By Pamela Trevithick.
Open University Press
ISBN0 335 20700 6 (hardback)
0 335 20699 9 (paperback)
Social workers have always been uneasy about the skills and
knowledge which form the foundation of their profession. Does
theory apply in practice? Does knowledge oppress? Do skills serve
to manipulate the recipient?
Many would actually deny that theory has any place in social
work and believe that practice-based experience rather than
academic theory is the basis of quality social work.
The anti-intellectual stance typically considers theory
irrelevant, an academic exercise, which distances the worker from
the service user, by increasing the aura of power and
professionalism surrounding the social worker.
Theorists, on the other hand, would have it that “common sense
notions” are not always reliable, being difficult to evaluate or
As an academic practitioner, Pamela Trevithick is well placed to
discuss these issues, and her book, Social Work Skills – A
Practice Handbook, represents a stout defence of the
importance of theory in social work.
Trevithick’s book is a guide to both students and practitioners,
and gives a clear and detailed analysis of the skills used in
interviewing, assessing, communicating with and understanding
The chapter on basic interviewing skills provides a detailed
account of the different techniques involved in conducting
“conversations with a purpose”, from shaking hands to allowing
silence to sticking to the point and shows, with clarity, not only
how skilled a high quality practitioner can be, but how the
thoughtful accompaniment of theory to practice can bring a sense of
control in difficult situations.
The chapter on understanding human nature gives a useful rundown
of the disciplines social workers have to draw upon in the course
of their work and will be gratefully received by students,
particularly as they are illustrated by case histories drawn from
Trevithick’s own work as a consultant in child protection. This
description of disciplines comes across as being deeply rooted in
reality, despite the author’s commitment to theoretical
Social Work Skills has excellent appendices comprised
of some clear summaries of different social work approaches. Such
clarity belies the thought and hard work that must have gone in to
Because it is well written and well researched this book is
destined to become an essential tool for students on placement,
providing a firm handhold on the sheer rock face of practice.
Rachel Wooller is a social worker.