Theory Application Case Study

Jill and Bob Cruise seem to be having a difficult time not only as parents but also as individuals and as a couple. Their challenges, in this case, range from financial to psychological depending on how one is likely to understand them. In this situation, it will be noted that the best theories that can be applied in order to understand what the couple is going through would be the cognitive behavioral theory and the systems theory. Within social work, theories generally help to define the problem based on what one knows about the clients in question. For Jill, Bob and their children, these two approaches can be considered as the most appropriate ones for understanding most of the challenges that the family is facing now. The Cruise family situation is complex both physically and psychologically; however, using cognitive behavioral therapy theory can help to assess the psychological state of individual members of the Cruise family, while the systems theory will provide a better appreciation of the social ties of the family as a whole.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a theory under social psychology that considers the connection between how people feel and how they behave. According to this approach, mental health issues are directly linked to the thoughts and thought patterns that individuals choose or are gradually forced to change over time (Cleak & Wilson, 2007). Generally, the main argument in this theory is that people behave in a way that is reflective of their thoughts about the past, present or the future. The core beliefs that individuals associate with themselves or those around them or their future prospects generally dictate how the person behaves. This explains why people who are frustrated about how they perceive themselves or how they think their future would turn out are likely to have behavioral challenges like uncontrollable outbursts of emotion, being rude or inconsiderate with others or even simply being verbally abusive to those around them (Cleak & Wilson, 2007). The main argument presented in this theory is thus that the problems that individuals have are due to ‘faulty thinking’ where they have the wrong thoughts and ideas which then have a negative influence on how they feel. This is what then manifests as an issue in that the persons in question also start acting in an unacceptable manner in one way or another. 

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Principles under CBT

The two principles under cognitive behavioral therapy that will be considered for this case are both focused on understanding the specific contexts of the patients and why they are the way they are. The first principle is thus that people are not affected by their situation but more by how they think and feel about the situation in question. The second principle is that clients need to be able to identify and respond to their own dysfunctional thoughts and belief systems (Lewis & Bolzan, 2007). This means that the practice is more about empowering patients rather than simply pulling them out of their situation.

Reality versus Construct

In the case, the situation in the Cruise family home is not as bad as it may seem. This is based on the fact that both adults are receiving federal support despite being unemployed. First, there is a need for this family to understand that things could have been worse. They are currently living in a home and they can afford most of their basic needs. In a different context, the family could be out on the streets with absolutely no reliable source of sustenance (Connolly & Healy, 2009). This, however, is something that they have probably refused to consider. That is why the challenge seems to be in the way the entire family tends to feel underprivileged. For example, Jill Cruise is considerably in anguish over Uncle Tom and his relationship with the children. Bob is also horrified with the idea that his wife and his children could be insinuating that his brother cannot be trusted. In such a context, the potential for misunderstanding is very high based on the fact there has not been any clear communication about the subject of interest (Teater, 2010b; Mullaly, 2007). The first step in practice would be to guide the family towards an appreciation of their situation at present. They may not be as well off as they may have wanted to be but they are not exactly badly off either. Their constructs are simply worsening the situation.

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In addition, the problem with Uncle John can be solved with some communication, but this may not be easy. Both parents have chosen to create their own constructs of what may be going on rather than focusing on finding out what is really happening with Bob’s brother. A greater task, in this situation, is to help the clients to clear their heads and find out the facts that are guiding them into faulty thinking (Greene, Kondrat, & Lee, 2006). The idea that getting better will ‘take away their money’ indicates that Bob has failed to recognize that being better would mean they would have better opportunities and independence. Again, getting better for Uncle John and Bob means that both look for work or start a family business depending on their capacity or they could simply continue to depend on the state for unemployment if that is what they would rather do. The perception that getting better is a bad thing, in this case, goes to show how faulty the clients’ thinking really is. 

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Empowering the Patient

According to CBT, the patients need to be able to understand their inhibitions as a way for them to get better. Social workers cannot be expected to always be there to help the clients through their problems, but rather they should enable the latter to identify where they go wrong so that they can make the necessary adjustments even without the social worker’s guidance. The expert simply needs to listen to the case and analyze the issues before coming up with effective solutions (Payne, 2014). In such a situation, however, the ideal process would involve discussing the case with the clients, guiding them through identifying the problems and then engaging them in formulating the solution (Matthews, Harvey, & Trevithick, 2003). Patients are the center of the entire process since their understanding determines their ability of implementing a working solution to their challenges. In the case of Jill and Bob, it is important to appreciate that the adults have their own constructs on what the problems could be. This means that they are likely to be impatient or restless during the discussion sessions as they try to insist that they know what is wrong and thus they just want a solution. The social worker, in this case, will have to spend as much time as possible with the family in order to get all the relevant members to appreciate in detail the problems that they are facing.

Systems Theory

The systems theory focuses on people and their environment in order to explain human attitudes and behaviors. According to this approach, a big picture that can be used to explain how persons feel or act within their specific contexts. This means that the theory generally goes beyond the limitations of individual thoughts and feelings and thus considers many other components of the individuals’ external environment and how this interacts with their inner being (Healy, 2005a). The main argument in this approach is thus that there is a need to understand the developing person within his/her context of family, community, peers and peer groups and the society as a whole. When defining the systems theory, it is important to appreciate the fact that each individual exists within a rather unique context in which many considerations must be made if the social worker is to fully understand and appreciate the problem at hand. Another significant point in this theory is that the developing persons are not spectators or victims but rather active participants in their environment. This means that they are in one way or another contributing to the circumstances within which they are living. For the most part, the environment impacts on the character and ideologies of the individual. This means that when analyzing the interaction between the developing persons and their environment, there must be a consideration of the effects of one on the other.  

Principles under Systems Theory

The first principle under this theory is stress and the other is the level of fit. With regards to the former, it is important to appreciate that the individuals in the family are under a lot of stress in that they have a perceived imbalance between their needs, expectations and the environment within which they are living. This is known as the level of fit and, in this case, it is what causes the stress.

The Level of Fit

Every individual has his or her own respective needs, expectations and aspirations (Tredget, 2001). They have goals and dreams. Moreover, when they are within an environment that has a limited potential for attaining these goals and aspirations, the personal and environmental exchanges with respect to the individual in question can be considered as dysfunctional (Healy, 2005b). As such, there is a limitation in the level of satisfaction for the discussed person. In addition, when the level of fit is considerably below par as is the case with the Cruise family, frustrations are bound to occur. For example, the couple’s older son has been engaged in a number of behavioral issues including vandalism and yelling contests with his parents. The boys are also simply disrespectful and have been skipping school as well as community work. Therefore, among other things, there is a need to address the frustrations of the individual as related to their external environment (Watson, 2005; Walker, 2001). The young man could be acting so as a way of venting out his frustrations owing to the fact that he may be unable to follow his dreams and aspirations as a result of the socio-economic situation at home (Teater, 2010a). In addition, at some point in the case, the parents report that their sons do not think they are worth anything. This also represents frustration in the sense that these children would appreciate parents who are in a position to help them with their dreams and aspirations, but as things stand now, the latter are mostly incapable of doing anything for their children (Antle, Christensen, van Zyl, & Barbee, 2012). A possible approach here would be for the children to talk about what they want and for the parents to find a way to meet some of the children’s needs. The fact that the daughter cries a lot and is constantly seeking attention also indicates that there are some unmet needs that they would have to evaluate and find a way to deal with.  


An imbalance in the personal and environmental exchanges results in stress in the individual. In the Cruise family, everyone seems to be under stress owing to the family’s socio-economic situation. The parents are particularly under pressure considering that their main concern is that if they get ‘too well’ they would lose the money that they are currently receiving. The first approach, in this case, would be to understand the specific needs that are not being met (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2008). Each of the family members has his/her dreams and aspirations that are causing their current level of stress (Danso, 2009). Moreover, while the parents are obviously worried about being able to provide for their family, it is likely that they have more to worry about than just the roof over their heads.

On the one hand, they are able to survive since they have been there for a while, but there is the fact that they, at some point, had hopes for a better tomorrow. Their current conditions, on the other hand, indicate that they have minimal chances of doing better, and this only worsens the situation. Children also need more than just better socio-economic status (Osmond & O’Connor, 2006). The eldest son’s behavior points to his possible exposure to the wrong social pressures, where it is likely that he is spending time with the wrong company (Howe, 1994). The fact that he takes his brother with him most of the time also indicates his potential negative influence in the sense that soon, the younger son may also develop similar tendencies of skipping school and engaging in juvenile crimes. As for the youngest daughter, her greatest need could simply be the love and affection of her parents. With both parents being too stressed, it is likely that they are depriving their youngest child of their love and attention thus causing the girl to be the way she is (Ambrosino, Ambrosino, Heffernan, & Shuttleworth, 2008).


Social work focuses on understanding people’s challenges in order to empower them with the necessary knowledge and skills to understand their own problems. This is how solutions are formulated, and in the Cruise family, an accurate approach involving cognitive behavioral therapy and systems theory would be to engage the entire family and establish what each member needs and how they can deal with their present challenges without frustration and stress about it or about the future. Each one of the family members would have to embrace some realities in the process, but the parents are the most targeted since they are at the forefront of faulty thinking. The eldest son will also require help in different forms to cope with his challenges considering that he is an adolescent with many more problems than just the financial situation at home.

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