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Social Group Work Theory and Practice

Social Group Work Theory and Practice

By Gertrude Wilson, Professor, University of California at Berkeley

A Presentation at the the 83rd Annual Forum of the National Conference Of Social Work, St. Louis, Missouri, May 20-25, 1956

In order to examine the nature of the current theories and practices of a part of the profession of social work, it is necessary for us to view this part against the profession as a whole and the social-culture setting which affects it and which it affects.

Social group work, as one of the methods of the social work profession, was introduced during the first quarter of this century. It emerged at a time when there was a renewed dichotomy within the profession between social workers who primarily regarded the causes of social problems as those within people and others who located these causes primarily within the social situations in which people with problems were living.

This difference in point of view has found expression in the organization of various types of agencies, all of which may be classified as social welfare organizations although their methods of providing services differ. Some of these methods are used in the social work profession of today. The stimulus for the organization of services, and the development of methods to provide them, arises out of the lag between basic human needs and the ability of social institutions, particularly the family, religion, government, and economic systems, to meet them. In consideration of the changes of the last hundred years, it is observed that “industrialism” has had an increasing impact upon the total social culture of our time. We recognize the severe struggle experienced by individuals and groups to adjust to the sharp changes in the nature of their environment. The effect of industrialism is universal, it demands changes in the functions to be performed by all social institutions. The rate of change demanded has proportionately increased with the rapidity with which technological advances have been applied to the production of material goods and to communication and transportation.

The impact of industrialism, and of the new insights into human behavior gained in the pre-atomic age, upon social welfare organizations and the profession of social work may be documented from history. While the time span is of insufficient length to identify significant trends in the effects upon the profession of the recent momentous discoveries relative to matter and man, it does indicate a direction for speculation.

Social forces affecting a large collection of people are, in the last analysis, recognized by their effect upon some people, as seen by other people, one at a time. People in trouble need help. Some observers will be stimulated to help themselves and/or other people meet their immediate problems. Others will try to eliminate the causes of the problems by a variety of methods. Some will be moved to work in both directions simultaneously. During the first twenty years of this century, while the agencies developing social casework services continued to devote the larger proportion of their time to working with people on an individual-by-individual basis, there was an increasing participation of other social workers in working “for and with the masses.” The personnel of the social welfare organizations, both volunteer and staff, continued to reflect sharp differences of opinion between the people who identified with agencies devoted to changing the “social order” and those who identified with agencies which were developing “the art of bringing about better social adjustments in the social relationships of individual men, women or children.” By 1915 the division was sharp, and the two approaches within the profession were evident in the literature of the first twenty-five years of this century.

Although Mary Richmond expressed the feeling that social caseworkers would welcome the results of the work of other members of the profession,1 there is no indication that participation by social caseworkers in the processes of social change, other than on the individual-by-individual basis, was envisioned. Later, Miss Richmond added this dimension to the caseworker’s function when she said: “I’ve spent the first twenty-five years of my professional life in an attempt to get social case work accepted as a valid process in Social Work. Now I shall spend the rest of my life trying to demonstrate to social case workers that there is more to social work than social case work.”

The methods employed by the social reformers were largely limited to securing legislation aimed to prevent or control crisis situations endangering the life and happiness of segments of the population. Social problems became the “causes” of individuals or of a relatively small group who fought the battles of the underprivileged. There was only occasional emphasis upon helping groups to participate in changing social situations. It was primarily the care of the weak by the strong. This basic social philosophy dramatized by the social reformers was one then held in common by most of the personnel of the social welfare services, whether the approach to the solution of social problems was individual by individual or through reform programs.

As knowledge from the social sciences, psychology, and psychoanalysis became more general among social workers, the concepts, and consequently the principles and techniques used by social workers, were affected. Social concepts, which made possible the analysis of the social processes through which change takes place, brought the importance and significance of small and large groups into prominence. New knowledge about motivations of human behavior not only provided new insights to the problems which individuals experience as individuals, but make interpretation of interaction of individuals in groups much more meaningful. The First World War had sharpened the concern of most people for the values of democracy and the necessity for all of the people to take more responsibility for safeguarding them than just voting. The Gestalt of the concept of “the people” began to change from one of the individual and society (i.e., government) to a network of interlocking groups which constitute society. These were seen to be affecting one another in many diverse ways: some toward the growth of a more socially favorable social climate; some toward an unfavorable one; some advancing the “good” for some groups at the expense of others. With knowledge of the labyrinth of groups through which social change gradually takes place came the recognition that people can be helped to participate in more rapid social change if they learn how to give direction to group activity aimed to achieve the desired result.

People critical of the social reformer’s methods of “doing for” other people, but eager to participate in processes of social change which would eliminate the causes of some of the social problems, turned to the social and psychological scientist for basic knowledge. In such knowledge, guides were sought for further development of principles and techniques for social work practice. Through concerted attention to the significance of primary groups to society, grew, among other organized efforts, the progressive education movement within the educational profession and the idea of a specialization to serve groups within the profession of social work.

In the beginning, the people who participated in formulating and analyzing concepts, developing principles, and devising techniques for carrying them out, were identified with the professions of education, social work, and/or applied social and psychological sciences.2. While professional education for group workers early found a niche in a school of social work, there was a great difference of opinion among those interested in developing methods of working with groups as to the professional identification of its practice. During the second quarter of this century, about half of the schools of social work introduced a curriculum for this specialization. It was not, however, until the establishment of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) 3. that social group work came to be fully identified as a social work specialization within the social work profession as a whole. Although there have been many differences of opinion as to the professional identification and education of workers for the practice of group work, there has been little disagreement in the literature about its basic assumptions: (1) that a sense of belonging is essential to the happiness of all human beings; (2) that certain life experiences and social situations interfere with, or deny to many individuals, the opportunity to have this sense of well-being; (3) that principles and techniques for helping people to develop a sense of belonging through participation in a group can be developed from concepts drawn from the social and biological sciences, and on the basis of our thinking about our experience in practice; (4) that these concepts, principles, and techniques can be learned by people who have the qualifications for helping others make the necessary social adjustments to participate creatively in groups; and (5) that the welfare of society is dependent on the constructive nature of the interacting processes of its many small groups.

The development of a conceptual framework from which principles and techniques of practice are identified, tested, and transmitted to other people is continuous and never ending. Concepts from political science, sociology, economics, anthropology, social psychology, and psychoanalysis are “tried for size” against live situations found in groups being served by imaginative, experimental workers seeking to improve their methods of working with groups. Principles and techniques have been and are being developed both deductively and inductively, and some are borrowed from progressive education teachers and caseworkers. Experimental recording of narrative records early was carried on in order to have some material more objective than memory against which to test the use of the concepts and better understand their meaning as operationalized in principles and techniques.

By the time the first course was organized in a school of social work, there was considerable material to be drawn from pioneer workers, especially those in the YMCA, YWCA, settlements, adult education, and in workers’ education. It is, however, appropriately the work of faculty and students in schools where the largest contribution was made, and is continuing to be made, toward the development of organized and systematic curriculum content to build upon the basic assumptions of social group work. This, of course, is to be expected–the organization of conceptual material into systematic units is a major responsibility of a faculty of a school; it is, unfortunately, just a “leisure-time” activity for most practitioners.

The first group work students began writing narrative records describing their work with groups. Some agencies soon recognized the contribution of record writing to the quality of the services provided to groups. These recordings 4. of students and workers have so far provided the most significant substantive material upon which current principles of practice are based. Within the last decade there has been increasing interest in testing the practices which have been established empirically through the techniques of experimental research. Some of the studies of small groups carried on by social psychologists and sociologists 5. have provided an experimental foundation for the principles and techniques used by the social group worker, but few such studies have been made by social group workers themselves.6. These studies also provide new insights into the group process which provide stimulus for modifying old principles and techniques and developing new ones.

The development of a conceptual framework for work with groups within the social service field began as, and has continued to be, a group project to which educators, practitioners, supervisors, administrators, consultants, field representatives, and others have contributed. This is a project-in-process; it will never cease, nor will it be formulated as an absolute as long as new knowledge is developed in the behavioral sciences, and creative, imaginative, and experimental practitioners are engaged in helping individuals and groups to make the social adjustments necessary to function in our dynamic, changing society.

The responsibility of identifying or formulating and then operationalizing the concepts helpful to learning how to become an enabler in groups largely has been carried by people identified with programs of leisure-time, educational, and recreational activities. Both within the field and in the schools of social work, there has been only nominal interest in this area of practice on the part of the majority of social workers associated with other settings. As the group worker became knowledgeable of the significance of the concepts which brought increasing understanding of the social processes which occur in groups, he identified with these ideas and they became to him group work content rather than generic content for use of anyone who seeks to function more effectively as a member, leader, or enabler. The allocation to group work of the concepts relative to understanding the social processes in group life is illustrated by the fact that very few schools of social work offer this material as generic for all students, but instead require or offer one semester in group work to all students not specializing in it. Some courses in community organization include socio-psychological knowledge of groups in their content, but in most schools the course in group work must carry the full burden of providing this basic background for the practice of all social work.

Identification of group workers with the use of the social process in all types of groups is further illustrated in the report of the Committee on Function of the Social Group Workers of the A.A.O.W. issued in 1948:

Through his participation the group worker aims to affect the group process so that decisions come about as a result of knowledge and a sharing and integration of ideas, experiences and knowledge rather than as a result of domination from within or without the group. Through experience he aims to produce those relations with other groups and the wider community which contribute to responsible citizenship, mutual understandings between cultural, religious, economic or social groupings in the community and a participation in the constant improvement of our society toward democratic goals.


This statement does not identify or describe social group work as a specialization in social work; instead, it describes not only the goals of participation of any social worker in groups, but also of any professional or lay person who may work with any type of group. To all of them, understanding many of the basic concepts and how to operationalize them is beneficial. It is important, however, to point out that the basic values of the social work profession -respect for human beings and the right of self-determination are violated if enablers to groups are trained in use of techniques without understanding the principles and basic concepts from which they are drawn. Such training raises the floodgates for streams of “manipulation” rather than “enabling” people to participate in decision-making processes which safeguard their rights of self-determination.

In a single paper it is impossible to list, much less discuss, all the basic concepts upon which principles of effective work with groups are based. I have chosen ten concepts 7. related specifically to “groups,” each of which leads to other concepts, and all of which provide illuminating insights into the intricate processes of interpersonal relations which occur in groups of people. These concepts help us to see selectively and understand and communicate what goes on in the group process. To this extent, they help us to develop and refine principles and techniques. Some of the concepts from which principles of work with groups are drawn are:

1.A group is the interaction of a collection of human beings.

2. All groups are alike and all are different.

3. All groups have a purpose, not necessarily conscious, which is expressed in the substance of the interaction.

4. All groups originate either as “psyche” or “socio” groups; the first drawn together for purposes of personal satisfaction and the second, because of an external educational interest or common task.

5. All groups experience conflict and exercise controls-the equilibrium or homeostasis of the group.

6. All groups have two kinds of structure: (a) interpersonal relationships seen as the process of acceptance creates isolates, pairs, and triangles; and (b) division of labor through which roles are assigned to “get things done.” 7. A “concept” may be defined as an abstract idea of universal significance.

7. All groups use a decision-making process based on elimination, subjugation, compromise, integration, or combinations thereof.

8. All groups reflect the social status system of the community and create one of their own in its decision-making processes.

9. All groups develop morale or esprit de corps which distinguishes each from all others.

10. All groups tend to develop traditions.

These concepts are some of those which are essential to understanding any type of group; they provide a basis from which any person working with a group in any capacity may develop principles and techniques for working with them for any purpose, i.e., to control, manipulate, or enable them. When principles and techniques are developed from them for use by social workers, the value system of the social work profession has a determining influence on the formulation of principles and how the techniques for implementing them are used.

There are social work principles 8. based on these concepts. The enabler:

1. Respects all human beings and their social organizations through respecting their right to manage their own lives.

2. Accepts each individual and group as unique and the right of each to be different from every other.

3. Feels with individuals and groups without necessarily feeling like them.

4. Adjusts his behavior to his understanding of the behavior of the group.

5. Accepts and handles negative and positive feelings for the benefit of the group.

6. Diagnoses where the group is and helps it to move on from there.

7. Supplies the group with needed factual material and helps it to recognize issues without indicating solutions.

8. Stimulates the group to consider implications of issues and new horizons.

9. Supports the group in making and carrying out decisions consonant with individual and social welfare.

10. Recognizes the structure of interpersonal relations as an influential factor in group decisions.

11. Helps the group to divide responsibility and involve as many members as possible in planning and executing a program.

12. Respects and uses the structure established by the group for division of labor.

13. Expects conflict and helps the group to use it constructively.

14. Accepts the role of authority, when necessary, without passing judgment.

15. Understands the social status system of the community and neighborhood and helps individuals to live with it or to change it, when change is necessary to safeguard the right of self-determination and the welfare of the community.

In human relations there are usually many techniques 9. for applying a single principle. Techniques are chosen in light of the purpose of the group and the worker’s understanding of the people and the social situation in which they are involved. They are not applied automatically in the practice of social work. The enabler:

1. Knows the name of each individual in a group and addresses him according to the accepted way in his culture (not always by first name or with title, but in the way which he expects).

2. Is able to discuss matters of interest to the members’ daily life, not just the affairs of the group.

3. Considers the schedule established by his group as important as any other obligation.

4. Is the first one to arrive at the meeting, in order to observe who comes with whom, who sits with whom, who agrees with whom, in order to identify subgroups.

5. Gives socio-metric tests.

6. Uses buzz sessions to secure more participation in activity.

7. Uses blackboard (or helps the group’s leader to use it) as a method of helping groups keep on the subject in a discussion.

8. Uses visual aids.

9. Arranges chairs in a circle.

10. Stimulates new interest by exhibits.

11. Uses role-playing.

This list of techniques could be extended ad infinitum, and each item has a meaning of its own.

Socio-psychological concepts, like all other concepts, are man’s abstractions of his observations tested by the scientific method as to their universal significance without reference to the value system of the people, or of the social situation they describe. Their significance lies in the leads they provide to the applied scientists or practitioners for the formulating of principles of how to do something with people and groups. A member of a professional discipline which has a value system examines them to find how he can use their meaning in order better to serve the people whose problems lie within his professional competence.

Each of the selected principles listed above emanates from one or more of the quoted concepts, but each one carries meaning beyond the concepts themselves because each one reflects the value system of social work. As a social work principle, it is not enough to say that the worker, recognizing that a group is interaction, affects its processes. He does this with respect to the rights of the participating members as human beings for self-determination, and with respect for, and within, the limitations of purpose for which the group is organized. In other words, how he affects interaction comes from the value system of social work, but knowledge of the nature of interaction in any group, as learned from the social scientists, gives direction and concreteness to his activity.

The techniques listed, on the other hand, are not value-oriented, and unless they are used in relation to social work principles they will not provide social work service. The use of techniques without consciousness of their appropriateness to the particular group situation has as much potential for interference as for assistance to a group in the accomplishment of its objectives. There is no purpose served, for example, in a worker’s using a variety of techniques to identify the sub-groupings within a group unless he understands the meaning of the relationships they signify: how they may advance or hinder the progress of the group; how to help them to maintain their identity and, at the same time, contribute to the progress of the group. Thus each technique represents the substance of what a worker does; the kind of help he gives a group, however, is dependent on his understanding of the principles which guide his choice of techniques.

Further examination and discussion of these concepts, principles, and techniques would reveal that these lists represent knowledge and skills needed by every social worker, no matter with what type of group he works. Social workers also need this knowledge and skill to work with the non-social work groups in the community which seek to lessen the maladjustments in social situations. Social change pressured by technology, mobility, threat of war, social cleavages, urbanization, and spatial communication present challenge to social workers who are daily in personal contact with the consequences of social change. The responsibility of working with community groups in changing the “situational field” 10. is one held by all social workers and is not primarily the responsibility of social group workers.

Observation of social work practice and of the curriculum content of most schools of social work seems to indicate that there is greater awareness of the responsibility of social workers to work in, and with, groups than evidence of the prerequisite knowledge and skill for fulfilling this responsibility. This is an appropriate time for an examination of the content of courses in group work, similar to the examination of the courses in casework which occurred about twenty years ago when these courses were carrying the major responsibility for teaching the understanding of individual human behavior. When this content was recognized as generic and developed in separate courses, the teachers of casework were freed to teach the social casework process per se. Recognition of knowledge and understanding of the basic concepts, principles, and techniques of working with groups as generic will likewise free the instructors in social group work to teach the distinctive characteristics of the social group work process.

The distinction between social group work practice and work with groups is one which is needed, not just in relation to our professional organization and the curriculum content which supports the profession, but also in the fields in which we practice where we are in daily contact with workers who not only serve groups as part of social work practice, but who work from an orientation different from that of social work. Such distinctions are postponed for later consideration on the theory that we must first agree on what we do that is distinctive within our own profession before we can undertake the task of identifying similarities to, and differences from, other professional work with groups. A first step in this direction has been taken by the Group Work Section of the NASW through a questionnaire aimed to disclose evidence of agreement and disagreement around the meaning of social group work as shown in the opinions of the members and in the agencies’ related policies and procedures as reported by them.

In contrast to the statement of the A.A.G.W. on the “Function of the Social Group Worker,” many authors of books and articles present social group work as centered upon the growth or adjust mental problems of the members of the groups served, with the assumption that group experiences which help members to grow and thus improve their social adjustment are contributions to the welfare of society.11. The extent to which the definitions given by the six authors listed below are shared by the majority of practitioners is unknown.

The basis used in the NASW questionnaire to distinguish work with groups from social group work is that social group work “is a service to groups where the primary purpose is to help members improve their social adjustment and the secondary purpose is to help the group (whatever its structure) to achieve objectives approved by society.”

One respondee comments:

I agree with the distinction established but believe that the definition is inadequate. I think the crucial distinction between social group work and work with groups has to do with (1) whether group members are perceived as having specific and identifiable social adjustment problems, and (2) whether the practitioner fulfills a role directed at the resolution of these difficulties through use of the group process.

Whatever the definitive statement of social group work practice may be, if it is to cover an area of professional practice it must designate the nature of the problems for which the service is designed, and describe specifically the principles and techniques applicable to helping people overcome them. Whether these problems are defined in terms of “social adjustment” or “growth” or some other terminology is of less significance than coming to grips with the fact that we work with people who have problems, and our services are aimed to help them to minimize or solve them.

In consideration of the agreement of the majority of the group workers who have returned the questionnaire that we should distinguish between social group work and work with groups, we propose the following assumptions which, if accepted by the majority of us, would help to clarify and define social group work practice:

1.Understanding the nature of group interaction (the group process) and the dynamics of human behavior is a prerequisite for anyone who successfully fulfills the role of an enabler for a group.

2. The role and responsibility of an enabler are determined by the primary purpose for which the group is organized.

3. When a group, such as a class, an agency staff group, an agency board, or a committee of a welfare council, is organized to accomplish a predetermined task, the primary responsibility of the enabler is to help the members to accomplish this task.

4. The enabler who works with a task-oriented group uses his understanding of the dynamics of human behavior and of the group with consideration of the adjustmental problems of the members, but he does not change the purpose or the content of the group’s program for the purpose of helping the members with their individual problems.

5. When a group is organized for the purpose of providing an opportunity for members to use the group experience for adjustmental purposes (personal growth and change), the first responsibility of the enabler is to diagnose (identify) the unique problems of each member in the group.

6. The enabler who works with a growth-oriented group carries the primary responsibility of affecting the interaction as expressed in the program content toward the resolution of the problems of the members. The program content is subject to change at any time in accordance with the problems of the members.

7. The adjustmental problems of members fall within the full continuum from common human problems to those caused by physical, social, emotional, and/or intellectual accidents, illness, or defects.

To summarize, we propose that the distinction between work with groups and social group work may be made on the basis of the following assumption: the distinction is to be found in the difference between the nature of the task-oriented group as compared to that of the growth-oriented group. In the former the group enabler’s primary responsibility is to support the group to accomplish its task; in the latter, the enabler’s primary responsibility is to help members use the group experience to resolve problems which are interfering with their personal growth and social adjustment.

Just as the principles and choice of techniques of working with any group are affected by the value system of social work, they are likewise affected by the more specific purpose of social group work service. Diagnosis is the core of practice. It is not sufficient to be well grounded in understanding the dynamics of human behavior. The social group worker serving a growth-oriented group understands as much as he can about the specific problems of each member in the group he is serving. This involves a study of each individual to secure as much understanding of the meaning of his manifest behavior as the combination of accessible facts of his life experience and theory can provide. The study is continuous, but the use of principles and techniques at a given time is determined by the result of the study at that time. Knowledge and understanding of the problems of the members determine: (a) the techniques of using program content; (b) the direction of the interacting process between members and between individual members and the worker; and (c) the extent to which members can be helped to secure a feeling of belonging and acceptance of responsibility toward the group.

During the thirty years in which we have been endeavoring to establish a conceptual frame of reference for the practice of social group work, we have been hindered by the variety of usage of the words “group work.” It has become a label for a catchall of functions rather than a term to designate professional service with definite, discrete meaning. It is currently used to describe: (1) a job classification; (2) a field of work; (3) a classification of agencies; (4) a philosophy or movement; in addition to (5) a method, which was the original intent of the words. Attempts have been made by some of us to keep the original use of the term by adding the word “social,” and thereby indicate that social group work is a method used by social workers professionally educated to use it as a specialized social service in a variety of settings.

It is, of course, self-evident that no sound conceptual frame of reference can be developed to apply to an area of work which covers everything and anything which might be included in the job load of a worker or the variety of occupational skills and techniques needed by agencies to fulfill their purposes. If social group workers are to practice from a commonly accepted conceptual frame of reference, the first step must be the acceptance of the limitation of the term as one descriptive of a specialized method of serving people in groups. The term does not describe other group methods which social group workers use in such functions as administration and its various work with boards and committees; supervision, whether it be individual or group; public relations, or work with the variety of groups which are part of the community organization responsibilities which every social worker carries. These other functions are no less important, but they are not the practice of social group work; rather, they are the practice of social work, and they demand generic social work knowledge and skill which are essential to a social group worker in the performance of his total job. Moreover, they are functions common to all agencies, hospitals, and institutions providing social services.

In the return to date to the questionnaire of the Group Work Section of the NASW, there is little opposition to the proposition that a distinction should be made between social group work and work with groups. Sixteen percent disagree with the distinction made in the accompanying instruction. Analysis of their comments indicates that the problem of semantics is the chief interferent in communication. The majority of respondees who disagree with the distinction made in the questionnaire offer substitute definitions which are synonymous with the idea in the original statement. It will take considerable reading and writing and discussion to settle the semantic problem. There are, however, a small number of respondees who regard “everything a social group worker does” as the practice of social group work.

Irving Miller has discussed a possible dichotomy between social goals and the process of becoming professionalized. He says:

Inherent in the nature of professionalism is the development of technical skills and technical knowledge, preferably unique and distinguishable from other technical knowledge and skills…. the demands and processes of professionalization seem at points to be in conflict with our social movement origins and tend toward conservatism and caution.12.

It is important for us to recognize that all of social work has “social movement” origins. All social workers have an inheritance from the past and an obligation to the future to participate in the processes of social change which will “lessen the group tensions between the conflicting parts of society” and which will help to shape a society which purposefully aims to reduce the number of unhappy and maladjusted individuals in it.13 To meet these obligations, we cannot side-step, avoid, postpone, or leave to others the necessary albeit painful intellectual task of the scholar, as well as of the practitioner, as we continue to develop the concepts, principles, and techniques of the social work profession and of the social group work specialization in it.


1. Mary Richmond, The Long View (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1930), pp. 376-77.

2. Identification of the contributors and their committee in Charles E. Hendry, ed., Decade of Group Work (New York: Association Press, 1948), reveals the wide range of fields from which the participants in the formative years of group work theory and practice were drawn.

3. October 1, 1955.

4. Grace L. Coyle, Studies in Group Behavior (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937); Clara Heckman, The Group Records of Four Clubs (School of Applied Social Sciences, Western Reserve University, 1930); Ruth Perkins, Magic Casements (New York: Woman’s Press, 1927), and Program Making and Record Keeping (New York: Woman’s Press, 1931).

5. See Bibliography in Paul Hare, Edgar F. Borgatta, and Robert F. Bales, Small Groups: Studies in Social Interaction (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955).

6. Juanita Luck, “A Study of Peer Relationships with Children in Their Latency Years” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1954); Helen Northen, “The Effectiveness of Social Group Work in the Development of Qualitative Participation” (Ph.D. dissertation, Bryn Mawr, 1953); Etta H. Saloshin, “Development of an Instrument for the Analysis of the Social Group Work Method in Therapeutic Settings” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1954).

7. A “concept” may be defined as an abstract idea of universal significance.

8. A “principle” is the operationalization of a concept which translates the concept into action

9. A “technique” is a specific way in which a principle is applied.

10. See Leonard S. Cotterell, Jr., “The Analysis of Situational Fields in Social Psychology,” American Sociological Review, VII (1942), 370-82.

11. For example: Grace Longwell Coyle, Group Work with American Youth (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), pp. 26-31; Gisela Konopka, Group Work in the Institution (New York: Whiteside, Inc., 1954), p. 25; Alan E. Klein, “Recreation and the Welfare Dollar,” The Group, XVII, No. 2 (1954), 3-18; Helen Phillips, “Achievement of Responsible Behavior through Group Work Process,” University of Pennsylvania, p. a; Harleigh Trecker, Social Group Work (New York: Whiteside, Inc., 1948), pp. 8-9; Grace Longwell Coyle, “Social Group Work,” in Social Work Year Book, I954 (New York: American Association of Social Workers, 1954), pp. 480-81; Gertrude Wilson and Gladys Ryland, Social Group Work Practice (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1949).

12. Irving Miller, “A Critical Appraisal of Some Aspects of Social Group Work Theory and Practice,” in Group Work and Community Organization (New York; Columbia University Press, 1955), pp. 70-71.

13. Coyle, Group Work with American Youth, p. 26

Source: Proceedings of the National Conference on Social Work Proceedings (1874-1982):  83rd Annual Forum 1956

For further study: 

Interview with Gertrude Wilson, a pivotal figure in the development of theory and practice of social group work at the Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups in Arlington, TX in November 1980.  USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work YouTube Channel.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Wilson, G. (1956, May). Social group work theory and practice. Presentation at the the 83rd Annual Forum of the National Conference Of Social Work, St. Louis, Missouri. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from

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