Relationship and Flexibility are Key to Good Mental Health Practice
Today I'm sharing a recently published research article. It is basically a summary of my doctoral research. As a PhD student I immersed myself in a specialized psychiatric team to observe the psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, and the other professionals in action and also, with consent, to observe their interactions with clients. The clients of this team were all adults living with severe mental health problems - many of them were people needing and wanting support to live alone, make social connections, reconnect with family and friends or find activities that are meaningful for them. I interviewed many of these clients as well as all of the professionals on the team.
I was particularly interested in observing how they worked together, how they understood the experience of and the ramifications of serious mental health problems, and how they combatted the stereotypes and stigma that are too often associated with not just mental health problems, but also with poverty, loneliness, isolation, and with being different.
What I learned was that the key factors to clients and professionals feeling accomplished and feeling like they are moving forward together was the development of a good relationship.
This is in line with lots of other research that points to the importance of the mental health professional-client relationship. Much of the literature discusses this relationship as the key factor in successful therapy or counselling. There are some challenges to this that I discuss in the article.
One of those challenges is that the adults living with serious mental health problems that participated in my research were very socially isolated. They all expressed a desire to break through that isolation, but social stigma and professional approaches still need to work on understanding these difficulties to develop ways to work to change them.
Another important thing I learned from this research is that professionals work best when they can intentionally develop interventions and treatment plans with clients. Professionals make deliberate intervention and treatment decisions based on their profession's knowledge base and value base.
To do this, helping professionals need quite a bit of flexibility and autonomy to be able to converse with a client, establish a relationship, get to know the client and what is important for them, and work with them to come up with goals, interests, and a plan.
My conclusions show that we still have a ways to go in terms of structuring our health and social services organisations so that clients' lives, experiences and strengths, and not the perception of their faults or weaknesses, become central in the process of support, counselling, and accompaniment.
If you want to read more, here is the link to the article: