History of Social Group Work: A Global Perspective

History of Social Group Work: A Global Perspective

Social group work is a method of social work practice that uses small groups to promote individual and social change. It is based on the belief that people can learn and grow through interaction with others and that groups can provide a supportive and empowering environment for individuals to achieve their goals.

Social group work has a long and rich history, dating back to the late 19th century. It emerged in the United States as a response to the social and economic challenges of the Industrial Revolution and quickly spread to other parts of the world.

Early Pioneers

Some of the early pioneers of social group work include:

  • Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, founders of Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago that provided a variety of social services to immigrants and the poor,
  • Grace Coyle is a social worker and educator who developed a theoretical framework for social group work based on the principles of social democracy and progressive education.
  • S.R. Slavson was a social worker and psychiatrist who pioneered the use of group therapy for people with mental illness.

Development of social group work

In the early 20th century, social group work was primarily used in settlement houses, community centers, and other social service organizations. It was used to help people learn new skills, develop social relationships, and advocate for social change.

During World War II, social group work was used to support soldiers and their families and to help refugees and displaced persons. After the war, social group work was increasingly used in schools, hospitals, and other institutions.

In the 1960s and 1970s, social group work was influenced by the social movements of the time, such as the civil rights movement and the women's movement. Social group workers began to focus on issues such as social justice, empowerment, and self-determination.

Today, social group work is used in a wide variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, community centers, and private practice. It is used to help people of all ages and backgrounds with a variety of issues, such as mental health, substance abuse, poverty, and discrimination.

Global Perspective

Social group work is practiced in many countries around the world. However, there are some important differences in how it is practiced in different cultures.

In Western countries, social group work is typically based on the principles of individualism and democracy. However, in many collectivist cultures, social group work is more focused on the needs of the group as a whole.

In some countries, social group work is still in its early stages of development. In other countries, social group work is well established and highly respected.

Examples of social group work

Here are some examples of social group work in different settings:

  • A social worker in a school might lead a group for students with social anxiety. The group might help students learn new social skills and practice interacting with others in a safe and supportive environment.
  • A social worker in a hospital might lead a group for patients who are recovering from cancer. The group might help patients cope with the emotional and physical challenges of their illness and support each other on their journey to recovery.
  • A social worker in a community center might lead a group for immigrants and refugees. The group might help newcomers learn about American culture and develop social and economic networks.
  • A social worker in private practice might lead a group for adults who are dealing with divorce. The group might help members process their emotions, develop coping skills, and adjust to their new life situation.


Social group work is a powerful and effective method of social work practice. It can help people to learn and grow, to develop social relationships, and to achieve their goals. Social group work is practiced in many countries around the world, and it continues to evolve as it responds to the changing needs of society.

Global Challenges and Opportunities

Social group workers around the world face a number of challenges, including:

  • Limited resources: Social group work is often underfunded and understaffed.
  • Lack of awareness: Many people are not familiar with social group work or its benefits.
  • Stigma: In some cultures, there is a stigma associated with seeking mental health or social services.

Despite these challenges, there are also a number of opportunities for social group work to grow and develop globally. For example, social group work can be used to address some of the most pressing social problems of our time, such as poverty, inequality, and climate change.

Social group workers can also play a key role in promoting social justice and human rights. By working with groups of people who are marginalized or disadvantaged, social group workers can help empower them.


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