In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Group Work

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Handbooks and Sourcebooks
  • Journals
  • Effectiveness of Group Work
  • Historical Development of Group Work
  • Group Theory, Group Dynamics
  • International Perspectives
  • Models of Group Work
  • Evidence-Based Group Work
  • Techniques and Skills
  • Group Work with Children and Adolescents
  • Group Work with Older Populations
  • Group Work and Diversity
  • Group Work across Problem Areas
  • Task Groups
  • Program Activities
  • Research and Evaluation
  • Group Work and Technology
  • Group Work Education

Social Work Group Work
Mark J. Macgowan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0030


Group work can be defined as “goal-directed activity with small treatment and task groups aimed at meeting socioemotional needs and accomplishing tasks” (see Textbooks, Toseland and Rivas 2009, p. 12). As a general overview, this bibliography includes a wide range of topics, but the depth of citations within areas is limited to notable publications and those primarily related to social work with groups. In addition the emphasis is on works published after 1995, though classics or older but unique publications are included. Most of the references are to topics related to treatment groups, that is, groups whose primary purpose is to meet the socioemotional needs of its members, usually done in small groups consisting of up to fifteen group members. However, a section is included that is specifically related to task groups, whose primary purpose is to accomplish tasks related to the needs of persons outside of the group. The best source for an overview of the fundamentals of group work is the section Textbooks.


In general textbooks provide a good overview of the fundamentals of group work. Included here is a selection of recent books with a range of perspectives that are generally well-regarded and widely used and one classic early text (Wilson and Ryland 1949). All but Corey 2008, Johnson and Johnson 2009, and Yalom and Leszcz 2005 are written from a social work perspective. Reid 1997 and Yalom and Leszcz 2005 offer clinical perspectives with an emphasis on group psychotherapy, and the unique perspective in Johnson and Johnson 2009 incorporates findings from group dynamics into teaching about groups. Although all have their strengths, one good choice for its breadth and attention to fundamentals is Toseland and Rivas 2009. Gitterman and Shulman 2005 uses case material to illustrate group work skills and developmental issues in mutual aid groups. Northen and Kurland 2001 is a newer edition of the classic 1969 text. Shulman 2009 is appropriate for promoting a generalist approach to group work.

  • Corey, Gerald. 2008. Theory and practice of group counseling. 7th ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Thomson/Brooks/Cole.

    This is a popular textbook for a graduate-level course in group counseling although not from a social work perspective. Corey engages the reader with personal anecdotes and case examples mixed with good didactic material. The book combines an overview of ten group theories and how to put these theories into practice while attending to multicultural issues.

  • Gitterman, Alex, and Lawrence Shulman, eds. 2005. Mutual aid groups, vulnerable and resilient populations, and the life cycle. 3d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    This work examines how mutual aid groups help members of oppressed, vulnerable, and resilient groups regain control over their lives. The life cycle framework is incorporated to demonstrate how to foster healing and empowering. Populations covered include HIV-positive and AIDS patients, the homeless, and perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse and family violence.

  • Johnson, David W., and Frank P. Johnson. 2009. Joining together: Group theory and group skills. 10th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

    This popular textbook’s strength is its integration of theory and research on group dynamics into an experiential format for students. The book includes theory and research on how to make groups effective and helps readers apply that knowledge into practice.

  • Northen, Helen, and Roselle Kurland. 2001. Social work with groups. 3d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    This book includes a review of the foundations and development of social group work history. Using an ecosystem approach, the authors outline a generic framework for practice with diverse groups, establishing a common core of values, knowledge, purposes, and interventions that can be applied to different populations and situations. Case examples are provided.

  • Reid, Kenneth E. 1997. Social work practice with groups: A clinical perspective. 2d ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

    This book’s strength is its emphasis on group work in clinical settings. It includes practical strategies for working in small groups in a way that is therapeutic, growth producing, and life enhancing; clinical examples; vignettes of the author’s experience offering personal and practical wisdom; and an emphasis on the leader’s personality, development, and life situation in the therapeutic relationship.

  • Shulman, Lawrence. 2009. The skills of helping individuals, families, groups, and communities. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

    This popular book covers a range of modalities and levels of practice. The group work content is firmly connected to the mutual aid or mediating model first espoused by William Schwartz. The book is rich with case examples.

  • Toseland, Ronald W., and Robert F. Rivas. 2009. An introduction to group work practice. 6th ed. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

    This widely used group work text is one of the few that includes information about both treatment and task (that is, committees, task forces) groups. It offers reliable information on a wide range of areas for foundation knowledge of group work. It gives good attention to group dynamics and evaluation.

  • Wilson, Gertrude, and Gladys Ryland. 1949. Social group work practice: The creative use of the social process. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    This is one of the first books in group work to recognize that groups can be changed for the benefit of their members. It is divided into four parts: social group method, analysis of program media (for example, games, storytelling), records of group work practice (that is, examples of groups across life developmental stages), and supervisory and administrative processes.

  • Yalom, Irvin D., and Molyn Leszcz. 2005. The theory and practice of group psychotherapy. 5th ed. New York: Basic Books.

    This new edition of a classic, best-selling text by a psychiatrist covers current developments in group psychotherapy. The book discusses the leader role, therapeutic factors, cohesiveness, interpersonal learning, transference, composition of therapy groups, managing problem group members, and training group therapists. The book is rich with the authors’ clinical vignettes.

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