Books reviewed by James Woodward

The Art of Helping Others

The Art of Helping Others by Heather Smith and Mark K SmithHeather Smith and Mark K Smith
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008, £16.99, ISBN 9781843106388

In the UK today social care is hugely undervalued and under-resourced.  There needs to be a major shift of will to recognise the transforming change that is possible when a carer offers help, understanding and support.  Those involved in social care deserve more recognition but especially through their financial remuneration.  This obvious point stands alongside the acknowledgement that there are many thousands of people who offer care without being acknowledged or paid.

Care is complex.  We all find ourselves caring for a wide range of different reasons.  I remember an insightful supervisor who always used to ask “Whose needs are being met in this caring relationship?”  We need sometimes to look inwards and make connections there before we can connect outwardly towards those we try to help. 

Another factor is important here.  We often test out people in a variety of ways before deciding whether we might open our lives up to them and trust them with our vulnerabilities.  We all know of people in our lives to whom we can turn and find dependable, compassionate, wise counsel and support.  Why is it that some people simply seem to ‘have it’ when it comes to care, while others, despite training, challenge all support simply are not able to be present in a given situation?

This book picks up some of these issues.  It is aimed at those who recognise the qualities of a good listener in themselves and wish to develop this capacity to engage and help others.

The authors argue for ways of approaching helping and counselling that are rooted in care and commitment and they draw upon a wide range of experiences.  Youth workers, those working in housing support and hostel workers, clergy and those working in religious settings, educators and settlement and community workers are all used to discuss the theme of help, being and being wise.

Amongst the issues discussed are the aspects of the helping process, what it might mean to live well, self- knowledge and the importance of changing through reflectiveness on our relationships with others.

This book is a rich harvest of experience and knowledge, but I wondered how an individual might use it.  There were many times in reflecting on the text that I wanted to engage in conversation with fellow carers, to challenge some of my own assumptions and be more reflective about practice.

Despite this, the text was illuminating and insightful and the authors are to be commended for these skills.

James Woodward