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Exploring social workers’ perceptions of their role and duties within community mental health teams: A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews.

This dissertation is submitted to the Faculty of Health and Applied Social Sciences as part of the degree requirements for the MA in Social Work at Liverpool John Moores University.

Social workers, employed by Local Authorities and seconded to work in Mental Health NHS Trusts, have been working in the multidisciplinary environment of integrated community mental health teams over the past decade. In the past year however, mainly due to budget cuts, some Local Authorities decided to withdraw social workers from those integrated teams, transferred them back to adult social services departments and thus started the disintegration process of multidisciplinary health and social care working in mental health. Given the above context and from a social work perspective, the aim of this study was to explore social workers’ views and opinions regarding their role, duties and responsibilities within integrated community mental health teams.

This was a qualitative study that utilised a phenomenological research approach, as social work theory and practice were considered, and semi-structured interviews with seven participants, recruited with a mixture of convenience and snowball sampling strategies, were conducted. All the participants were qualified social workers in integrated community mental health teams and members of an Approved Mental Health Professionals Forum. The transcribed interviews were analysed and coded utilising thematic analysis and the data analysis process was facilitated by the use of the NVivo computer software programme. The findings included both facilitating and inhibiting factors for the integrated multidisciplinary model of community mental health teams. Participants considered as facilitating factors: the communication and the cooperation between the different professionals; as well as their shared values in working with, and supporting, service users. Participants regarded as inhibiting factors: the perceived isolation and alienation from the Local Authority that employed them; and the lack of recognition and appreciation for the complexities of their dual social work role, as they carried out statutory duties as well as care programme approach tasks, by their health managers and other mental health professionals. Overall the integrated multidisciplinary environment of community mental health teams was supported by participants, while suggestions to improve integrated working included: appropriate social work supervision; peer support; and continuous dialogue with other mental health professionals regarding role integration issues and the complexities and duality of the mental health social work role.