A deliberative study into the impact of integration on mental health social work in England: merely a dialogue or activism?

Vicary, Sarah and Bailey, John (2018). A deliberative study into the impact of integration on mental health social work in England: merely a dialogue or activism? Journal of mental health training education and practice, 13(2) pp. 77–89.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/JMHTEP-08-2016-0039


This paper has two aims: the first is to examine the impact on mental health social work of integrated care; the second is to explore the effectiveness of the use of deliberative research, a methodology which is new to mental health social work research. Developed to enable examination of policy, deliberative research is underpinned by a desire to permit choice and change brought about through an iterative dialogue. This communication is based on informed and respectful equality between policy makers or implementers and those subject to that implementation. In order to achieve this equality, participation in debate by participants is viewed as essential, including as part of the process, participants becoming better informed about the phenomenon in question. The findings show that effective mental health social work underpins successful integrated care which, in turn, is viewed as relevant. In addition, people who access services identified that mental health social workers are well positioned as facilitators and explainers in integrated care.

The issue to be further explored by research, therefore, is not whether services should be delivered separately or in an integrated way, but how to keep improving and developing integrated care and especially the impact of ongoing power differentials. The use of deliberative research worked reasonably well as an underpinning methodology for this study in that it sought to achieve the opinions of the public, in this instance consumers who provided or accessed mental health social work. The ethical need to ensure no harm came to this particular group meant that their opinions were not debated with the whole. This limitation to iterative dialogue is undoubtedly a consideration when undertaking deliberative research on such populations. This study offered just this, a one-off event, as in reality the commitment from participants to attend more than this one session would have been prohibitive. The test, practically, comes with the events for data collection. This is not just the debate as to whether these, as one off events, bring about agreement and not deliberation, but also whether researchers can, with a group that has particular needs, effectively integrate them into the deliberation. Given that it is an ethical priority to ensure that participants are not harmed, this is not always going to be possible where the ‘public’ includes those who may be vulnerable.

Deliberative research methodology is a new approach in mental health social work research. The influential finding is activism: people who access services recognise and suggest a challenge to the normative power differential in integrated care, as embodied in mental health social workers, and it is this aspect warrants further investigation.

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