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How can social workers improve their skills?

Two USC scholars strive to redefine their practice and respond to complex challenges facing their profession

lotus flower
The lotus flower on the book cover is a metaphor for people moving beyond their limits. (Photo/courtesy of Sage Publications)

A new book edited by scholars from the USC School of Social Work offers an innovative and comprehensive overview of how social workers can improve their practice in increasingly complex and global contexts.

In Transformative Social Work Practice (Sage Publications), editors Erik Schott and Eugenia Weiss, both clinical associate professors at the school, sought to redefine the practice of social work to respond to new challenges facing the profession.

“It’s going to be helpful in preparing the future workforce,” said Hortensia Amaro, Dean’s Professor of Social Work and Preventive Medicine at the USC School of Social Work and associate vice provost for community research initiatives. “Social workers continue to face challenges in terms of dealing with more diverse populations and trying to keep up with evidence-based approaches.”

Featuring 36 chapters by 57 authors from eight countries, the book covers a diverse array of topics, from social justice and health disparities to family and community violence. It is designed with advanced social work students and seasoned practitioners in mind, including individuals from various related professions, such as psychology, public health, sociology and medicine.

In fact, emphasizing a forward-thinking and interdisciplinary approach to social work practice was a major goal of the book, Schott said.

Social work is not an exclusive discipline. It incorporates so many other forms of practice.

Erik Schott

“Social work is not an exclusive discipline,” he said. “It incorporates so many other forms of practice.”

A layered approach

The book also moves between various levels of social work practice, from one-on-one approaches to working with clients to mezzo-level considerations such as the influence of specific community or organizational contexts to even broader factors such as policy and societal issues.

Amaro, who authored the book’s foreword, said the title illustrates the book’s emphasis on transforming how social work practice is viewed and conducted.

“It’s about introducing new ways to think about social work and how to interface with clients and systems,” she said. “Social work is not just the individual clinician working with the individual client. It also has the potential to be influential in designing and implementing systems of care and playing a major role in shaping policy.”

The book itself represents a collective effort of many faculty members and practitioners associated with the USC School of Social Work, in addition to contributors from the Keck School of Medicine of USC, UCLA, New York University, and other national and international universities and institutions.

“This effort was a collaborative professional conversation and coming together from a variety of strengths, capacities and potentials, without which this book would not be possible,” Weiss said.

Its structure is based on the recent reorganization of the USC School of Social Work into three distinct departments, reflected in the book’s three sections on interventions with adults and healthy aging; interventions with children, youth and families; and interventions with diverse communities in the United States and global action.

New terrain

Schott said several chapters are particularly groundbreaking, including one on social work practice related to the newly recognized diagnosis of gambling disorder and another discussing Web-based practice such as virtual counseling and therapy.

“It looks at the effects of globalization and technology and how it’s becoming a bigger part of our work,” he said.

Both editors said they are hopeful that educators and practitioners will embrace the text as a valuable contribution to the social work literature. They expressed confidence that the lessons imparted in the book will help push the field forward to the benefit of society as a whole.

“The lotus flower on the cover is a metaphor for individuals, families, groups and societies moving beyond their limits and ecosystemic realities,” Weiss said, “just as the lotus flower emerges and blossoms from muddy terrain.”

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