A Beginning List of Readings For New Social Work Students

Are you a Social Work student who’s just starting out? Are you considering the field of Social Work as a vocation? Where should you begin?

At the request of one of my readers, I was tasked with answering this question.

I went to members in the Social Work community for support, and they responded.  The following are resources recommended by Social Workers, and current Social Work students.

Lanisha F. 

“All new Social Workers should soak in a spectrum of things. A few of may favorite reads (required/ otherwise). Collectively, these cover a range of subjects.”

Man’s Search for Meaning– Viktor E. Frankl
The Glass Castle-Jeannette Walls
Opening Up -James W. Pennebaker
Helping Abused & Traumatized Children-Eliana Gil
Essential Skills of Social Work Practice– Thomas O’hare


Anyone & Everyone
My Own Four Walls

The Women of Brewster Place


“I’m a general social worker and a school social worker (post secondary vocational education) in The Netherlands and a social worker for 18 years now. I love my job!! To be able to listen to all the stories people have to tell and to help them find a way out of their problems, it’s something I do with great pleasure.

What really helped me taking my social work skills to a next level is the Solution Focused approach, developed in the 80’s by Steve de Shazer and his wife Kim Insoo Berg.

There are loads of books about SFT, but I suggest to stay close to the source and start with the books written by them. My personal favourite is Interviewing for Solutions by Insoo Kim Berg and Peter de Jong. Take time to learn this approach and be kind towards yourself in the learning process, but it is ever so rewarding! It made my work ‘lighter’ in a way and way more effective.

Surabhi Pandit

Between The World And Me 

Adam Thibodeou

Pedagogy of The Oppressed
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded

Linda May Grobman 

“I recommend Brene Brown’s books and TED talks on vulnerability, shame, and wholehearted living. Also Ogden Rogers’ book, Beginnings, Middles, & Ends : Sideways Stories on the Art & Soul of Social Work. There’s an episode,of the Social Work Podcast where you can hear him reading some of the stories. Also, of course, The New Social Worker Magazine.”

Karen Zgoda

“Bias! It is a great resource: THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER® Magazine’s Back-to-School Guide for Social Work Students (Best of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER) by Linda May Grobman et al.

Bill Vanderwill

Grace Lee Boggs–The Next American Revolution

Loti Walker

A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki and “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz”

Charity Hoffman

White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack

Dorlee Michaeli

Online Kit For New Social Workers
Online Tool Kit For Developing a Personal Learning Network On Twitter

Rachel Cloud

ColorlinesAmericanah by Adichie, and Don’t Hit My Mommy are the first that come to mind for me. ” Also I’d add Crazy Like Us by Watters.

Teri Peck

Why love matters by Sue Gerhardt

Nate Crowellsocialworkersuccess.com

-“The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs (www.endofpoverty.com)
-Every Brené Brown book: “The Gifts of Imperfection”, “Daring Greatly”, (www.brenebrown.com)
-“Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn
-“5 Must-See TED Talks For Social Workers (#3 is my favorite)” by Nate Crowell
-“How Not To Practice Social Work” by Eva Forde

From naomi warren

Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology – Andersen & Hill Collins
Readings for Diversity and Social Justice – Adams, Blumenfeld, Castaneda, Hackman, Peters, & Zuniga
Privilege, Power, and Difference – Johnson
On Prejudice: A Global Perspective – Gioseffi
Dismantling Privilege: An Ethics of Accountability – Hobgood
Privilege: A Reader – Kimmel & Ferber
A People’s History of the United States – Zinn (and everything else by Zinn)
Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Freire (and everything else by Freire – Pedagogy of Hope, Pedagogy of Liberation, Letters to Cristina)
Beyond Silenced Voices – Weis & Fine
A Different Mirror – Takaki
We Make the Road by Walking – Horton & Freire
Developing Social Justice Allies – Reason, Broido, Davis, & Evans
Poor People’s Movements – Piven & Cloward
White Like Me – Wise
It’s the Little Things – Williams
Race Matters – West
Whites Confront Racism – O’Brien
One Nation, Underprivileged – Rank
There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions – Lorde
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches – Lorde
Transgender Warriors – Feinberg
Justice and the Politics of Difference – Young
Any of Jonathan Kozol’s books (Savage Inequalities, Rachel and her Children, Amazing Grace, Shame of the Nation, etc.)

The Color of Fear (film) – Lee Mun Wah

From Hilma Nabot

“The constitution book of the country you are studying, Ethics on social work book, Any introduction to social work book you could get a hold of.”

From Nicole

Where to start and what to ask. An assessment handbook. Susan Lukas. 1993

From Social Work Pad

The Clinician’s Thesaurus 

Update 03/06/16

Mikel Brown

“A heart!! A strong unshakable desire to serve! A mind open to teaching and learning. Sufficient energy, patience and perseverance to stay in the war on hate, hurt and harm.”

Jennifer Cobbhttp://www.guilfordcounseling.com

Selling the couch podcast is priceless, and he now has a website up with a growing list of resources.”


“I would be lost without a community resource guide. A list of all available assistance- ( financial, housing, food, clothing, emergency shelters, transportation, prescriptions, mental health, domestic violence, addictions, long and short term healthcare facilities, ect…)

While doing graduate work I compiled all the resources in my county and made several binders with a brochure from each agency (over 1000 at your fingertip resources) — this was and still is an incredible learning tool..”


Back to School 2015 with Social Work Tech

Nicole Clark

“As a social worker that focused on generalist practice in my MSW program, I highly recommend “Social Work Evaluation” by James Dudley, as well as “Consulting Start-Up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers” by Gail V. Barrington”

Update 03/06/16

Lisa Frangipane

“Referred to me during my BSW internship at a substance abuse treatment center, a must for a firm foundation is:”

1) Becoming Naturally Therapeutic by Jacquelyn Small, don’t hesitate!
2) Motivational Interviewing by Miller & Rollnick.
3) Essential Psychopathology & It’s Treatment by Mexmen, Ward & Kilgus
4) Ego Psychology and Social Work by Goldstein.
5) If working with people living with Schizophrenia, research Ron Coleman’s work
6) Diagnosis Schizophrenia: A Comprehensive Resource by R. Miller & S. Mason
7) L. Najavits work with PTSD & substance abuse
8) Linehan’s work with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Student Submissions


“Ruby Payne’s work, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It helps lay a great foundation for the types of generational and social issues that social workers often work with.”

Frances also recommended Ruby Payne’s Bridges Out of Poverty Training

Daniel Zea

“I would recommend reading The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, A Child Called “It”, 101 Careers In Social Work.”


“For students interested in trauma-informed clinical work, John Briere’s book, Principles of Trauma Therapy (DSM-5 edition), is fantastic. It provides a great foundation in trauma theory, but also includes a lot of specific advice on how to incorporate it in clinical work with clients and what trauma-informed therapy actually looks and feels like.

I also really admire Nancy McWilliams and Shawn Shea’s work. McWilliams has several books on clinical practice, and Shea has not only written several excellent books, but has also created his own suicide assessment that is very comprehensive and easy to use, even for students working in the field as part of their training while in school. Some information on that can be found at http://www.suicideassessment.com/, and this is a good, short video in which he talks about the CASE approach to suicide assessment.

I am also a huge fan of Allen Frances’ book, Essentials of Psychiatric Diagnosis: Responding to the Challenge of DSM-5. It’s about a quarter of the size of the actual DSM-5, maybe less, and is very easy to read. His diagnostic tips are excellent and he identifies a lot of common mistakes that are made by clinicians when they diagnose psychiatric conditions.

This book made my course on assessment and psychopathology so much richer because if we had relied only on the dense and cumbersome DSM-5, I would not have learned nearly as much. Also, those who are not fans of the changes in the DSM-5 as compared to the DSM-IV will appreciate Frances’ take on those.

I rely a lot on Selecting Effective Treatments: A Comprehensive, Systematic Guide to Treating Mental Disorders by Linda Seligman in my clinical practice. There is a section on every disorder in the DSM that describes the disorder, the typical characteristics of clients who have it, the most helpful characteristics in a therapist working with that client’s disorder, and specific techniques and modalities that work best. It has been such a great resource in my work with clients of all types, especially those with schizophrenia and personality disorders.”

What would you add?

Do you have any suggestions on what you feel are must-have materials for the new Social Work student?

What books, articles, films, short clips, links, or other materials do you feel should be required reading/viewing/must-have resources for the beginning Social Work student?

Provide your responses in the comment section, and share this post with friends and colleagues who might be interested in contributing.

Thank you for sharing your tips for beginning and potential Social Work students.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW



Get New Notes in Your Inbox

Enter your email address to have new notes delivered to your inbox.

Written by

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

You may also like...

12 Responses

  1. hippiemadi says:

    Thank you thank you SO VERY much!! How very generous and kind of a soul!! This is absolutely wonderful, just wonderful! :) what a way to get me excited!!

    May you be blessed for all your hard work and contributions you make! This absolutely touched my heart:)

  2. As a social worker that focused on generalist practice in my MSW program, I highly recommend “Social Work Evaluation” by James Dudley, as well as “Consulting Start-Up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers” by Gail V. Barrington

  3. Anonymous says:

    I highly recommend new social workers and social work students watch the movie sling blade, Rainman and I am Sam. These movies give you a perspective on some of the populations we serve. I was requires to watch them and I was very enlightened!

  4. Anonymous says:

    No House to Call My Home: Love, Family and Other Transgressions by Ryan Berg, No One Cares About Crazy People by Ron Powers, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Until the End of June by Cris Beam

  5. Anonymous says:

    THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF MY LIFE, by author Priscilla Nystrom, a story of hidden family sexual child abuse. Includes subtle clues for teachers and social workers to watch for, as these may save a young life.

  6. Priscilla Nystrom says:

    THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF MY LIFE, by Priscilla Nystrom, a story of hidden family sexual abuse. Includes subtle clues for teachers and social workers to watch for as these may save a young life.

  7. A new resource book for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse in a home environment entitled : “The First Day of the Rest of My Life” is now available for Social Workers in training. Amazon.com, books , Memoir by Priscilla Nystrom. Commentaries may be reviewed on that sight.

  8. Priscilla Nystrom says:

    “The First Day of the Rest of My Life” is a must have for new social workers in the children’s field of recovery. Their lives depend on it.

Share Your Thoughts: Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: