Seventeenth Column

Let’s start off by saying that by the time this is published I have just shy of three months left of my training seeing as my final exam is at the end of May. So as other final year students can probably understand, I am hellishly busy. Still I found time to join twitter which is as addictive as facebook once was. At the time of writing this I am near the mid-point of my placement. It is worth noting that I have been given permission to reflect back over my placement so far in an adult mental health service.

Apart from a week working with elderly people when I was at college, I have had no other experience of working within an adult specific setting. So this really is new territory offering new experiences and an area of work that is proving to be invaluable, where every task is a real learning opportunity. Although, I can see how the skills are transferable from work in Children’s Services and working with adolescence, it is still unique. It was an exciting letter to receive when I found out that I was to be working in mental health and a lot of prejudice in myself to face. That sounds bad, but we are not superhuman and no matter how much we try and distance ourselves from negative stereotypes, they do crop up in ourselves without warning. So obviously I had a lot of questions during my induction process, learning the history of the people I would be working with, and utilising the expertise of the staff team directly around me and that of partner agencies. Let me say now, I quickly got over any misconceptions I had about mental illness and have been touched by the life stories I have heard. However great the scope of analysis is in mental health, all this does is provide some interpretation of situations, but it does not take away that often for service users the World in which they live can be incredibly frightening. This leads me nicely onto the whole recovery model in which it seems most mental health services are using. Even if there is no chance of complete recovery, the hope this model gives is undeniable; this may sound pretentious but this is the feedback I am getting from those on the receiving end. Imagine being in a pretty dark place, without any sense of choice or control, having been institutionalised for some time and having had very little contact with the outside World, it’s pretty lonely and to be able to focus on recovery and using methods that develop peoples strength to manage is what I view as social work in its finest sense. An activity used at university once, and recommended by my supervisor, was to have a conversation with another person whilst someone else chats away in your ear and see the difficulties you have in concentrating. Then simply think what it must be like to live with hearing voices. No matter how unusual a delusion or hallucination, it is very real.

The processes and methods of working have taken me time to learn, and indeed led me to disappointment and heartache towards my own practice at times. When mentally risk assessing something, and struggling to do this successfully, has been the hardest thing to get over. Naturally when one struggles, we tend to question our own competence, and this isn’t so much about professional competence but remembering we are still students and that freedom to learn and admit we are struggling is still there. Indeed this profession is all about learning throughout practice, but once qualified I imagine that capacity to ‘learn on the job’ is not as prevalent. I am pleased to have been allowed to involve service users in one of my supervisions (I have two lots; one with my supervisor and one with my practice assessor), so I will soon get to know how service users perceive my work with them.

I don’t know if anyone has the same, but we have a module dedicated to critical reflection, where in small groups each of us present an incident from our placements. We work together to really explore such incidents and our responses to it, focussing also on values and theories. There is real scope for this to be implemented into practice where each week a different person presents a situation that has challenged them. The whole process is quite liberating and involves learning from those around us which is invaluable when we think of how isolated and stressed many social workers feel. Dedicating an hour a week, bringing a team together for a critical reflection session has the scope to have huge benefits on service user outcomes. Give it a go or recommend it and let me know how it goes as it is something I would use if I ever have a staff team.

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