Clinical Sociology

Clinical Sociology

(Parte 1 de 3)

by Jan Marie Fritz


Clinical sociology is as old as the field of sociology and its roots are found in many parts of the world (Fritz, 1985, 1991b). The clinical sociology specialization, for instance, often is traced back to the fourteenth-century work of the Arab scholar and statesperson Abd-al-Rahman ibn Khaldun (1332-1406). Ibn Khaldun provided numerous clinical observations based on his varied work experiences such as Secretary of State to the ruler of Morocco and Chief Judge of Egypt.

Auguste Comte (1798-1857) and Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) are among those who frequently are mentioned as precursors to the field. Comte, the French scholar who coined the term sociology, believed that the scientific study of societies would provide the basis for social action. Emile Durkheim’s work on the relation between levels of influence (e.g., social compared to individual factors) led Alvin Gouldner (1965:19) to write that “more than any other classical sociologist (he) used a clinical model.”

Albion Small, chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago and founding editor of The American Journal of Sociology, published “Scholarship and Social Agitation” in 1896. Small thought the primary reason for the existence of sociology was its “practical application to the improvement of social life” (Timasheff and Theodorson 1976:2). In Small’s (1896:564) words:

Let us go about our business with the understanding that within the scope of scholarship there is first science, and second something better than science. That something better is first prevision by means of science, and second intelligent direction of endeavor to realize visions.

I would have American scholars, especially in the social sciences, declare their independence of do-nothing traditions. I would have them repeal the law of custom which bars marriage of thought with action. I would have them become more profoundly and sympathetically scholarly by enriching the wisdom which comes from knowing with the larger wisdom which comes from doing.

Clinical sociology, one of the fields that pairs science and action, is a humanistic, creative and multidisciplinary field that seeks to improve the quality of people’s lives. Clinical sociologists assess situations and reduce problems through analysis and intervention. Clinical analysis is the critical assessment of beliefs, policies and/or practices with an interest in improving the situation. Intervention, the creation of new systems as well as the change of existing systems, is based on continuing analysis.


Clinical sociologists have different areas of expertise – such as health promotion, sustainable communities, social conflict or cultural competence – and work in many capacities. They are, for example, community organizers, sociotherapists, mediators, focus group facilitators, social policy implementers, action researchers and

Many clinical sociologists are full-time or part-time university professors, and these clinical sociologists may undertake intervention work in addition to their teaching and research or they may focus on providing some combination of research and advice to

2005; Burawoy, 2004)

those who do take actions (e.g., policymakers, the public, administrators, corporate boards, unions). If the focus of clinical sociologists is on advice/analysis for the public sector, this emphasis, in the last few years, has been referred to as public sociology (Fritz,

say they work in both areas

The role of the clinical sociologist can be at one or more levels of focus from the individual to the inter-societal. Even though the clinical sociologist specializes in one or two levels of intervention (e.g., marriage counseling, community consulting, national policy development), the practitioner will move among a number of levels (e.g., individual, organization and community or micro/meso/macro) in order to analyze and/or intervene. Sociological practice is a general term that includes two areas, clinical sociology and applied sociology. Clinical sociology, as practiced in the United States, emphasizes hands-on intervention while applied sociology emphasizes research for practical purposes. Both specialties require different kinds of specialized training. Some sociological practitioners only describe their work as “clinical” or “applied,” while others

workThese sociologists have appropriate research training and look for opportunities to

Those clinical sociologists who conduct research may do so before beginning an intervention project to assess the existing state of affairs; during an intervention and/or after the completion of the intervention to evaluate the outcome of that intervention. For some clinical sociologists, the research activity is an important part of their own clinical conduct research. Other clinical sociologists prefer to concentrate on the interventions and leave any research to other team members.

In the following sections, the development of the field of clinical sociology is discussed in terms of: (1) the history of American sociology; (2) intervention; (3) theories and methods and (4) international settings.

American sociology emerged as a discipline in the 1890s at a time when the nation was struggling with issues of democracy, capitalism and social justice. Frustration led to public protests and the development of reform organizations. In this climate, it is not surprising that many of the early sociologists were scholar-practitioners interested in reducing or solving the pressing social problems that confronted their communities.

Clinical Sociology as a Concept

While many of the early sociologists were interested in practice, the earliest known proposal using the words “clinical sociology” was put forward by Milton C. Winternitz, a physician who was dean of the Yale School of Medicine from 1920 through 1935. At least as early as 1929, Winternitz began developing a plan to establish a department of clinical sociology within Yale’s medical school. Winternitz wanted each medical student to have a chance to analyze cases based on a medical specialty as well as a specialty in clinical sociology.

Winternitz vigorously sought financial support for his proposal from the

Rosenwald Fund, but was unable to obtain the necessary funds for a department of clinical sociology. He did note, however, the success of a course in the medical school’s section on public health that was based on the clinical sociology plan. In 1929 Winternitz

science building in which he mentioned clinical sociology

wrote about his effort to build a department in a report to the university president and the report was published in the Yale University Bulletin. Also published in 1930 was the speech Winternitz gave at the dedication of the University of Chicago’s new social

Abraham Flexner, a prominent critic of medical education and director of the

Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, mentioned clinical sociology in 1930 in his Universities: American, English, German. Flexner did not approve of the Institute of Human Relations that Winternitz was establishing at Yale but did note that “Only one apparent novelty is proposed: a professor of clinical sociology.”

Winternitz continued to write about the value of clinical sociology until 1936.

One of his most forceful statements in support of the field appeared in his 1930-1931 annual report which stated, in part, “Not only in medicine and in law, but probably in many other fields of activity, the broad preparation of the clinical sociologist is essential…”

The first discussion of clinical sociology by a sociologist was Louis Wirth’s 1931 article, “Clinical Sociology,” in The American Journal of Sociology. Wirth wrote at length about the possibility of sociologists working in child development clinics, though he did not specifically mention his own clinical work in New Orleans. Wirth wrote “it may not be an exaggeration of the facts to speak of the genesis of a new division of sociology in the form of clinical sociology.”

In 1931, Wirth also wrote a career development pamphlet which stated:

The various activities that have grown up around child-guidance clinics, penal and correctional institutions, the courts, police systems, and similar facilities designed to deal with problems of misconduct have increasingly turned to sociologists to become members of their professional staffs.

Wirth “urged (sociology students) to become specialists in one of the major divisions of sociology, such as social psychology, urban sociology… or clinical sociology.”

In 1931, Saul Alinsky was a University of Chicago student who was enrolled in

Burgess’ clinical sociology course. Three years later, Alinsky’s article, “A Sociological Technique in Clinical Criminology,” appeared in the Proceedings of the Sixty-Fourth Annual Congress of the American Prison Association. Alinsky, best known now for his work in community organizing, was, in 1934, a staff sociologist and member of the classification board of the Illinois State Penitentiary.

In 1944, the first formal definition of clinical sociology appeared in H.P.

was, from 1976-7, president of the American Sociological Association

Fairchild’s Dictionary of Sociology. Alfred McClung Lee, the author of that definition, later used the word clinical in the title of two articles – his 1945 “Analysis of Propaganda: A Clinical Summary” and the 1955 article “The Clinical Study of Society.” Lee was one of the founders of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, the Association for Humanist Sociology and the Sociological Practice Association and also

Also appearing in 1944 was Edward McDonagh’s “An Approach to Clinical

Sociology.” McDonagh proposed establishing social research clinics that would use groups to study and solve problems.

In 1946, George Edmund Haynes’ “Clinical Methods in Interracial and Intercultural Relations” appeared in The Journal of Educational Sociology. Haynes was a co-founder of the National Urban League (1910) and the first African American to hold a U.S. government sub-cabinet post. His 1946 article, written while he was executive secretary of the Department of Race Relations at the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, discussed the department’s urban clinics. The clinics were designed to deal with interracial tensions and conflicts by developing limited, concrete programs of action.

The First University Courses

The first clinical sociology course was taught by Ernest W. Burgess at the

University of Chicago. In 1928 and 1929, the course was considered to be a “special” course and did not appear in the catalog. The course was offered as a regular course from 1931 through 1933. The clinical sociology course continued to be listed in the catalog for the next several years but was not taught after 1933.

The university catalogs did not include a description of the clinical sociology course, but it always was listed under the social pathology grouping. All courses in this section dealt with topics such as criminality, punishment, criminal law, organized crime, and personal disorganization. Many students enrolled in these first clinical sociology courses were placed in child guidance clinics. Clarence E. Glick, for instance, was the staff sociologist at the Lower North Side Child Guidance Clinic and Leonard Cottrell was the clinical sociologist at the South Side Child Guidance Clinic.

Two other universities offered clinical courses in the l930s, namely Tulane University and New York University. The Tulane University (1929) course was designed to give students the opportunity to learn about behavior problems and social therapy.

The New York University course, taught by Harvey Warren Zorbaugh, provided undergraduate and graduate preparation for visiting teachers, educational counselors, clinicians, social workers and school guidance administrators. The major focus of the program was the solution of educational problems and other social dilemmas.

Zorbaugh, a faculty member in the School of Education, along with Agnes

Conklin, offered a “Seminar in Clinical Practice” in 1930. The course was intended to qualify students as counselors or advisers dealing with behavioral difficulties in schools. From 1931 through 1933 the clinical practice course, titled “Seminar in Clinical Sociology,” was open to graduate students who were engaged in writing theses or conducting research projects in educational guidance and social work.

GiftedZorbaugh was director of this clinic for intellectually gifted and talented

Harvey Zorbaugh, author of The Gold Coast and the Slum: A Sociological Study of Chicago’s Near North Side (1929), had been involved with clinics at least since 1924, when Clifford Shaw and Zorbaugh organized two sociological clinics in Chicago. Zorbaugh was associate director of the Lower North Child Guidance Clinic in 1925 and also a founder, in 1928, of New York University’s Clinic for the Social Adjustment of the preadolescent children at its inception and was actively involved in its work for over fifteen years. The clinic gave graduate students the opportunity to have supervised experiences in teaching, clinical diagnosis and treatment of children with behavioral problems.

During the 1953-54 academic year, Alvin W. Gouldner taught a “Foundations of

Clinical Sociology” course at Antioch College in Ohio. The college bulletin provided the following description of the course:

A sociological counterpart to clinical psychology with the group as the unit of diagnosis and therapy. Emphasis on developing skills useful in the diagnosis and therapy of group tensions. Principles of functional analysis, group dynamics, and organizational and small group analysis examined and applied to case histories. Representative research in the area assessed.

Contemporary Contributions

particularly in its early yearsThe Clinical Sociology Review and the theme journal,

While publications mentioning clinical sociology appeared at least every few years after the 1930s, the number of publications increased substantially after the founding of the Clinical Sociology Association in 1978. The Association, which later became the Sociological Practice Association, made publications a high priority, Sociological Practice, were published by the Association beginning in the early 1980s. These annual journals were eventually replaced by Sociological Practice: A Journal of Clinical and Applied Sociology, a quarterly publication.

The Clinical Sociology Association/Sociological Practice Association had a central role in the development of American clinical sociology. The Association helped make available the world’s most extensive collection of teaching, research and intervention literature (e.g., Fritz, 2001; Straus, 2004) under the label of clinical sociology and it introduced the only clinical sociology certification process.

and applied sociology programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels

The Sociological Practice Association’s certification process for clinical sociologists was available at the Ph.D. and M.A. levels. The Ph.D.-level process was adopted in l983 and certification was first awarded in 1984. The Association began to offer M.A.-level certification in 1986. The Sociological Practice Association, along with the Society for Applied Sociology, also put in place the Commission on Applied and Clinical Sociology. The Commission has set standards for the accreditation of clinical

Clinical Sociology – once again gives name recognition to clinical sociology

The Sociological Practice Association and the Society for Applied Sociology merged in 2005. The name of the new association – the Association of Applied and

(Parte 1 de 3)