Why do we need another book on social work theory?

In this post Phil Musson, University of Lincoln, explains the rationale behind his new book Making sense of theory and its application to social work practice.

I look forward to reading the practice portfolios of social work students in which they describe their experiences, analyse their practice and showcase their skills. For many, these placements will leave career long impressions on the fledgling practitioners as they grapple with the complexity of social work practice for the first and second time.

More often than not I am reassured that they are developing their craft with appropriate reference to values, interpersonal communication skills, service user involvement, and legislation. However, I am generally left feeling underwhelmed by the quality of application of theory to practice in so far as it is used to explain circumstances and inform a plan of intervention in them.

OK, reference to Maslow or Bronfenbrenner may feature in a perfunctory sense and claims may be made that strengths based ideas or systems theory had been used but rarely am I left with the impression that the student had a real grasp of how a theory offers an explanation of what they see and how its corresponding method of intervention provides a cogent, structured way of trying to do something about it.

In my experience students tend to address the requirement to ‘apply theory’ with such statements as ‘I applied systems theory with service user A’ but without going on to explain how the work they did with A was an application of systems theory. Alternatively, they might bullet point a list:

On my placement the theories used included

  • Attachment
  • Strengths
  • Bereavement

Both expressions fail to reveal the student’s depth of understanding of theory and its application as an explanation of how what they did was an application of the theory claimed is avoided. Whilst I do not expect to see a confident application of theory to practice (especially in the first placement) I do expect to see a tentative exploration into this area so important to assessment, analysis and intervention.

Am I alone in this having this perspective? I do hope not as, in an attempt to address this and encourage students to embrace theoretical frameworks and to try road testing their application, I have written a book titled Making sense of theory and its application to social work practice.

It is written with a particular student in mind. This student wants to get the most they can out of their course, as they want to become the best social worker they can be and to be ‘tooled up’ to do the best they can for the people they will work with. Accordingly, they need to know about theory and well enough to try applying it in their practice. However, they would not describe themselves as an instinctive theoretician so they expect to find acquiring a working knowledge of this area of practice a challenge. The book sets out to minimise the ‘challenge’ and maximise the degree of ‘sense’ that can be made in this quest. It seeks to achieve this through its structure; four ‘theories of explanation’ are introduced with their respective methods of intervention and four approaches to social work practice are introduced also with their methods of intervention. One generic case study is used so the reader can see how each method of intervention can be applied in practice.

I hope it fulfils its promise.

Phil Musson June 2017

Details of Phil’s new book, Making sense of theory and its application to social work practice can be found on our website www.criticalpublishing.com

The W word: Witchcraft labelling and child safeguarding in social work practice.

We are very proud to have published an important new title, The W Word: Witchcraft labelling and child safeguarding in social work practice by Prospera Tedam and Awura Adjoa. In this post Prospera and Awura outline their reasons for writing the book and the approach it takes.

We are delighted to see our book published and wanted to write this first blog to reiterate our commitment to halting the practice of witchcraft labelling which we know is ongoing in some of our communities. In the last year, we have continually reflected on Awura Adjoa’s childhood experiences and considered how things may otherwise have been for her.

Our motivation to write this book emerged from our shared desire to expose the practice of witchcraft labelling and the impact on its victims. We outlined the psychological, emotional and physical impact on Awura Adjoa and examined the ways in which her migration and family dynamics placed her in a vulnerable position and open to witchcraft labelling.

We were particularly concern about the widely held view that witchcraft labelling is a recent phenomenon in England and sought to explain how this form of child abuse is often hidden and silenced within communities and in families. We make the case for a more robust framework for assessing families where witchcraft labelling may be occurring.

We appreciate that the book makes difficult reading in parts, due to the honest and deeply concerning narrative presented by Awura Adjoa, however we felt there was no way to present this information to the audience for whom it is intended. Awura Adjoa would like to see parents and families engage with this book in order to evaluate their own parenting particularly if they hold beliefs about the presence of witchcraft.

We felt that this book would provide social workers and child safeguarding practitioners with additional insight into this form of abuse and develop their skills in identifying, assessing and intervening in families where children have been labelled or are at risk of witchcraft labelling.

A prominent theme in the book is the role of the faith leader or pastor in the labelling process. Awura Adjoa essentially had two pastors determine her fate- the one who labelled and the one who cleared her. Conversations must be ongoing with faith groups and leaders if we are hoping to address this growing issue.

The role of the school and educational establishments is also considered in the book, particularly around what could have been done to identify that Awura Adjoa was at risk at home and within her community.

The need to understand complex family forms and dynamics is another key area we wanted to bring to the attention of readers. Complex family systems can impact on the effectiveness of any intervention with and for children who may have been labelled.

The 3 main arguments proposed by the book are:

  • Witchcraft labelling in England is not new. It is a real and present concern among some communities and within some faith groups.
  • There are multiple actors associated with this form of child abuse. It is never a ‘secret’ and members of the family and community will be aware of the accusations and label.
  • Witchcraft labelling requires intervention from child care practitioners who are culturally aware and sensitive, non- oppressive and who understand the complexities of working cross-culturally.

Gay (2010) suggests that stories are told for multiple purposes- to entertain, educate and inform or to evoke emotion. The W word is by no means entertainment. It will evoke various emotions as it did for us as the authors and its primary aim is to educate and inform. Consequently, we make no apology for the content, it is Awura Adjoa’s lived experience and needed to be told in the way that is has.

Awura and Prospera

The Write Stuff: Personal narratives in mental health social work group practice

Today we have our first blog post of 2017 from our newly qualified social worker, Daniel! In this post Daniel explores using personal identity as a tool in social care practice. Make sure to read, comment and most importantly, enjoy! 

As a social worker and community mental health practitioner, I co-facilitate and co-lead (Benson, 2010:29) a weekly two-hour creative writing group for people recovering from schizophrenia alongside two of our team’s support time recovery workers in a board room facility owned by a registered charity in Plymouth, United Kingdom. Bamberg (2007 cited in Quinn et al, 2011:207) acknowledged that personal narratives are often used in mental health practice within both therapy and research contexts. Quinn et al (2011:207) define a personal narrative as ‘a story told by someone about his or her own life’. Therefore, I decided to apply this approach to plan, form and run a creative writing group which fits alongside the others offered by our service namely cooking, cinema, conservation, women’s, and allotment groups.  The creative writing group is underpinned using personal narratives in mental health practice with the goal of challenging the fluid nature of the four participants’ identities as only users of our service. Maclean (2016:28-29) asks what are my goals and others in this practice. My goals are to provide a group in which participants can explore other aspects of their identities such as loving sons, parents and creative writers by the nature and purpose of the group (Quinn et al, 2011:213).

Participating in the group four male service users are provided with the opportunities of personal growth, imparting hope and opportunity to live a meaningful life with a positive sense of self (Quinn et al, 2011:214; Andresen et al, 2003 cited in Fox, 2013:60). Pioneering this group, the first in our service’s history, it was my aim to provide a time and space within the group for the narrators to develop the multiple and fluid nature of their individual identities. For example, aside from each group member being a service user of our Assertive Outreach Service (AOS), through the process of their own creative writing in the forms of poetry, novel and short story participants explore other aspects of their identities such as loving son, parents, and creative writers. Within the three sessions run to date, we have seen the group grow in number of participants from two to four. Furthermore, the group develops participants’ confidence and skills in creative writing through the written word, ‘re-membering conversations’ (Megele, 2015:128) and discussions within the group facilitated by the support time recovery workers and I in a relaxed but purposeful atmosphere. Such an approach, intervention and style of leadership has resulted in one group member wanting to engage with and in the group in all three sessions run to date. Two participants have engaged in two of four sessions. Therefore, it can be seen how I and we have effectively built the use of narratives into my social work role (Quinn et al, 2011:214).

Lastly, as service users’ confidence in their own writing ability grows I am confident one if not all will feel comfortable enough to consent for an excerpt of writing to be published in this blog in the future.

References

Benson, J. F. (2010) Working More Creatively with Groups. (3rd edn). Oxon: Routledge.

Fox, J. (2013) ‘The Recovery Concept: The Importance of the Recovery Story’, in Walker, S. (ed.) Modern Mental Health: Critical Perspectives on Psychiatric Practice. St Albans: Critical Publishing, pp. 110-133.

Maclean, S. (2016) ‘Whatever the weather’, Professional Social Work (March), pp. 28-29.

Megele, C. (2015) Psychosocial and Relationship-based Practice. Northwich: Critical Publishing.

Quinn, N., Knifton, L. and Donald, J. (2011) ‘The Role of Personal Narratives in Addressing Stigma in Mental Health’, in Taylor, R. Hill, M. and McNeill, F. (eds.) Early Professional Development for Social Workers. Birmingham: Venture Press, pp. 207-218.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at keisha@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

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Who are you? The Power of Self in Newly Qualified Social Worker Practice

Today we have the second blog post from our NQSW, Daniel! Have a read to find out his thoughts on the importance of self as a Newly Qualified Social Worker.

Maclean (2016) argues consideration of self is a vital aspect of critically reflective practice. I am developing my sense of self as a mindful, reflective, and self-aware practitioner. I have reflected how I identify with the concept of the ‘wounded healer’ in my journey into social work education and post-qualifying practice (Brown et al, 2016:76). As a former user of secondary mental health services and practitioner with lived experiences of mental health problems, I bring several positive insights into my professional role. For example, experiential learning as a service user myself and the genuine rapport these experiences developed. Furthermore, as a man in social work I am in the minority. Several authors (Brown et al, 2016:83; Turner, 2016:18-19) acknowledge this gender imbalance, placing an emphasis on how men can make a positive and valid contribution encouraging the celebration of positive male identities in our profession.

Moreover, I am a practitioner with dyspraxia and Irlen Syndrome. Dyspraxia is a recognised disability and ‘a form of developmental co-ordination disorder, a life-long condition affecting the organisation of movement, perception and thought’ (Dyspraxia Foundation, 2016). Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder which effects the brain’s ability to process visual information (Irlen, 2015).   My professional identity and sense of self consists of one that contains multiple differences and strengths.

            These differences bring with them several challenges and opportunities. There is the challenge of reasonable adjustments as outlined in section 20 duty to make adjustments of the Equality Act 2010. I have experience of the intrusion of assessment alongside the relief of appropriate and helpful intervention. I have been deemed eligible for several adjustments to be made to my work environment such as provision of a job coach, specialised computer speech-to-text software, a smart pen and coloured overlays. The opportunities this sense of self offers is abundant such as awareness raising of specific learning difficulties within social work, building on the work of charitable organisations (Dyspraxia Foundation, 2016). There are opportunities to feel more supported, comfortable, and competent in the workplace. These challenges make me seek opportunities to use my creativity and resilience to influence the workplace making a difference for myself and others (Adams and Sheard, 2013:54; Howe and Caldwell-McGee, 2016:93).

In her model of reflection, Maclean (2016) encourages consideration of goals in practice. My goals for this practice were to achieve the reasonable adjustments to my workplace which I am entitled to and eligible for. I acknowledge that others’ goals, specifically my assessor and line manager, aimed to facilitate and support me achieving these. Consequentially, this could lead to more efficacious support of and practice with the people I serve.

            Finally, the use of self in newly qualified social work practice is powerful. I believe if we combine the appropriate use of legislation with critical reflection, resilience, and self-awareness we can develop into confident and competent practitioners. I feel more help is needed for male practitioners in social work to do the work and continue to build gendered alliances with people in practice.

Daniel Wilding, Community Mental Health Practitioner/Social Worker, December 2016

References

Adams, J. and Sheard, A. (2013) Positive Social Work: The Essential Toolkit for NQSWs. Northwich: Critical Publishing.

Brown, P., Cook, M., Higgins, C., Matthews, D., Wilding, D. and Whiteford, A. (2016) ‘Men in social work education: building a gendered alliance’, in Bellinger, A. and Ford, D. (eds.) Practice placement in social work: Innovative approaches for effective teaching and learning. Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 71-87.

Dyspraxia Foundation (2016) Join the Foundation. Available at:  http://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/what-we-do/join-foundation/ (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Equality Act 2010, c. 15. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/20 (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Howe, K. and Caldwell-McGee, P. (2016) ‘Managing the personal: from surviving to thriving in social work’, in Keen, S. Parker, J., Brown, K. and Galpin, D. (eds.) Newly- Qualified Social Workers: A Practice Guide to the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment. 3rd edn. London and Califomia: Learning Matters/Sage, pp. 85-107.

Irlen (2015) What is Irlen Syndrome? Available at: http://irlen.com/what-is-irlen-syndrome/ (Accessed: 11 November 2016).

Maclean, S. (2016) ‘Whatever the weather’, Professional Social Work (March), pp. 28-29.

Turner, A. (2016) ‘The Great Divide’, Professional Social Work (July/August), pp. 18-19.

If this post interests you and makes you wonder about the thoughts of NQSWs, why not look a bit further? Starting Social Work: Reflections of a Newly Qualified Social Worker by Rebecca Novell offers a fantastic insight into the thoughts and feelings of NQSWs. More details about the books can be found on the Critical Publishing website.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at keisha@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

Keep up to date by subscribing to our newsletters, following us on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.

Preceptorship as a viable alternative to the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment

Introducing our new social work blogger! Today we have a great post from our new social work blogger, Daniel Wilding. If you are a student or newly qualified social worker, this blog post is a great read for you!

Have a read and see why.

I am a newly qualified social worker employed as a community mental health practitioner in an assertive outreach service.  I am currently undertaking a preceptorship with the support of my preceptor and practice supervisor (Lalonde and McGillis Hall, 2016) because my employer does not support the optional Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) (Kent, 2015).  The weather model of critical reflection (Maclean, 2016: 28-29) is useful for reflection. This model shall now be utilised in an exploration of how a social work preceptorship can be a useful alternative choice of employment and early professional development for student social workers on the cusp of qualification.

Maclean (2016) asserts that relationships are critical on which to reflect in practice. I have enjoyed the opportunities to build relationships with colleagues in my multi-disciplinary team of community psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists, an occupational therapist, art therapist and psychotherapist, a clinical psychologist, assistant practitioners and several support time recovery workers. We work with adults of working age who are recovering from schizophrenia in the community. I feel the relationships I have built with service users have impacted my practice in the following ways. I have seen how my support is valued and complimented by service users through significant life changes such as moving home and through a mental health crisis triggered by the stress of this transition. Elsewhere, I have seen how delivering support with activities of daily living is valued by a service user with chronic pain and schizoaffective disorder. Lastly, I have seen and heard how my knowledge and skills pertaining to section 42(1)(b)(c) enquiry by local authority of the Care Act 2014 has been sought from me by colleagues in psychiatry and the allied health professions in their work safeguarding clients.

Maclean (2016) encourages critical reflection upon organisation. In my view, there is a crucial organisational issue that impacts on my and our practice. My employer is an organisation that delivers health and social care from a primarily medical model. At a recent away day, our clinical psychologist delivered a presentation on the Recovery Star (Triangle Consulting Social Enterprise, 2015). Prior, she and I discussed the UnRecovery Star (Recovery in the Bin, 2015) as a counterpoint to the former because it is underpinned by the social model of disability. It was striking how my knowledge was shared within the team and the positive feedback this generated from colleagues. Reflecting this back to the organisation, I believe the recruitment of more student social workers and newly qualified social workers could benefit my organisation and improve the service because of our particular set of skills can help aid mental health recovery of service users.

In conclusion, it has been seen how a newly qualified social worker’s skills, experience and expertise can be a valuable addition to an organisation consisting of mainly nursing, medical and allied health professionals. A preceptorship programme can offer a stimulating and interesting career alternative worthy of consideration by student social workers seeking an alternative employment option to the ASYE.

References

Care Act 2014, c. 23. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/23/section/42/enacted (Accessed: 26 October 2016).

Kent, S. (2015) Assessed and Supported Year of Employment – questions and answers. Available at: http://cdn.basw.co.uk/upload/basw_122527-3.pdf (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

Lalonde, M. and McGillis Hall, L. (2016) Preceptor characteristics and the socialization outcomes of new graduate nurses during a preceptorship programme. Nursing Open. doi:10.1002/nop2.58.

Maclean, S. (2016) ‘Whatever the weather’, Professional Social Work (March), pp. 28-29.

Recovery in the Bin (2015) ‘UnRecovery Star’, Recovery in the Bin, (no date). Available at: https://recoveryinthebin.org/unrecovery-star-2/ (Accessed: 26 October 2016).

Triangle Consulting Social Enterprise (2015) The Recovery Star. Available at: https://www.staronline.org.uk/star_mock_homepage.asp?section=152 (Accessed: 26 October 2016).

If this blog post is of interest to you, why not dig a little deeper? Positive Social Work – The Essential Toolkit for NQSWs by Julie Adams and Angie Sheard and Modern Mental Health – Critical Perspectives on Psychiatric Practice by Steven Walker et al. provide interesting and varied perspectives and opinions on the making of a newly qualified social worker. Further details of both books can be found on www.criticalpublishing.com.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at admin@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

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Personal Value System vs Professional Value System

This is the winning Social Work entry in the 2016 Critical Prize for Writing. It was written by Brendan McDaid, a final year student at Ulster University. Brendan was nominated by his lecturer Denise MacDermott.

Brendan McDaid.png

Critically evaluate possible tensions, conflicts and collusions within and between your personal and professional value system as related to social work practice

This assignment shall critically discuss how personal and professional values can come into conflict in modern day social work practice. In order to do this, the difference between personal and professional values will be considered, as well as relevant theories in order to gain a better understanding of how these values can often conflict. Once this has been established, two examples will be used to demonstrate varying ways in which a practitioner’s values can be challenged, with appropriate links also being made to critical reflection and emotional intelligence.

Values can be somewhat problematic to define as it is a term that can be used vaguely and can also have a variety of different meanings. In fact Timms (1983:107), in his study of social work values, quotes 180 different definitions of the term. Perhaps this is indicative of the very nature of values, particularly personal values; they can be comprised of ideologies, attitudes, preferences, beliefs, desires, opinions and therefore differ for every individual. It has been accepted that a value describes what an individual considers worthy (Barndard, Horner & Wild, 2008:29) and it is something we give high priority or importance to when making choices (Beckett & Maynard, 2005: 7). Particularly relevant regarding social work practice, values often signify the moral imperative in the decision making process as they ‘determine what a person thinks he ought to do’ while also representing ‘the general standards and ideals by which we judge our own and others’ conduct’ (CCETSW, 1976:14). What is unique about personal values in comparison to professional values is that they can often change and alter as the individual develops, through life experience, societal influences, political awareness and as their understanding of people develops. Professional values, on the other hand, are not personal to the individual; they are a formal guide social workers must adhere to which aim to create a professional culture that improves practice and attempts to draw boundaries around what is deemed acceptable conduct (Dominelli, 2004:63). Embodied in codes of ethics, these professional values and principles compel the social worker to commit to practice in a manner that safeguards the service users’ rights to privacy, self-determination and to be treated with dignity and respect (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). The British Association for Social Workers (BASW) code of ethics comprises of five core basic values to which social workers must be committed. These are human dignity and worth, social justice, service to humanity, integrity and competence (BASW, 2002:2). More specific to Northern Ireland, the NISCC code of ethics consists of six professional values which guide social work practice and detail the standards of conduct practitioners and students alike are expected to meet (NISCC, 2003). The NISCC code of ethics importantly encourages social workers to examine their own practice by placing a responsibility on social workers to be accountable for the quality of their work and ensure they continually improve their skills and knowledge base (NISCC, 2003:6).

It is generally accepted that the traditional values of social work were greatly influenced by the legacy of Biesteck (1961) (Dominelli, 2004:63). Therefore, when discussing values in social work practice and potential conflicts that arise, it is important to consider Biesteck’s principles and how theories on values and ethics have developed as a result. Biesteck’s 7 casework principles were individualisation, purposeful expression of feelings, controlled emotional involvement, acceptance, non-judgemental attitude, service user self-determination and confidentiality. These principles are still very much pertinent in modern social work practice, however in terms of theory, possibly the more significant Biesteck principles are individualisation and service user self-determination (Banks, 2006:32).

Having briefly outlined Biesteck’s influence, the two oppositional theorists regarding values and ethics shall now be detailed for the purposes of this discussion. Kantian or deontological ethics, also known as the duty based approach, focuses on the fundamental dignity each and every person possesses as a rational human being, who should be treated “never solely as a means but always also as an end.” (Kant, 1964:96) Kant felt that the individual person is worthy of respect simply because he or she is a person, and this has been intrinsically linked to the principle that is credited as being the foundation of social work ethics and moral thinking (Plant, 1970); ‘respect for persons’. The Kantian theory focuses on the rights and self-determination of each individual service user and promotes carrying out ones duty to that service user regardless of the outcome (Banks, 2006:35) or consequences for society as a whole. By contrast, the utilitarian theory, also known as the consequence based approach, advocates promoting the public good or the well-being of the society in general over the needs of any particular individual; in other words, ‘the greatest good to the greatest number.’ (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:39) According to Banks (2006), ‘the basic idea of utilitarianism is that the right action is that which produces the greatest balance of good over evil’ (Banks, 2006:35). Advocates of the utilitarian approach feel that it is more realistic in terms of modern practitioners; they are employed by agencies, work within procedural constraints and consider the consequences of their decisions. As the relevant theories regarding values have been detailed, this piece shall now consider the application of both personal and professional values in terms of modern day social work practice.

Cormier, Nurius and Osborn state that “when personal values of helpers are consistent with professional standards of conduct, helpers are more likely to interact genuinely and credibly with clients and other professionals” (Cormier, Nurius & Osborn, 2009:32). Therefore, in theory, personal and professional values will ideally complement each other in social work. However, in practice, the reality is that personal and professional values often conflict. Going back to the idea of values representing the moral imperative, the difficulty and conflict that often comes with being a social worker is that what you think you ought to do may not be the same as what you want to do, what is in your interest to do or what in fact you actually do. (CCETSW, 1976:14) Therefore, social workers are regularly confronted with decisions that represent an ethical dilemma, which is said to exist when “acting on one moral conviction means behaving contrary to another or when adhering to one value means abandoning another.” (Blumenfield & Lowe, 1987:48) Such is the nature of social work, these conflicts and dilemmas are not limited to practitioners and have also become apparent to me as a student during lectures and interactions with service users, which shall now be critically discussed.

During our ethics and values lecture, I identified respect of persons as a core value of mine, and my reason for this is you never know what an individual’s story is or what they may have been through. The right to self-determination for a service-user is also a value that I attribute worth to on a personal level; it was one of the fundamental principles that made me want to become a social worker. Therefore, my personal values are more in line with the Kantian approach to ethics in that they are concerned with the individual circumstances and decisions of the service user.  However, when listening to a service user (hereafter X) speak about his experience of living in a care home, I identified a potential conflict in my personal and professional values regarding looked after children. According to current policy and procedure for looked after children, regardless of the history, individual circumstances or indeed the wishes of the service user they are required to leave the care home at the age of 18 and live independently. For many social workers, this policy may be acceptable on a professional level as it is in keeping with the NISCC code of ethics for ‘promoting independence of service user while protecting them from harm.’ (NISCC, 2003:3) X also detailed how, many years previously, he had been sent to live with a foster family against his wishes and seemingly without being consulted on the matter. Again, in a strictly professional sense this may be correct in keeping with the ‘right to respect for private and family life’ under article 8 of the Human Rights Act (1998), which is considered one of the core areas of social work practice (White, 2004:29). However, I believe this policy regarding looked after children is framed in a way that is very much utilitarian and is in contrast to my personal values and ‘occupational self-concept’ (Payne, 2006) of social work practice.

I am aware that being a practitioner brings with it a function regarding social control, resource rationing and issues relating to fair distribution of welfare (Banks, 2006:35), meaning there are procedures a practitioner must adhere to. However, one of the key roles I will have to fulfil as a practitioner is to support individuals to represent their needs, views and circumstances to achieve greater independence (DHSSPS, 2003). In order to do this, a practitioner must advocate on behalf of the service user. X explained that in his own personal experience and the experience of many of his peers, their needs and views were not represented as they were not mentally prepared for independent living. He elaborated that they did not wish to leave the care home and as a result he was faced with an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and anxiety. My immediate response when listening to his experiences was to question whether, in following this procedure, practitioners are indeed promoting independence or in fact negligent in their duty to advocate for and protect the service user from harm? Furthermore, it raises doubts as to whether self-determination within the current welfare system regarding looked after children actually exists, or whether it is simply defined persuasively to justify decisions against service user’s real interests that may go against their will. (McDermott, 1975).

Having considered what X had said, my initial feeling was that in order to effectively fulfil the key role of supporting looked after children and representing their needs, a more Kantian approach is necessary. Listening to X, it could be claimed looked after children are being categorised, stigmatised and treated as such, as opposed to being judged as a visible human being whose autonomy is respected. (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:38) Therefore, my immediate response as a practitioner would be to identify with Banks’ (2001) view proposing social workers have a responsibility to strive to change policy that supports what they feel to be a form of oppression (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011).

X’s input has been extremely beneficial to me in terms of my social work education as it gave me a valuable insight into the conflicting and challenging nature of social work. Regardless of personal values, I fully appreciate the need for professionalism in social work as practitioners are required to follow policy that is in place and are bound by the NISCC code of ethics, which is the framework or screen through which…personal world views must be drawn to determine the acceptability in social work practice” (Spano & Koenig, 2007:3). To be considered a competent practitioner, it is imperative I am aware of my emotions and am capable of managing them in a setting where my personal and professional values conflict. Emotional intelligence is particularly important in these circumstances as it enables the practitioner to “…(be) able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations” (Goleman, 1996:34). As child protection is the area of social work practice I am most likely to be employed in (Crossing Borders, 2001:14), it is important that when tuning in to the thoughts and feelings of future service users (Shulman, 2009) I am able to critically reflect on what I learned from X’s emotions regarding his experience and my own emotions having empathised with what he went through. This enables me to “(return) to the experience, attending to feelings connected to the experience and also re-evaluate the experience by recognising potential implications and outcomes.” (Boud & Knights, 1996:26)

X’s experience has made me aware of the use of authority in terms of social work and how it can be perceived by the service user. This will be extremely important in terms of my future practice as I am now conscious of the power dynamic that can exist from the service user’s perspective, meaning I can attempt to negate it. This demonstrates moral sensitivity, and I believe my views and concerns expressed above regarding X’s experience also illustrate elements of moral judgement and motivation. Although in practice it may become challenging, I feel my personality traits and values indicate that I also possess the moral character to stand by my convictions, meaning I now feel capable of moral behaviour (Banks, 2006:158) when practicing.  Being aware of this power vacuum should also help ensure that my future practice is anti-oppressive, as it is “based on an understanding of how concepts of power, oppression and inequality determine personal and structural relations.” (Dalrymple & Burke, 2003:48) Furthermore, X’s experience has enabled me to explore, resolve and reflect upon conflicts between my personal and professional values before I had to face this dilemma in a professional capacity. This forced me to consider my future practice, and in doing so I concluded that I may perhaps be a professional practitioner, however I aim to maintain some elements of the committed/radical approach.  Although my initial thought regarding current policy for looked after children was that it needed to be challenged, through the discussion that followed X’s experience and reflecting on how my feelings have evolved regarding the matter, I now appreciate that as a practitioner I am bound by the NISCC codes of ethics and policy and procedure that is in place.  However, I continue to identify with Bank’s view that it is important to hold on to your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133).

The second issue that shall now be considered involved working with a service user, as opposed to listening to their experiences in a learning environment. I currently work as a support worker in a hostel for homeless men. My role requires me to work with and provide support for individuals who have a history of alcohol abuse and who have experienced a breakdown in family relationships. As part of my role I was also required to work with an individual (hereafter Y) who has a history of committing sexual offences, and it immediately became apparent to me that this was going to conflict with my personal values and beliefs regarding forms of abuse. Rightly or wrongly, at that time I felt that sexual abuse was a particularly despicable crime and that I may find it difficult to engage with and provide effective support to a perpetrator of this type of act. I was also concerned that my feelings regarding sexual abuse would be an obstacle in terms of my ability to empathise with Y. Therefore, I was faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to help Y, thus going against my views regarding abuse and oppression, or choosing not to work with Y, which in itself is a form of oppression as I would be devaluing the service user as a member of a group socially configured as inferior. (Gray & Wedd, 2010:160)

As a student social worker, I was aware that in choosing not to work with Y, my decision would conflict with the NISCC code of ethics requiring social workers to protect the rights and promote the interests of service users while striving to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users (NISCC, 2003:1-2). Therefore, if I was unable to manage my personal values and beliefs regarding this matter it would raise questions regarding my competence for practice. Furthermore, one of the key roles for social work practice is having to prepare for and work with individuals, families, carers, groups and communities to assess their needs and circumstances (DHSSPS, 2003). In keeping with this key role, I chose to accept Y for who he was and show him the respect and dignity of every human being (Banks, 2006: 33) as all individuals, regardless of their behaviours, are worthy of the profession’s skills and knowledge in order to improve their social functioning and quality of life (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). In order to do this, however, I would need to demonstrate emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which is what we already know about ourselves, what we learn when encountering new experiences and what we learn through contact with others (Trevithick, 2005:43), in order to effectively manage my feelings and ensure I remained anti-oppressive by avoiding ‘othering’ (Gray, M. & Wedd, S, 2010: 161) Y in our interactions.

According to Butler, Knott and Scragg, “understanding feelings and emotions is essential, if we are to understand the complicated, often messy, emotionally charged situations which social workers are faced with.” (Butler, G. Ch.3 in Knott, C., Scraff, T, 2007). This is imperative as “failure to manage feelings compromises the balance between thought, feeling and action….what is required, instead, is the ability to harness all emotion as sources of information and to seek to promote a positive climate within which best decisions are likely to be made.” (Morrisson, 2007:5) By becoming emotionally aware of and critically reflecting on my emotions regarding sexual abuse, I now appreciate that perhaps my initial views regarding working with sex offenders were influenced by societal influences, the media, a negative perception and the stigma that is attached to perpetrators of sexual abuse. This enabled me to view the service user holistically and understand that he too may have encountered a history of victimisation himself (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011)

I feel this experience will have a positive impact on my future practice as it enabled me to develop my emotional intelligence and become more self-aware regarding my own emotions in this value conflict, meaning I am able to manage my feelings, understand them and also understand how they may potentially influence my future behaviour and practice (Bruce, 2013). Banks feels that practitioners only begin to realise the limitations of their self-awareness when presented with problems that trigger reactions inappropriate to the situation (Banks, 2006:157) and before I encountered Y, I was unaware of what my emotions were regarding sex offenders. However, as a result of this process I feel I have an increased self-awareness in terms of biases and attitudes that may have been previously went undiscovered (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011:1). This is beneficial in terms of my self-development and enabled me to successfully manage and reflect on this complex ethical dilemma, which is a practice foci for one of the key social work roles; demonstrate and be responsible for professional competence in social work practice. (DHSSPS, 2003) In terms of future practice, if I were faced with a similar situation I would refer to the previously mentioned Biesteck principles, with particular consideration given to controlled emotional involvement, acceptance and adopting a non-judgemental attitude, to ensure I am able to empathise effectively, while also providing the support that the service user needs.

In conclusion, when considering the points and literature above, it is pertinently clear that maintaining congruence between personal and professional values can be quite challenging, even for the more experienced practitioner. As modern social work practice moves away from the Kantian approach to a more bureaucratic or utilitarian approach, this will no doubt lead to further ethical dilemmas for practitioners to manage. Therefore, it is essential that practitioners develop and maintain practice that is critically reflective, emotionally intelligent and self-aware. Although practitioners are bound by professional values and codes of ethics, it is as equally important to possess a ‘moral impulse’ (Bauman, 1993) and maintain your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133). By maintaining one’s own values, as well as the changing ethical priorities of the profession, it enables the practitioner to have a healthy anticipation of incongruence between personal and professional values. The result of this will be a social worker who is able to manage their own values, as well as understanding and applying the ethics and values of social work, which should be the benchmark for any capable practitioner.

References

Banks, S. (2006). Ethics and Values in Social Work (3rd Edition), Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Barnard, A., Horner, N. and Wild, J. (eds) (2008) The Value Base of Social Work and Social Care: An Active Learning Handbook. Maidenhead. McGraw-Hill.

BASW, 2002, Code of Ethics. Available at http://cdn.basw.co.uk/upload/basw_112315-7.pdf. Last accessed 14/12/14.

Bauman, Z. (1993) Postmodern Ethics, Oxford, Blackwell.

Beckett, C. and Maynard, A. (2005) Values & Ethics in social work: an introduction. 1st edn. United Kingdom: Sage Publications Ltd.

Blumenfield, S. and Lowe, J,I. (1987) A template for analysing ethical dilemmas in discharge planning. In Health and Social Work, NASW, Vol.12, No.1, Winter 1987.

Boud, D. and Knights, S. (1996). Course Design for Reflective Practice, Aldershot: Ashgate

Bruce, L. (2013). Reflective Practice For Social Workers: A Handbook For Developing Professional Confidence. McGraw-Hill International

Butler, G. Ch.3 in Knott , C.,  Scragg , T. (2007),ReflectivePractice in Social Work , Exeter, Learning Matters

CCETSW (1976) Paper 13, Social Work Curriculum Study. London: CCETSW

Conmartin, E.B., & Gonzales-Prendes, A.A. (2011). Dissonance between personal and professional values: Resolution of an ethical dilemma. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 8(2), 5-1-5-14.

Cormier, S., Nurius, P. S., & Osborn, C. J. (2009). Interviewing and change strategies for helpers: Fundamental skills and cognitive-behavioral interventions (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Crossing Borders: resource pack for social workers.

Available at http://www.scie-socialcareonline.org.uk. Last accessed 14/12/14.

Dalrymple, J. & Burke, B. (2003), Anti-Oppressive Practice: Social Care and the Law, Berkshire, Open University Press.

DHSSPS (2003) Northern Ireland Framework Specification for the Degree in Social Work. Available at http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/dhssps_sociawork_doc.pdf. Last accessed 02/01/15

Dominelli, L. (2004). Social Work: Theory and Practice for a Changing Profession, United Kingdom: Polity Press

Gray, M. and Webb, S. (2010) Ethics and value perspectives in social work. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmiillan

Kant, I. (1964) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, New York, Harper & Row.

McDermott, F. (1975) ‘Against the Persuasive Definition of Self-Determination’, in F.McDermott (ed.), Self-Determination in Social Work, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 118-37

Morrison, T. (2007). Emotional intelligence, emotion and social work: Context, characteristics, complications and contribution. British Journal of Social Work, 37(2), 245-263.

Payne, M. (2006). What is professional social work? (2nd ed.) Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.

Plant, R. (1970) Social and Moral Theory in Casework, London, Routeledge & Kegan Paul.

Shulman, L (2009). 6th ed. The Skills of Helping Individuals, families, Groups and Communities. United States of Amerca:Brooks/Cole

Spano, R., & Koenig, T. (2007). What is sacred when personal and professional values collide? Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 4(3).

Available at :http://www.socialworker.com/jswve/content/view/69/54/ Last accessed 18/12/14.

Trevithick, P. (2005). Social Work Skills a practice handbook (Second Edition), Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education

White, C. (2004) Northern Ireland Social Work Law. Ireland: Butterworth Ireland

If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

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May is Mental Health Month

Good Morning!

Mental Health has recently, and rightly so, been the topic of hot discussion and debate. People are starting to research, understand and evaluate mental health, albeit with difficulty, to try and really help sufferers.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and we want to help shine a light on something that has been kept in the dark for a very long time.

Steven Walker, in the book ‘Modern Mental Health‘, has put together a series of mental illness accounts in order to offer an alternative and thought-provoking perspective. In aid of this month’s efforts here is an extract from Hannah Walker’s story- the full account is available here.

modernmentalhealth-web

Part One – The Human in the System

Chapter 1: A Survivor’s Story

By Hannah Walker

Introduction

My name is Hannah and I’m a survivor of the military mental health system, the NHS mental health system and a number of psychiatrists.  I suffer from bipolar disorder and PTSD, and I was diagnosed twenty years ago.  In this chapter, I will tell you some of my story.

I was adopted at 4 months into a loving upper middle class family who lived on the Isle of Wight.  I have a sister, also adopted, who is six years younger than I am.  Neither of us has ever wanted to trace our biological parents, because we were happy at home and didn’t feel the need to go meddling.  Both our adoptive parents are now dead, but they would have been quite happy had we wanted to seek our real mothers, but we thought not.  No point.

I went to the local grammar school, and left at the age of 18 having been Head Girl and having collected a few O and A levels – nothing spectacular.  When I was in the Upper Sixth, my best friend died; I later discovered that she had committed suicide.  I had the first of what were to be many, many episodes of mania and depression after that event and had some time off school.  The episode was curious – I didn’t know what was happening to me and didn’t really have the words to explain it to the GP.  All I could tell him was that all the colours went bright outside, and I felt a rush of panic and fear as though I could no longer remain alive and deal with it.  In that instant, I contemplated taking an overdose of painkillers – not so that I would die, but so that I could become unconscious and not have to feel the pain.  I couldn’t be alone, but I couldn’t tell anyone what I was feeling as it was impossible to describe.  The only time I felt “well” was when I was driving a car.  I slept with the light on as I couldn’t bear to be alone in the dark with just my thoughts for company.

My parents hadn’t any idea of what to do with me, so they sent me to my GP, and I tried to explain what had happened to me, without much success.  He diagnosed an extreme grief reaction, without much in the way of a clue as to my illness.  I became even more depressed and started self harming, making up the most outrageous stories as to how I had cut myself.  I spent hours with razor blades, slashing my arms to pieces, and telling the A&E department that I had fallen through windows/dropped a glass which had shattered/been hit by a hockey ball.  No one helped.  No one asked me if I was OK – not even the medics who assiduously stitched me up every time.  I was sent to an Educational Psychologist, but refused to talk to her as she had hinted to me that she thought I was self harming.  Far too ashamed to admit it, I reiterated my stories and told her that I was just very accident prone.  She gave up.

I pulled myself together and carried on as though nothing had happened, which sowed the seeds of later episodes

Please read the rest of the account here for FREE.

If you have a story you’d like to share then please do get in contact. You can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com

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