Perceptions of the social worker role in adult community mental health teams in England

Michele Abendstern, Jane Hughes, Mark Wilberforce, Karen Davies, Rosa Pitts, Saqba Batool, Catherine Robinson, David Challis

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There is a growing recognition of the importance of the social work contribution within community mental health services. However, although many texts describe what the mental health social work contribution should be, little empirical evidence exists about their role in practice and the difference it might make to service users. This qualitative study sought to articulate this contribution through the voices of social workers and their multidisciplinary colleagues via focus group discussions across four English Mental Health Trusts. These considered the impact of the social worker on the service user. Thematic analysis resulted in the identification of three over-arching themes: social workers own perceptions of their contribution situated within the social model; the high value their colleagues placed on social work support and leadership in a range of situations and the concerns for service users if social workers were withdrawn from teams. Key findings were that social workers are the only professional group to lead on the social model; that this model enhances the whole teams’ practice and is required if service users are to be offered support that promotes long-term recovery and that without social workers, the community mental health team offer would be more transactional, less timely, with the potential for the loss of the service users’ voice. If social work is to make a full contribution to community mental health team practice, it must be clearly understood and provided with the support to enable social workers to operate to their full potential.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Social Work
Early online date9 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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