Challenges Facing Social Workers in Group Work

Posted: September 4th, 2013

Challenges Facing Social Workers in Group Work







“Assessment of group interactions must occur in light of knowledge about each member’s culture and his or her individual characteristics within that culture,” (Hepworth, 2006). Working with group work is a social mechanism for relationship and engagement enhancement among individuals in a group. Group work refers to an assignment or activity that is shared by two or more individuals with aim of sharing different ideas or skills and magnifying the output with less time consumed. “Group work in this context is therefore defined as the element of social work which goes on within and through interactional processes and structures”(Davies, 7).The members have different approaches regarding the assignment or project at hand and therefore they share their experience and knowledge from different background to reach a consensus.

Group work comes with many benefits and the vital one is self-discovery of a member in the group. I believe that a person is able to identify his strength and weakness and the opportunity to redress the weaknesses and become a better person. Consequently, the development of interpersonal skills such as good communication and courtesy becomes a great achievement for the individual. It also helps to establish a good structure that enables an enactment of a good social policy that favors each individual’s interest in the group. The leader must foster proper management and encourage a vocal group to determine the major issues and challenges that would arise. Working with group work is important because it encourages critical thinking a clear reflection of personal views. It also gives relevant details of internal and external challenges pertaining to the group. Such challenges build a framework for comprehending factors that initiate them and how to counter them.

Challenges Facing Social Workers in Group Work

Personal Challenges

             Culture refers to a person’s way of life and therefore this affects perception. A great deal of culture determines the manner in which members in the group approach certain problems and their degree of participation in the group. In a specific group, there is diversity of culture be cause of the different social backgrounds. Hence, the challenge is to harmonize the dynamic aspects into a singular system that gives them a sense of belonging in the same group. This singular system becomes the group’s culture where they develop rules and values that uphold their principles so that they share common experiences that shape their beliefs. Diversity of culture facing social workers comes from race, gender or nationality. People in the group will have different perceptions and this can present a misunderstanding, which hinders effective communication in the group work. I would prefer that social workers and clients or colleagues accept and appreciate diversity of culture in a bid to promote co-existence in the group work.

Language is another fundamental aspect in communication and without a common language; conflict is more likely to erupt in the group (Reamer, 2001). The meaning of language in this case stretches to as far as verbal and non-verbal cues. Different people can have different communication styles; some clients may perceive certain non-verbal cues as offensive, and out of context. Within the group of social workers, colleagues may differ in their language usage. Their responses to certain situations can create altercations because of a misunderstanding by the other person.  Social workers can come across clients who speak with raised voices or in commanding tones, giving them a hide time to cope up while serving them. According to me, social workers should be well trained to pacify such situations to maintain clientele for the organization. If there is conflict between a social worker and a client, there should be prudent ways of solving the situation through understanding of social problems as Mooney et al (2009) explains.

Self-development among social workers clients in working with groups entails the awareness and improvement of skills and knowledge (Farley et al, 2003). The acceptance and appreciation of different cultures and languages builds a colleague or client personally. From that, they are able to develop self-respect and respect for others and as they continue relating, they create a bond that increases productivity. More clients become loyal to the social workers whose output magnifies and both parties enjoy the mutual benefit and satisfaction. I prefer a system that promotes interpersonal skills that instill courtesy among people working with groups.

Other Challenges  

The challenge that emerges when social workers are applying theories while working with group work is hostility of clients or their devotion issues. Some clients may depict a personality disorder by showing extreme negative emotions like anger or unethical language to the social workers. Here, the challenge is applying theories that require the client to participate for his or her service to be complete. The disregard of the social workers plan by the client creates difficulty in the achievement of the social workers’ goals. I would re commend that the social workers understand different societal behaviors and agree among themselves the best professional way to respond to the situation (Hepworth, 2006). The colleagues should be equipped with knowledge that helps them understand certain behaviors so that they can be empathetic in handling the clients. That way, solutions to conflicts will be more effective. When the colleagues examine the reasons behind the aggression of workers, they stand a better chance of fostering the clientele relationship easily. Clients such as addicts and alcoholics find it hard to adhere to pieces of advice by the social worker.

According to Lindsay et al (2003), professional and cultural boundaries are integrated in social workers’ behavior. Professional boundaries determine the kind of relationship the colleagues have among themselves and their clients. Sometimes relationships pose a challenge in the social work system and some social workers or clients can breach professional standards.  Social workers find it a challenge to uphold professional values because of external influences like attraction, greed or bias. Therefore, professional boundaries are distinctive and legitimate interactions that define relationships that only promote the services and maintain their credibility. As Reamer (2001) points out, there are ways of managing boundary issues when working with groups. Cultural boundaries must also be present among social workers so that each colleague appreciates and respect other colleagues and clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. These boundaries provide a direction in communication so that people avoid offending each other. I strongly believe that if relevant ethical codes are stipulated in the social work system, social workers and clients will co-exist and work together.

There are also challenges in organizing the group work meetings. The first is locating a venue and finding the appropriate premise for the discussion or forum. The second is finding out the flexibility of group members concerning time and date of meeting. Different colleagues have different personal schedules and no one might be willing to compromise. Working in groups requires team effort so the colleagues must reach an agreement and some arguments can consume a lot of time. Clients in the group can also be stubborn in that they dispel anti-social behaviors while in the meeting.  The facilitator or social worker can cease the confusion by taking the lead and presiding over the contentious issue. According to the journal of social work values and ethics (2004), it is vital to inculcate positive behavior in the client and train him or her to conform to the norms of the society.

Challenges in meeting goals in the group work meeting are mostly brought about by a lot of time consumption on irrelevant matters by the clients. Clients maybe unwilling to cooperate and this means the session will be carried forward. Colleagues may also lack coordination, which would ultimately lead to distortion of goals in the group. Social workers also find it difficult to ensure that rules are followed by the clients. Some clients defy rules because they cannot accept to be controlled and they try to undermine supervision. Managing conflicts in session is a problem due to misunderstandings caused by diversity. The challenge for social workers in applying programs for clients is that some clients may not respond well to their set programs and in the end, the goals of the social workers will not be achieved. The goals of social workers can conflict with those of the clients due to the client’s belief or background. It is up to the social worker to utilize his or her trained abilities to explain the core objective of the program, outlining the benefits it has to their personal lives. I believe that this strategy will overcome the social worker’s challenge of recognizing the suitability for programs to clients.


            Briefly, I can deduce that social workers experience myriads of challenges when dealing with clients and when dealing with each other. Their career is primarily based on cultural and professional understanding, which fosters good relationships in the social system. Working with group work is not easy but the main objective should be to promote behavior change among people in the society and to equip members of the society with added knowledge for peaceful co-existence. In my opinion, social workers must undergo professional training to be able to uphold

code of ethics in their interactions with clients. They must understand cultural boundaries of clients and respect professional boundaries to achieve their goals of providing quality services. They must also understand the different problems of clients so that they can design programs that suit their needs. With that, they will be in a position to apply their theories in the social work. However, working with groups is important because it allows for self-development of clients and social workers.




















Davies, B. (1975). The use of groups in social work practice. London [etc.: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Farley, O. W., Smith, L. L., Boyle, S. W., & Skidmore, R. A. (2003). Introduction to social work. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Hepworth, D. H., & Hepworth, D. H. (2006). Direct social work practice: Theory and skills. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Journal of social work values and ethics. (2004). Harrisburg, PA: White Hat Communications.

Lindsay, J., Turcotte, D., & Hopmeyer, E. (2003). Crossing boundaries and developing alliances through group work. New York: Haworth Press.

Mooney, L. A., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. (2009). Understanding social problems. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Reamer, F. G. (2001). Tangled relationships: Managing boundary issues in the human services. New York: Columbia University Press.




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