Helen E. Northen

1912 – 2006

Passionate contributor to social group work theory

Born in Butte, Montana, Helen Northen’s active membership in Camp Fire Girls while in high school inspired her lifetime interest in working with groups. She received her B.A. in psychology at the University of Washington in 1939, her MSW in 1944 at the University of Pittsburgh, and then pursued a doctorate at Bryn Mawr College, which she obtained in 1953.

Dr. Northen was a renowned social work educator, clinical social work practitioner, and author with over 40 years of exceptional leadership in the profession. As an educator, Dr. Northen made important contributions to the development of services in health and mental health settings. During her 28 years as a professor at the USC School of Social Work, she set a precedent in the development of a health care concentration and was a leader in formulating a generic model of social work that became the corner-stone of USC’s social work curriculum. She was a prolific writer whose published books have been adopted as texts by many schools through-out the nation and in other countries, especially her books on group work. A generation of social workers in Southern California and around the world remembers how much of their professional talent began its development in Dr. Northen’s classes. The contents of a special course she taught, “Theoretical Bases of Social Work Practice”, is embodied in the teaching skills of her doctoral graduates, many now teaching in a variety of academic social work programs.

Dr. Northen held many leadership positions in professional organizations. She played a key role in the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups (AASWG). A lifetime member of NASW, Dr. Northen’s work always emphasized health and mental health and the application of a broadly conceived, ecologically focused social work practice. She also served on NASW’s National Council on the Practice of Clinical Social Work.

She continued her contributions in retirement with participation in social work group work activities and made significant contributions to an on-going committee working toward compiling the Arlien Johnson Social Welfare History Collection. Dr. Northen received many awards in her career, among them the prestigious Distinguished Practitioner of Social Work, Distinguished Faculty Member of the University of Southern California, the USC Lifetime Achievement Award and the “Legacy Laureate Award” from the University of Pittsburgh.

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