking at their environment, including their past environment. The field of social work prides itself on the PIE theory, which is a scientifically-proven premise that gives the field some credibility in the scientific community.

When Dustin interviews Charles, he looks past the malicious surface - a man who beat his wife - and instead looks at his history of environmental influences, including an alcoholic mother who neglected him, an abusive father who beat him, and a crime-ridden neighborhood. Theories of why Charles became an abusive grown man become quite clear after looking Charles as a person who was heavily influenced by his environment.

PIE Theory History

While there were previous pioneers of social work practice, Mary Richmond was the mother of social casework and the spearhead of the concept that a person's problems are heavily influenced by their environment in the early 20th century.

In her 1917 book Social Diagnosis', Richmond argued for social workers to look not just at at the mental health irregularities of the person but also that of their environment. Richmond also advocated for social workers to take on more of a macro approach instead of just focusing on individuals. She emphasized the importance of advocating for social change, empowering social workers to enter the political, legal, and governmental worlds in creating, advocating, and defending social programs.

PIE Theory Functions

The function of the PIE theory serves to help the individual and society as a whole. The PIE theory specifically has the following roles:

  • To provide a holistic and comprehensive method for assessing clients. Social workers assess many environmental aspects including religious, political, familial, community, socioeconomic, and educational.

  • To allow the social worker to identify aspects of the environment that may be contributing to client problems. The social worker can then choose to intervene with the problematic environmental systems as much as their role will allow.

  • To initiate social change on a macro-level. Some social workers advocate for improving particular environments that negatively impact its people.

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