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Saul Bernstein (1905 - 1997)

Saul Bernstein, Professor Emeritus, Boston University School of Social Work, was a pioneer in many areas: groupwork practice, theory and education; the formation of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) from the separate social work professional organizations; the initiation of one of the first continuing education programs in schools of social work; the examination of social work values and ethics; and the achievement of social justice for all people.

A graduate of Cornell University in 1928, he received a certificate in social work in 1937 and a MSW in 1942 from Columbia University. He was Director of Boys’ Work at University Settlement in Cleveland. Following directorship of the Jewish Centers Association in Boston, he joined the faculty of the Boston University School of Social Work to start the Group Work Department, develop a group work curriculum and field practice sites. In 1959, he gave leadership to the development of a social work practice course in which faculty from the three methods taught together, using a case record of a poor family from a Boston neighborhood who needed multiple services to maximize their potential for coping with their problems. Selection of intervention methods was determined by individual, group and community needs rather than by a social worker’s particular method allegiance.

The pioneering practice course led to the Groupwork Theory Committee, consisting of clinical faculty, practitioners, as well as faculty from the Human Relations Center, which Professor Bernstein has helped to found in 1953. The Committee’s work resulted in the publications Explorations in Group Work and Further Explorations in Group Work. These included a formulation of a theory of group development and practice interventions during five group stages. These books had British, German and South American editions. Professor Bernstein has taught in Israel, Northern Ireland, Brazil, and Canada as well as in the USA at the University of Connecticut and Barry College in Florida. Professor Bernstein’s other publications were devoted to youth gangs and violence and to issues in values, particularly self-determination.

The development of continuing education was another pioneering endeavor. Starting in 1947, he initiated the Boston University School of Social Work Spring Institute. The twenty years of his leadership resulted in the award to Professor Bernstein of one of the first NIMH multidisciplinary Continuing Education grants. This award was followed by many other grants and expansion into national and international programs.

The person behind the title of Professor Emeritus focused upon people’s strengths and potential rather than on disabilities. Saul Bernstein was a thoughtful, ethical, humorous and modest person who encouraged thinking and discourse with faculty, students and practitioners. He earned the devotion of the many hundreds of people whom he taught and with whom he worked. He was a true pioneer in spirit, mind and actions.

Social Work Pioneer - 1994