Social Work Book Clubs: Just a social get-together or an alternative and creative way to enhance our practice?

Following Becky’s recent post on her first experience of book group and in the run up to the next meeting on 11Feb, Sian &  Janine, two newly qualified social workers, share their experience of integrating book groups with practice

Social Work Book Clubs: Just a social get-together or an alternative and creative way to enhance our practice?

We would certainly argue for the latter.

As ‘Newly-Qualified’ Social Workers, we first came across the concept from East Sussex County Council’s Principal Social Worker, Nicola McGeown’s blog. The idea is relatively new and has not yet been embraced by all social workers, students and academics. However, we were excited to find that there is a National Movement which encourages the idea of Social Work Book Clubs as a useful learning tool, in both social work training and continued practice development. We decided to get involved with a national book group through the University of Sussex, where we completed our social work training. Here, we linked up via the internet with several other Universities in the country to discuss the nominated book.

Throughout our time as students, there was a huge pressure to be on top of all the current knowledge and it felt like every waking hour was spent with a research article in one hand, a textbook in the other, and lots and lots of reflection! The book group felt different to this, as it was about someone’s story. We feel that being part of a relationship-based profession, we need to explore ways of expanding our grassroots knowledge, and exploring a story from the “bottom-up” gives us an increased focus on the client’s direct experience.

In this case we read Melvyn Bragg’s ‘Grace and Mary’. The story was written from the perspective of John, whose mother Mary had a diagnosis of dementia and lived in a care home. The book group gave us a space and opportunity to discuss real issues around care and illness from different perspectives; whether that be the perspective of Melvyn Bragg, John, Mary, the tutor, social worker, the newly qualified social worker or the student. We explored how the characters felt, discussing the idealistic way that Dementia, the care home, and women, were portrayed in the book. We discussed this idealistic view and felt there was an aversion to talking about what can be the ‘ugly truth’. This discussion was initially focused on the book, but expanded out in to our own experiences of these issues. We felt that ultimately our role as a Social Worker is not placed within this world of idealism and romanticism, but within reality (whatever that may look like). This kind of discussion felt really beneficial for our social work practice. It encouraged us to consider how, in practice, clients and carers may, like John, also struggle to have these kinds of conversations about difficult personal issues. At times, they may also minimise and idealise their needs; maybe due to denial or a ‘social desirability bias’. Being aware of these potential problems allows us to be conscious when performing assessments and working with families, and hopefully, negate against them.

We left the book group feeling a sense of being a part of something great, something innovative and something really rather useful.

You can follow Social Work Book Group on Twitter: @SWbookgroup or our own group @USSWbookgroup. Sussex Social work can be found at @USSocialwork

Next Meeting is 11 February reading ‘Getting By’ by @redrumlisa 

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February 2, 2016. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.