The Field of Human Services

The Field of Human Services

Theories and the Helping Process

Human services are a sprawling area of study encompassing a variety of jobs and skill sets. The focus and defining element of human services is the helping quality in which human service workers form helping relationships with clients in order to assist with issues. The helping relationship is formed for the idea that human or social issues can be prevented, remediated, and managed. Human service workers belong to an interdisciplinary field that draws on many bodies of knowledge in order to carry out its functions within the helping relationship. As such the field of human services is dedicated to improving the quality of life for its service populations.

The Field of Human Services

Human services is founded on the concept of “helping people improve their lives”. Within this context human services is similar to social work but not exactly the same. While social work and human services share the focus of helping people, each field approaches this goal differently. Typically, human services workers concentrate their efforts on large populations in an effort to deliver services to groups as opposed to individuals. For example, human service workers may work with homeless populations as opposed to individual cases of homelessness.

In contrast to the human service worker, social workers tend to work with individuals or families. Social workers might work with domestic abuse victims for the purpose of finding these individuals housing and other services. While human services create programs for populations, social workers employ these programs to facilitate help for individuals or families. These differences between human service workers and social workers are key to understanding the field of human services due to the ambiguous nature of human services definitions. Depending on the individual or organization defining the field, the overlap between social worker and human service worker can blur.

The National Organization for Human Services (NOHS), differentiates workers based on generic knowledge and position,

“Human services professional” is a generic term for people who hold professional and paraprofessional jobs in such diverse settings as group homes and halfway houses; correctional, intellectual disability, and community mental health centers; family, child, and youth service agencies, and programs concerned with alcoholism, drug abuse, family violence, and aging. Depending on the employment setting and the kinds of clients served there, job titles and duties vary a great deal (NOHS, 2020).

Within the context of this definition, social workers are considered human service workers as well as alcohol counselors, welfare administrators, and any other professional field that works towards to assistance of populations whether individually or as a whole. In simplest terms, all social workers are human service workers but not all human service workers are social workers. This defining difference between human service workers and other professional workers may appear to render the definition of human service worker so broad in meaning and inclusiveness that it becomes meaningless. However, this is not the case because human service workers share common professional competencies which remain static across all fields. These competencies include:

· Understanding the nature of human systems- workers understand community organization, policies impacting the community, social systems that create problems within the community (NOHS, 2020).

· Understanding functioning conditions- workers understand the causes of issues which hinder positive community function which can be seen at both the macro and micro levels i.e. drug addiction (NOHS, 2020).

· Understanding when to intervene- workers will understand the optimal times for intervention and which strategies to utilize to help clients with similar problems. For example, a community with a rise in teen drug addiction will need to utilize programs designed for teens to curb this issue (NOHS, 2020).

· Understanding how to plan, implement and evaluate interventions- planning interventions based on circumstances, individuals, and community needs is necessary for the worker in order to implement strategies. Workers must also possess a knowledge of how to evaluate interventions (NOHS, 2020).

· Understanding of values- All human service workers abide by values that are consistent and congruent with helping the client. These values are codified, in general, by codes of conduct and or ethics statements to which workers must abide (NOHS, 2020).

· Understanding service needs- Workers need to have specific communication skills in order to understand the nature of service needs. These skills include written and oral communication skills. These skills are key to understanding the nature of service needs because the worker will need to be able to disseminate client needs as well as resource needs to the client (NOHS, 2020).

All human service workers share these competencies and actively use them in their respective professions. Human service workers are also defined by their ability to forge and utilize the helping relationship. The helping relationship is fundamental to all human service professions.

Helping Relationships

The helping relationship refers to the relationship formed between the human service worker and the client. This relationship is based on providing relief from a particular problem or host of problems that hinder the quality of life for the client. The helping relationship is more exactly understood as a process of helping.

The helping process is a process that takes place between the human services worker and client including resource usage and intervention options. There are three components of the helping process which directly relate to the competencies necessary in human services workers. These components include assessment, planning, and application (Hasenfeld, 2010). These components create a cycle or process of help which is focused on solutions or the development of interventions that improve a condition for a client such as drug counseling for addicts.

The helping process is divided to create a robust system of help. For example, the application process of interventions contains the subprocess of documentation. The client’s progress is documented to ensure that the treatment or interventions are working (Burger, 2008). Documentation is a form of control intended to manage client assistance in terms of programs while simultaneously providing feedback for programs.

The components of the helping relationship are vital to the ongoing improvement as well as efficient use of resources. For example, within the assessment process, clients’ needs are determined based on background current issues and other profile information. This identification of needs provides workers and agencies with the ability to apply interventions appropriately. For example, abuse victims often need legal as well as financial aid in order to escape the environments they are being abused within (Burger, 2008). Resources for legal aid may be recommended in order to fully facilitate the benefit of the helping relationship.

The helping relationship relies on the competency of the worker in order to fully actualize. For example, workers are often faced with client resistance. In order to overcome this resistance, workers must be able to communicate in a manner that conveys the desire to help the client and engenders trust. This communication competency is bolstered by the identification and understanding of the causes of client resistance. Resistance can be caused by many different elements such as the client’s unhappiness with a change or circumstance (Woodside & McClam, 2012). Understanding these types of issues and having the competencies to communicate with the client can reduce resistance and inspire a more effective working relationship.

Theoretical Models

Human services fields employ three models of delivery based on accepted theory. The models include the human services model, public health model, and the medical model. In general, both the medical model and public health model fail in many client situations. This failure is caused in most instances by the overly focused nature of the model.

The medical model treats human service’s issues as medical problems such as treating a sickness or disease (Woodside & McClam, 2012). This model is often used in interventions with drug addiction and alcoholism. However, this model is limited to issues that can be treated with medical knowledge such as the Corona virus outbreak which uses medical interventions such as mandated quarantines and hospitalization.

Similar to the medial model is the public health model which also looks at client issues from a health standpoint. However, the public health model is focused on populations and interventions that work on specific groups such as increasing high school sexual education programs in order to curb teen pregnancy (Woodside & McClam, 2012). While this model may look at problems such as prostitution as a public health issue, there are many issues that it overlooks such as unemployment (Woodside & McClam, 2012).

In contrast to the aforementioned models, the human services model of delivery is a robust multi resource system of interventions intended to provide clients with the most effective solutions for their individual problems. The human services model utilizes the medical and public health models as part of its mechanism for delivery (Woodside & McClam, 2012). This model has the ability to deal with a number of social issues such as financial, domestic violence, legal, and health issues (Woodside & McClam, 2012).

Due to the complex nature of client issues, human service workers apply comprehensive measures to solve the issues in a sustainable manner for the long term. In order to accomplish this task the human service model is used because it is a client centered approach taking into account the individual and his or her environment (Woodside & McClam, 2012). This allows for a more holistic treatment of the problem(s). However, the human services model has its disadvantages with the largest issue being client perspective. Clients tend to view their problems in diverse ways and sometimes not at all.

It is possible that individuals either lack the resources or the skills, or both, to solve the problem. It is also possible that the client and the helper may disagree about the client’s situation. For example, the helper may believe the client lacks resources or skills, while the client may perceive no problem at all. In the client’s environment, unemployment, poor school attendance, and illiteracy may be normal conditions among neighbors and family members (Woodside & McClam, 2012).

The human services model links directly with the necessary competencies in order to identify, plan, and communicate interventions with the client. Often the client may lack a comprehensive understanding of their issues and this will need to be communicated as well (Woodside & McClam, 2012).

The human services model can be seen best in the example of interventions for domestic abuse clients. Domestic abuse issues are complicated by a number of factors such as financial, housing, and mental health issues (Advocates for Human Rights, 2020). The problem in most instances is not solved by medical treatment for the abused and separation. These are stopgap measures that will only work in the short term and long term legal, financial, and housing assistance are necessary to provide sustainable solutions (Advocates for Human Rights, 2020).

The Multidisciplinary Approach to Practice

Human service fields are often complicated by individual needs and the application of interventions that utilize scarce resources (Hasenfeld, 2010). In order to better facilitate the use of these resources, having an accurate understanding of client needs is imperative. The complexity of intervention strategies is caused by the nuances of individuals and how diverse people and issues alter the circumstance of the client. For example, homelessness is often complicated by other issues such as drug addiction or mental health problems. Applying services intended to get the person off the street is not a sustainable intervention because the person may end up homeless again due to a different problem such as drug addiction.

The complication of problems can also be exasperated by biases held by workers (Hasenfeld, 2010). For example, there are large biases that exist within people towards certain groups such as criminals. This is problematic because human service workers often work with this population and as such must provide interventions intended to help the person. Bias can limit the problem solving of a worker and thereby limit the effectiveness of interventions (Hasenfeld, 2010). To curb these problems with complexity and bias a multidisciplinary approach can be utilized.

Human service intervention efficiency and effectiveness can be increased through the use of a multidisciplinary approach or team. Multidisciplinary approaches and teams are more effective than single workers because they provide comprehensive strategies derived from diverse professional knowledge (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2018). According to the US Department of Health and Human Services multidisciplinary teams are most effective when,

· Counselors, clients, and program representatives should be included in any dialogue

· Collaboration should address the needs of the client or target population such as drug care, health care, and mental healthcare.

· Courses of action should include sustainable solutions for the client such as group homes or homes which take into account the needs of the client. In some cases, this might be vouchers for rent as well as other support such as food assistance.

· The human services worker would discuss these options with the client to produce the most effective intervention (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2018).

Multidisciplinary teams and approaches create more effective interventions in human services because they can leverage more creative input for issue resolution (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2018). The limitations of single workers create an ongoing issue of ineffective interventions. This is caused by the fact that single workers can only see the problem from one perspective and this perspective is limited by their professional capacity, perspective, and personal ideology (Woodside & McClam, 2012). As such, human service workers should strive to find multidisciplinary approaches for client interventions.


Advocates for Human Rights. (2020, February 1). Domestic violence and housing. Retrieved from Advocates for Human Rights:

Burger, W. (2008). Human services in contemporary america. New York, NY: Cengage.

Hasenfeld, Y. (2010). Human services as complex organizations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Thousand Oaks.

NOHS. (2020). What is human services? Retrieved from National Organization for Human Services:

US Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Resources. Retrieved from US Department of Health and Human Services:

Woodside, M., & McClam, T. (2012). Models of service delivery: In An introduction to human services (7 ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.


Triola Vincent. Thu, Feb 11, 2021. The Field of Human Services Retrieved from

Need similar articles?

Human Services
Back to: Ten Years of Academic Writing