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The influence of task-centred practice

A happy new year to one and all, and welcome 2013, a year that sees the twenty-first birthday of one of the few social work books that I read cover-to-cover over a single weekend, Task-Centred Social Work by Mark Doel and Peter Marsh. A bit of a tenuous anniversary for a blog post, it may be thought, except that I had a very pleasant exchange of emails with Mark earlier this week, which led to me taking TCSW from my shelf and so to being reminded of the strengths of this excellent book. (Those of you in the social work know might think I’m name-dropping here, but no apologies from me as I’ve known Mark since he was one of my social work tutors at Sheffield from 1987-89, and for my money he was one of the outstanding social work teachers of his generation, or is, rather, as he’s still going strong in (semi)retirement).

The book is of course an excellent introduction to the task-centred approach, though what struck me, from my present-day solution-focused perspective, were the myriad connections between the task-centred and solution-focused/brief therapy approaches. I loved being reminded of the label ‘pots and pans’ social work, credited to an unnamed social work practitioner, and how the authors speak up for the importance of valuing the everyday and often humdrum reality of daily life, which is where social work intervenes and change most often happens. I also realised how ready I had been made for solution-focused brief practices by my immersion in the task-centred approach, and in particular its focus on making desired changes specific, concrete and observable – how will we know when we have been successful? (p106). Then there is its strengths orientation and egalitarianism, and a plea for transparency with the client that is perhaps more strongly and better put than in most solution-focused writing.

So I share Mark’s puzzlement that there is little recognition of the task-centred approach within the solution-focused world – the only piece connecting the two that I can think of being David Bucknell’s 2000 article, ‘Practice teaching: problem to solution’ in Social Work Education (19, 2, 125-144). My hunch is that Steve de Shazer and his Milwaukee colleagues had simply never come across William Reid (the approach’s main founder) and task-centred practice – the latter being too social-work-bound maybe and the former too therapy-bound.

But I recommend the book TCSW strongly, to all outside social work as well as in – you can read it in a weekend after all. It would be especially useful I think to those currently endeavouring to make a case for solution-focused practice not being a psychologically driven approach and that it is somehow unique in this respect. Their approach being created outside of the realm of psychological therapies, task-centred practitioners have never needed to worry about such arcane matters, and have just been able to get on with the pots and the pans.

Afternote – the reason for my present contact with Mark was a search for a reference to a striking idea of his, to encourage practitioners to truly listen to their client by shooting ‘the reflective parrot’ on their shoulder. I was told that this idea was referred to somewhere in TCSW, and Mark thought it was too, but neither of us can find it there. If anyone can locate  where Mark published this idea, in TCSW or elsewhere, I’d be most grateful to hear from you!

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