Groups and Groupwork – Book Review

A – Z of Groups and Groupwork by Mark Doel and Timothy B. Kelly, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, ISBN 978 0 230 30857 2, 9 + 241pp.

This book is part of a new series of A to Z books from Palgrave Macmillan. As the name implies, each book contains a set of dictionary-style definitions covering different aspects of the subject concerned, in this case groups and groupwork. Groupwork is a method that can be very effective in a variety of ways, a powerful way of bringing about much-needed change in what can often be very demanding circumstances. Sadly, it is not used as much as it used to be, but its value as a helpful resource remains unchanged and there is certainly much to be gained from making much fuller use of the empowering opportunities skilled groupwork offers.

Experience has taught me that any book that has Mark Doel’s name on the cover will have much to offer. He is one of those relatively rare authors who succeeds in discussing complex issues in an accessible way without oversimplifying them. In this new work he teams up with Timothy B. Kelly, another experienced groupworker, to produce an A to Z guide to groups and groupwork. The result is a well-written and very helpful overview of groupwork.

I believe this book will be helpful in a number of ways. For people who are undertaking groupwork, it will serve as a useful reference guide to be dipped in as and when required. For people who are new to groupwork it will be a useful introduction that gives a good flavour of what is involved in what they are about to embark on, including the challenges and the rewards. For students there will be much here to help them with assignments and their learning more broadly.

So, overall, this is a very welcome addition to the literature on this important topic.  As an A to Z guide should be, it is broad ranging in its scope. It is also clearly written and very well informed by two authors who quite obviously have considerable experience and expertise in the subject. Anyone involved in, or considering becoming involved in, groupwork should have a copy of this book.

Taking diversity seriously

A recent survey carried out by HR Magazine found that a high proportion of organisations were claiming to take diversity issues seriously but only 57% had a diversity strategy in place. This reminds me of the early days of anti-discriminatory practice when there was a lot of rhetoric about the importance of tackling discrimination and oppression, but nowhere near as much evidence of concrete steps being taken to promote equality by translating the verbal commitment into actual practice. Tokenism is what it was called in those days, so perhaps that’s what we are seeing today.

Back then an additional problem was that much of the discussion generated more heat than light and led to a lot of people backing off to what they perceived as safer territory to get away from some of the excesses. It is good that we see far less of this these days (although it has not disappeared altogether – see the discussion in my Promoting Equality book – http://astore.amazon.co.uk/neilthomp-21/detail/0230223435), but what has replaced it as a problem – to a certain extent – is a polite commitment to valuing diversity and promoting equality which does not recognise the complexities and challenges involved. We have certainly moved on in terms of awareness of the issues, but my work in this field leads me to conclude that we still have a long way to go.

Learning from each other

I was lucky to have the opportunity recently to play host to two Latvian visitors, two university lecturers interested in developing workplace well-being in their country. They had received funding to help them research how workplace well-being is being developed in other countries, hence their time with me to talk about the UK scene. They enjoyed their trip and were pleased with what they learned, and so they were very grateful to me and my colleagues for our time and hospitality. However, it was not one sided. We very much enjoyed our time with them and learned a great deal from them too. It reminded me of a previous visit to India where my colleagues and I were helping Indian colleagues to develop a good track record in publications. We were happy to help, but once again it was a two-way process – we learned much from our hosts and very much enjoyed being with them. It is clear, therefore, that there is much to be gained from international exchanges; it is not simply a matter of the so-called developed world helping the developing world. Such exchanges can be on an egalitarian, reciprocal basis, rather than a one-way paternalistic basis. Teachers should be learners too.

The further tragedy of Hillsborough

For 96 people to die in what was intended to be an enjoyable and exciting sporting event is tragic enough, but the recently published inquiry report adds a new layer of tragedy by revealing how the victims were vilified and how efforts were made to conceal the truth. By coincidence, on the day the report was published I was running a training course on loss and grief. We had been discussing how major losses can seriously disrupt our framework of meaning and leave us feeling confused, insecure and vulnerable. We looked at how grief can be understood as a painful process of constructing new meanings, developing a new ‘narrative’.  Often events or the actions of others can block the development of that narrative by standing in the way of our efforts to make sense of what has happened. No doubt for many of the Hillsborough families, if not all of them, waiting for the truth has been just such an obstacle. What the report reveals adds an extra layer of tragedy, but the fact that the injustices involved have now been made public, things can move forward, not only in terms of the pursuit of justice, but also in the process of mourning.

Social justice: unto these hills

This week I have been honoured to be the guest of a Native American family and their tribe in Cherokee, North Carolina. We were taken to see a live theatre performance of a play entitled ‘Unto These Hills’. It told the story of how, in the 1830s, 16,000 Cherokee people were forced to move 800 miles because the white people and their armed forces had coerced them into giving up their homelands in the Appalachian Mountains. The routes they took for this enforced migration came to be known as ‘The Trail of Tears’. The play illustrated how families had to abandon their homes and face a long, harrowing journey that many did not survive. It was a story of disenfranchisement, dislocation, dispossession and oppression, a tragic and shameful episode of historic fact. However, the play ended on a positive note, with a strong message of resilience, emphasising that, despite this history of oppression, the Cherokee Nation has retained its culture and traditions, has rekindled the use of its language and reaffirmed a foundation of pride. Language, culture and identity can survive against the odds. In Wales, we express this idea in the title of a very important song: ‘Yma o Hyd’ (still here).

Dignity in care

It is good to see that the campaign for dignity in care for older people is gathering momentum. The tendency for older people in general to be treated dismissively and disrespectfully is worrying enough in itself, but when we are focusing specifically on older people who are dependent on care services, this tendency is particularly alarming. A major part of the problem is that so much ageism is largely invisible, in the sense that ageist comments or actions often produce no reaction or objection, while racist or sexist equivalents would be regarded as entirely unacceptable.

Perhaps the first step towards dignity in care needs to be the recognition that everyone should be treated with dignity, regardless of age – or any other social difference for that matter.

 

 

Unequal cuts

The Fawcett Society has pointed out that the coalition Government’s cuts in the UK have disproportionately affected women. So, as well as this policy being a significant backward step in terms of developing public services, we can now see it as a backward step in terms of gender equality. Visit the Fawcett Society website to find out about their campaigns for gender equality: www.fawcettsociety.org.uk.

Recording ethnicity on death certificates

Scotland has become the first country in the UK to record ethnicity on death certificates. So, what difference might that make? Well, in the longer term, it means that information will be available about health conditions, causes of death and so on in relation to different ethnic groups. This can be a very useful dataset when it comes to identifying inequalities in health, and it is to be hoped that this approach will be adopted more widely in due course.

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