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Beyond Talk and Text: An Expressive Visual Arts Method for Social Work Education

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As a social work lecturer, I use a visual arts method to encourage breadth and criticality in student reflections on professional communication. This non-textual approach has produced vivid insights into practice situations and has launched students into a deeper and more detailed level of theoretical analysis than tutors might have expected in the time available. It has worked particularly well for students who do not readily articulate practice experience as academic argument. This article describes the visual method used and discusses the outcomes, with examples of the work produced. It goes on to look at potential explanations for the effectiveness of the method and to consider the relevance of this arts-based thinking for social work. The analysis considers underpinning philosophy, professional development theories, research and debates around social work practice and education, and visual and sensory methods literature from social work and related disciplines. The question of relevance is discussed with particular reference to the review and reform of social work presently underway in England.
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Keywords: Art; Communication; Critical Reflection; Experiential; Phenomenology; Sensory; Social Work; Visual

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2012

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