Social Workers’ Perspectives of Open Group Work Education in Social Work


  • Kiri Wilder The University of Auckland
  • Barbara Staniforth The University of Auckland
  • John Fenaughty The University of Auckland


Group work, Open group work, Open-entry groups, Open group facilitation, Group work training, Social work education


Anecdotal accounts suggest widespread use of open-entry groups in social work, yet research has not kept pace with this practice. Furthermore, the literature details a progressive decline in group work training within social work education. Workers may enter the field without specific training for groups with open membership and there is limited research and theory to guide practice and support learning. This article draws on findings from a qualitative research project that explored social workers’ perceptions and experiences of open group work. The study aimed to gain an understanding of the skills, knowledge, and training social workers consider necessary for competent facilitation of open groups. Six social workers, recruited within Aotearoa New Zealand, participated in interviews which were analysed thematically. Participants reported gaps between their general group work training and practice realities, including minimal, if any, training for open group work. Support for workplace learning, such as mentoring, was similarly lacking. Participants reported steep learning curves and a sense of vulnerability and compromise around their open group work practice. The research underlines the need for both general and open group work training within social work education as well as mentoring and other group work practice support.

Author Biographies

Kiri Wilder, The University of Auckland

School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work

Barbara Staniforth, The University of Auckland

School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work

John Fenaughty, The University of Auckland

School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work


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