By Paul R. Pace
Social work is populating the digital practice landscape in multiple virtual locations—not only in psychotherapy but also social support, community action, education, and psychoeducation, say David A. Wilkerson, PhD, MSW, and Liam O’Sullivan, editors of the NASW Press book Social Work in an Online World: A Guide to Digital Practice.
Another interesting aspect of this digital landscape is the role of social justice, the two said. For example, COVID-19 highlighted and intensified existing inequalities in access to technology and internet connectivity, particularly for marginalized communities.
The editors note that several chapters illustrate the application of principles of social justice like digital equity, data justice, and the role of cyberfeminism in response to the challenge of digital inequality.
Wilkerson is associate professor and director of the Office of eSocial Work Education & Practice at the Indiana University School of Social Work. O’Sullivan is executive director of Care Alliance Ireland.
The main inspiration for the text was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift toward virtual social work services.
O’Sullivan responded to the pandemic with an innovative online social support group for caregivers who were no longer receiving needed social services. Nearly 4,800 caregivers have participated in the service. Similarly, Wilkerson launched a telepractice basic training program that has been delivered online through his university to nearly 10,000 social workers, students, and allied professionals.
The pair had been collaborating transnationally before the pandemic began and recognized the need for social workers to stay current with evolving practice. COVID-19 strengthened their collaboration and “Social Work in an Online World” is the result of their decision to provide a guide for students and practitioners and contribute to the future development of digital social work practice.
“We believe social worker practitioners and students can benefit from reading the book,” Wilkerson said. Learning objectives include improved understanding and uses of technology in practice, as well as a better understanding of how technology can enhance the delivery of social work services.
A further outcome is that digital innovations can open access to new treatment modalities and resources, especially when social justice principles are built into intervention, the editors said.