Sept. 26, 1996

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    Obituary: Laura Epstein, School of Social Service Administration

    Laura Epstein, an internationally known social-work scholar in the School of Social Service Administration, died at her Hyde Park home on Sept. 18. She was 82.

    Epstein developed one of the earliest -- and most commonly used -- methods of short-term psychotherapy. It is the current treatment of choice in today's environment of managed health care.

    Much of Epstein's research involved the development and dissemination of a brief form of social-work practice called the Task Centered Model. Observing that clients were frequently unresponsive to traditional approaches, Epstein and her colleagues developed methods to engage clients in all aspects of decision making.

    Early research on the model found that clients were much less likely to discontinue service under this approach. The Task Centered Model was researched by Epstein and her colleagues and is known as the most extensively evaluated clinical method in social work. This research is used as an example of "model development research," in which a social intervention is tested and refined during initial years of implementation.

    Epstein's more recent work involved an examination of the role of social structures and institutions on clinical social-work practice in the 20th century. She is the co-author of the book Post-Modernism and Social Work (1995).

    Early in her career, she was active in numerous causes, including union organizing. At a time when many unions were organized by the Communist Party, these activities placed her under scrutiny by the FBI and prevented her from finding a position in social work.

    During World War II, she worked at the War Labor Board in Chicago where she completed statistical studies and assisted in mediating labor-management conflicts.

    After the war, she was a social worker at Traveler's Aid of Chicago, a position that launched a career resulting in numerous books, articles and national and international presentations. Her book Brief Treatment (1993) continues to be used as a primary text in undergraduate and graduate courses in social work and other helping professions.

    In her lifelong search for effective therapies, Epstein influenced a great many students, practitioners and clients. For this work, she was recently awarded the Charlotte Towle Award for Lifetime Achievement in Clinical Social Work Practice by the School of Social Service Administration.

    A native of Hyde Park, Epstein received her A.B. in 1934 and her A.M. in 1936 from Chicago.

    Epstein is survived by her brother, Robert, of Skokie, Ill.

    A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, in Bond Chapel. Memorials may be directed to the Laura Epstein Faculty Research Fund, the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, 969 E. 60th St., Chicago, Ill. 60637.