NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Lydia Rapoport (1923-1971)
Eminent theorist, educator, and practitioner, Lydia Rapoport is best known as a pioneer in the field of short term preventive casework. She was born in Vienna, Austria and emigrated at the age of nine with her family to New York City. Always an excellent student, she was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College at nineteen, subsequently enrolling in an accelerated MSW program at Smith College School of Social Work. When she received her MSW degree in 1944, she was the youngest graduate in the school's history. The successful and distinguished career that followed was condensed into a relatively brief lifespan.
Rapoport began her career in the mental health field in Chicago. While there, she earned a certificate in child therapy from the Institute of Psychoanalysis. Between 1952-1954, as a Fulbright scholar at the Department of Social Sciences at the London School of Economics, she became associated with the Tavistock Clinic. Her contribution to the training of British social workers at that time was so well received that throughout her career, she was frequently invited to lecture in Britain. From 1954 until her early death, she was a member of the faculty of the University of California School of Social Welfare at Berkeley and a director of their psychiatric social work programs.
On leave of absence from Berkeley in the early 1960's, Rapoport worked at Harvard University's Laboratory of Community Psychiatry and the School of Public Health where she found the stimulus for her subsequent writings on prevention and crisis intervention. This, in turn, led to her forming an advanced program in community mental health at Berkeley. Her promotion to tenured full professor was, in that era, a rare achievement for a woman.
The seminars Rapoport gave throughout the United States and her consultantship at Paul Baerwald School of Social Welfare at Hebrew University in Israel, brought further international recognition. She was the first United Nations inter-regional family welfare and family planning advisor in the Middle East. Her view of social casework as an open-ended flexible thought system capable of adaptation to a variety of problems without losing its overall social purpose, is evident in her many publications. Creativity in Social Work: Selected Writings of Lydia Rapoport, a compendium of her best known work, exemplifies this approach. In promoting and using the public health model of prevention in casework, and contrasting it to the psychiatric model and its emphasis on pathology, she influenced the theory and practice of short term treatment to a major degree.