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Reflections on a Life in Social Work: A Personal & Professional Memoir

Reflections on a Life in Social Work: A Personal & Professional Memoir
Olive Stevenson

Preface by Professor Phyllida Parsloe & Sara Glennie Shevenell
Foreword by Professor Harry Ferguson

Olive Stevenson is the foremost social work educator of her generation; an inspiring lecturer, a prolific scholar and inquring researcher and committed public servant and consultant. For more than fifty years she taught social workers at the Universities of Bristol, Oxford and Keele and latterly the University of Nottingham, and inspired many others through her work. Her professional life spanned the years during which the role and task of social work was vigorously debated.

This memoir covers the disparate parts of a life spent in public service and reflects honestly on some key questions for the author and for the profession: What early influences shaped an enduring commitment to social work?; What role did class and religion play in shaping a personal and public morality?; How did major events such as the Maria Colwell Inquiry (1973) shape public attitudes and public policy in relation to child protection?; Who and what influenced the profession’s ambivalent engagement with psychoanalytic ideas?; How can social work ensure a future based on helping vulnerable people through therapeutic relationships?

With characteristic candour and clarity, Olive tackles these questions and more in a book that will be of interest to practising social workers, social work educators and anyone concerned to understand the story behind the headlines that are, too often, deeply critical of the motives and practice of social workers.

Includes two previously unpublished lectures, The 1999 Graham Lecture ‘Growing Older: What is it Like?’ which prompted Olive to begin the process of examining the many influences on her life and work, and ‘Direct Work with Children: The relevance of Clare Winnicott’s teaching to contemporary social work practice’, a discussion of the work of Olive’s former mentor at the London School of Economics, as well as a complete bibliography of Olive’s published works.

Advance Acclaim
A memoir is a rare thing in social work. The profession has a short memory and rarely celebrates its heroes. Olive Stevenson is undoubtedly one of social work’s heroes. She is a front-line witness to the major changes that have run through social work as the political tides have raced this way and that. We hear first hand what it was like to manage and practise, observe and analyse, teach and research – in a children’s home, a clinic, a Children’s Department, a Commission, a university. And we are treated to an insider’s view of being a member of the Maria Colwell Inquiry, a landmark event in the history of British child care. But the book is much more than an historical account, as valuable and insightful as this is. Olive reflects, with extraordinary candour and honesty, on her own life, her family and feelings, her roles and relationships. So we gradually become aware, that she was changed by social work every bit as much as it was changed by her. The result is a book that is as inspiring as it is unusual, a joy to read, and a beautiful reminder of the importance of the relationship, the reflective self, and the gifted mind in the practice of social work.
David Howe
Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of East Anglia, Norwich

I am privileged, as one of those who started their social work career as a student of Olive Stevenson, to commend this book to the present generation of social workers and their colleagues in the helping services. Readers are invited into the personal and professional life of a social worker and educator whose ‘academic brilliance and humanity’ (Harry Ferguson, in his insightful introductory chapter) have, through her teaching and publications, impacted on so many people of all ages who have found themselves in need of social care services. Running through this memoir is the clearly articulated theme. Relationship-based helping, adapted from its roots in psychoanalysis by the early social work practitioners, remains central to effective practice. There is no contradiction between this over-arching approach, and the sensitive alleviation of material disadvantage and the skilled use of cognitive-behavioural and other therapeutic methods. But the daily challenge for social workers is, as Olive puts it, ‘how best, in seeking to help others, to use ones’ mind and one’s feelings together’.
June Thoburn
Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of East Anglia, Norwich

168pp paperback
ISBN 978-1906531-57-7

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