The art of social work practice
Edited by Toyin Okitikpi and Cathy Aymer

To see sections of this book in a PDF, please click here.

The Art of Social Work Practice argues that it is important for social work to reclaim many of its intuitive skills and core values. The core principle of building and maintaining professional relationships with service users is good and should never have been jettisoned for encounters that are characterised by an arm's length approach. Indeed, in many areas - such as user involvement, ADP, holistic approach, social model of intervention - social work has led the way and other professions have subsequently followed.

The Art of Social Work Practice asserts that reinstating trust in social work relationships, as opposed to emphasising a contractual relationship, would not be incompatible with a (post-post- ) modern, dynamic and effective profession. Social work did not need to strip itself of subjectivity in order to appear credible by being 'objective' in its dealings with service users and other professions.

Social work is not only a science. It is also an art. The art of social work lies in its ability to form meaningful relationships with service users; to maintain the dignity and self-respect of service users; to work in a way that encourages people to take control of their lives; and to respect differences but not at the expense of recognising similarities.

The Art of Social Work Practice explores:

  • The use of theory in social work and how theories enable practitioners to develop a deeper level of understanding of their practice. It argues that practitioners need to expose their ideas and their approaches to the very people whom they intend to benefit from their intervention.
  • How dangerous practice could be avoided by continually asking searching questions about the worker and service users' relationship and the approach being adopted
  • Preventative social work and unintended negative outcomes; assessment; communication and planning
  • Decision making; user involvement; and working in partnership and collaboratively with other professionals, emphasising the importance of demystifying the stereotypes that different professionals hold of each other.

While this is not a how-to-do-it book there are practice examples as well as questions that are posed for consideration in a number of the chapters to illustrate the applicability of the ideas and concepts under discussion. In the chapters where there are no specific cases or practice examples the aim is to encourage reflection and consideration of the ideas presented.

The contributors to The Art of Social Work Practice are all experienced practitioners and academics who are not only interested in the topic, but also have a unique understanding of the subject matter. The book will be of particular interest and benefit to practitioners, students and academics who want to take a fresh look at familiar social work concepts, themes and ideas.

Paperback. 160 pages. 978-1-905541-30-0. Published 2008. £16.95.


Practitioners, academics and researchers in social work, social welfare, health and social care. Students in those areas on foundation, NVQ levels 3 and 4, access and degree courses. Also people who are studying or practicing in professions who work alongside social workers, for example those in education who are involved in children centres and extended schools.


Introduction: the art of social work practice Toyin Okitikpi, consultant and Cathy Aymer, Brunel University
Concepts and ideas in practice
The importance of theory in social work practice Toyin Okitikpi and Cathy Aymer
Avoiding dangerous practice Toyin Okitikpi and Cathy Aymer
The new challenges of anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice in social work Toyin Okitikpi and Cathy Aymer
The art of social work practice
Preventative social work practice Steve Trevillion, University of Leicester
Planning in social work practice Charles O'Brian, Social Work academic/Psychologist
Communication in practice Rachana Patni, Brunel University
Assessment in practice Annabel Goodyer, London South Bank University
Decision making in social work practice Jeremy Ross, Brunel University
User Involvement and participation David Ward, consultant
Working in partnership and collaboratively with other professionals Jenny Weinstein, London South Bank University


Dr Toyin Okitikpi
was until recently a Principal Lecturer and Course Director in Social Work. Having started in residential care he qualified as a generic social worker and worked in the field for many years. His interest includes social work education; the importance of education in the lives of children and young people; refugee and asylum seeking children and their families; social integration and cohesion; working with children of mixed parentage; and interracial/multicultural families and their experiences. Currently he is a member of Aventure (a social welfare Consultancy group); a member of the Centre for Black Professional Practice at Brunel University; and a lay member on a number of Tribunals including: the General Medical Council's Fitness to Practice Panel; the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal; and the Mental Health Review Tribunal. He sits on the Bar Standard Board's Quality Assurance Committee and the Education and Training Committee.

Cathy Aymer is a social work academic, working as a senior lecturer in the School of Health Sciences and Social Care at Brunel University, and is the Director for the Centre for Black Professional Practice. Her background is in work with children and families. Her research interests are black students in higher education and black professionals in welfare organisations; professional responses to refugees and asylum seekers; social work teaching and learning; anti-discriminatory practice in social welfare; the experiences of young black men and professional responses to them; diversity in organisations. Cathy has published work in these areas.


"It is rare to find a social work textbook that you can't put down, but this is one. At the core is the belief of the contributors that, despite the demands of new managerialism for evidence-based social work practice and objective measures of positive outcomes for service users, the true art of social work and helping people improve their circumstances "is also about building and sustaining relationships". Not only is this argument comforting for the many social workers who feel chained to computer screens, while longing for direct work with service users, but each chapter offers persuasive arguments from different areas of practice as to why this model of practice can be so effective. The contributors are experienced practitioners and academics who do not dwell on the past but, with feet firmly in the present, suggest innovative and practical ideas about how and why the intuitive, inter-personal skills and values of social work can be reclaimed and developed." Community Care.

"This book offers a 'fresh look' at the approaches and methods used in social work.

"It explores the professional role of social work and emphasises the art of practice. It also discusses and debates how social work engages with service users and utilises this unique relationship within the provision of services. In addition, the book discusses relevant theory and processes involved in social work, and in the largest section it takes these ideas and concepts further by discussing them in relation to practice. The book is well organized...

"(The authors) explore the role of social work and how it has been influenced by politics and society. They emphasise 'the art of social work' and highlight the need for the profession to recapture the foundation of our work, which is based on the relationship with service users.

"This text is refreshing and thought provoking and would be beneficial to all involved in social work: practitioners, managers, students and educators. It is a book that you could refer to again and again and it would always have you thinking and reflecting.

"The book covers all the important areas of practice and acknowledges where mistakes have been made but, more importantly, offers sound guidance and advice on how we can improve and promote 'the art of social work practice'." Journal of Social Work