The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “self help”


Outrospection is the 21st Century response to the introspection of the self-help movement of the 20th Century.  Instead of making ourselves the focus of our world let’s focus on the world around us.  Go beyond the one-on-one emotional empathy we associate with therapy and psychology and develop our cognitive empathy to help whole communities.  Hey, wait a minute: doesn’t that sound a bit like the roots of social work that pre-dated the self-help movement of the last century, with pioneers such as Octavia Hill, Joseph Rowntree, the founders of the Charities Commission and the anti-slave trade campaigners?  Could this be social work’s antidote to the managerialism that has blighted our profession for the best part of twenty years?

Check out the infographic below from Roman Krznaric, explaining his take on Outrospection, and then challenge your thoughts on empathy with philosopher and professor Paul Bloom in his article “Against Empathy”.

RSA Animate – The Power of Outrospection from The RSA on Vimeo.


Resilience – book review

As social workers we often talk about resilience from the perspective of developing it in others.  This book is not about telling us how to do that.  It’s not an academic social work book.  Because sometimes (frequently), working in the caring professions takes its toll and its worth checking out how we are doing in the resilience stakes for ourselves.

Resilience: How to cope when everything around you keeps changing, by Liggy Webb, 2013, published by Capstone, Chichester, £10.99, ISBN 978-0-857-08387-6

In response to the burgeoning market in self-help books, eight years ago (in 2006) Steve Salerno published S.H.A.M.: How the Self Help Movement Made America Helpless. A lone voice crying in the wilderness. Since then not a lot has changed. Go into any bookstore and you will still find shelf upon shelf dedicated to self-help and personal development books. The problem, as Salerno pointed out, is the books themselves don’t solve our problems. So we keep going back for more. We’ve not got the message and we’re not passing it down the generations, otherwise our perceived need for these books would not keep their writers in production.

A fraction of these books have become classics: with its intriguing title, Robin Sharma’s (1999) The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari; pared to the bone and with its cartoon simplicity, Paul McGee’s (2005) S.U.M.O. – Shut Up, Move On; and, probably one of the best known, Spenser Johnson’s (1998) Who Moved my Cheese?, being among them.

The worst, the ones that drop off the radar after a few months, are often arduous, demanding the reader stick to a laudable but unachievable regime of activities, or lack an inspirational writing style.

So where does Liggy Webb’s Resilience: How to cope when everything around you keeps changing fit in? I’d give it a seven out of ten. It’s not got the punch to be a classic but it is well designed and simply written enough for the layperson to follow. And what professional doesn’t appreciate a bit of easy reading in between the policies, procedures and academia?

There’s nothing new here. It’s all good common sense based on years of scientific learning about what causes stress and how best to deal with it. Or the psychology of how our minds, our experiences, the problems we face, and more, interact and affect our physical and emotional wellbeing. The title could easily be about coping with stress or developing a lifestyle for success. Resilience, self-confidence, dealing with change and conflict, emotional control, turning problems into opportunities, decision making, healthy lifestyles and more are all covered in separate chapters. Each chapter begins with a relevant inspirational quote, ends with practical exercises, and contains anecdotes and stories that might be called case studies in a more academic work. Teachers, social workers and other care professionals will recognise tools such as Mindfulness, Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT) and SMART goal setting that can be followed up elsewhere. The book ends with easy to reference resilience materials: a 40 point summary of tips to be more resilient and positive, inspiring songs, books and website resources.

This book won’t change your life. Only you can do that. But it does contain lots of good common sense advice and an introduction to a number of useful tools and ideas in an easy to read style that, once bought, you may want to keep on your bookshelf to refer back to when times get a bit tough, or just to check occasionally that you are keeping on top of your game.

HeartMath book reviews

The HeartMath Solution by Doc Childre and Howard Martin with Donna Beech (1999)
Paperback, Published by HarperOne (
The HeartMath Solution combines the underpinning theory and research behind the HeartMath system of reducing stress and living a more coherent life, with self-help style instructions on how to turn theory into practice.

In HeartMath the heart is considered to be a source of intelligence and wisdom, alongside but more reliable than brain intelligence in developing a lifestyle in which stress and negative emotions no longer cause harm. The authors back up their practice with scientific research and short case stories or real life examples of how others have been helped through HeartMath.

Explaining heart intelligence, in the introduction the authors state, “One of the exciting aspects of life at the cusp of the new century is that people are sensing the possibility of a merger between science and spirit … [and] …. the heart is the doorway to this union.” And “… our theory is that the heart links us to a higher intelligence through an intuitive domain where spirit and humanness merge.”

However, although the exercises and practice of HeartMath have not changed, the fact that the book was originally written in 1999 gives a dated feel to the writing and presentational style that does not necessarily do the program justice in the 21st Century. A badly needed second edition would also give the developers of HeartMath the opportunity to provide more recent research evidence.


Transforming Stress by Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman (2005)
Paperback, Published by New Harbinger Publications, Oakland

Published just six years later this book has a more modern feel to it and is part of what has become a series of books from the HeartMath Institute.  “Transforming Stress” gives a good background to the causes and consequences of stress while slowly introducing the HeartMath principles and techniques used to deal with stress and learn how to prevent stress from becoming a problem.

The authors state: The key to transforming stress lies in your power to regulate your emotions and perceptions. That power comes from your heart. You can learn how to engage your heart rhythms to manage your emotions and perceptions….. You don’t manage the situation, …. you manage your reaction to it, gaining a new feeling with new insight about how to best approach the stressful situation even as it is occurring. (p.18)

The first and foundational technique begins with learning to ‘breathe’ through your heart, aligning the rhythms of your heart to your other physical systems in order to access the natural intelligence or brain of the heart. The authors state: this entire book is about building inner security through aligning with the intelligence of your heart. Various short case stories or real life examples demonstrate how others have been helped through achieving this and the subsequent techniques.

Whether or not you practice the specific HeartMath techniques this book provides some useful exercises as well as general information about the development and impact of stress that makes it a useful addition to any library.

The value of ‘having more’

One of my earliest experiences of working with children & families in social work was visiting a young mother who was excited because the “Provie Man” (Provident Loan company) had lent her £200 so she could buy Christmas presents for her children.  I didn’t want to destroy her temporary sense of happiness and excitement, and it was too late to change the fact of the loan, but I knew that with crippling interest rates she would struggle to pay way over the odds in interest over the coming year, and no doubt repeat the cycle again the next year.  All so she could buy a pile of cheap toys that would break in no time.  She was just one of many in the same situation.

Travelling in Ecuador at Christmas I stayed with a family whose children received only one present: a bag of mixed biscuits and sweets.  All the children in the village received the same present.  Few received anything else.  The parents simply explained that they couldn’t afford to buy the children any more presents.  Yet none complained.

The children didn’t go without.  They received everything they needed it when they needed it: clothes, books for learning.  There were few toys but plenty of opportunity to play with natural materials, using their imagination in play with friends of all ages.  Play was not always supervised and sometimes might have been thought unsafe, but they learned to help and look after each other.  There was also masses of love and attention from their parents, their aunties and uncles, cousins, siblings, friends and neighbours, as they learnt the ways of their community.

From the opening lines from Michael Meegan’s book, All will be well – “We were not designed to live the lifestyle that has become predominant today.  The nature of our Western economy is to feed an insatiable value system based on having more.  It is based on people not being happy.  If people began thinking that they were content with what they possessed already, the economy could no longer sell you the latest style or the latest ‘must-have’ stuff …..  We settle for trifles such as wealth, fame and comfort … self help books, at best, do three things … remind people they are locked into cycles and patterns of negative thinking; point out practical ways of changing behaviour or developing self-awareness and they can help people to climb out of emotional straightjackets; but these are merely by-products for a way of life that we were never meant to live.  … It is often easier to read about happiness than to become happy, easier to aspire than to do, easier to plan than to break the entrenched patterns of our daily routine.”

Meegan sums up well the cause of so many of the social problems social workers spend their working lives dealing with, picking up the pieces from the fallout of the “insatiable value system of having more”; including the consequence that leads young women and others to take out Christmas loans they cannot afford to buy things their children don’t really need so they can feel they are meeting their children’s needs and so their children can begin early compete among their peers to climb the ladder of always “having more”.

Society demands social workers deal with society’s problems, recently in England this including taking the form of the Troubled Families Programme.  Allegedly social workers are applying the values of society: do not steal or murder, etc, etc.  But are these the real values of modern society?  And how do the real values of society compare to the values of social work?


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