May 22

7 of the best social work books for students


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I rub my eyes. I’m falling asleep. I can’t believe the book I’m reading is that boring. But it’s required reading.

I know what to do.

I’m going to just gloss over to the final conclusion of the book, and get the TLDR (too long didn’t read) version.

The conclusion will definitely give a faster way of learning what’s in this book, than ploughing through the thick pages in this book.

If you’re sat in front of your social work book now, wondering if there are better resources out there, fret now.

Here are better books that will tackle the problems you’re facing, in social work.

Why you’d need a book

There are three reasons why you need a social work book. And nope, it’s definitely not because you look cool hugging that social work book close to your chest as you walk around the campus.

It’s probably because you need to do your assignment.

Getting better results

I wished I had gotten Daniel’s book earlier.

As a 21 year old, I read this book more than I read my Bible. Every 3 months, I would lock myself away, and re-read this book. This book alone helped me to focus on what I should stop doing, so that I could score higher grades.

It was this book that helped me to crystallise what I wanted in my own life.

And this is why you should get it too.

If you’ve ever sat at your laptop, and found yourself quickly scrolling through your Instagram feed, this might be the book you want to look at.

It provides practical tips you can use to grow in your skills at studying.

Daniel’s best advice is not to engage in pseudo-productivity, where we lay on the couch, replying messages that come every 15 minutes, whilst hoping that we are absorbing what we are studying.

Don’t waste your time.

There are better ways to study, like simply putting your phone in another room.

Try that, and you might be surprised at how good you get at your grades.

For social work theory

And for any credible assignment, however much you hate your theory, you’re going to need to include it.

Here’s where Siobhan Maclean’s resources would work. This book is not a book, but a series of cards.

Siobhan used to be my mentor when I was back in Nottingham University, and she was a dearly beloved mentor who would passionately and patiently teach me everything I needed to know about theory, even though it was boring (to me).

Siobhan has a way of sharing information that makes it accessible and simple to understand. For example, if you see her theory cards, you would quickly notice they aren’t written in your lengthy passages. Instead, they are short and sharp.

This means you don’t have to spend time trying to understand big jargon that makes the professor sound smart, and leaves you wondering whether you’re stupid.

Yes… we’ve all been there as students. And Siobhan helps us see that we are actually doing the very best we can, with what we have.

You can get those here.

Reflecting through social work

You can tell I love Siobhan, from how this is another book from her.

Her reflective cards saved my assignments in university. You would probably be used to flat and boring theories and models on how to reflect. But once you’ve seen Siobhan’s colourful cards, you would quickly chuck those books, and get these.

Siobhan explaining about the reflective practice cards in her Youtube channel
Siobhan explaining about the reflective practice cards in her Youtube channel

Handle caseloads better

If you’ve just gotten into your first social work placement, you would quickly find yourself overwhelmed, or worse, underwhelmed.

I remember sitting in the office of my first placement, and being bored. All I could do was observe.

Later, when it came time for me to handle my first case, I kept wondering what casework actually was. It was like this insider lingo that everyone spoke about, but no one really understood.

Casework quite simply put,

is the idea of moving a client from problem to desired outcomes in a systematic way (with the systems around the client – like the government, charity and businesses).

But often you come to the point where you’d struggle because of 4 things.

Coping with these isn’t easy.

Here’s where John’s book is helpful.

As a social worker, John was close to quitting. On his student placement, he nearly failed twice. The first time his supervisor wanted to fail him was because he had used an innovative resource called the kitbag, without asking his boss. Using that kit resulted in the client’s mother complaining.

The second time was because he had over-promised, without delivering.

Those experiences helped him to see that he needed to approach social work differently.

If you read John’s book, you would realise that there’s an equal blend of heart, and hard tactics to make your work easier.

For example, one of the biggest issues in your early social work student career might be realising that you actually can’t get any work done in the office. You might find yourself interrupted by your colleague every few minutes, or listening to a sudden loud laugh from your boss.

It’s tough.

And that’s why John quickly focused on the idea of deep work, taken from Cal Newport.

But perhaps the part I loved more was seeing the exercises. These are the places where you can really work out, and apply it immediately.

What’s more, John has thought deeply about how to design in a way that makes it easy for busy social work students like yourself to take it up, and put it down again.

Just look at the design below. You would see that it’s able to digest and take away.

You can get it here.

Having practical tips you can give to your client

If you talk about takeaways, you would have probably been through those sessions in client counselling where you’re wondering what you can tell your client to do.

I remember one client once confiding to me that he had suicidal ideation, and was thinking of flinging himself in front of the trains in order to end his life. I sat there stunned, not knowing what to do.

I was worried of leaving him to his own devices.

If you’ve ever been in such a place, Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch is the perfect book to get.

Winch is funny, and insanely good at psychotherapy. For example, in another client I worked with, she faced low self esteem and didn’t want to apply for jobs. Helping her to write a letter of love to herself to raise her confidence, and help her to better understand the qualities in herself led her to be braver in applying for what she wanted in life.

Learning deeper therapeutic theories

I read Lori’s book in my first year of full time social work, and promptly cried.

It’s why I recommend you to read it if you haven’t.

Whilst Lori is a therapist, she interlaces her personal narrative of heartbreak with theories that help you to understand how to approach social work better. For example, she recalls in her therapy session that her therapist asks her,

Do you want insight, or counsel?

Insight, is helping someone to understand what is happening.

Counsel, is telling someone what they should do.

As a student social worker, you might have come to the tricky situation where you want to tell your client what he should do. But you quickly realise that might not be a great idea.

This is where Lori’s book will help.

Wondering if social work is your thing

And of course, there are the days when you would wonder if social work is your thing. You think through the deep, dark existential questions like,

What am I here on Earth for?

Is social work the right option?

If you’re in need of some life direction and advice, John’s third book will probably help.

As a social worker who eventually went into the field of business, John’s vast life experience, and easy to understand book will probably help you, more than most.

His most useful principle when you don’t know what to do?

Commit early and often, and adjust along the way.

This advice, may be great counsel if you’re searching for your next career.

Don’t just read, apply!

If you’re still shopping for books, don’t.

Just grab one of these books, and apply what you’ve read. Reading won’t make you better at your work.

It’s actually learning how to apply that will.



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