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Social Work in an Online World
A Guide to Digital Practice
David A. Wilkerson and Liam O’Sullivan, Editors
ISBN: 978-0-87101-584-6. 2023. Item #5846. 242 pages.
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Earn 6.0 CEUs for reading this title! For more information, visit the Social Work Online CE Institute.

Prior to 2020, the field of social work was limited in its adoption of digital practice. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional, in-person service delivery was dramatically interrupted. Previously at a crossroads, the field is now experiencing a seemingly unstoppable shift toward modern technology-mediated forms of delivery.

Social Work in an Online World addresses this shift and charts the changing landscape from analog to digital practice in varied client systems, system needs, and system levels (micro, mezzo, and macro). Going beyond online mental health service, which is largely individually focused and synchronously delivered, the authors offer a map of digital social work practice that can be expanded to include support, identity, community action, education, and psychoeducation.

Contributors provide a comprehensive tour of digital social work practice that covers individual, group, and macro work in a variety of settings using accessible theory and real-world examples that provide valuable insights and reflections about the strengths and limitations of their approaches. In addition, the book places special emphasis on digital equity and data justice, highlighting the core social work value of social justice.

Social Work in an Online World demonstrates that the shift to hybrid and digital practice is moving forward, largely positively, for social workers and for those they seek to serve. Readers wishing to adopt digital practices will be inspired by this groundbreaking guide to apply these standards in their own practice and applications.
Introduction: Mapping Social Work Practice in an Online World
David A. Wilkerson and Liam O’Sullivan

Chapter 1: Harnessing Technology for Social Justice: Radical Approaches
to Digitally Revolutionize Social Work
Kristin Funk and Dale Fitch

Chapter 2: A Team-Based Approach to Moderating Online Support Groups
Liam O’Sullivan and David A. Wilkerson

Chapter 3: Best Practices in Technology-Based Supports in Working with Children, Adolescents, and Families
Susan Elswick, Christy Peterson, Gregory Washington, and Ebony Barnes

Chapter 4: Advancing Data Justice
Neil Ballantyne

Chapter 5: Online Opportunities for Community Action: Social Media as a Vehicle for Social Justice
Kerry Cuskelly and Imelda Ojeda

Chapter 6: The Power of Online Synchronous Cognitive–Behavioral Group Intervention: A Get S-M-A-R-T Illustration
Virgil L. Gregory, Jr., and Lisa Werth

Chapter 7: Bridging Education and Practice with e-OSCE Simulations
Samantha Wolfe-Taylor, Khadija Khaja, and Christian Deck

Chapter 8: Creating a Digital School Safety Service: A Pathway from Traditional Analog to Digital Practice
James R. Brown and John M. Keesler

Chapter 9: Digital Hybrid Psychoeducation: Model Development and Case Illustration
David A. Wilkerson

About the Editors
About the Contributors
David A. Wilkerson, PhD, MSW, is an associate professor and director of the Office of e-Social Work Education and Practice at Indiana University School of Social Work in Indianapolis. His practice experience with youth and families in the field of mental health led to his research interest in digital social work education and practice. His work addresses a gap in intervention designs, enabling peer support to develop and contribute to the outcomes of online psychoeducation interventions. He has applied these interests in research with caregivers of behaviorally challenging adolescents and caregivers of persons with dementia. His contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning have also focused on digital practice and include student decision making in the matter of adoption of telepractice and continuing education in telepractice basics for practitioners responding to COVID-19. In another application of digital practice, he is participating in the development of a state-funded, university–community collaboration to provide rural library patrons with accessible online well-being resources and support.

Liam O’Sullivan, MA, NQSW, is the executive director of Care Alliance Ireland, an award-winning alliance of more than 95 nonprofit organizations supporting family caregivers in the Republic of Ireland. He earned his social work qualification in 1998 from Trinity College Dublin and has worked in statutory social work and in several nonprofit organizations. His work with Care Alliance since 2004 has included bringing National Carers Week to Ireland, developing collaborative and impactful relationships with third-level institutions in family caregiver research, and establishing an online family caregiver support group that engages and supports thousands. He has been actively involved in the international family caregivers’ movement, initially with the establishment of Eurocarers and, more recently, as a trustee of the International Alliance of Carer Organizations. He has additional qualifications in youth and community studies; social research methods; and, most recently, implementation science. He has a particular interest in good governance and in bridging the gap between research policy and practice.
Neil Ballentyne, MPhil, is principal lecturer in social work at Te Pūkenga, the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, where he teaches in a blended learning social work program. He is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Otago, working on a thesis on the datafication of social welfare and the rise of the international movement for data justice.

Ebony Barnes, MS, is project director for the Center for the Advancement of Youth Development at the University of Memphis in Tennessee. Her work with youth is both varied and multifaceted, ranging from youth coordinator for a nonprofit system of care to elementary school teacher for Shelby County Schools, to project coordinator for the Center for the Advancement of Youth Development with the University of Memphis Department of Social Work. She has worked with specialized communities, such as youth with emotional and behavioral disorders, youth impacted by trauma, and youth at risk for detrimental social and educational outcomes.

James R. Brown, PhD, LCSW, is associate professor at the Indiana University School of Social Work in Bloomington. He has 13 years of social work practice experience serving rural children and youth through prevention and intervention services. His work as a practitioner influenced him to examine aspects of school safety, particularly school bullying from the perspectives of multiple stakeholders, including parents. He currently is implementing free-use, technology-based interventions to help parents and youth address bullying.

Kerry Cuskelly, RSW, MSW, MSc, is principal social worker in adult mental health. She completed her MSW at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland and master’s degrees in advanced healthcare practice as well as digital healthcare transformation at University of Limerick in Ireland. She is a lecturer at Ireland’s University College Dublin, University College Cork, and Maynooth University, where she addresses critical and radical social work, policy practice, critical mental health, activism in social work, and social work and technology. She is a published author and has a particular interest in qualitative systematic reviews and practitioner research.

Christian Deck, LCSW, CTMH, is lecturer with the Indiana University School of Social Work in Indianapolis, teaching primarily in the online MSW program. His research focuses include e-simulations, telebehavioral health practice, online social work education, social work futures, and the enhancement of e-social work distance education through program development and technology design. He is a clinical social worker licensed in Indiana and conducts online practice with college students.

Susan Elswick, EdD, LCSW, LSSW, RPT-S, IMH-E, is full professor at the University of Memphis School of Social Work in Tennessee and a clinical social worker licensed in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas with more than 16 years in practice. Her research focuses on the development of trauma-responsive, school-based mental health programs; expressive art therapies/experiential therapies; and the use of informatics and technology in the field of social work. Her research has been funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Tennessee state-level awards, and Health Resources and Services Administration, and through numerous community and regional partnership awards.

Dale Fitch, PhD, MSSW, is associate professor in the University of Missouri School of Social Work and core faculty in the University of Missouri Institute for Data Science & Informatics in Columbia. Following a 15-year practice career, his research focuses on the use of information technology in human services organizations.

Kristin Funk, LCSW, LCAC, is currently a PhD student and research assistant at the Indiana University School of Social Work in Indianapolis. She is a clinical social worker and clinical addictions counselor licensed in Indiana. Her research focuses on digital equity and rural social work.

Virgil Gregory, Jr., PhD, LCSW, LCAC, MSCR, is associate professor at the Indiana University School of Social Work in Indianapolis. He has practiced as a clinical social worker using cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT) in the treatment of persons with mood, anxiety, psychotic, and substance use disorders. His research, which has a translational emphasis, includes the evaluation and implementation of CBT in the treatment of opioid use disorder and affective disorders and in persons of African descent. His research methods include psychometric validation, systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and clinical trials.

John M. Keesler, PhD, is associate professor with the Indiana University School of Social Work in Bloomington. His practice experience spans more than a decade and includes direct care, behavioral health, and administration among nonprofit organizations supporting both people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Rooted in his social work practice, his scholarship examines the impact of adversity and trauma; integration and evaluation of trauma-informed care; and efforts to promote quality of life, with an emphasis on the disability service industry and rural communities.

Khadija Khaja, PhD, MSW, is associate professor at Indiana University School of Social Work in Indianapolis. Her research, teaching, and service have focused on human rights and international social work policy and practice, including the impact of war and terrorism on Muslim communities, child welfare, and women’s health and the growth of White nationalist movements. Her professional presentations, peer-reviewed publications, and book chapters have been internationally recognized. She has received numerous awards, such as Outstanding Woman Faculty Leader Award, Translating Research into Practice Scholar, Dr. Joseph Taylor Excellence in Diversity Award, Trustee Teaching Award, and Chancellors Excellence in Multicultural Teaching Award.

Imelda Ojeda, MSW, MPA, is community social worker and academic associate at the Arizona State University School of Social Work in Phoenix. There, she is an instructor in diversity and oppression, program evaluation, and professional seminars. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, she migrated to Arizona, where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a double master’s degree in social work and public administration from Arizona State University. She works in nonprofit administration and development with a focus on access to healthcare. She also cohosts Social Worker’s Break Room podcast and leads grassroots efforts as an activist and advocate for immigrant rights, reproductive justice, and health equity.

Christy Peterson, MPPA, is currently a PhD candidate in the applied behavioral analysis program at the University of Memphis in Tennessee. Her research interests include culturally centered empowerment methods and use of protective factors associated with youth development. A major goal of this work is to identify and promote the use of innovative culturally centered group interventions that reduce risk for disparities in behavioral health, socioeconomic, and incarceration outcomes among young people of color. She has served as a project coordinator for the University of Memphis SMART Center and has managed multiple federal, state, and local projects.

Gregory Washington, PhD, LCSW, is director of the Center for the Advancement and Youth Development and a full professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Memphis in Tennessee. He is clinical social worker and has been licensed in Illinois, Georgia, Arkansas, and Tennessee, where he has practiced individual, family, and group therapy. He also is a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration–funded researcher and community clinical practitioner. A major goal of his scholarship is to identify and promote the use of innovative culturally centered interventions that reduce risk for disparities in behavioral health and incarceration outcomes among people of color.

Lisa Werth, LCSW, LCAC, is developer of substance use early intervention programs in Indiana. Having a strong clinical background combined with significant skill in program development, she is the creative mind behind the evidence-based curricula, Get S-M-A-R-T, at Calla Collaborative Health in Lafayette, Indiana.

Samantha Wolfe-Taylor, PhD, LCSW, CTH, is assistant professor and associate director of the Office of e-Social Education and Practice at Indiana University School of Social Work in Indianapolis. She is a practicing certified telehealth clinician in Indiana. Her teaching and research focus on distance education, online simulations, and telehealth. She manages the e-social work practice graduate certificate program and online simulation education for the Indiana University School of Social Work.
Wilkerson and O’Sullivan have pulled together an invaluable, international text that addresses the most pressing issue of our time—how to integrate technology into social work training and practice. Social Work in an Online World is written as clearly, usefully, and thoughtfully as anything I’ve read about that integration. The digital social work practice map offers a crucial reframing of leading-edge concepts such as data equity and data justice and traditional practice domains like psychotherapy and community action. As a member of the Council on Social Work Education’s Futures Task Force and colead of the Harness Technology for Social Good grand challenge, I recommend this text without hesitation to social work scholars, students, and practitioners.

Jonathan B. Singer, PhD, LCSW
Loyola University Chicago


Social work practitioners and managers are increasingly embracing the opportunities afforded by digital and online practice. Social Work in an Online World brings us a wealth of ideas and frameworks to help navigate this transition. The authors examine a myriad of opportunities for interventions, advocacy, support, and engagement. However, the text also challenges us to consider how the values of the profession, inequalities, and ethical considerations will shape our practices in digital and online spaces. Readers will be especially interested in the authors’ ideas on how to use online and digital technologies to promote social justice, activism, and macro-level change.

Kenneth Burns, PhD, BSocSc, MSW, NQSW
Associate Professor in Social Work
University College Cork, Ireland


Social work, like many fields, faced a disruptive challenge as the COVID-19 pandemic required a rapid move to technology-driven interventions and new systemic operations. Social Work in an Online World provides the much-needed practical guide to illustrate this shift. It is a must-read handbook that introduces readers to a range of opportunities to enhance social work practice with technology. Going beyond synchronous telehealth, the chapters provide a view of micro, mezzo, and macro digital practices with clear examples and materials to support implementation. Through each chapter there is a responsible balance of the promise and challenges of embedding technology, and an unwavering commitment to social justice. Wilkerson and O’Sullivan’s book urges the field to continue our meaningful integration of technology and builds on the grand challenge commitment to harness technology for social good.

Stephanie Cosner Berzin, PhD
Vice Provost, Professor
School of Social Work
Simmons University, Boston, MA


Using the six practice areas in the digital social work map (support, identity, community action, psychotherapy, education, and psychoeducation), the authors provide an excellent foundation for thinking about digital approaches to the field, with a constant focus on ethical standards for digital equity and data justice. The authors’ detailed explanations of their processes and their engaging, informative, and approachable writing style make digital practice accessible for readers who may be new to technology or digital innovations. The lessons learned and challenges encountered provide valuable insights for practitioners who may be considering similar projects in their own school or practice.

Sarah Caliboso-Soto, EdD, LCSW
Assistant Director of Clinical Programs
Associate Professor of Social Work Practicum Education
Department of Children, Youth and Families
Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work
University of Southern California, Los Angeles

To hear an interview with the book’s editors, David A. Wilkerson and Liam O'Sullivan, listen to the podcast or watch the interview below!

Earn 6.0 CEUs for reading this title! For more information, visit the Social Work Online CE Institute.