The place of groupwork in social change | HMA

The place of groupwork in social change

I love group work. I love training people in the effective use of groups. I love the idea that people with similar issues can come together and support each other around social and personal change. I was privileged to be asked to contribute a chapter on social change through group work in Practice Skills in Social Work and Welfare: More Than Just Common Sense

Group membership, like our gender, class, sexual orientation and ethnicity, is such an integral aspect of our lives that we often take for granted how much time we spend in groups, or groups within groups. I have been interested in what occurs when a person becomes ‘dis-membered’; disconnected from a group that provides them with meaning and connection. This can be both unsettling and highly distressing. At these times, there is a danger that a person can engage in behaviour that can increase the risk of making decisions that, in the longer term, have a negative impact on their lives and the lives of others. For example, when a man who has engaged in family and domestic violence is served with an order which dictates that he cannot see his partner or children, in this ‘dis-membered’ state, we often see higher levels of harmful behaviour such as stalking, harassment and serious harm, including lethality. 

In thinking about what I wanted to say in the chapter, I was able to reflect upon how the world changed quickly when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. When the pandemic forced many into lockdown during 2020/21, group members’ issues did not go away. In many areas, they became more pronounced (e.g. family violence, isolation, at-risk youth). With the experience of lockdown due to COVID-19 and other challenges, the idea that we can offer groups in a virtual environment gained momentum. The platforms for online connection (MS  Teams, Zoom, Go-to-training, etc.) were rapidly adopted within the space of a year. Some surprising group member feedback indicated that virtual groups made accessibility easier. In our busy lives, getting across town to a physical locality at a specific time to attend a group can be demanding and disruptive. For those who live remotely, physically distant and where transport can be an issue, accessibility is key. Online groups also mitigated the shame of having to come to a physical location, which can be a barrier for engagement. One of the advantages is that group members could engage in programs in a space where they are most comfortable. 

I am interested in where group work methodology will go in the future. It certainly remains a key way to deliver the task of supporting those who, for many reasons, find themselves disenfranchised, dis-membered or grappling with the ability to participate fully in society. 

Published on Thursday, October 5th, 2023, under Family violence, Offender work, Programme design & development, What Ken thinks

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