James Karls

Exemplary social work values and internationally recognized


Born in 1927, Jim Karls committed his work to the development of the social work
profession for over 57 years. His Person-in-Environment (P-I-E) Classification System for Social Functioning, developed with Karen Wandrei and others, was designed to provide social workers in mental health settings with a method to assess social functioning compatible with social work theory and practice. The book has been translated into eight languages and is used extensively in many countries, including France, Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea, Greece and South Africa. Dr. Karls conducted workshops on the use of P-I-E all over the world.

In 1950, Dr. Karls received his M.A. at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and earned his Ph.D at the University of Southern California School of Social Work in Mental Health/Gerontology in 1976.

His extensive career in the mental health system began when he was employed by the Bureau of Social Work in the 1950s to open the first mental health clinics in the Central Valley. Dr. Karls has since worked in state hospitals, served as clinician in public mental hospitals, clinics, private practice, as the Director of the Center for Community Psychiatry in Los Angeles and as Director of Training and Research for the California Department of Mental Health. The impact he had as a lecturer within the University of California system cannot be measured.

Karls was President of the Golden Gate Chapter of NASW when they were active in not only promoting the profession, but in protest against the Vietnam War. The very first to make a sign of protest against war or other injustices he observed, Dr. Karls actively participated in marches encouraging fellow social workers to be involved. He was a long-time supporter of the United Nations since its inception and was an anti-war activist throughout his career.

Dr. Karls taught throughout the state of California including the University of California Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, University of Southern California, School of Social Work, San Francisco State University, and California State University Long Beach Department of Social Work.

As the fourth President of the California Chapter of NASW, Dr. Karls persuaded the Chapter to locate their main office in Sacramento in order to have better access to the legislature and policy makers. As one of his many NASW activities, he chaired the National NASW Committee that wrote the first standards for case management. He continued his active role in Santa Barbara, including leading an effort to expand day activity programs for people with mental disorders. Jim Karls vast contribution to social work was varied and far-reaching.

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