Social workers should play key role in mental health

Social workers should become the dominant profession in mental health service delivery, writes Terry Bamford

New Ways of Working for Social Workers in Mental Health is the name of the group looking at redesigning professional roles.

Four priorities were identified by a consultation exercise and conference: leadership, identity, research capability and new career pathways.

There is a lack of consistency in leadership roles across the UK. Some trusts have directors of social care at board level but this is not universal. National standards may be needed to ensure that social work’s emphasis on people’s rights and links with local communities has a voice at senior level.

Social work does bring something distinctive to mental health. Articulating it is more difficult. It is a constellation of values, commitment to social justice and partnership with users and carers. Social workers practised social inclusion before the term was invented.

And in mental health social work challenges the traditional medical model that does not acknowledge the patient or client as being best informed about their needs.

Social workers have not developed a research culture. Partnership with users has to be the basis for practitioner research but that will still need a culture change. The spirit of questioning and enquiry which is at the heart of good social work practice should translate itself into research but rarely does. It could, however, provide leverage to achieve a social work consultant grade with comparable status to other disciplines.

Social workers are well placed to be the dominant profession. Their background equips them well to the new role of clinical supervisor. But that will require a readiness to embrace and welcome change in care delivery.

The New Ways of Working group wants practitioners to contribute ideas so that they can tackle low morale. Social work has a vital role to play in ensuring that a remodelled mental health service really puts the interests of users at its heart.

Terry Bamford is co-chair of the New Ways of Working group
For more about New Ways of Working go to

BOXTEXT: Social work does bring something distinctive to mental health. Social workers practised social inclusion before the term was invented

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