Report from World Congress, Stockholm Special Interest Group

Report from Special Interest Group about Groupwork at the  IFSW/IASSW/ICSW World Congress: Social Work Social Development 2012: Action and Impact, July 2012, Stockholm, Sweden.


As part of the conference program, Carol Cohen (Co-Chair of the IASWG Commission on Group Work Education) and Tim Kelly (Co-Editor of Groupwork) convened a Special Interest Group for people who work with groups around the world.  Our purpose was to provide an opportunity to talk about the challenges, joys and demands we encounter – and make connections for the future around our common concerns and interests.  Among the 25 participants were people from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Norway, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, and West Indies.

As noted in the abstract describing the Special Interest Group Session:   Experiences with groups for action and impact around the world suggest that members and their communities desire the opportunities promised by group participation. Group membership appears central to human experience and the promotion of social justice.   However, while the power of groups is indisputable, people who work with diverse groups rarely have the opportunity to talk with each other about the connections, challenges, joys and demands they encounter.  

A copy of the Special Interest Group Abstract and summaries of the other presentations are available at:

Discussion Summary:

What are your groupwork interests and activities?

Groupwork Interests/Groupwork Activities

Use of groupwork in professional developmentSelf-directed groupwork

New to teaching and interested in ways to teach groupwork

Creative tools in groupworkGroupwork in general

Groups to tackle poverty

Promoting groupwork in education and research

Online groupwork

Effectiveness of teaching groupwork in SW curriculum

Teaching groupwork


Groups is part of all that I doGroups for single mothers  experiencing domestic violence

Children’s groupsGroups of volunteers

Domestic violence in same sex couples

Supporting families in the community

Teaching in College/University

Self-help groups for cancer, mental health

Macro level work

Community work and social action

 Groupwork Challenges in my country?

Keeping up the latest new ideas

Less time allowed for training and education in groupwork

Students come from different castes and classes. How do we work with these different students?

We recruit students who used to be drug addicts to our programme. Now we are looking at recruiting students who used to be sex workers when they were children.

There are groups in in my country. Often these groups are in “clubs” (eg women’s club, children club, farmers club). Youth are now starting to organise into groups themselves. Sometimes the groups get stuck and may need help getting unstuck.

Working with parents whose children are “gender creative” or not sticking with their assigned gender identity. There are difficulties recruiting.

Power issues, exposure issues, self-select, groupwork in “hostile” environments

Self-organisation – people experiencing an issue and form their own group. But the self-organisations need some help sometimes, may need external facilitation, but they must need to do themselves.

Cultural issues impacting on teaching (e.g. in some countries students may be passive learners and not want to take an active role in class activities)

Grants requiring evidenced based curricula in groupwork services.  Often the curriculum doesn’t work, and then what do you do? How do you justify what the group did? The members threw out the curriculum and designed their own group and it was good… but then the agency had to justify what they did to get funding.

In India – groups done mostly in self-help groups (e.g. women form community economic development groups,

Discussion on how to help if you don’t have the experience of the group members. In some countries the group members are beginning to really press that workers have the experience….discussed ways to cope with these things.

Efficiency logic built into group services and funders want quantity outputs which can be at odds with the nurturing aspect of groupwork (numbers over quality)

Self-organising groups can then get bogged down by growing into advocacy or survival and have trouble morphing into a community organisation.

Praxis from helping each other and moving into changing society

Challenge – divide between research and practice and teaching


Community work by students. Students work in groups and go into the community to do projects. Out of 7 groups of students, 6 groups did successful community projects. Students learned to use groups but also made changes in communities

Group for young offenders – We tried to do insight orientated groups but it didn’t work. We started working with an agency for the blind and the group members started reading for the blind people. This use of activity was then processed it in the group of young offenders and it made a big difference.

Groupwork in medical setting for people needing surgery. The groups used people who had surgery to come back and talk to people who are about to have surgery. The group allowed people to ask all sorts of questions and reduced the drop-out from surgery

Women’s leaders development group for professional development. Women started supporting each other in their development.

How can we connect more with each other at conference and beyond?

Research on Self-help groups and social work

Propose expanded focus on social work with groups at the next World Congress – 2014 in Melbourne, Australia

Questionnaire looking at social work with groups in different countries


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