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Excerpt from Clinical Practice Today (October 2014)
Below is an excerpt from a recent "Clinical Practice Today" article. NASW Members can view the full article by clicking here (you must be logged in). Not a member? Join NASW

Differential Use of Self in a Growth Group Setting:
Creating Healing and Empowerment

Bette J. Freedson, LICSW, CGP

Edited by Bet MacArthur, LICSW

Picture yourself leading a group in which you choose the clinical methods that interest you, and serve them up in ways that use your skills, and your personality to affect the objectives of your group. Now, imagine your group members reporting positive psychosocial outcomes—greater resilience, increased ego strength, and improved coping skill. You have just glimpsed the therapeutic richness of growth groups.

Growth Groups

Growth group settings are filled with a combination of clinical techniques and differential use of self that draws on the best practices of social work, including dedication to the healing and empowerment of your group members.

In 1942 Gertrude Wilson proclaimed group work as “…a process and a method through which group life is affected by a worker who consciously directs the interaction towards the accomplishment of desirable goals…” (“The National Conference on Social Work, 1942).

In 1949 Wilson and Gladys Ryland published “Social Group Work Practice” which included an “analysis of different programme media, including play and leisure activities, games, dance, music, story telling and dramatics, and arts and crafts, trips and the out of doors…Many of the notions that are familiar today as established nostrums of practice are set out in the book, including a discussion of the conscious use of self…”

A Groupwork Philosophy

Studying ideas like these at Boston University School of Social Work ca. 1980, I became fascinated by group work. At BUSSW, Trudy Duffy, James Garland and Ralph Kolodny consolidated my belief in the power of groups for eliciting change in emotional, cognitive, relational, social, and even physical health dimensions. During fieldwork at Family and Children’s Service of Greater Lynn, under the supervision of group enthusiast Joanne Noyes, LICSW, I began to explore the exciting therapeutic potentials inherent in “differential use of self” and their applications in groups...


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