By: Book reviewers
Book reviews of Narrative Approaches in Social Work Practice, Lesbian and Gay Couples, Social Work in Rural Communities, The Use of Self, Transgender 101, The Lives of Transgender People, and Social Work Practice and the Law.
Narrative Approaches in Social Work Practice: A Life Span, Culturally Centered, Strengths Perspective, by Edith M. Freeman, Charles C Thomas Publisher, Springfield, IL, 2011, 244 pages, $54.95 hardcover, $34.95 paperback.
This text begins with the challenge to outline narrative approaches from four theoretical perspectives: life span development, social construction, spirituality, and culture. The author prudently divides the text into two sections. The first part lays the foundation of the narrative approach, offering a chapter for each of the five principles: timing and context of narrative; the shared experience and transformation, naming, and unpacking: the assessment-intervention; meaning-making; and social-political-cultural intervention. Within each chapter, there are clear descriptions of the principle’s elements and significance, as well as the corresponding practice skills. Furthermore, the author offers greater clarity to the reader through poignant case examples, figures and tables to summarize key points, and consistent cross-referencing to the other principles and their corresponding practice skills.
In the second portion, the author seeks to equip readers with advanced practice skills to be used across the life span. Beginning with children, the author offers prevention, early intervention, and treatment strategies through the use of play, interpretive, and improvisational narrative approaches. Other chapters include: youth and narrative transitions to explore choice and consequence, “reauthoring” narratives concerning gender and adult development, older adults and life narrative for well-being and peer support, resolution-based metaphor for couples and families in conflict, and common marginalized and exception narratives for multisystemic advocacy and change. The author sustains consistent and substantive content throughout the text, in spite of the comprehensive breadth in approach. That said, the theoretical and practical narratives of spirituality are not integrated into the text to the extent of the other perspectives.
This text merits utility in the clinician’s and clinical supervisor’s toolkit, as well as the educator’s syllabus. Beyond providing lucid explanations of how and why individuals tell and retell narratives, narrative typology, and practice skills, the author describes the nuances of therapeutic interactions with clients that a seasoned clinician seeks to impart during supervision. For the classroom, the author strategically fashions chapters to be read sequentially or individually for topical study. This text stands as a cutting-edge resource for social workers as they advocate for the profession’s legitimacy in an environment increasingly driven by evidence-based practice and outcome evaluations.
Reviewed by Joshua Hammer, MSW, MA, Program and Research Assistant, Institute for Urban Initiatives.
Author Ski Hunter has a background in psychology, an MSW, and a Ph.D. in social work, and readers benefit from it all. Within the pages of this thin paperback is a wealth of knowledge that provides both a general overview and a number of specific issues related to lesbian and gay couples. The extremely detailed table of contents makes this a perfect resource for someone looking for one specific piece of information. The book as a whole allows for an overall increase in knowledge in an area of the social work field to which many students and practitioners aren’t often introduced.
Although the book purports to be intended for social work students, practitioners, and couples, it is likely that the audience best served is the student population. Be prepared, though—this book is clearly written by someone with a mind for research, and the vignettes—though helpful—are short and to the point, with the vast majority of the book filled with facts rather than discussions, and there are no practice models recommended. As Hunter acknowledges, however, it is best used as supplemental reading rather than as a primary source of information. For someone seeking an up-to-date collection of research related to sexual orientation and to the specific issues that arise when sexual minorities pair and work to build a life together, this is a great resource.
Reviewed by Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, MSW, LMSW
Ginsberg, recipient of the 2011 Council on Social Work Education Significant Lifetime Achievement in Social Work award, describes this collection of 20 new chapters as a compendium on rural social work practice. As such, it maintains a 40-year history of CSWE attention to social work practice in rural communities. However, rather than comprehensive, this collection is idiosyncratic without an over-arching theme. Although many of the chapters may be individually useful in a variety of courses in the social work curriculum, I believe this volume will be more useful as a reference tool or supplemental readings, rather than a textbook, for social work faculty teaching students in rural areas.
The first nine chapters addressing the basics of rural social work practice contain an excellent introductory chapter, a useful discussion of dual relationships in rural practice (chapter 6), meaningful consideration of student competencies for rural practice (chapter 7), and a thorough discussion of recruitment and retention issues in rural practice (chapter 8). The other chapters are either too specific geographically or limited to a focus on information technology to warrant inclusion in the basics section, in my view, although the attempt to look at rurality from a strengths-based perspective (chapter 2) and to include an international focus on rural community development (chapter 3) will be of interest to a limited readership. Social work historians may find the treatment of Appalachian settlement houses essential (chapter 9).
The second section of the book contains six chapters addressing specific rural populations. It is in this section that the book most closely approaches a compendium with strong summaries of rural social work practice with youth; children following natural disasters; reentry; Native Americans; the Amish; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning people. The reader will find that each of these chapters contains updated information on the needs of the special population, obstacles to effective practice in rural areas, and practical suggestions for social workers engaged in these practice arenas. Although grouped with the third section in the book, chapter sixteen seems more appropriately placed in the second section, because it focuses on the influx of immigrants into rural America and the challenges this increased diversity brings.
The final section of the book includes four chapters (without chapter 16) that address interpersonal abuse in rural communities, rural healthcare disparities, rural mental health practices, and rural oncology. The last two chapters may be particularly useful in a practice class, because of the case examples provided.
Demographic shifts in rural America are inadequately covered in this compendium. Rural America is aging more rapidly than urban and suburban America. The resulting impact on rural public education systems and school consolidations threaten the sustainability of many rural communities. Regional consolidation into hub communities provides the semblance of urban amenities, but does so at the expense of resource depletion in the countryside. Under-resourced public education systems may not be up to the task of preparing graduates to effectively compete in the broader economy, thereby exacerbating rural poverty and its correlates. A comprehensive treatment of social work in rural communities should include a chapter on aging, poverty, and substance abuse.
Despite these limitations, I believe that every social work educator who is preparing students for rural practice should have a copy of this book available to them. Supplemental readings from this book are appropriate for courses addressing families, ethics, policy, mental health issues, and diversity issues. It is often difficult to locate succinct summary chapters to support class discussions, and many of the chapters in this volume do so admirably.
Reviewed by Peter A. Kindle, Ph.D., CPA, LMSW, assistant professor at the University of South Dakota.
Advances in research are expediting the evolution of social work education and practice. Whereas the previous training of professionals relied heavily on transmission of practice wisdom, new technologies are catalyzing greater sophistication in many aspects of service provision, from approaches to assessment and diagnosis to the implementation and delivery of interventions. As both producers and consumers of research, social workers posit a range of responses to these changes. Analyses of these developments mostly identify the changes that social workers in direct practice are enacting; few treatments give consideration to the simultaneous transformations being leveraged in social work education.
As a seasoned practitioner and teacher, Dr. Ray Fox offers a meaningful contribution to these discussions. The Use of Self asserts that the profession’s attention to the integration of science with practice-based training has neglected the artistry of social work. This prioritizing of the creative forms the foundation of his book, which can be experienced as a reimagining of educational models and as a roadmap for establishing different relationships in the classroom.
Successful social work training, Fox asserts, is predicated on reflection and relationship. Educators convey to students much more than substantive content; self-awareness in the classroom allows for the in vivo demonstration of how it is to be with clients. “Teaching and practice are isomorphs.... There is a strong congruence between what happens in the classroom and what happens in the practitioner’s office,” he asserts (p. 6). Indeed, Fox’s descriptions of education—and the language with which he communicates these ideas—read more like a clinical manual than a treatise on teaching. For Fox, lessons learned through teacher-student relationships are readily portable to student-client interactions. Through co-creating a variety of relational dynamics in the classroom—such as initiating and sustaining an alliance, mirroring, and empathic resonance—students are able to experience and reproduce professional bonds that are safe, goal-oriented, flexible, and client-centered. At once philosophical and practical, Fox provides tangible examples of how to foster relational and reflective processes in the classroom. Lesson plans integrating art, music, journaling, photography and other alternative approaches are detailed.
Although novel, the validity of some of the author’s assumptions warrants questioning. That the profession is sufficiently and successfully introducing findings from science into curricula is debatable. In fact, some argue that the disconnect between training, service delivery, and new knowledge remains the field’s greatest liability. Further, suggesting that these more creative approaches to “being” with students are introduced into all sequences of social work education fails to acknowledge the assets and limitations of the profession’s academy. For example, the social work professoriate continues to experience a shortage of faculty with experience in direct practice; the scarce practitioners-turned-educators seem to be the target audience of this book. Further, the learnability of this approach is limited. Perspectives on self and relationship described in the text are mostly cultivated from years of clinical supervision and reflection, but are not easily acquired in workshops or other venues aimed at instituting new teaching skills. Additionally, the privileging of science over the use of self may actually be preferable in some domains of education—like research and policy—in which more traditional approaches to information-sharing may be most conducive to the attainment of this kind of knowledge.
The Use of Self can serve as a guide for new teachers eager to facilitate classroom experiences employing their practice-informed expertise. Veteran social work educators can benefit from this resource, as well. The unique approaches proposed by Fox—and the suggestions he provides for integrating artistry with science—can differently infuse variety, intuition, and creativity into teaching and learning processes.
Reviewed by Jeff T. Steen, LCSW, doctoral student in social work at New York University, New York, NY.
With President Obama, the NAACP, and Colin Powell’s recent statements in support of same-sex marriage, America has its eye on the LGBT population, and clearly, we have been making great strides in the understanding and acceptance of lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships. However the transgender population remains a mystery to many. These two books are great quantitative options to demystify this group and to debunk rumors and myths, doing so by educating the reader in a way that is more broad than the common storytelling method.
In Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue, author Nicholas M. Teich is quite open about approaching this topic from a logical and scientific standpoint. For a social worker who is more focused on the medical model, for example, this may be a book more geared for you, with a focus on terminology and data. Within the pages, Teich discusses gender binary, which pronoun to use when, what the transitioning process is, different implications for trans people of different ages, legal difficulties, and discrimination considerations. In addition, Teich’s social work background shines while discussing the impact of the current and future inclusion of transgender diagnoses within the DSM. Although the book could have spent more time acknowledging the genderqueer and gender variant/gender non-conforming populations, for a person who is looking for a more generalized overview of the transgender population in a way that is fact-minded, this book is a great option for comprehensive and approachable learning.
Conversely, The Lives of Transgender People is essentially a research study of approximately 3,500 transgender people, mixed with information obtained from more than 400 of the subjects. Although the quotes at the beginning of each chapter and the photographs of participants help to make the read a bit more personalized, there is a much drier feel in the sections that involve tables and statistics. This is a very different way to approach learning about the transgender experience from the more common personal storytelling, and, although the reader will not likely walk away feeling an emotional connection, the large number of the study’s participants certainly acknowledges commonalities in the transgender experience throughout the spectrum of identifications.
Overall, both books are helpful options to aid in the better understanding of transgenderism. Having up-to-date options such as these to become better educated social workers (and/or to share with clients) further allows us to maintain the Code of Ethics requirement that we advocate for those in need while also allowing us each to learn in the way that is most effective for each individual reader.
Reviewed by Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, LSW, LMSW.
Social Work Practice and the Law presents the idea that knowledge of the legal system can be a powerful tool for effective social work practice. Written by a social worker and an attorney, rather than focusing on the often-adversarial relationship between social workers and the legal system, the authors invite social workers to become involved in the legal process to advocate for and protect client best interests.
The book begins with an overview of ethics and social workers’ roles in legal settings. Then it is organized around the different types of legal proceedings, including civil, criminal, and administrative. The authors first lead the reader through the process of the proceedings and identify the roles and responsibilities of the various players. The book then focuses on how social work and the law intersect, and how and where legally informed social workers can intervene. The social worker’s role in alternative legal venues, such as drug courts, mediation, and conferencing, is also discussed.
The book illustrates each of these types of legal proceedings using one case example—the case of Michelle Jones. Following one case through each of the various legal systems creates some cohesion throughout the book and illustrates how one client can be involved in multiple implicit and explicit legal issues. However, the authors would have been better served providing a variety of case examples. This would have allowed for a more comprehensive look at how the legal system affects clients with different types of backgrounds and needs.
Of particular interest is the book’s focus on client experiences of the legal system and the racial disparities that exist on every level. Understanding these disparities and how social workers can either help clients identify and advocate for their legal rights or advocate for system change is crucial to the social worker’s effectiveness in the legal setting.
Providing an exhaustive text on every law affecting social work practice in every state would be cumbersome and confusing, and Social Work Practice and the Law does not attempt to do so. This book is designed to be a starting place for social workers as they begin to navigate within the legal system. In light of this, perhaps most useful is the text’s frequent reference to Web sites and organizations that the social worker can use to access more specific state-level legal information.
Social Work Practice and the Law is a good starting place for those who want to understand the court system, as well as for those who are interested in developing collaborative relationships between social workers and attorneys. This text can best be supplemented with information on state law, but it still has a valuable place on any social worker’s reference shelf.
Reviewed by Laura Gale, LCSW, adjunct lecturer for the University of Southern California School of Social Work Virtual Academic Center.