by Zoe Rice-Jones
CN: Employment Support Allowance tribunals, brief mentions of hospitalisation, eating disorders, grief, depression and anxiety
After finishing a degree in psychology and trying my hand at research, I started looking into a career in mental health. I came across the Think Ahead graduate scheme, a fast-track programme that trains mental health social workers on the job. I took a chance, sent in my application and a year on I’m enjoying getting stuck into life on placement, working in a local Community Mental Health Team. In essence, we’re a team of social workers, nurses, doctors and psychologists who collectively support about 700 people with acute mental health problems.
I often get asked what I actually do on a daily basis. Social work is a profession built on values of empowerment, person-centred care and promoting social justice, but sometimes it’s difficult to define what this means in practice.
“I often get asked what I actually do on a daily basis”
At the moment I work with eight people as their care co-ordinator, checking in with them regularly, helping them to access social care funding, and connecting them to other services like Citizen’s Advice. In addition, I can use therapeutic skills like solution-focused work, motivational interviewing and some basic CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with the people I see. Occasionally I also get the opportunity to do psychoeducational work with families to help them understand the mental health problems their loved-one is experiencing, something I find really rewarding.
No day is ever the same on placement but this is what a typical 9-5 looks like for me:
9.00: Arrive at the office and check my emails; reply to the urgent ones and write myself a long to-do list for the day!
9.15: Call Jenny*, a young woman I work with, before her tribunal for Employment Support Allowance. She is very nervous about speaking in public so we run through the important points she would like to get across to the panel before she goes in.
9.45: Visit to hospital to see Terry* in order to talk about arrangements for when he returns home in a few weeks’ time. We discuss the support he’d like with things such as cooking or going to the shops because his diagnosis of depression makes these more difficult for Terry when he’s unwell. I complete the necessary paperwork with him to apply for funding for care at home when he is discharged.
11.30: Back in the office for a team meeting to discuss the people we’ve seen for initial assessments during that week. These meetings are a time to work out what the best treatment options are for these people; whether that’s working with the community mental health team or referring them to different services such as a specialist eating disorders service, grief counselling or Mind Matters, who provide short-term CBT. Reviewing these as a multi-disciplinary team is really valuable because our combined experience means we can reach the best decision for the person. These meetings have been one of the most useful learning experiences for me while I’ve been on placement.
13.00: After the meeting I drive to meet with Leanne* in a nearby café. She experiences severe anxiety and so often finds it hard to leave the house. However, in recent weeks she’s been keen to set herself small goals and has worked up to being able to meet me at a coffee shop near her house. Leanne is keen to engage with activities in her local community but is unsure what she’d feel able to do or what she’d be interested in. I give her information about various local classes and we talk about techniques to make it easier for her to attend these, for example, practicing using the bus route before she goes or looking up the location online so she knows what her surroundings will be like. She’s keen to try and do this graded exposure work independently so I agree to give her a call next week and see how she’s getting on.
14.30: Back in the office and time for paperwork! I write up progress notes from my hospital visit and my meeting at the café. I type up and submit Terry’s adult social care assessment form to apply for funding from the council. Finally, as decided in the team meeting, I write a referral letter to psychotherapy for a gentleman who I assessed last week.
16.00: Paperwork complete, there’s just enough time for my weekly supervision with my Consultant Social Worker (my manager). This is an opportunity for me to seek advice or talk through anything I’m finding difficult. Whatever’s happened during the week I know this hour is always set aside for me to discuss things with her, which is really reassuring while I’m still learning so much.
“My days are usually pretty busy but I’m lucky to really love my job”
My days are usually pretty busy but I’m lucky to really love my job. By its very nature, working in mental health can be emotionally demanding at times but having a supportive team and close supervision has helped to encourage me whenever things get difficult.
You can read more about mental health social work at thinkahead.org/
*All names and some personal details have been changed to ensure anonymity
Header image by Khánh Hmoong