Esther Urdang, PhD, LICSW


57 Dana Street, Providence, RI 02906



Parallels Between Writing Biographies and Clinical Practice: Impact, Influence, Value

Parallels between Writing Biographies and Clinical Practice: Impact. Influence. Value offers clinicians an in-depth understanding of the commonalities between the psychological and intellectual processes involved in writing biographical works and those involved in clinical practice. Although these processes often take place beneath the surface, both biographers and clinicians are subjectively involved in all aspects of their work, such as the biases of their theoretical positions and selection and evaluation of evidence.

In this book, lengthy life course portraits of six individuals are presented, vividly illustrating many key clinical concepts, such as the impact of the past, the development of attachments, the trauma of loss, and resilience. Examples include Rudyard Kipling's experience in a foster home, and the impact of blindness and separation on the writer Ved Mehta. This book addresses a need expressed by many practitioners and educators to reintegrate key clinical concepts into practice, such as understanding experiential worlds, applying psychodynamic knowledge, and developing self-aware empathic relationships with clients.

Each biographical narrative alternates with a relevant theoretical chapter, whose content addresses four major themes, integrated with the life course portraits:

  1. Biographers' and clinicians' relationships with their subjects/clients
  2. Examining how subjects/clients represent themselves and present their stories
  3. Understanding the complexities of collecting, evaluating, and interpreting evidence
  4. Studying the evolution of the life course, using the biopsychosocial perspective; illustrating the interweaving of the inner and outer lives of individuals.

Parallels between Writing Biographies and Clinical Practice is a resource intended for students, teachers, and practitioners in social work, and those in the human services and medical professions. It is also intended for a general audience, to heighten critical understanding and enjoyment in the reading of biographies.

Human Behavior in the Social  Environment: Interweaving the Inner and Outer Worlds, 2nd Edition

A new, updated edition of the classic text on the internal and external factors influencing human behavior.

This new and updated edition of the vital human behavior textbook for social work students emphasizes the biopsychosocial framework with a psychodynamic and developmental perspective. While especially designed to benefit and enlighten graduate social work students it is also a valuable resource for undergraduate social work students as well as beginning and advanced readers in human services such as nursing, medicine, public health, clinical psychology, counseling, who will find this both a helpful review and source of new knowledge.
The book approaches development through the life cycle, discussing the developmental challenges, tasks, and problems of each stage. Presenting complex concepts in a clear and understandable way, it also examines and integrates systems and organizational factors, as well as the impact of culture on clients and treatment programs. Current social issues such as our aging population, violence, and abuse, as well as updated information on contemporary thinking and the application of postmodern theory are included.

Written from the perspective of a classroom teacher, faculty advisor, and clinician, Human Behavior in the Social Environment emphasizes practice dilemmas of concern to practitioners and student-practitioners. Case vignettes, as well as material from literary works, biographies, and newspapers bring theories to life. With its chapter-by-chapter learning exercises, and additional readings, this copiously-referenced volume illustrates the complexities of human existence, the multiple social conflicts operating in society, and the relevance of social policy dilemmas.

A helpful instructor's manual accompanies this text, and is available as a free download from Routledge Press.

Human Behavior in the Social Environment looks at:
  • the biopsychosocial perspective
  • psychoanalytic and ego psychology theories
  • object relations, self psychology, and cognitive-behavioral theories
  • postmodern theories: constructivism, relational therapy, narrative theory, and resilience
  • social systems in the community
  • culture and diversity
  • forms and organizations of the family
  • internal family structures and special family problems
  • reproductive issues, infancy, and early childhood development,
  • middle childhood and adolescence
  • adult development
  • life transitions, turning points, crises, and loss
  • illness and disability; mental health problems
  • and much more!

Book Reviews

Human Behavior in the Social  Environment, 2nd Edition

Nancy Boyd Webb, DSW, Distinguished Professor of Social Work

Fordham University

“Social work students who have the good fortune to have this book as a text for their Human Behavior and the Social Environment class will actually enjoy this very readable overview of numerous theories and their application in case examples. Grounded in a bio-psychosocial perspective, this INCREDIBLY COMPREHENSIVE book emphasizes the psychodynamic understanding of human behavior through examples from novels, biographies and autobiographies in addition to newspaper and magazine articles. . . . BREATHES LIFE INTO THE THEORIES AND MANAGES TO CONVEY THE VAST COMPLEXITY OF LIFE FROM BIRTH TO ADULTHOOD. Learning exercises at the end of each chapter help the student integrate the concepts into a social work practice framework. . . . A VALUABLE CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIAL WORK EDUCATION.”

Roger R. Miller, DSW, Professor Emeritus

Smith College School for Social Work

“True to its title, this work offers A RICH, INCLUSIVE, UP TO DATE REVIEW of the many formulations that help to reveal the person in the environment. More importantly, it identifies converging understandings that bridge separate lines of that work. It thus offers an image of the increasingly comprehensive understandings that are within our grasp and invites our participation in that exciting enterprise.”

Eric Kingson, PhD, Professor of Social Work

Syracuse University

“ENGAGING AND LUCID... Presents a balanced view of human behavior theories, successfully shedding light on the age-specific needs, abilities and challenges of individuals over the course of their lives. Drawing on a biopsychosocial perspective, Urdang successfully integrates psychodynamic theory with other theoretical perspectives. . . . SHOULD BE WIDELY USED IN SOCIAL WORK AND RELATED HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES CURRICULA.”

First Edition Reviews

Michael Hayes, PhD

Clinical Social Work Journal, HUMAN BEHAVIOR IN THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT: INTERWEAVING THE INNER AND OUTER WORLDS. Urdang, Esther. New York: Haworth, 2002, 642 pp.

03, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 437-440

Robert J. MacFadden, Ph.D., RSW Smith College Studies in Social Work, Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Interweaving the Inner and Outer Worlds By Esther Urdang, Ph.D.

2004, 74 (4), pp. 689-691


If you are interested in seeing additional information about or in buying a copy of Esther's book, Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Interweaving the Inner and Outer Worlds, Second Edition. Human Behavior
For more information on Routledge, the publisher of the book, Routledge

Journal Articles

Awareness of Self - A Critical Tool Social Work Education: The International Journal, Vol. 29(5), August 2010, pp.523-538. Free access to PDF

(1999) The Video Lab: Mirroring Reflections of Self and the Other The Clinical Supervisor, 18:2, 143-164. Abstract and/or first page preview are here.
(1999) The Influence of Managed Care on the MSW Social Work Student's Development of the Professional Self. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 70:1, 3-25. Abstract and/or first page preview are here.
(1999) Becoming a Field Instructor: A Key Experience in Professional Development.  The Clinical Supervisor, 18: 85-103. Abstract and/or first page preview are here.
Ceconi, B. and Urdang, E. (1994) Sight or Insight? Child Therapy With a Blind Clinician.
Clinical Social Work Journal, 22: 179-192. Abstract and/or first page preview are here.
(1991) The Discipline of Faculty Advising. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 5: 117-137. Abstract and/or first page preview are here.
(l979) In Defense of Process Recording. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 50: 1-15. Abstract and/or first page preview are here.
(1966) An Experiment in Teaching Social Work Tasks. Social Casework, 47: 451-455. Abstract and/or first page preview are here.
(1964) An Educational Project for First-Year Students in a Field Placement Social Casework, 45: 10-15. Reprinted in: Trends in Field Work Instruction. 1966. Family Service Association of America.

Biographical Information

Education I received my B.A. from Antioch College, a master's degree in social work from Adelphi University, and a Ph.D. in social work from Simmons College School of Social Work.

On the faculty of Boston College Graduate School of Social Work for 27 years, I taught human behavior in the social environment, the required clinical practice courses, and psychopathology. I was Assistant Director of Field Education, faculty advisor to many students, and developed and taught the seminar for field instructors.

I was a Research Advisor as Adjunct Associate Professor for Smith College Graduate School for Social Work for 10 years. In the Spring of 2007, I was Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology, Wheaton College.

Licensing I am a licensed independent clinical social worker with over 35 years of experience and hold a Diplomate in Social work from NASW. My practice has been in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, family agencies, and hospitals.
Writing Currently, I am writing the 3rd edition of Human Behavior in the Social  Environment: Interweaving the Inner and Outer Worlds, for Routledge. Member of North American Advisory Board of Social Work Education: The International Journal from 2011 to 2013
Practice Experience Practiced and supervised for many years in mental health and family agencies, hospitals, and private practice.