Here's another ASWB exam content outline item to brush up on: Partializing techniques. Partializing is the process of breaking down complex problems or situations into smaller, more manageable components. That's what we've been doing here, taking ASWB exam content topics one at a time to help you get ready to pass the social work exam without getting overwhelmed. Let's look at the topic and how it might appear on the exam itself.


Partializing is a technique used in social work and psychotherapy to break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable components. By partializing, social workers can prioritize issues, set achievable goals, and develop a focused treatment plan with clients. Here's how partializing techniques work in social work:

  • Breaking Down Problems: Social workers often encounter clients with multifaceted problems that can feel overwhelming. Partializing involves breaking down these problems into smaller, more specific components. For example, instead of addressing "relationship issues," a social worker might partialize by identifying specific conflicts or communication patterns within the relationship that need to be addressed.

  • Setting Priorities: Once problems are broken down into smaller components, social workers and clients can prioritize which issues to address first. This involves considering factors such as urgency, severity, and the client's readiness to work on certain issues. By setting priorities, social workers can ensure that therapy focuses on the most pressing concerns.

  • Setting Achievable Goals: Partializing helps social workers and clients set achievable, concrete goals for therapy. Rather than setting vague goals like "improve mental health," partializing allows for specific goals related to each component of the problem. For example, a goal might be to improve communication skills in a relationship or to reduce symptoms of anxiety in specific situations.

  • Developing a Focused Treatment Plan: Partializing guides the development of a focused treatment plan that addresses each component of the problem systematically. Social workers can use evidence-based interventions tailored to each specific issue, ensuring that therapy is effective and efficient.

  • Monitoring Progress: Partializing allows social workers and clients to monitor progress on each component of the problem separately. This makes it easier to track changes over time and adjust the treatment plan as needed. Social workers can celebrate successes and troubleshoot challenges more effectively when progress is monitored in smaller, manageable increments.


Some examples illustrating partializing techniques at work:

  • Case Example: Family Conflict

    • Problem: A social worker is working with a family experiencing conflict and communication breakdown.
    • Partializing:
      • Identify specific conflicts within the family (e.g., parent-child disagreements, marital conflicts).
      • Break down each conflict into its underlying issues (e.g., parenting styles, financial stress).
      • Prioritize conflicts based on urgency and severity (e.g., addressing parental conflict affecting children's well-being).
    • Setting Goals:
      • Goal 1: Improve communication between parents to reduce conflicts in front of children.
      • Goal 2: Develop coping strategies for managing financial stress and disagreements.
      • Goal 3: Enhance parent-child relationships through positive reinforcement and effective discipline techniques.
    • Treatment Plan:
      • Implement family therapy sessions focused on improving communication skills and conflict resolution techniques.
      • Provide psychoeducation on stress management and financial planning.
      • Offer individual counseling for parents to address underlying issues contributing to conflict.
  • Case Example: Substance Use Disorder

    • Problem: A social worker is working with a client struggling with substance use disorder.
    • Partializing:
      • Identify specific substances being used and frequency of use.
      • Assess triggers and underlying factors contributing to substance use (e.g., stress, trauma).
      • Prioritize issues based on client's readiness to change and potential harm.
    • Setting Goals:
      • Goal 1: Reduce frequency of substance use to improve overall health and functioning.
      • Goal 2: Identify and address triggers for substance use, such as stress or negative emotions.
      • Goal 3: Develop coping strategies and relapse prevention techniques.
    • Treatment Plan:
      • Conduct substance use assessments and screenings to determine severity and treatment needs.
      • Provide individual counseling using motivational interviewing techniques to enhance client's readiness to change.
      • Offer group therapy sessions focused on coping skills, stress management, and relapse prevention strategies.
  • Case Example: Depression and Anxiety

    • Problem: A social worker is working with a client experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
    • Partializing:
      • Identify specific symptoms of depression (e.g., low mood, loss of interest) and anxiety (e.g., excessive worry, panic attacks).
      • Assess contributing factors such as life stressors, trauma history, and social support.
      • Prioritize symptoms based on severity and impact on daily functioning.
    • Setting Goals:
      • Goal 1: Reduce symptoms of depression by improving mood and increasing motivation.
      • Goal 2: Decrease symptoms of anxiety by implementing relaxation techniques and cognitive restructuring.
      • Goal 3: Enhance social support networks and coping skills to manage stressors effectively.
    • Treatment Plan:
      • Conduct comprehensive mental health assessments to identify underlying issues and treatment needs.
      • Provide individual therapy using cognitive-behavioral techniques to address specific symptoms and cognitive distortions.
      • Offer psychoeducation on stress management, self-care practices, and healthy coping strategies.

On the Exam

Partializing your exam prep is crucial. Tackling questions about partializing techniques on the ASWB exam should be pretty simple, should one come up. Expect something along these lines:

A social worker is conducting an intake assessment with a client who presents with multiple interrelated challenges, including financial difficulties, housing instability, and symptoms of depression. The client expresses feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin. Which of the following best describes how the social worker can apply partializing in this situation?

a) Prioritize addressing the client's financial difficulties first, as stable finances are essential for addressing other concerns.

b) Break down each problem area into smaller, more manageable components, and collaborate with the client to set achievable goals.

c) Focus one-by-one on the client's symptoms of depression, as they may be contributing to the other challenges.

d) Refer the client to other professionals, such as financial counselors or housing advocates, to address their specific needs one at a time.

What's your answer?

Since you just read up on the topic, you likely know it's B (Break down each problem area into smaller, more manageable components...)--aka partializing.

Get lots more practice like this on Social Work Test Prep's full-length practice tests. 

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May 8, 2024
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