Barbara Levy Simon argues that empowerment is only the latest term for a point of view that has been at the heart of social work since the 1890s. She presents the history of this tradition from 1893 to the present and explores the social movements, ideas, and beliefs that have been most influential in shaping its development. The empowerment perspective within social work practice seeks to help clients draw on personal, interpersonal and political strengths that enable them to gain greater control - both individually and collectively - over their environment and to attain their aspirations. Simon argues that the empowerment tradition developed among a diverse group of social work professionals who rejected the paternalistic approach to practice and shared a common commitment to enabling marginalized and impoverished people to help themselves, to claim their share of social, economic and political resources.
She demonstrates that in every historical period the empowerment approach to practice included five basic processes: constructing collaborative partnerships with clients; emphasizing the strengths of clients rather than their incapacities; focusing on both individuals and their social and physical environments; recognizing the rights, responsibilities, and needs of clients and client groups; and directing professional energies toward helping historically disempowered groups and their members.