Social Work

What Is an Ecomap in Social Work?

What Is an Ecomap in Social Work?
An ecomap diagrams a person's most crucial relationships with the resources in their community—people, groups, and organizations/institutions—and how they positively or negatively impact that individual. Image from Pexels
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Craig Hoffman March 24, 2022

An ecomap is a visual social work assessment tool depicting the quality of a client's family relationships, their connections to their social network, and the impact they have on the client.

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A family tree is a visual representation of how multiple generations of a family are relate. People construct them to learn about and record who there ancestors were and when and where they lived.

Social workers use a variation of a family tree—called an ecomap—to depict a client’s personal and family social relationships (see ecomap examples). Doing so often reveals trends (both positive and negative) in the client’s familial and social network that need to be utilized or addressed for the client to function well.

So, what is an ecomap in social work? This article addresses that question and also discusses:

  • What are the components of an ecomap?
  • How is an ecomap used in social work?
  • Why are ecomaps important?
  • What is a social work master’s?
  • Top schools offering a master’s in social work

What is an ecomap in social work?

An ecomap diagrams a person’s most crucial relationships with the resources in their community—people, groups, and organizations/institutions—and how they positively or negatively impact that individual. Like the similar genogram, this assessment tool was developed by Dr. Ann Hartman.

An ecomap is utilized to chart a client’s family ecology and the quality of their personal and social relationships. Within these connections, areas of dysfunction and hardship are identified, providing the social worker with the opportunity to help the client by formulating and implementing appropriate interventions to mitigate these deficits.

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There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

University and Program Name Learn More

What are the components of an ecomap?

Ecomaps feature symbols and circles filled in to create a web-like chart of the connections between the family ecology and their social environment. These systems may be sources of support or conflict and are noted as such. The quality of the relationship between the family members and with their external network are defined using the following lines to depict ecomap activity:

  • A solid or thick line represents an important, strong, or positive connection
  • A broken line represents a tenuous or weak connection
  • Lines with crosses through them indicate a stressful relationship
  • Arrows along the line point towards the direction or flow of resources, energy, or interest

The process is repeated for social and environmental links to school, work, church, support agencies, etc.

How is an ecomap used in social work?

Once completed, ecomaps provide social workers a snapshot of a client’s family dynamics and the client’s and family’s connections with the external world of social networks and the community. This visual tool helps social work providers see where their client may need assistance or whether any external influences should be curtailed.

Ecomaps also help social workers with the boundaries that exist between a client’s family’s ecological system and their external environment. Families with open boundaries generally have healthy relationships with external support systems. Defining the client’s relationships and understanding their beliefs about the role of family history and community can uncover underlying values held within the family system.

Why are ecomaps important?

Ecomaps are a useful tool for the assessment of family life, social support, and community relationships. Social workers employ them to obtain a detailed picture of their client’s social and family relationships and review the mapped areas looking for isolation or disconnection that can occur in unhealthy families. Ecomaps are often used by youth and immigrant services to gather more information about family relationships than would be available through a simple Q&A.

What is a social work master’s?

A Master of Social Work (MSW) is a graduate-level program that prepares social work students for practice and state licensing. If they haven’t earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, prospective MSW students should anticipate studying full-time for at least four semesters (approximately two years).

Most MSW programs require students to finish an evidence-based and research-informed social work curriculum in one of three practice categories: micro, macro, or mezzo. Most MSW programs enable students to focus elective work in one of these areas. Each has its own set of goals and populations/institutions it serves, and determining your professional objectives will help you choose the right path of study for you.

  • Micro social work focuses on individuals, helping them connect with healthcare, benefits, social services, and housing. Social work at this level also assists individuals with mental health and addiction issues. Agencies and organizations, as well as schools, police forces, and the military may provide micro social work services.
  • Mezzo social work concentrates on groups instead of individuals. Mezzo social work begins with the family unit and extends to companies, schools, organizations, and communities.
  • Macro social work often involves large institutions and communities. Macro social workers may aid in crafting laws or petitioning local, state, or even federal governments for funds to help communities.

Core courses may include topics in public policy, research methods, data analysis, community organizing, and social justice. MSW programs include a mandatory field practicum, often with human service or social change agencies.

MSWs are advantageous for those social worker professionals looking to advance their careers as clinical specialists. All states require clinical social workers to be licensed, and most states require licensure or certification for nonclinical social workers. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of two years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass an exam to be licensed.

How long does it take to earn this degree?

Typically it takes two years to complete an MSW, although some schools offer accelerated programs that allow you to reach your goal more quickly.

If you already have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), you should look into advanced standing programs, in which you can apply credits from your BSW toward your master’s degree—and save some time and money in the process. Tulane University’s online advanced standing MSW program takes 12 months to complete full-time or 24 months part-time.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

Applications must typically include undergraduate transcripts (minimum 3.0 GPA), letters of recommendation, a resume/CV, and a personal statement expressing how their course of study will help you meet your career goals. Some programs require Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test scores as well.

Curriculum

Students concentrating on graduate-level social work may expect to begin their studies with fundamental courses in individual, family, and group practice, then progress to advanced levels in micro, mezzo, and macro specializations.

Foundational courses can include the histories of social welfare and public policy. Required courses at Tulane University’s MSW program include:

  • Diversity and Social Justice: Theory and Practice
  • Intro to Organizational and Community Practice
  • Theories of Human Behavior Across the Life Course
  • Introduction to Direct Social Work Practice
  • Advanced Clinical-Community Practice

Advanced courses look at racial and gender concerns as well as the influence of the environment on social structures. Social work coursework often includes extensive fieldwork.

Specialization

Specialization in MSW programs typically begins in the second year of study. Tulane University’s specialization areas include:

  • Community Social Work
  • Child, Family, and School Social Work
  • Disaster and Collective Trauma
  • Mental Health, Addictions, and the Family
  • Social Work with Military Members and Veterans
  • Social Work Administration

Top schools offering a master’s in social work

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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