Please note that AASWG is now IASWG. This article was written before the name change.
A Brief History of the AASWG by Ruth Middleman
Written July 20, 1998, for the One Hundredth Anniversary of Social Work and published in the Social Work with Groups Newsletter, 16(1), p. 17. A portion of the original essay is reprinted with permission.
Dr. Middleman was a Founding Member of the Association and the first Chair of what was then called the Committee for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups, the organizational body that would eventually become the AASWG.
A key event in Social Work’s life was the groundswell of alarm among many in the profession about Whatever Happened to Group Work? In March 1979 at a CSWE Annual Program Meeting in Boston, four of us in the hotel lobby looked at the program aghast at the disappearance of sessions on work with groups. We had come into social work with a background in group work and expected to find more about groups in our national meetings. We put up a little sign by the elevators, “If You’re Interested in Group Work, Come to Room 22 at 6:30 Today!”
The rest is history. Over sixty persons appeared in the small bedroom during dinner time and a shared dream was born. This pick-up group was motivated by distress with the inattention to theory and practice of social group work in the previous two decades and alarmed that social work curricula de-emphasized educating students for group service and common social/developmental needs. It was an electrifying discussion. Social work education de-emphasized methods, especially group methods except for something called “group” within the narrow confines of the medical model and worker-directed treatment groups (e.g., “You’re going to group today?”) During these same years other professions “discovered” the group and the family.
It was decided that a symposium be held on social work with groups the following November in Cleveland, to honor Grace Coyle and the first class in group work at the masters level there at Western Reserve in 1923. Coyle had joined the faculty in 1936 and undertook the organizing of a theoretical framework that outlined group work’s core values. In the next decade, through speeches and writings, she led group workers through to align themselves with the social work profession, away from recreation/informal education. Faculty from Care Western Reserve and Cleveland State were there during the organizational meeting where Cleveland was thought of as host for the first Symposium. They accepted enthusiastically.
The details for this first Symposium were arranged in haste with only eight months lead time. And they pulled it off. (Further experiences with Symposia planning show they require at least two years’ work). The Cleveland event included a gala opening night with a panel of six nationally known presenters who were major contributors to the development of group work. Additionally, there were about fifty diverse juried sessions and twenty-five among the submitted papers published in the Proceedings of 1979 Symposium. Subsequently, in the editorial of the journal Social Work with Groups (Summer, 1980), the broader group work community could read of this first Symposium:
“Projected attendance 200, actual attendance 450…Registrations came in from every section of the nation, and were distributed among practitioner and educators, and among social workers of long standing identification with group work as well as those who, though not calling themselves group workers, had developed interest and commitment to group practice. The norm was spontaneous, informal and inclusive participation” (p.1).
Even from the beginning this group was international; there were 12% Canadians in attendance. This organization about social work through group work is a splendid example of self-help. Small grants from the Silberman Fund helped with start-up funds during the first three years. Thereafter, the AASWG was on its own, and has survived through the members’ contributions of time, effort, and dues, occasional income from the Symposia, sale of Proceedings, t-shirts, and other donations. At first the name was “Committee for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups.” By the third year, encouraged by two years’ experience, those who attended the final meeting voted to become a membership organization and have a more appropriate name- the “Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups” (AASWG). Later, “Inc.” and “International” were added as a broader identity developed.
The membership statement conveys the spirit of AASWG’s essence:
“Group work is a precious commodity. Membership in AASWG is viewed as a contribution and commitment to its preservation and further development within the profession of social work…(it) augments and does not substitute for other professional affiliations…It exists and functions through the voluntary efforts of its members as a communications network, an arena for the enhancement of practice and education, and an instrument for advocacy for group work….”
Those persons educated as group workers have always been a minority segment within the profession, not more than 6% at best. Nevertheless they have been able to influence others, demonstrate in action their capabilities, and special ways of looking at the world and the profession’s possibilities. Beyond the Symposia and the many chapters that have been spawned, there are several ongoing activities underway: as examples, a Social Work with Groups Newsletter, a Syllabus Exchange at Symposia (and on-line), linkages to Baccalaureate Program Directors meetings and CSWE APM meetings, seeking and capturing group work archives, several survey research efforts to assess the state of the situation vis a vis group practices, considerable interpretation to the CSWE’s Education Commission on the need for more substantive information about groups to professors throughout the United States. Out of this interpretive and advocacy effort with the CSWE, three books have been commissioned: group work in the foundation curriculu, group work for a specialized elective, and group work in field work.
Despite changing CSWE accreditation curricula emphases and social work’s practice imperatives, the need for informed, disciplined know-how in working with groups has been continuous and insistent. A group work derived from social work’s history and values, not borrowed from the approach of other professions, has not disappeared. It is alive and well today, in large part through the work of the AASWG.