Founded in 1979, the International Association for Social Work with Groups (IASWG) is the premier international association for social workers and allied helping professionals engaged in group work. The purpose of this non-profit, member-driven organization is to promote excellence in group work practice, education, field instruction, research and publication. The goals of this Association are realized through a program of action and advocacy at both the local and international levels. Local chapter events and annual symposia are characterized by warmth and inclusion. Opportunities exist for members to network, collaborate, and share their interests and expertise. This informal network of collaboration is an invaluable resource to the group work community.

Founding of IASWG - "The Group"

In 1936 the National Association for the Study of Group Work (NAGSW) was founded as a focus for organizing the development of group work, according to Ramey (1979). Ramey (1979) in his analysis of the group work literature of this time period indicates that in 1939 NAGSW published the first issue of an eight page newsletter titled "The group in education, recreation and social work". From this modest beginning, Ramey adds, there developed in the next sixteen years a small but significant literature printed in this publication.

NAGSW became the American Association for the Study of Group Work in 1947. At this time the publication was renamed, The Group, with the subtitle "Official Publication of the American Association of Group Workers" and adopted a 24 page format. One article from the journal that is noteworthy both for historic value and contemporary significance is an article entitled "Social Action or Reaction" written by Nathan E. Cohen published in October 1947. (Reference: Ramey, J. (December, 1979). Reviving our lost literature: The group and other literature of the American Association of Group Workers, Unpublished paper presented at the First Annual Symposium of the Committee for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups, Cleveland, Ohio.)

IASWG Activities & Commitments 

The International Association for Social Work with Groups, Inc. is the premier international association for social workers and allied helping professionals engaged in group work. The purpose of this non-profit, member-driven organization is to promote excellence in group work practice, education, field instruction, research and publication. The goals of this Association are realized through a program of action and advocacy at both the local and international levels.

In addition to our annual symposia on social work with groups, IASWG is involved in an ongoing program to promote and develop group work practice. Our online newsletter and is utilized to bring members current news and timely information about group work and IASWG. Our website provides access to important articles, original content, and teaching resources. The Proceedings, a volume of selected papers from each symposium, is published each year. In recent years two books has been prepared to assist in group work teaching and practice. These have been published cooperatively with the Council on Social Work Education, and are entitled: Teaching a Methods Course in Social Work with Groups by Roselle Kurland and Robert Salmon, and Group Work Education in the Field by Julianne Wayne and Carol S. Cohen. A revised version of the Standards for Social Work Practice with Groups, first published in 1999, was published in 2006 and is available online in English and Spanish. Group work journals and books, such as the journals Groupwork and Social Work with Groups, and the Encyclopedia of Social Work with Groups, are available through the respective publishers, Whiting and Birch and Routledge.

Many committees, chapters, and individuals are busy throughout the year. Members concentrated in fifteen areas in the world have organized chapters with active programs of workshops, communication, and action to develop practice and education. Other areas are in the process of organizing chapters. Also, of note, the John and Carol Ramey Endowment Fund has been established to provide ongoing support for the continuing development of IASWG.

IASWG key achievements have included:

  • The development of Standards for Social Work Practice with Groups
  • The Social Work with Groups Newsletter
  • The annual publication of selected symposium proceedings

IASWG activities have included:

  • Annual symposia
  • Local conferences and workshops
  • Publications
  • Collaborative efforts with key social work associations and institutions

IASWG commissioned projects have included:

  • Strengthening Group Work Education Publication Series, in collaboration with the CSWE, and the Encyclopedia of Social Work with Groups
  • Ongoing efforts to foster excellence in group work education are continuously made through our Commission on Group Work in Social Work Education

Past IASWG Presidents:

  • Ruth Middleman
  • Charles Garvin
  • Judith A.B. Lee
  • James Garland
  • Alex Gitterman
  • Toby Berman-Rossi
  • Paul Abels
  • Nancy Sullivan
  • Steven Kraft
  • Greg Tully

The History of the AASWG by Ruth Middleman

Please note that AASWG is now IASWG. This article was written before the name change.

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.