By: Book Reviewers
Book reviews from the Winter 2013 issue of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER.
Social Work Matters: The Power of Linking Policy and Practice, by Elizabeth F. Hoffler and Elizabeth J. Clark, Editors, NASW Press, Washington, DC, 2012, 360 pages, $54.99.
More than at any time in recent history, the need for the profession of social work is now. As economic and social stresses rise across the country, issues of social justice are threatened as the social and political environment shifts to a more conservative stance toward social issues. From founding mothers Mary Richmond and Jane Addams, to recently retired Congressman Ed Towns, social workers have always been at the forefront of social justice and the advancement of human rights. Social Work Matters is a timely collection of entries by leading social workers, reminding the reader of the profession’s roots in policy and advocacy, and the interdependence of micro and macro social work.
In Social Work Matters, editors Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Hoffler present two goals: to portray all that social workers accomplish in a variety of fields, and to link the direct practice side of social work to policy and advocacy. This collection of 47 chapters is divided into fourteen topic areas, including administration, advocacy, children and families, communities, corrections and the courts, direct practice, education and loan forgiveness, equality and social justice, finances, government programs, health, HIV/AIDS, parity, and research. Each chapter includes both a vignette, often taken from a direct practice setting, and a discussion of the policy issues related to the vignette. Specific policies are named and described, and each chapter closes with a series of discussion questions. This format allows the reader to understand how policy affects clinical and casework, and also how policy can be influenced by the advocacy of direct practice social workers who see clearly the impact of policy on individuals, families, and communities.
This book is an excellent resource for all social workers, but is particularly useful for social workers working in academic settings. The chapters are short, allowing them to be useful as supplemental class readings, and the discussion questions included in each chapter are excellent jumping off points for further classroom dialog. This book is also an excellent resource for newer social workers who are looking for an overview of the scope and breadth of the social work profession.
The primary mission of the social work profession is “to enhance human well being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty” (NASW, 2008). Social Work Matters emphasizes the essential role that policy work plays in the accomplishment of this mission while illustrating the scope of influence of the profession.
National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (Preamble). Washington, DC.
Reviewed by Laura Gale, LCSW.
Clinicians in Court: A Guide to Subpoenas, Depositions, Testifying, and Everything Else You Need to Know, Second Edition, by Allan E. Barsky, The Guilford Press, New York, 2012, 334 pages, $40.00 hardcover.
Mental health professionals often find themselves involved in the legal system. The uninitiated may find the system difficult to navigate and generally intimidating, and mistakes can be costly. In this second edition, Barsky, a lawyer, social worker, and professor of social work, attempts to demystify the legal system.
The book is organized into ten topical chapters followed by a conclusion chapter, a glossary, an appendix of forms, and a section of resources for further study. The chapters are thoughtfully presented in mostly lay language. The content is accessible to the lay reader.
The introduction (Chapter 1) includes a case scenario (“The Carveys”) that is referenced throughout the book. The chapter proceeds to offer an overview of the legal process, as well as theories and philosophies of justice and fairness in brief form. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 focus on the pre-trial period. Chapter 2 leads the reader through a self-examination of “experiences, attitudes, and triggers” that can lead to discomfort. Chapter 3 explores the first contact between the clinician and the legal system. Barsky offers advice on responding to subpoenas, selecting an attorney, confidentiality and privilege, and compulsory disclosure.
Chapter 4 seeks to help the clinician prepare for proceedings such as hearings or trials. Barsky goes into considerable detail about the hearing process and the rules, including rules of evidence, by which the court operates. A final section focuses on cases that involve children.
Chapters 5 through 8 deal with various forms of evidence. Chapter 5 gives a fairly thorough discussion of oral testimony. Practical rules on both “Direct Examination” and “Cross Examination” are presented.
Chapter 6 addresses clinical records. Barsky leans hard on protecting clients by making sure they know their rights, what will be documented, and methods of thwarting disclosure, although he is careful to warn clinicians against unethical or illegal methods often used to thwart disclosure. (See excerpt on thwarting disclosure in the Fall 2012 issue of The New Social Worker.)
Chapter 7 deals with expert witnesses. Criteria for establishing the expert nature of evidence are followed by advice on selecting experts. Clinicians who give expert testimony will find the expansion on direct examination and cross examination material from Chapter 5 geared to the expert witness.
Chapter 8 touches on documentary evidence. The primary focus of the chapter is on reports for the court, followed by a section on the use of language, some of which may have a different meaning in court.
Chapter 9 addresses legal claims against clinicians. Brief sections on court proceedings, disciplinary hearings, and malpractice actions provide a springboard for further research and study. Chapter 10 describes pre-trial discovery, including depositions and written interrogatories, pre-trial settlement conferences, collaborative processes (e.g., family group conferences), and problem-solving courts. Chapter 11 offers a brief conclusion from the author, and a one-page Epilogue wraps up remaining details of the Carvey case example from Chapter 1.
In the glossary, Barsky explains various terms (e.g., amicus curiae, hearsay, pro se, etc.) that arise in the text and in the legal system. A series of six appendices offers various sample contracts and affidavits, and a seventh appendix offers suggestions for further reading on each chapter. A brief list of other resources concludes the text.
Barsky’s work here is practical, organized, and well-focused on particular concerns of clinicians. The book should help prepare active professional clinicians and students for their interactions with the legal system. Students should want to maintain this book on their professional reference shelf.
Reviewed by David H. Johnson, Ph.D., MSW, LSW, Assistant Professor of social work at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, and Co-Coordinator of the Joint Millersville University-Shippensburg University MSW Program.
Responding to Self-Harm in Children and Adolescents, by Steven Walker, Jessica Kingley Publishers, London and Philadelphia, 2012, 144 pages, $27.95.
In his 2012 book, Responding to Self-Harm in Children and Adolescents, Steven Walker provides a thorough manual for professionals who are working with people who are practicing self-harming behaviors. The book is well organized into four chapters: (1) Understanding Self-Harm, (2) Recognizing and Treating Self-Harm, (3) Early Intervention Prevention and the Journey to Recovery, and (4) Supporting the Self-Harming Child. Walker balances research with practical knowledge to provide a comprehensive guide for one to better understand children and self-harming. The author also addresses different populations that may be self-harming and how it can affect them individually. This book can serve as a manual not only for reference, but also for information on different interventions that are available.
In the first chapter, which focuses on understanding, Walker engages the reader in background information revolving around self-harm. He provides foundational knowledge for the reader to further understand the next chapters. The second chapter walks through different treatment methods and their effects on self-harm. In the third chapter, Walker walks through the importance of complete assessment and how that can help identify self-harming behaviors. The last chapter on supporting a child who is self-harming addresses different support systems and their roles, in addition to the recovery process as a journey. This chapter could specifically be useful for family or support systems of any child with self-harming behaviors.
Overall, this book would be useful as a guide to any helping professionals working in settings in which they interact with children or adolescents. Walker seems to present the issue of self-harming in a way that is accessible for any professional to apply directly to his or her practice. This book provides helpful insight that is both research-based and practical to appeal to all types of professionals.
Reviewed by Maria Petrides, BSW, MSW candidate (2013) at the University of Michigan.
The Healing Power of the Breath, by Richard P. Brown, MD, and Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD,
Shambhala, Boston and London, 2012, 168 pages, paperback, $17.95.
Authors Brown and Gerbarg cover different types and reasons for breath control in their eight chapters. Ranging from basic coherent breathing to the more advanced “ha” breath, the sections discuss both how to do each breathing exercise and in what ways each will be useful in everyday life.
This book was a very interesting read and, although promoted as a self-help style piece, there are several places where the instructions begin with “with eyes closed...,” which lends to either the breather needing someone to read the passage while practicing the techniques or being able to recall the information after reading, which might be difficult to someone new to this practice. That said, a CD is included with the book to further assist the breather/reader in understanding the processes and working through the steps. Clearly not a disc to be listened to while driving, it is likely that most would find listening while drifting off to sleep to be helpful.
Although this is a great introduction to different types of breathing techniques and practices, the first chapter regularly mentions another person’s Web site. Upon visiting this site, I not only discovered that this book is listed for sale there, but other products are promoted, as well. Having already purchased the book and being only 15 pages in before being given a sales pitch for other products might turn some readers off. In addition, there is a bit of underlying negativity in relation to those taking medications for mental health issues, rather than simply learning to practice the power of breath. Although breathing techniques are often reported as being helpful to those in stressful situations, medication is sometimes necessary for those with mental health diagnoses, and such sentiments certainly were not appreciated by this social worker.
Overall, this is a great book for those looking to be introduced to different types of breathing techniques, However, if recommending it to a client, a social worker should take care both to make it clear that additional purchases are not necessary and that the client should not make medication changes without the advice of a professional, regardless of what the book indicates.
Reviewed by Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, MSW, LSW, LMSW.
Crack Cocaine Users: High Society and Low Life in South London, by Daniel Briggs, Routledge, New York, 2012, 214 pages, $138.00.
As in the U.S., marginalized neighborhoods in the UK became saturated with crack cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s. Although the acuity of the crack epidemic has dissipated, individuals, families, and communities continue to encounter the stigmatization and stresses that are associated with addiction to the drug. In particular, the lingering and deleterious effects of crack cocaine misuse—often including significantly compromised health, relationships, finances, and work—contribute to the intensity of its long-term impact.
Situated in an economically deprived neighborhood of London, Crack Cocaine Users details the experiences of a small group of men who frequently use and occasionally sell the illicit drug, while simultaneously featuring the context within which they daily experience life. Interviews with and observations of Dawg, Fam, Cuz, Bones, and others provide nuanced portraits depicting the varied ways in which individuals initiate use, construct relationships with crack, manage social stigma and stresses, and get in and out of legal and financial problems that emerge as a result of the drug. Through this data-rich project, Briggs aims to shed light upon the under-examined yet profoundly powerful situations that can transpire throughout one’s “drug career” as a user of crack cocaine. Importantly, the text details strategies to address the emergent issues through informed interventions that aim to leverage change in social policy, prevention, and direct practice.
A sociologist by trade and an ethnographer by training, Briggs approaches this project with an expert analysis of the macro system joined by a compelling curiosity about lived realities within the micro-level. From 2004-2005, Briggs observed the activities of 85 crack users; two thirds of these individuals agreed to be interviewed for his study. The histories and experiences of several of these men, in particular, are portrayed in this qualitative account. Observing, recording copious field notes, conversing, analyzing secondary data, and administering and transcribing interviews all contributed to this project’s data menagerie. The 214-page volume that results from the multidimensional approach organizes literature and original findings from the study as follows: a description of the study; a review of the literature; a contextual portrait of the neighborhood, drug market, and crack scene; a “bottom-up” description of crack users and themes that emerged; and “top-down” analysis of the structural forces that influence these experiences and processes; case studies; an interpretation of findings; and a consideration of implications for social policy and practice.
A critical realist framework informs the author’s approach to data collection and analysis. In the spirit of critical realism—this book would have been enhanced by a more clearly articulated treatment of this paradigm—individual identities and social structures are simultaneously subjects of review. Certainly, the richness of the narratives and the complexities of the circumstances described are too powerful to be siloed within a micro-level perspective. An inclusion of more diverse voices—especially the experiences of women who use and sell crack, in addition to the women involved in intimate relationships with the men and women who use and sell crack—would have further advanced the author’s aims, however.
Research within the social sciences—inclusive of social work’s contributions, importantly—is bestowing a special credence to the stories and forms of knowledge that emanate from ethnographically-oriented qualitative projects. In his latest ethnography, Crack Cocaine Users, Briggs’ writing abilities and sophistication of analyses assist the realization of a rare achievement: this dense text makes innumerable contributions to the literature, while also maintaining a reader-friendly and captivating style of story telling. Advocating for significant changes in international drug policy, criminal justice systems, public welfare agencies, the procedures and programs of community-based organizations, and approaches to addictions treatment, this book reinforces the immense value of ethnographic inquiry within contemporary knowledge-building in the social sciences.
Reviewed by Jeff T. Steen, LCSW, Ph.D. student at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work.
These reviews appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.