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Human Behavior in The Social Environment: a Case Analysis

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Human problems are complex and interconnected on many different levels. Social workers need to seek a solid understanding of human behavior in the context of their social environment. This paper is a case analysis of human behavior based on theories and knowledge for understanding the biological, social, cultural, psychological, and spiritual development. We will discuss the multidimensional behavioral development of Emilia, the eldest daughter of Sanchez family and various social work interventions based on human behavior theories. 


Systems theory explains human behavior as the intersection of the influences of multiple interrelated systems, individuals interact with other people and their environment and are affected by these interactions. This paper looks at the multidimensional nature of human behavior. We will analyze the case of Emilia Sanchez, who is addicted to drugs and estranged from her family with little or no social support. Lack of training and employment history and involvement with drugs have put her life at a major risk. We will look at Emilia’s situation from the person-in-environment, biopsychosocial, sociocultural, and social change perspectives and discuss her long-term goals and the obstacles preventing effective interventions for achieving those goals.    

Emilia Sanchez 

The eldest daughter of Victor and Celia Sanchez, Emilia is the subject of our case analysis. The Sanchez family is a large but close-knit family living in a Latino community. Emilia spent most of her childhood helping her mother with housework and caring for her siblings. Until she was 14, Emilia was a quiet, obedient child. Her parents were too busy raising other children and care for the family. They did not notice the changes happening to Emilia. She got involved with drugs and got addicted to crack cocaine. Emilia has a son Joey and became pregnant again. Her decision to have an abortion resulted in an estrangement from her family who believe she committed a mortal sin. Emilia wishes to stop drug abuse but did not complete the treatment for addiction. Though she finished high school, Emilia has no job training or work history. Since the estrangement, Emilia has very little social support.   

The goals for Emilia are to find a drug treatment program that would help her remain sober, reclaim her son Joey, and reestablish relationship with her family. Emilia needs a job to support herself and Joey. We will look what resources and obstacles are ahead for Emilia and her own strengths.    

Person in Environment Lens 

The person in environment theory states that a person is heavily influenced by their environment and these environmental influences help us understand their problems and issues. The micro-mezzo-macro approach is crucial to the person-in-environment idea. At the micro level, Emilia’s biological, psychological, emotional, financial, and other aspects of personality are taken into consideration. Emilia comes from economically poor background. As a child, she was entrusted with family care and other chores. The lack of attention from her parents made her feel depressed, neglected, and isolated. Drugs was Emilia’s way of coping with her depression. At the mezzo level Emilia’s immediate environment such as family, school, community failed her, as she did not receive timely intervention for drug abuse. At macro level social forces affecting Emilia, like social policies, oppression, societal values etc. matter. Research says, the characteristics that make some people more vulnerable to problems also makes them more likely to benefit from contextual support and enrichment (Belsky & Widaman, 2018). This implies Emilia could have benefitted if she had received timely support.    

Biopsychosocial Lens 

The biopsychosocial approach considers biological, psychological, and social factors and their complex interactions in understanding health, illness, and health care delivery with a mutual influence of mind and body. According to Cracium, mental and somatic disorders result from the progressive failure to maintain a homeostasis with the environment (Lupu, 2017). Research suggests, children and adolescents exposed early in life to traumatic events such as abuse or neglect in a caregiving relationship experience complex trauma. Children and adolescents exposed to complex trauma early in life have more behavioral problems than those exposed to chronic interpersonal trauma later in childhood. Since her childhood, Emilia was emotionally neglected by her parents who never realized the impact of their behavior on Emilia. Her childhood was spent taking care of her siblings. This traumatic experience that resulted in Emilia’s drug addiction is the biological and psychological based issues affecting her well-being.    

Socio-Cultural Lens 

Sociocultural theory in psychology looks at the important contributions that society makes to individual development and highlights the interaction between people and the culture in which they live. Moral injury occurs in situations that violate deeply held moral beliefs resulting in persistent guilt, moral confusion etc. Moral injury involves the violation of basic moral frameworks which can vary across diverse sociocultural contexts. Emilia’s decision to terminate her pregnancy resulted in a major conflict with her parents. The sociocultural beliefs of her parents contradicted with Emilia’s decision resulting in a moral injury to Emilia.    

Social Change Lens 

Social change theory looks at historical data to better understand current changes and movements. There are three basic theories of social change: evolutionary, functionalist, and conflict theories. These perspectives deal with ethnicity, oppression, social change, community organization, and social and economic justice. When social workers speak of justice, they are referring to social change and the instigation of some kind of action that will lead to social and economic justice. Social change and action are also closely related to community development. The most important factors that initially affected Emilia’s life start with economic reasons. The social conditions in which her parents were running their family indicate a problem that points to systemic racism. Her parent’s immigration status, lack of resources, their struggles point to the presence of oppression and policy flaws affecting their lives. The social environment in which the Sanchez family was living had too many interconnected systems affecting their lives.    


Some of the interventions to help Emilia reach her goals could be: 

  • Information gathering and sharing
  • Resource mobilization or acquisition
  • Advocacy 
  • Support. 

Emilia’s goals are to get into drug treatment program, reestablish relationship with her parents, get custody of Joey and finally get training for gainful employment to support herself and Joey. As a social worker, collecting information about drug rehabilitative programs for Emilia would be the first step. The possible challenges and obstacles could be the cost for the treatment. In absence of health insurance, Emilia may not be able to afford the program. Another obstacle could be Emilia relapsing. Gathering resources, advocating for Emilia against policies affecting her, supporting her all the way through are effective interventions. Success at drug treatment lets Emilia reunite with family and her son. With emotional support from her family and social worker, Emilia’s attempts for gainful employment have more possibilities for success.    


Human behavior is influenced by their environment. Social workers must look at the environmental impact on their client’s life through the person-in-environment, biopsychosocial, sociocultural, and social change lenses for human behavior. This gives a better, unbiased understanding of a client’s situation and effective interventions.  


  1. Belsky, J., & Widaman, K. (2018). Editorial Perspective: Integrating exploratory and competitive–confirmatory approaches to testing person 3 environment interactions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 59:3 (2018), pp 296–298. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12824 
  2. Haight, W., Sugrue, E., Calhoun, N., & Black, J. (2016). A scoping study of moral injury: Identifying directions for social work research. Children and Youth Services Review, 70 (2016) 190–200. 
  3. Lupu, A. (2017). The Biopsychosocial Model and Emotions. Romanian Journal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Hypnosis Volume 4, Issue 3- 4, July – December 2017. 
  4. Rogers, A.T. (2016). Human Behavior in the Social Environment. Perspectives on Development and the Life Course. Fourth Edition. Routledge. New York. 
  5. Routledge. (2019). New Directions in Social Work: The Sanchez Family. Routledge. Available online at
  6. Teska, J. (2018). Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents: an Overview. Cinahl Information Systems. Glendale, CA. 

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