Justin Woodward-Court, a Care Co-ordinator in Newcastle, explained how his background as a social worker helps him to support people by taking in account all the different factors affecting them…
I am a qualified social worker, and have been working as a Care Co-ordinator for 16 years. I currently work in the Newcastle Early Intervention in Psychosis Service. I also work in a Peer Supported Open Dialogue (POD) team one day a week, and am training to be a Family Therapist.
Before training as a social worker, I had worked for several years as a support worker in a voluntary sector mental health service. I was always interested in not just treating the immediate mental health problem or symptoms a person had, but considering this in the context of what other problems and stresses they were living with and trying to support them to address the root causes. The more I learned about it, the more social work felt like a natural fit for the way I work and what I think is important.
I am currently completing a Master’s degree in Family and Systemic Therapy, and also work in a Peer Supported Open Dialogue (POD) team one day a week, so my days vary quite dramatically. Some days I focus on intensive care co-ordination within the community, or working collaboratively with service users and their social networks in the Open Dialogue service. On training days I might be working in a trainee family therapy clinic, or studying at Leeds University. However, in practice, I find that all of these strands interweave. I can adapt and apply similar approaches whether I am working with people in their homes, or supporting them to do more activities they enjoy, or liaising with other support agencies.
I think good social work is about promoting all sorts of positive relationships – though this is not just a trait that social workers have. In my experience, the most effective colleagues who I have worked with from other professions have shared this view that good relationships are key to recovery and mental wellbeing. A lot of the work that I do focusses on building and maintaining relationships, even within extremely distressing situations. Supporting these is particularly important for people experiencing mental health difficulties, to reduce the risk of them feeling isolated (which can really worsen their problems).
I think it is unfortunate that social work can sometimes have a bad image, especially as it can put people off considering this (actually very rewarding) career. In reality, my day-to-day work focuses on providing therapeutic interventions for people – and it seems like this is beginning to be recognised more widely as a key part of what social workers do. In my experience, if you do work collaboratively with people they will usually see beyond stereotypes or their previous bad experiences, and are very willing to work with you.
By being able to consider and collaborate to address all the factors affecting someone’s wellbeing (relationships and family, social issues, and so on) social workers can really make a difference to someone’s recovery from mental health problems. I feel I’ve been able to make a real difference. I recently received a Carers’ Centre award, which I was nominated for by the family of someone I worked with – that felt fantastic to be recognised for the success we’d had.
The best thing about my role is working with so many highly skilled, optimistic, supportive and compassionate people, both colleagues and service users. I have picked up so many new ideas, and ways of thinking and practising social work, from pretty much all of them.