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 


February 2, 2016. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Social Work Book Group – My First Experience

Today we hear from Becky Lyons, a first year MA student at Sussex who offers her experience of attending the initial meeting of a Social Work Book Group, reading ‘Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg. Social Work Book Group was started by Amanda Taylor a Senior Social Work Lecturer at UCLAN and has grown into a national movement as evidenced here:

Following Becky’s student perspective and in the run up to the next meeting on February 11th, we will also hear from Janine and Sian two social workers in their ASYE year. Watch this space! Follow the Departmental Book Group on @USSWbookgroup Or the Dept on @USSocialwork #swbk

A student’s perspective: 6 weeks into my first year of the MA social work course at Sussex University, my tutor invited me to join the social work book group she was setting up. Although I had consumed many different pieces of literature over the last two months, I had never been more excited to start a piece of reading. Academic social work articles are interesting and crucial resources for a master’s level course, but the idea of a novel filled me with instant relief. My undergrad had been in literature, it is a form I feel truly comfortable with and which, most importantly, I enjoy. I enjoy literature because it is an exploration of people; an insight into someone else’s perspective. Reading a novel is an exercise in empathy. There is nothing quite like the feeling of reading a piece of literature and recognising yourself in the prose; a thought or feeling you have once had, and coming to the realisation that someone else has shared this; you are not alone.

The dynamic of the book group is a new and interesting idea. It is a national project. Every few months a host university decides on the book and live streams a discussion to other universities across Britain. The listening groups are encouraged to connect via Twitter, posting their views on the novel and topics discussed. This week the host university was Lancaster and the novel was Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg, a novel which deals with some very relevant themes, such as ageing and dementia and which centres on a mother and son’s relationship in the latter stages of life.

As this was the first run of the book group, we did have some hic-ups in setting up and getting connected. Four of us turned up, myself (a student), my tutor and two newly qualified social workers. I have to say, I felt quite out of place on arrival and a little apprehensive. After all, I was the least qualified and least experienced in the room. I looked at the two NQSWs in almost a state of awe; they’d made it, I’m right at the beginning. However, this state of anxiety didn’t last long. My tutor and two new social work contacts (networks!) created an atmosphere in which I felt comfortable to give my opinion and just have a chat. It became clear very quickly that we were all there with a common interest; we are all social workers (or, in my case, want to be social workers) and we all share a mutual love of reading.

Another reason I love literature – it stimulates conversation.

In all honesty, the online book group really just sparked our own discussions around the novel. And some of that discussion was pretty great. The impact it had on me was it actually opened my eyes to some new truths about the line of work I have decided to go into. We discussed the “Romanticisation” within the novel. We spoke a lot about films, television and books, which treat social work subjects in a similar way. Then Denise, my tutor, said something I probably won’t be forgetting for a while, she said “it’s the visceral aspects of people’s lives, the bits you leave out of novels that social workers deal with”. This led us to another thought, perhaps the reason people can act quite stand-offish when you tell them you’re a social worker is because it reminds them of these “visceral bits”, the things we don’t want to recognise in our society. Is this the cause for “that face” people pull when I tell them I am studying social work? It is a face I have discussed many times with my colleagues on the course.

Novels are often a Romanticisation of the past; how we want to remember something. This often leaks into our everyday telling of our past, or present, situation. People only depict reality as far as they want to show you. We can end the novel, or we can roll the credits, before someone has deteriorated beyond our comfort zone, but in reality we do not have this control. A social worker’s role is to see beyond this comfort zone, beyond how someone wants it to be seen and into the visceral reality of people’s difficult situations.

The social work book group facilitated conversation around what social work really means, both to the professional, the service user and wider society. I left with a new perspective. A great achievement on my first ever session. I will be back!


January 21, 2016. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

New Book – Social Media in Social Work Education

Putting the social back into social work and social media


Recent media reports have highlighted sharp increases in the number of police investigations into cyber abuse, much of which occurs via social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

When social work hits the headlines it too is frequently associated with different forms of abuse. From such reports it may appear   that the social aspect of both social work and social media has disappeared, leaving instead exploitation, cruelty, greed, manipulation and other forms of ill-treatment which humans are capable of perpetrating against one another.

My own experience of both social work and social media, however tells a different story – one in which people communicate well , share information and time and frequently go out of their way to answer requests and to help people. This is a very different account from the risk avoidance and suspicion which so often surround reporting of both social work and social media and whilst I would never seek to deny these dangers, it is important to celebrate the human connections and possibilities offered by both.

In my chapter within the forthcoming book, ‘Social Media in Social Work Education’ I have tried to tell a story which does exactly this, by charting my conversion from middle aged Luddite to keen Twitter user with a profound interest in the positive implications of social media for social work practice and education. My chapter describes my reluctant participation in social media, as part of a role within my University Department. This role involved supporting people who may be studying part-time or over long distances and therefore social media seemed an obvious avenue to pursue. I quickly found myself hosting a weekly Twitter chat, before I even really knew how to use the platform myself and from my initial position of deep suspicion, I began to connect with what to my surprise appeared to be actual, real human beings. What’s more, these otherwise unknown human beings seemed both interesting and interested in many of the things which also excited me.

Like the very worst of reformed smokers, I soon became a keen advocate of Twitter, often becoming incredulous when people said they didn’t like or didn’t get on with it. On a professional basis, I have also become very interested in the possibilities which social media brings for breaking down boundaries between people and connecting them in ways which have never previously been possible.

My own experience of participating in this book is a microcosm of this potential boundary reduction. All my co-– contributors are people that I ‘met’ on Twitter and yet, we have joined together to produce this book. Despite my limited knowledge of any of them, I feel connected to them all and part of a small community – #smswe. Moreover, each of the chapters within the book gives a different account of the ways in which communities of social work education and practice can be achieved through creative use of and engagement with social media.

Of course, none of this negates the often widely reported harm that can be done through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter but people intent on doing harm have always and indeed will always find ways of doing so. Social media simply provides another means of achieving forms of harm which people have visited on each other for centuries. Alongside this however, they have also formed communities and supported each other in ways which give testament to the human spirit. This book echoes this by celebrating the myriad ways in which social media can be used creatively to share, sustain and enhance both social work education and practice. Moreover it has achieved this by bringing together a community of authors who themselves met via social media and have worked collaboratively to achieve this result. The book itself is therefore evidence both of what can be achieved through social media and of some core social work values – I feel proud to be a part of the team that helped create it.



July 15, 2014. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.