Annual Conference

TheMHS 2014 S047: Workforce Development Demystifying Strengths and Social Justice Principles

By August 28, 2014 No Comments

Demystifying strengths and social justice principles with workers and consumers to enhance relationships and practice.

Speaker(s): Peter Smith

Peter opened his discussion with the sub title of ‘Social work: more than just housing and Centrelink’ and spoke to this statement throughout his presentation. Peter explained that this was a presentation delivered to his mental health team at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne following the implementation of a strengths-based model. This model was implemented in anticipation of the National Recovery Framework. This model provoked thought among social workers who held the belief that this was not a ‘new’ model as the strengths based approach is what social workers inherently do and posed the question: If all disciplines are following this recovery, strengths based framework, what will make social work different?

The aim of the presentation was to highlight the lack of political and social justice engagement within the setting and provide a refresher as to what social work is and the role social workers play. Demystifying social work was highlighted as key to breaking down the existing barriers to understanding the social work role within a clinical mental health setting. Peter discussed the core aspects to social work as stated in the AASW Code of Ethics and argued that in unpacking social justice, we must acknowledge disadvantage and power, and think about how to effectively address these issues.

A survey was developed that posed questions to social workers at St Vincent Mental Health with the aim of exploring what makes social workers who they are? And what makes social work different from other disciplines? Findings highlighted social workers' understandings as being the focus of relationship to community, seeing the person in connection with their environment and liaising with support networks. Questions exploring how social work influences their work highlighted the use of holistic approaches to practice, seeking to engage within relationships, a focus on self-determination, and a belief that social workers can do many things in many differing contexts. What social workers felt made them different from other disciplines was their strong advocacy role, looking at the person more broadly and beyond the list of symptoms, the critique of power dimensions and viewing social work as a hybrid of many disciplines given the diverse nature of the profession.

Peter concluded by identifying the many similarities between social work and the recovery approach, and suggested that what social workers do is innately aligned with recovery approaches. This presentation highlighted the ambiguity surrounding the social work profession among other professionals and consumers, and poses the question as to why this continues to be the case considering the integral role social work plays in the mental health setting.