The mental health social worker

By Sarah Daniel

Mental health is a topic of great debate in the current climate, and, if we’re honest, it has been for many years. As a budding social worker interested in engaging in the field of mental health, what exactly does this desired future profession entail?

Mental health social workers (MHSW), sometimes referred to as ‘clinical social workers’, can be tasked with a variety of roles which differ depending on the practitioner’s organisation, and level of training/expertise. According to The College of Social Work (2014) a social worker in the mental health sector could expect their role to involve assisting clients in accessing statutory and community care/services, facilitating the implementation of suitable interventions in situations of high ‘complexity, risk and ambiguity’ (p. 6), and working to promote resilience and empowerment in their communities/agencies. Essentially, MHSWs are often the bridge between their clients and the other health professionals and/or agencies that are collaborating in the provision of care.

MHSWs will often find themselves working within a multi-disciplinary team with a range of other professionals – including psychologists, nurses, psychiatrics and doctors. When working with professionals who are seemingly awarded more weight to their opinion in the positivist and clinical context we find ourselves in, why would a social worker be listened to? The fact is, social workers often have far more training in holistic, strengths-based methods of intervention that place the autonomy and dignity of the client/patient at the forefront of decision making (Beddoe & Deeney, 2012). The Australian Association of Social Workers recognises that MHSWs are more likely to take the ‘broader implications of an individual having a mental illness’ into account when engaging in assessment and intervention. This focus in a social worker’s education and professional code enables them to provide the, sometimes unique, perspective of empowerment when it comes to the provision of care for someone experiencing a mental health problem. On a list of when to reach out to a social worker, GoodTherapy.Org placed ‘seeking treatment or therapy for a mental health condition’ first.

MHSWs may be confronted with the challenges of not being taken seriously by other professionals, since we are often seen as working with ‘grey’ and ‘pseudo-scientific’ methods of intervention and assessment. And while this may be frustrating for a MHSW who has to consistently argue with other, more “clinically” inclined, professionals such as psychiatrists, as to what type of intervention is best suited to a particular client, it is also what makes their presence on a mental health care team so important. Individuals who are ‘suffering’ from a mental illness frequently struggle to speak out against the decisions being made by professionals, and can sometimes have their opinions dismissed because of their illness. In these instances, a MHSWs focus on the rights and empowerment of the individual and their family to be involved in the decision-making process becomes a huge asset to the quality of care.

References:

The Australian Association of Social Workers. Mental health social workers. Retrieved May 31 2017, from: https://www.aasw.asn.au/information-for-the-community/mental-health-social-workers

Beddoe, L., & Deeney, C. (2012). Discovering health social work in New Zealand in its published work: Implications for the profession. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 24(1), 1-55. Read here.

The College of Social Work. (April 2014). The Role of the Social Worker in Adult Mental Health Services. Retrieved June 1 2017, from: https://www.basw.co.uk/resources/tcsw/Roles%20and%20Functions%20of%20Mental%20Health%20Social%20Workers%202014.pdf

GoodTherapy.Org. (2015). The Important Role Social Workers Play in Mental Health. Retrieved June 2 2017, from: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/the-important-role-social-workers-play-in-mental-health-1214157

About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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