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Summer Institute Week 3: The beauty in social work practice

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The past three weeks have flown by, and though we’ve passed the half way point, there are no signs of slowing down as we near the final stages of this potentially life changing Summer Institute. Week three has kept participants busy and has involved an abundance of mental stimulation in the form of inspirational lectures, thought provoking discussions and emotionally charged activities.   
 
When I spoke to the Frontline participants from the units I’ll be supporting in my role as an academic tutor, most of them were also keenly aware, and even surprised, at how much they’d already learned. This isn’t in itself surprising, given that the Institute of Family Therapy’s contribution has continued with the aim of deepening the participants’ knowledge base as well as expanding their skills bank this week.  
 
For example, in addition to revisiting working with risk, participants have learnt about the benefits of using genograms in their work with families.  Being asked to generate genograms on Monday created a real buzz, and more importantly it helped the participants understand the significance of this tool and its potential to enhance both assessments and social work interventions.
 
The remainder of the week focused on an exploration of how solution-oriented approaches and motivational interviewing can contribute to and facilitate behavior change.  I am somebody who strongly believes in the efficacy of motivational interviewing, and think that its principles and associated skills have a great potential to reconnect social work with its core values. As such, this was the week I was very much looking forward to.  It didn’t disappoint, not only because of Professor Donald Forrester’s engaging lectures and the activities I enjoyed facilitating, but also because of what I witnessed during the week when I visited Cohort 1 participants in one of the Frontline units.
 
In preparation for their final practice review, I listened to direct observations that after one year demonstrated that these participants had seamlessly merged their intellect with a very robust knowledge base and superior communication skills. During these particular final progress review meetings the comments on their practice included words such as “purposeful”, “adaptable”, “robust”, “nicely embedded in research”, “impressive” and  “beautiful”.   Until this time, I had tended to resort to describing sky, sea, flowers and my grandson as beautiful, but never social work practice.  However, since being involved with the Frontline programme, I have seen true beauty in social work practice.
 
Without a doubt social work still needs much more robust evidence that will tell us with greater certainty ‘what works’. I would however argue that we have known for some time what is missing and that is more humane, professionally conducted social work practice!  Week three of the Summer Institute as well as those participants who are nearing the end of the programme have reassured me of the positive contributions the Frontline graduates will be making to the profession in the years to come. 
 
 

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