History of PIE

Person in Environment Classification (PIE) System

 Photo: Jane Addams Hull House, Chicago


The Social Work profession struggled for many years to establish its unique identity among the human services profession. An important step in this struggle was the embracing of the “person in environment” (PIE) perspective. This perspective highlights the importance of understanding individuals and families in light of their environment contexts and has become the philosophy undergirding the social work profession thus addressing a long standing debate over how much attention should be given to individual or environmental change.

Another important step in its struggle for identity was the need for a social work classification system – a classification system that is separate from the DSM. In the early 1980’s, a task force of practitioners and academicians, led by Dr. James Karls and Dr. Karin Wandrei, was formed to develop a classification system useable in all fields of social work practice and one that would be both user and client friendly. After a period of field testing, the book, Person-in-Environment (PIE) System, (Karls, J. & Wandrei, 1994) and an instruction manual, PIE Manual-Person-in-Environment System (Karls, J. & Wandrei,1994) were published by NASW Press. 

In 2008 a new version of PIE and its accompanying software, CompuPIE (Karls, J. & O’Keefe, M., 2008) were developed that incorporated feedback from PIE enthusiasts as to how to improve PIE.  This new version of PIE along with CompPIE has been used by students of social work and practitioners in working in many settings. Howver, by 2015, the author recognized the need for an updated PIE and CompuPIE especially given the publication of DSM 5. The present CompuPIE software is significantly more comprehensive, strength based, user friendly and is compatible with both Mac, PC and Linux users. 

Importantly, regardless of the changes over the years, the mission of PIE has remained the same -- to provide a tool with which the problems, strengths and coping capacities presented by clients can be systematically and comprehensively assessed, described, and addressed within an eclectic framework that highlights social work’s unique contribution to the human service field.