The Public Interest

The Unloved Profession

John S. Peterson

Spring 1983

IT is curious that the social work profession has received so little criticism from outsiders. While virtually every other profession law, medicine, teaching, engineering-has had its professional pretensions skewered, social work is perpetually let off the hook. The silence can partly be attributed to the fact that social work does not present a very glamorous target for investigative journalists, nor a very interesting field of inquiry for those who are not social-work academics. Further, while most professions produce defectors who can be counted on to give a lively “inside” critique, this rarely happens with social work. Paradoxically, although the profession generates a high number of dropouts among its enlisted personnel, very few former social workers bother to go public with their professional disillusionment. Social work is shielded by the fact that defectors from the profession usually fall into one of three categories: those who feel guilty, those exhausted to the point of indifference, and those too angry to collect their thoughts (in the subject.  But fortunately, a number of social work veterans are beginning to speak out. In Britain, two of the coolest and most level headed are Colin Brewer and June Lait. Their recent book, Can Social Work Survive?, is indispensable to understanding the profession.  Both write with impeeeable credentials-Brewer as a psychiatrist and a prominent medical journalist, and Lait as a former social and childeare worker now a lecturer in social poliev at University College, Swansea. Their carefully documented study provides a wealth of long overdue material. Although the book has received little attention, it deserves a wide audience; in particular it deserves to be placed in the hands of every aspiring social work student. And with some luck it may even provoke a similar study of American social work.

Download a PDF of the full article.



from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.