June 15

8 social work books to read


Social work books? Why?

Because we want to get better at social work, and serving the clients who come into our lives.

If you look at the most successful people in the world, a common habit they have is reading.

Charlie Munger, the billionaire partner of Warren Buffett, one of the world’s greatest investor, has been famously described as a ‘walking book with hands and legs.’ What about in social work? Do social work books help us to become better social workers?

I believe it can be so. But I don’t have time to read! How can I read when I have so many case notes to write, clients to see, and colleagues to meet? I also don’t wish to read at home! Home is for me-time, not work-time!

But wait… I want to share with you 8 social work books that have changed my perception of social work. You can be rest assured that these books are not boring books about theory and practice.

In addition, I want to share with you a fool proof way to improve your reading, and improve your social work.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

You might wonder what a fiction book is doing on this list of social work books. The Kite Runner is a book about modern Afghanistan. But interweaved is a story of friendship, betrayal and love. As a social work student, this book deeply spoke to me. At that time, I had been working with an Iranian refugee who had been tortured. I had not understood what his experiences were like. All I knew was that it was painful.

But reading this particular book helped me to see what the true realities of war-torn countries was like. Whilst it might not have entirely allowed me to understand this refugee’s experiences, it was an insight into his pains.

But more than that, The Kite Runner is also a book that enables us to reconsider what we do as social workers. Through this book, I saw how staying silent about injustices hurts more than action. We live with the guilt of our inaction, and we wonder if we could have done more. In a profession like social work, this matters. It matters because we face injustices and sufferings everyday.

What we decide to do, or not do, has an impact on the world we wish to create.

Reflective Practice Cards, by Siobhan Maclean

Siobhan’s Reflective Practice Cards

Having seen Siobhan speak multiple times, she has a knack of making complex concepts easier and accessible to the social worker. Let’s face it, as social workers, we don’t really have time to read through boring books on more theory! We want something in a fun and engaging way.

With Siobhan’s cards, she makes them full-color, and very fun! Just try them today! You will realise that reflective practice doesn’t just have to be something you are bored about!

Silent Guides, by Professor Steve Peters

I have seen Professor Steve Peters speak 4 times. Each time, I leave with even more insight and clarity about how we can deal with the chimp in our brains. Steve is a psychiatrist that is famous for his ‘chimp model’, a model that explains why we often face competing interests within our heads.

But in his book, The Silent Guides, it shares more about the psychologies of young children, and how we can help them. During one of my recent calls with a youth, I remember him saying, ‘I want to stop myself going out, but sometimes I just can’t seem to control it.’ As I heard him share, I felt his pain. When we are young, we might not know how to handle the impulses that bombard us.

Steve Peters teaches us how we, as adults and social workers, can be the human to our young people’s chimp. Instead of scolding and punishing them, we learn to develop a greater understanding of how we can help them.

Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown

social work books

I love Brené Brown. I’ve read all of her books, and watched all her talks. She is certainly someone who inspires. Her work on vulnerability, overcoming shame and leadership are important qualities for social workers. In this book, she shares about how we can lead better. As social workers, this is important. From sharing about how we can have better meetings, to how we can model courage and vulnerability within the organisations we are in, this helps us to understand how we can build better relationships with the organisations and the clients we interact with.

Good to Great and the Social Sectors, by Jim Collins

Whilst Jim Collins might be a business philosopher, his work is important for us within the social service sector. He shares about how his framework within the Good to Great research he did on mediocre companies becoming great ones, can be applied within the social sector. Too often, we think that the non-profit and the corporate sector have different ethos. Our practices cannot possibly mix!

But as I read Jim Collins, I saw that many of the suggestions he had did make sense. For example, having a stop-doing list is something all of us can have. Rather than focusing on what more we need to do, we should often start looking at what less we need to do. By focusing, we bring greater efficacy and effectiveness to our work.

Emotional First Aid, by Guy Winch

social work books

Emotional first-aid is one of the greatest books I have read. Full of practical tips, it is not only for clients, but for ourselves too. Inevitably, as social workers, we will face failures, disappointments, and scoldings. Knowing how to treat ourselves with self-care is the first step towards not burning out as social workers.

One of the best ways I have tried is the letter of love to myself. Writing down qualities you are proud of, and how you have shown them over the years, this helps you to celebrate yourself, even when clients shout at you.

Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

social work books

This book on boundaries is one thing you will definitely need in your social work career. When I was studying in the U.K., I often faced difficulties drawing boundaries between the clients’ life and my own life. I would go home, and worry about their wellbeing.

I would be unable to sleep well, wondering if my clients would commit suicide or perform an act of self-harm by the next day.

This book on boundaries is important in learning how to draw professional lines between clients and yourself. It teaches you how to have more of a life outside of social work. Also, it helps you in learning how to rest peacefully.

Help for the Helper, by Babette Rothschild and Marjorie Rand

social work books

Help for the Helper was recommended to me by my therapist when I mentioned that I was starting to experience the headaches that my client had told me about. He thad told me that he was unable to rest because of splitting headaches. Days later, I started to experience them myself.

Knowing how to stay in your own chair, rather than being drawn into the client’s chair is important in staying sane as a social worker.

Very often, we forget this. We forget how we can care more for ourselves, rather than just for others.

Rothschild’s beautiful book is a welcome addition.

One tip

To read more, I would suggest that you do this. Take a book and place it in your toilet. Everytime you go into the toilet to do some business, take the book, and read it. This simple action of reading for 5 to 10 minutes a day will start helping you to build the habit of reading. When you encounter something important, write down the page number and the thought it has spurred on the front page of the book. This way, you can refer to it when you return.

I hope these help. Reading social work books is not only about improving ourselves. But it helps us to improve our work with our clients, the work we do within our communities, and the relationships we have with our colleagues.

Interested to know more about improving social work practice? Contact me today at [email protected]

Elegant Bookshelves in the Royal Library


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