Case study

Trainee mental health social worker — Lauren Allington

Lauren is passionate about making a positive difference to the lives of those with mental health issues. She is currently training to be a social worker with Think Ahead

Why did you join Think Ahead?

I have worked with people with mental health problems before, as a support worker, and as a group work facilitator in a probation service. I really enjoyed building a therapeutic relationship with individuals but I realised that I wanted to support people holistically, and I particularly wanted to advocate and stand up for individuals in a sustainable and an effective way.

Training as a mental health social worker seemed like a good way to achieve this. You take a person-centred approach and find ways to support people in reaching their goals and aspirations, such as feeling more confident and independent, connecting them with their community, and reducing social isolation. You also use a variety of interventions and therapy to assist people with their social circumstances, for example their housing, employment, and relationships.

When I decided to apply for social work training I knew that Think Ahead's combination of the practical and academic elements of the job would suit me and would give me the opportunity to become an effective practitioner.

I strongly believe that having an excellent social workers are vital. They have specialist knowledge and training that enable them to personalise and tailor services to an individual's unique needs. They recognise that people do not fit into boxes or categories.

What's a typical day like as a mental health social worker?

I learn something new every day.

I am currently working with a lady called Rosalind; in particular I am helping her to improve her independence, connect with her community, and helping her meet her daily challenges. I've found her a walking club, knitting group and women's club to join - she says that getting involved in local groups and meeting people makes her feel much better.

I also provide more practical support. Rosalind is profoundly deaf, so I arranged for the fire brigade to come and install a specialist fire alarm under her pillow and under a cushion on her sofa so it vibrates if there is a fire. I've also organised Rosalind's appointments with an occupational health therapist and met with her employer to ensure that her needs were met when she returned to work.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love building relationships with people and understanding what it is that they need. The relationship is what is most important - without that you don't have anything.

Being able to see a real difference in someone that I'm working with is a really great feeling. For instance, in the time that Rosalind and I have been working together she has become more chatty and has started taking care of herself.

Encouragingly, Rosalind tells me that I've made a difference and her family tell me that they can see a difference too. It's rewarding to see a change like this.

What are the challenges?

It's hard work and the practical side is intense. It can be difficult to work out solutions that suit both the needs of the service user and the organisation. Advocating for an individual's rights is vital, but I didn't realise how hard this would be.

It's also difficult to secure the access to services that people need, especially with funding cuts.

What are your career ambitions?

I qualify as a social worker in the autumn, and in the long term I'd like to help change the overly medicalised approach in mental health teams, and focus more on the social worker's role, thoughts, and vision.

I also want to change people's perceptions of social workers - most don't understand what the role involves.

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