The story of the sunrise of social work in Iran

The first section of an exclusive interview of Iranian Social Work Media with Dr. Mostafa Eghlima

When it comes to social work, the first thing that comes to mind is the cool breeze of helping, and there may not be much success among the concepts of aid, social services, and social work in the first place but the reality is that each of these words has its own concepts, and of course the social work is a word that needs more explanations.

Therefore, we arranged a conversation with Dr. Mostafa Eghlima, father of social work in Iran.

Dr. Eghlima said in an interview with Iran’s Social Work Online Magazine: Social work in our country means helping based on what is already understood and received (perceived).

It should be mentioned there was a field called social services in universities before the (Iranian) Revolution, and the concept of social services was to help the needy and those, who provided help in various fields, were known as workers, but it should be noted that the meaning of social work is other than this is.

Stating that many people are still not familiar with the concept of social work, he added:

Many people say that we are social workers, and they are right since the concept of social work in our culture is to help and people can help others but it should not be forgotten that social work has another meaning and it deals with the cognition of the factors and infrastructures of the problem that has arisen for people.

Social work is knowing the factors influential in individual, family, and social issues.

For example, when facing a patient with pain, the doctor first prescribes a painkiller so that the patient can be relieved a little and then, he/she thinks about the cause of the disease and its treatment. In fact, the social work is the very first reliever, and thinking about the cause of pain and treatment is what the social work does.

Therefore, social work is knowing the factors influential in individual, family, and social issues. When the problem is identified, the social worker presents a plan to the relevant authorities to implement and solve the problem in order to eliminate the factors that cause it. So, the social work deals with the root causes that lead to social issues.

How to provide advice by social workers

Stating that social work is counseling all over the world, Eghlima reminded: 90% of people have problems, which can be personal, family, social, cultural or political. In the meantime, the task of the social worker is to find the causes of the problem creation in the society in the field of personal, family, social, and cultural issues and to see how these causes harm and then to discuss the appropriate strategies with the authorities, community members, and the individual itself. This is how the social worker advises his/her client.

A social worker is also a consultant, a consultant who deals with knowing the root of the problems according to the culture and society in the field of individual, family, social, and cultural problems and provides strategies proportionate to the culture and society.

In fact, we help the client to understand his/her problem. After this awareness, he/she can either solve his/her problem or cannot. If he/she cannot solve it, the he/she accepts the problem and with his/her acceptance, his/her unhappiness will be removed. It should be noted that currently 90% of counseling work in the country is related to social workers and the remaining 10%, which is in the field of diseases, is related to psychologists and psychiatrists.

In a part of his speech, this university lecturer stated: Everyone can be a consultant in his/her field of expertise. For example, a skilled correspondent can give advice to his/her colleagues in order to organize the news better. A social worker is also a consultant, a consultant who deals with knowing the root of the problems according to the culture and society in the field of individual, family, social, and cultural problems and provides strategies proportionate to the culture and society.

A brief at the history of social work in Iran

The history of Iran’s social work is a story that is intertwined with the name of “Setareh Farmanfarmaian”, the mother of Iran’s social work.

We know that significant historical information on Iran’s social work is available in a book titled “Individual Help (work), Work with Individual” written by Dr. Mostafa Eghlima and Ghoncheh Raheb. However, we asked Dr. Eghlima to speak briefly about this and he said: Before Mrs. Setareh Farmanfarmaian, there was another lady whose name I do not know. She also started activities in the field of help. As soon as she came to Iran, some service activities were done. The lady went to the villages of Damavand and tried to improve the living standards of the people of those villages with the help of a group of people. After that, Mrs. Farmanfarmaian entered Iran.

Mrs. Farmanfarmaian saw that there are many problems and there is no organization or service in Iran to help people. I remind you, “helping people” not “social work”; These two words are completely different. The fact is that government agencies did not have any laws to help people at that time, but Ms. Farmanfarmaian came and took a room in the basement of the Ministry of Labor building and set up a center where the “social services” associate course was offered.

Therefore, two-year courses were set up and the ones, who completed their studies, were employed in centers such as hospitals to help financially needy people. These people were actually working as helpers, not social workers.

He went on to say: After a while, they built a building on Valiasr Street and this center was transferred from the basement to the new building, where a bachelor’s degree in social services was offered, and of course I was one of her students.

The social service degree they gave us was in two sections, so that it was first considered up to the associate degree. If the students were found suitable (fit) for this work (job), then they could continue until the bachelor’s degree and receive a bachelor’s degree in social services. After the graduation, we worked as social workers in various centers that were considered to be centers for helping people but our degree and expertise was the service and we only provided service. A service that anyone could provide, but because we had studied this course, they told us, you know best how much to give to whom. It is worth mentioning that they added a postgraduate (master’s) course to this field after a while. It should be noted that the bachelor’s degree in this field was not related to the Ministry of Science, but they received a permission from the master’s degree as “Social Services Management” from the Ministry of Science.

Stating that before the victory of the (Islamic) Revolution, there was a social service field and a master’s degree in social service management, the scholar stipulated: After the Revolution, those, who had positions in social services, left, but those, who said that there was no need for social services after the Islamic Republic and that the necessary services was provided with the people due to the existence of the Islamic Republic, saw that many problems have arisen. Therefore, they considered a person as the vice-chancellor of Education and Research and told him/her to open a college to create a field called social work, because they realized that there was no one to investigate the causes and factors of the problems.

In this way, in 1991, Dr. Mohammad Taghi Joghtaei, found me through my friends while I was in France at that time and had studied this field and asked me to come to Tehran. I also came because I was interested in and they also had talked to me about my presence with full authority and designing this field in Iran. This was despite the fact that before the Revolution, we did not have a field called “social work” and there was only “social services” which had become a social science department, and on the one hand, due to the fact that I saw a series of regulations were arisen in the offices to help people and the problems must be recognized, so I departed for Iran and according to the issues problems existed in the country and the units taught in the world, I tried to explain this field and define its sub-chapters with the officials related to the subject.

Stating that the social work is one of the fields in the world that works as a social therapist and is considered among rehabilitation groups such as physiotherapy, speech-therapy, and occupational-therapy, he said:

With all the various problems we faced in the Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education, we ratified the social work field in the Planning Council, Supreme Council of the Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education, and the Cultural Revolution Council after our attempts for a year and a half, and finally, the social work field was included in the national entrance exam for student admission in 1994.

Trying to create a recruitment item

We wanted to admit students, but we didn’t have a recruitment line for that. Eghlima continued and said: There were only ten or twenty positions for social workers, and even those considered since a long time ago had changed into experts in welfare affairs.

Hence, during the 4 years that should have been spent for undergraduate education, the necessary follow-ups were carried out until nowadays, we have witnessed that we are able to create assistant (social work) positions in all organizations from Welfare to the Police.

It should be noted that we also created a master’s degree in social work after completing the 4-year bachelor’s degree with the help of some friends and after that we included a doctorate in social work. And of course, I also ratified the Scientific Association of Social Work of Iran, and it has been active for twenty years since then.

Referring to the ratification of setting up social work clinics in Iran, he reminded:

psychologists have studied no units of social work courses, but the social workers have completed about 30 credicts of psychology courses. Therefore, a psychologist cannot do social work under any circumstances, and if they are present in some departments, then they are doing the work (assistance), not the social work; And it should be said again, the departments (organizations) that utilize psychologists instead of social workers is because they don’t know what the social work is.

Being a parent of a science major (field)

Applying the title of father or mother of a scientific field to individuals is often based on the formation (establishment) of the first important contributions and the path design and of course in many cases, the discussion about who deserves this title continues for many years.

I am declared as the father of the social work due to the fact that I approved (ratified) the field of social work at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate programs in the country.

Eghlima reminded about this: Mrs. Setareh Farmanfarmaian brought the social services field to Iran, and since many people did not know the difference between the social services and social work, the title of mother of social work was given to her. On the other hand, since I approved (ratified) the social work field at bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate programs in the country, I am declared as the father of social work.

Dr.Mostafa Eghlima
Dr.Mostafa Eghlima

He also quoted a reminiscence of Setareh Farmanfarmaian and said: I remember when I was a student and the first day that I went to university I saw one of the girls walking with a book on her head. I asked, why is she carrying booklets on the way? I was told that Ms. Farmanfarmaian said that she walks badly and fined her for one week. She said that a girl should walk like a calmly and confidently lady. She said she should walk with this booklet on her head for a week. If her walking is modified, then OK. Otherwise, the booklet should be there for her so that she could learn how to walk properly. What I mean by expressing this reminiscence is that even though the social services were taught there at that time, Ms. Farmanfarmaian wanted to address the reason why the lady was not walking properly, so that she would know that she had a problem with the way she walked.

In the end, Dr. Eghlima said: I hope that a day will come when the social work can implement its plans and all the regulations that we have created in different systems (departments) will be implemented correctly and our leader’s words about the importance of people’s being experts in the workplace and meritocracy as well as the officials accountability in the country will be implemented.

Iranian Social Workers
Iranian Social Workers

A work by Mrs. Maryam Saheli
• A correspondent of special interviews of Iranian Social Work Media.

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