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Historical development of group work

Social group work and group psychotherapy has primarily developed along parallel paths. Where the roots of contemporary group psychotherapy are often traced to the group education classes of tuberculosis patients conducted by Joseph Pratt in 1906, the exact birth of social group work can’t be easily identified (Kaiser, 1958 Schleidlinger, 2000 Wilson, 1976).

Social group work approaches are rooted in the group activities of various social agencies that arose in the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. Social upheaval and new found demands as a result of post-Civil War industrialization, migration and immigration created many individual and societal needs (Brown, 1991, Kaiser, 1958, Middleman, 1968, Reid, 1991, Schwartz, 1977, Wilson, 1976).

Some of these needs were met through group work endeavors found in settlement houses as well as religious and charity organizations (Middleman, 1968, Wilson, 1976). Additionally group work could be found in the progressive education movement (Dewey, 1910), the play and recreation movement (Boyd, 1935), informal education, camping and youth service organizations invested in character building (Alissi, 1980, Schwartz, 1977, Williamson, 1929, Wilson, 1976).

As Clara Kaiser (1958) has indicated there have been numerous philosophical and theoretical influences on the development of social group work. Chief amongst these influences are the ethics of Judeo Christian religions the settlement house movement’s charitable and humanitarian efforts, theories eminent in progressive education, especially those of John Dewey (1910).

Sociological theories about the nature of the relationship between man and society, i.e. Mead (1914), the democratic ethic articulated by early social philosophers, the psychoanalytic theories of Rank and Freud, the practice wisdom, theory building, educational and research efforts of early social group workers (Alissi 1980, Kaiser 1958, Wilson 1976). Early theoretical, research and practice efforts of Grace Coyle (1930, 1935, 1937, 1947, 1948), Wilber Newsletter (1935), and Neva Boyd (1935) paved the way for the advancement and development of social group work.

Social group work and group psychotherapy have primarily developed along parallel paths. Where the roots of contemporary group psychotherapy are often traced to the group education classes of tuberculosis patients conducted by Joseph Pratt in 1906, the exact birth of social group work cannot be easily Identified (Kaiser 1958, Schleidlinger 2000, Wilson, 1976).

Social group work approaches are rooted in the group activities of various social agencies that arose in the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. Social upheaval and new found demands as a result of post-Civil War industrialization, migration and immigration created many individual and societal needs (Brown 1991, Kaiser 1958, Middleman 1968, Reid 1991, Schwartz 1977, Wilson 1976).

Some of these needs were met through group work endeavors found in settlement houses as well as religious and charity organizations (Middleman 1968, Wilson 1976). Additionally group work could be found in the progressive education movement (Dewey 1910), the play and recreation movement (Boyd 1935), informal education, camping and youth service organizations invested in character building (Alissi 1980, Schwartz 1977, Williamson 1929, Wilson, 1976).

Grace Coyle presented an early theoretical framework for social group work articulating the need for a democratic value base (Coyle 1935), identifying the role of the worker as a group builder (Coyle 1937) and noting the benefits of “esprit de corps” or group morale (Coyle 1930). As the editor of several small group research compendiums Hare (1976) would later point out, Many of her insights about group process were ahead of her time.

Social group work was introduced to the social work profession when it made its debut at the National Conference for Social Work in 1935. At this conference, Newsletter (1935) Introduced the concept of social group work to the social work profession and identified group work as a field, process and set of techniques. He described group work as an “educational process” concerned with “the development and social adjustment of an individual through voluntary group association” and “the use of this association as a means of furthering other socially desirable ends”.

The period of time between the 1930s and the 1950s was one of growth and expansion for social group work (Alissi 1980, Wilson 1976). The economic despair of and varied psychosocial needs resultant of the Great Depression paved the way for greater affiliation between the social work profession and the field of group work (Alissi 1980, Konopka 1983, Wilson 1976).

The psychological needs of returning war veterans who served in World War-II resulted in the more frequent application of social group work in psychiatric treatment (Konopka, 1983). During this period of time not only would the field of social group work debut at the National Conference for Social Work but additional advances would be made.

Academic courses and research institutions were established, a professional organization was formed, The American Association of Social Work with Groups (AAGW) and a journal, The Group, was established.

The 1950s would usher in even greater affiliation of group work with the profession of social work (Alissi 1980, Andrews, 2001). The merger of the AAGW with six other organizations to form the National Association of Social Work (NASW) in 1955 solidified the identification and integration of social group work with the social work profession (Alissi 1980, Andrews, 2001). The impact of the merger was reflected in efforts at definitional shifts regarding group work.

In 1956 the NASW formed a group work section which issued a new definition that contrasted in focus with that proposed by the AAGW. The new definition dismissed the idea of group work with normal growth and development and instead saw group work as a Service to a group where the primary purpose is to help members improve social adjustment, and the secondary purpose is to help the group achieve objectives approved by society, the definition assumes that the members have adjustment problems” (Alissi, 1980).

The 1960s and the 1970s saw the expansion of the social welfare state the Vietnam War the emergence of the war on poverty, the Woman’s Rights Movemen, the Black Power Movement, and the Lesbian and Gay Rights Movement (Balgopal and Vassil 1983, Somers 1976).

The above social, intellectual and cultural factors influenced the social work profession including social group work (Balgopal and Vassil 1983, Somers, 1976). With such a wide range of social and therapeutic needs there seemed to be an even greater appreciation of group work (Balgopal & Vassil 1983, Hartford S1964, Somers, 1976).

Having expanded into differing practice settings, the purposes and goals of group work had been more broadly described at this juncture than in previous decades.

Group work scholars made great strides in developing practice theories. The work of Vinter and Schwartz and their respective associates would dominate the group work scene for much of this decade and the next (Galinsky and Schopler, 1974). In Vinter’s approach (1967) the treatment group is thought of as a small social system “whose influences can be plan fully guided to modify client behaviour”.

In this approach the worker takes a central position in providing treatment, interventions are planned, group process is highly structured, and great emphasis is given to outcome evaluation and research (Vinter 1967, Garvin 1987, Galinsky and Schopler 1974). Schwartz (1961) proposed his vision of the small group as an enterprise in mutual aid.

In 1965, Bernstein and colleagues introduced another social group work practice theory (Bernstein 1978, Lowy, 1978, Garland Kolodney and Jones 1978). The centrepiece of the edited collection was a developmental stage model, known as the Boston Model, which presented a framework for understanding how groups navigate degrees of emotional closeness over time (Bernstein 1978, Garland, Kolodney and Jones 1978).

In 1966 Papell and Rothman (1966) presented a typology of social group work that included the social goals model (in the tradition of Coyle), the remedial model (as developed by Vinter) and the reciprocal model (as articulated by Schwartz). in 1968 Middleman (1968) made a seminal contribution in articulating an approach to group work practice that utilized non-verbal activities.

In 1976 Roberts and Northern presented a collection of ten group work practice theories (Roberts and Northern 1976) further illustrating the diversity of approaches to group practice.

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