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Person-in-Environment System Manual
2nd Edition (with CompuPIE CD)
James M. Karls and Maura O'Keefe
ISBN: 978-0-87101-379-8. 2008. Item #3798. 112 pages.

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PIE was developed as an alternative to the commonly used disease and moral models (e.g. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), Civil or Penal Codes) to implement social work philosophy and area of expertise. PIE is client-centered rather than agency-centered. Additionally, PIE was developed for use in all areas of social work practice (medical, psychiatric, family service, public welfare, private practice, etc.) to facilitate communication across practice specialty areas.

The PIE System is field-tested and employs the following structure: social role functioning, the environment, mental health, and physical health. This manual is useful for academicians, administrators, practitioners, researchers, and students regardless of the theories of human behavior they use.

Special Features

  • Provides domain clarity for social workers and others in the helping profession

  • Contains copyright free assessment forms

  • Includes case examples of comprehensive holistic assessments

  • Accompanies the CompuPIE software, an interactive, multi-media information management tool

James M. Karls and Maura E. O'Keefe

James J. Kelly

Sue Dworak-Peck


Chapter 1: The PIE System

Chapter 2: How to Use PIE in Practice

Chapter 3: Factor I: Social Role and Relationship Functioning

Chapter 4: Factor II: Person in Environment – Problems in The Environment

Chapter 5: Factor III: Mental Health Condition and Factor IV: Physical Health Conditions

Chapter 6: Severity, Duration, Coping, and Strengths Indexes

Chapter 7: Intervention Plan

Chapter 8: Instructions For Recording Case Findings Using CompuPIE and the PIE Worksheet

Chapter 9: Case Examples Using PIE


1. Person-IN-Environment (CompuPIE) System CD Installation Instructions

2. List of Interventions

3. Numerical Coding

4. Factor III Mental Health Conditions

5. Factor IV Physical Health Conditions

6. Frequently Asked Questions

7. PIE in Other Languages

8. PIE Assessments Using the PIE Worksheet and Using CompuPIE

It has been over 10 years since The Person-in-Environment System (PIE) book and manual were first published by NASW Press. The hopes and expectations of those involved in developing the PIE system were both modest and ambitious. Working as a task force of the National Association of Social Workers, their hope was that PIE would be the beginning of a process by which the profession of social work would develop a diagnostic and assessment system that truly reflected its unique role in the human services field. It was also expected that PIE would be an initial step in developing a classification and diagnostic system that could be used in all fields of practice and that PIE would need to be modified and added to as it was put into practice.

The acceptance of PIE among social work colleagues has far exceeded the expectations of the task force that first put it together. Without a great deal of advertising, more than 15,000 copies have been sold in the United States. It is not a big number by pop novel standards but a best seller among social work books.

The most surprising event has been the discovery of PIE by social workers around the world. There are official translations into Spanish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, and Korean; and translations are being developed for German, Hebrew, and some South African languages. It is widely used in Canada and has been used in research projects in Australia and other countries. PIE has struck a chord in the hearts and minds of our social work colleagues around the world. We have received numerous suggestions and ideas for improving PIE and have incorporated many of them into this new version of PIE.

Our mission remains the same: to provide the practitioner and researcher a tool by which the problems presented by human services clients can be systematically and comprehensively assessed, described, and addressed and to show social work’s unique contribution to the human services field.

We hope those who have been using PIE will find this new version clearer and more useful in their work. The strengths perspective has been enhanced. There have been some changes in the types of discrimination. The numerical coding system has been de-emphasized. And the recording instruments have been developed to allow for full intervention plans and testing of interventions. The software, making recording much simpler in this era, is included in the revision. For those trying PIE the first time we hope that it will help them identify and assess the many and complex issues that clients present and arrive at an intervention plan that will truly help the client.

There have been many who have contributed to this version of the PIE system: Dr. Karin Wandrei who wrote most of the manual copy in the first edition and is now an administrator of a county-wide agency in California; Dick Ramsay in Calgary who continues to work on the development of PIE in Canada; Dr. Joan Keefler in Montreal who has made many suggestions that are incorporated into this version; Deborah Foster in Connecticut who has created some clever systems for recording findings,; Dr Shirley Keller in Ohio who has reviewed and provided constructive suggestions as the revision was in process; Dr. George Appleby in Connecticut whose work on using PIE in assessing discrimination helped us modify that section of PIE; Dr. Wim Roestenburg and his colleague Dr. Rika Swanzen at the University of Johannesburg who have provided feedback on this version of PIE and are working on a children’s version; Dean Marilyn Flynn at the University of Southern California who has supported our efforts over time and has facilitated teaching PIE to all MSW students using the PIE software; Kristen Butler who worked on the editing and revision of the worksheet; and there are many, many others who have provided suggestions. We are thankful to them all.

James M. Karls, PhD, LCSW
Clinical Associate Professor
University of Southern California

Maura E. O’Keefe, PhD, LCSW
Associate Professor
University of California, Sacramento


Person In Environment (PIE), first published by the NASW Press in 1994, represents social work’s unique take on the human condition and provides a starting point for its professionals to improve quality of life within the context of an individual’s situation. For a mentally ill person, for example, a social worker doesn’t just focus on medications and psychological/psychiatric remediation, but rather casts a wide net to examine all stressors and potential supports including economics, living conditions, training and work availability, family and supplementary services, and advocacy for the individual.

Of critical value to the social work profession, PIE has evolved in its ability to represent how social work differs from other human services disciplines, as well as to provide social workers with a glimpse of an individual’s circumstances and options as if they were standing in their clients’ shoes.

NASW is proud to sponsor PIE and looks forward to its seeing this ever-changing tool assist social work professionals around the globe.

James J. Kelly


I am pleased to be asked again to write a foreword for the PIE Manual.

The first version successfully provided a framework for understanding the unique contribution of social work globally and at the same time provided a how-to map for practitioners in doing our work. This revised edition has the advantage of further experience and use. Feedback from practitioners around the world has been used to refine and enhance this truly brilliant, original and creative concept.

As the former President of the International Federation of Social Workers and the current Ambassador for this organization, I can attest to the importance of the PIE in helping unify and standardize social work practice around the world. Requests for translations have been spontaneous, initiated by social workers in many countries who want to improve their skills and further professionalize their work. The hope has been that PIE would be a culture-friendly instrument, adaptable to many settings, many practice styles and systems and workable with a variety of ethnic clients. Its use from Korea to Hungary to South Africa is testimony that the framers have more than succeeded. In an increasingly fragmented world, PIE expresses the universality of our concern for others and operationalizes the skills we have developed for moving beyond concern into action.

Our clients, our profession, and society thank you – Jim Karls!

Sue Dworak-Peck
In human services practice, assessment is the foundation for planning and implementing the interventions that will alleviate the client’s distress. The assessment is more than a diagnosis. Because of the complexity of most client situations, the diagnosis of a mental condition or a physical problem is not sufficient to plan or to begin work with the client. And assessment by intuition only focused on the services available from the practitioner or the agency will seldom lead to a good resolution. A careful comprehensive assessment focusing on the needs of the client is more likely to lead to a successful outcome. PIE is the instrument for providing a comprehensive assessment.

The PIE (person-in-environment) Manual is for those social workers and other human services workers who plan to use the PIE system in their practice, teaching, or research. This Manual operationalizes the PIE System. By studying the instructions that follow, those who are familiar with the concepts of person-in-environment should easily be able to use the PIE System in assessing the problems presented by their clients. Careful study of the Manual will lead the practitioner to produce a succinct summary of the problem complex and the interventions that may alleviate the client’s conditions. Recording instruments in the Manual and in the accompanying CompuPIE software help to minimize the amount of time needed to produce a comprehensive written report of case findings.

Practitioners not familiar with the concepts may wish to review the material presented in the Person-in-Environment System book available from NASW Press. For those already familiar with the PIE system, it may be useful to be reminded that PIE is a biopsychosocial system that has added the elements of "environment" and "strengths" to the assessment process. PIE is a "holistic" system that gives primacy to the ability of the clients to function in their social roles. Mental and physical health problems and problems in the community are assessed in terms of their effect on the client’s ability to live a productive life. Adequate social functioning – the ability to fulfill major social roles as required by the client’s culture or community – is the major goal of interventions derived from the PIE assessment. Problems in the environment and in mental and physical health are viewed as influencing social functioning and are thus addressed to the extent that they affect functioning. Added to this mix are the client’s strengths that may affect the need for intervention.

PIE is used primarily in the assessment phase of working with a client, although for the researcher it is an instrument for assessing the effects of interventions over time, and for the teacher it is a tool for helping the student understand the complex problems that people bring to health, mental health, and social agencies. And it is an effective instrument for practitioners in evidence-based practice or case management who look for methods to measure the effectiveness of an intervention. For the administrator it can be a data collection tool, which, combined with the numerical coding system that is available in the software program, can provide an ongoing assessment of agency clientele and program effectiveness. It serves to identify, classify, and describe the problems brought to practitioners in private practice, in social agencies, in health and mental health services, and in other setting where social workers and other human service care providers practice.

The PIE system is designed to accommodate not only varied practice settings, but also the various theoretical orientations that may guide the practitioner. The PIE system helps the practitioners collect data on various aspects of the client’s condition, then study the complex, and apply the theoretical orientation – psychoanalytic, behavioral, feminist, and so forth – with which they are most comfortable to evaluate the interaction of the elements of the finding. PIE then becomes a good vehicle for testing the effectiveness of various theoretical approaches as it also includes recording outcomes of interventions over time.

The PIE system was developed using problems and issues that mainly concern adults. It is therefore not useful in assessing the problems of young children or adolescents. Practitioners working with families can use the PIE system to assess the problems of individual adults in the family, particularly the parents, to better understand the interactional problems in the family. PIE can be used effectively in assessment of emancipated minors who are facing many of the issues of adults.

Don’t be put off by the PIE system’s length and complexity. The small amount of time spent learning to use it will soon be paid back with the benefit of producing a thorough and professional assessment. The time now spent recording case findings will be greatly reduced and practitioners will have an assessment document that can guide them through the course of their work with the client. For those social workers in multidisciplinary settings the PIE system clarifies social work’s areas of expertise. The PIE system demonstrates social work’s expertise in problems in social functioning and problems in the environment. Factor I demonstrates the many kinds of relationship problems that social work, as a profession, was created to address. Factor II identifies the many problems in the social institutions in the community that social work has traditionally addressed. And PIE clarifies that the areas of physical and mental health are shared with other human service professionals (Factor III and Factor IV).

We hope the PIE System will help you sort through the complex issues that your clients bring to you and that both you and your client will be better for using it. Suggestions for improving the system are welcome.
James M. Karls, PhD, LCSW, received a master’s degree in social work at the University of Chicago and a doctorate from the University of Southern California. Over the past 59 years, Dr. Karls had an extensive career as a clinician, administrator, and teacher in social work. He started the first mental health clinic in California’s Central Valley and directed mental health programs in California.

He held numerous appointed and elected offices within NASW, including the presidency of the California Chapter. Dr. Karls served on the national NASW Health/Mental Health Commission and served as chair of the NASW Task Force on Standards for Case Management and the NASW Certification and Accreditation Commission.

One of Dr. Karls’ key contributions to social work is his development of the "person-in-environment" (PIE) assessment system that attends more thoroughly to the biopsychosocial functioning than does the DSM. The first edition of the Person-in-Environment System, published by NASW Press has been translated in more than eight languages. Dr. Karls traveled extensively around the world teaching international social workers about the PIE assessment system.

Dr Karls received many awards for his contribution to the profession including NASW’s Chapter and Unit Lifetime Achievement award. He was also honored by the NASW Foundation as a pioneer in recognition of exceptional contribution to the social work profession. In 2001 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

Dr. Karls founded the California Hall of Distinction that honors past and present great social workers in California and was himself inducted in 2008. The National Association of Social Workers Foundation honored Dr. Karls with the 2008 International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award.

James Karls died on June 29, 2008.

Maura E . O’Keefe, PhD, is an associate professor at California State University, Sacramento. Prior to this time she was a tenured associate professor at the University of Southern California, School of Social Work. Professor O’Keefe teaches advanced social work practice as well as human behavior and family violence. She has been a licensed clinical practitioner for more than 30 years and has worked with diverse populations in both urban and rural areas such as Brooklyn, New York; rural Maine; and the hill country of Texas. Dr. O’Keefe has worked in different capacities and settings, including community mental health centers, medical and psychiatric facilities, substance abuse programs, foster care and adoption services, as well as services for battered women and their children. She has a private psychotherapy practice in California.

Dr. O’Keefe has published numerous articles on family violence and has appeared as a consultant for on various television networks, including CNN. She has conducted research on child abuse and neglect, dating violence, battered women and their children, posttraumatic stress disorders, women and substance abuse, and the effects of exposure to family violence on children’s adjustment. Additionally, she has conducted research evaluating the effectiveness of treatment programs on ameliorating some these problems. She has lectured on these topics at universities around the world.
System Requirements
The fanciest software requirement you will need to run CompuPIE is Microsoft Access 2000 or later.
The remainder of the system requirements are basic:
PC with Pentium 75 Mhz or higher. CompuPIE is not available for Mac format.
Microsoft Windows 98 or later operating system
256 megabytes of RAM (random access memory).
At least 20 Megabytes of hard drive space
A CD drive
A printer (either local or network) if you wish to view or print reports. A printer driver is sufficient. (This is a requirement when using Access.)
Installation Steps Insert CompuPIE™ CD into CD drive.
Locate and open your CD drive.
Copy the CompuPIE.mdb file from the CD to your hard drive. You can copy to the desktop or to a folder of your choice
After you have successfully copied CompuPie to your computer, double click on it to open.
Once you are running CompuPIE, click on the "Display Instructions" button at the bottom of the initial CompuPIE menu for further directions on how to use CompuPIE.