Last updated June 12, 2015
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Person-in-Environment System Manual

2nd Edition (with CompuPIE CD)

In human services practice, assessment is the foundation for planning and implementing the interventions that will alleviate the client’s distress. The assessment is more than a diagnosis. Because of the complexity of most client situations, the diagnosis of a mental condition or a physical problem is not sufficient to plan or to begin work with the client. And assessment by intuition only focused on the services available from the practitioner or the agency will seldom lead to a good resolution. A careful comprehensive assessment focusing on the needs of the client is more likely to lead to a successful outcome. PIE is the instrument for providing a comprehensive assessment.

The PIE (person-in-environment) Manual is for those social workers and other human services workers who plan to use the PIE system in their practice, teaching, or research. This Manual operationalizes the PIE System. By studying the instructions that follow, those who are familiar with the concepts of person-in-environment should easily be able to use the PIE System in assessing the problems presented by their clients. Careful study of the Manual will lead the practitioner to produce a succinct summary of the problem complex and the interventions that may alleviate the client’s conditions. Recording instruments in the Manual and in the accompanying CompuPIE software help to minimize the amount of time needed to produce a comprehensive written report of case findings.

Practitioners not familiar with the concepts may wish to review the material presented in the Person-in-Environment System book available from NASW Press. For those already familiar with the PIE system, it may be useful to be reminded that PIE is a biopsychosocial system that has added the elements of “environment” and “strengths” to the assessment process. PIE is a “holistic” system that gives primacy to the ability of the clients to function in their social roles. Mental and physical health problems and problems in the community are assessed in terms of their effect on the client’s ability to live a productive life. Adequate social functioning—the ability to fulfill major social roles as required by the client’s culture or community—is the major goal of interventions derived from the PIE assessment. Problems in the environment and in mental and physical health are viewed as influencing social functioning and are thus addressed to the extent that they affect functioning. Added to this mix are the client’s strengths that may affect the need for intervention.

PIE is used primarily in the assessment phase of working with a client, although for the researcher it is an instrument for assessing the effects of interventions over time, and for the teacher it is a tool for helping the student understand the complex problems that people bring to health, mental health, and social agencies. And it is an effective instrument for practitioners in evidence-based practice or case management who look for methods to measure the effectiveness of an intervention. For the administrator it can be a data collection tool, which, combined with the numerical coding system that is available in the software program, can provide an ongoing assessment of agency clientele and program effectiveness. It serves to identify, classify, and describe the problems brought to practitioners in private practice, in social agencies, in health and mental health services, and in other setting where social workers and other human service care providers practice.

The PIE system is designed to accommodate not only varied practice settings, but also the various theoretical orientations that may guide the practitioner. The PIE system helps the practitioners collect data on various aspects of the client’s condition, then study the complex, and apply the theoretical orientation—psychoanalytic, behavioral, feminist, and so forth—with which they are most comfortable to evaluate the interaction of the elements of the finding. PIE then becomes a good vehicle for testing the effectiveness of various theoretical approaches as it also includes recording outcomes of interventions over time.

The PIE system was developed using problems and issues that mainly concern adults. It is therefore not useful in assessing the problems of young children or adolescents. Practitioners working with families can use the PIE system to assess the problems of individual adults in the family, particularly the parents, to better understand the interactional problems in the family. PIE can be used effectively in assessment of emancipated minors who are facing many of the issues of adults.

Don’t be put off by the PIE system’s length and complexity. The small amount of time spent learning to use it will soon be paid back with the benefit of producing a thorough and professional assessment. The time now spent recording case findings will be greatly reduced and practitioners will have an assessment document that can guide them through the course of their work with the client. For those social workers in multidisciplinary settings the PIE system clarifies social work’s areas of expertise. The PIE system demonstrates social work’s expertise in problems in social functioning and problems in the environment. Factor I demonstrates the many kinds of relationship problems that social work, as a profession, was created to address. Factor II identifies the many problems in the social institutions in the community that social work has traditionally addressed. And PIE clarifies that the areas of physical and mental health are shared with other human service professionals (Factor III and Factor IV).

We hope the PIE System will help you sort through the complex issues that your clients bring to you and that both you and your client will be better for using it. Suggestions for improving the system are welcome.