In general, social work theory divides such encounters into three levels of intervention: micro, meso, and macro. The micro level involves direct contact between a social worker and an individual or group; the meso level includes interactions among groups or organizations; and the macro level encompasses society as a whole.
Micro Level Interventions include one-on-one sessions and group counseling programs. Social workers at this level try to help individuals solve their own personal problems without relying on systems or agencies for support. Social workers may have many different approaches at the micro level, including supportive counseling, psychotherapy, rehabilitation, and guidance. They may also provide direct services, such as helping someone apply for welfare benefits or finding housing.
Meso Level Interventions involve interactions among groups or organizations. Social workers at this level identify issues that may affect multiple people and seek to bring about changes that will benefit the entire group or organization. For example, a social worker might try to improve school discipline by working with administrators, teachers, and students to come up with solutions that would be acceptable to everyone involved.
Macro Level Interventions involve interactions among societies or cultures. Social workers at this level attempt to influence policies that affect many people simultaneously.
The practice is usually divided into three interconnected scales: micro, meso, and macro. A thorough awareness of the numerous options available at each level is essential for individuals contemplating a career in social work.
At the micro level, individual workers interact with clients on a face-to-face basis, addressing issues such as poverty, unemployment, family problems, illness, old age, and death. They may provide direct services, such as counseling or assistance with activities of daily living; provide administrative support services for other staff; or perform some other task designed to benefit individuals and their communities.
At the meso level, groups of workers collaborate with each other and/or other organizations to provide services to populations that cannot be served effectively at the micro level. For example, a community agency might have one or more employees responsible for monitoring crime trends in a specific neighborhood and developing strategies to reduce violence there. These workers would function at the meso level. The agency could also employ investigators who would travel to locations where crimes were committed to collect evidence that could help identify suspects or witnesses; parole officers who would work with individuals released from prison; or social workers who would work with families to assist them with housing issues, employment opportunities, or other problems they may be having.
Macrolevel services are provided by organizations to meet the needs of communities as a whole.
While micro (and sometimes mezzo) social work focuses on therapeutic engagement with individuals and groups, macro social work is founded on indirectly (but no less impactful) helping large groups of people through research, political advocacy, and far-reaching programs that address prevalent societal ills. Micro, mezzo, and macro approaches are not exclusive to social work; many other disciplines also utilize these frameworks as they seek to have an impact on their communities. However, because social workers have first-hand experience with often-difficult situations involving individual men, women, and families, we find it useful to apply these broader perspectives when seeking to understand or change broader patterns of human behavior.
Micro social work involves working with individuals and groups on a one-to-one basis to solve problems and improve functioning. This may include providing therapy for trauma survivors, giving advice to young people about making healthy decisions, or teaching self-defense techniques to community members who want to be able to protect themselves from violence. In its most basic form, micro social work can be done by any social worker with an individual client or group of clients. However, due to time constraints, social workers usually work within a team structure to effectively handle multiple cases at once. Social workers may have a clinical supervisor who serves as a peer reviewer of their work or provides guidance on difficult cases, but does not take on all of the responsibilities of the practice site supervisor.