Otago Polytechnic
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A model metaphor

Tim Linzey

Tim Linzey believes that his model is invaluable in helping Social Services students and practitioners understand how their values, beliefs and ethics relate to their professional practice.

A Senior Lecturer in Social Services at Otago Polytechnic, Tim Linzey has particular interest in the role of imagery and metaphor in bringing about understanding. He has spent more than two decades developing his own structural metaphor: the model of practice. It is deceptively simple – a pyramid made out of four layers of wooden blocks – yet Tim insists that students and practitioners can use this metaphor to uncover their own professional philosophy. They can also describe their approach to practice, such as Person–Centred Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Transactional Analysis.

So, what does each layer represent? “The top level of the pyramid represents how a professional describes their practice; including their methods, strategies and outcomes,” Linzey explains. “The next level represents their discourse about ethics, values and objectives. These might differ, according to their approach, but in each case they should line up with their practice. The third level of the pyramid is the beliefs, which logically underpin their objectives. This layer addresses our fundamental assumptions and beliefs about human nature and about ‘what makes people tick’. The base layer of the pyramid represents the social, political and professional culture we operate in. Are we in line with our workplace’s philosophy, approach and core values?”

The metaphor can also be seen as an iceberg. “The tip is the practice but what really matters is beneath it. We might not be able to see someone’s ethics, beliefs about humanity or the politics of their setting – but it all influences their practice.” Tim believes this is a metaphor for professional integrity on two levels. The first is in the integrity of the actual pyramid-shape – if the layers don’t line up then professional integrity can be undermined. The second is the integrity of actually working from your beliefs so that your environment and practice matches them – resulting in real and enduring job satisfaction.

“The strength of the metaphor is that it allows us to take in the totality and overall sense of our model of practice,” says Tim. “It gets you to consider what degree of consistency or coherence there is between what we believe and what we do. Ideally, there should be a lining up of our beliefs and attitudes – and these would be reflected in our practice.”