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May 2019

“Social work has the power to transform people’s lives” – Chair of Health Education England welcomes new participants

The chair of Health Education England – the body that coordinates the education and training of England’s health workforce – has welcomed our new intake of participants, who are starting the Think Ahead programme in July.

Delivering the keynote speech at this year’s Cohort Launch Event on Saturday, Sir David Behan, who is a former social worker himself, said he “applauded” our participants’ choice of career. “My belief is that social work has the power to transform people’s lives. […] I want you to go into the future with a real sense of optimism about the contribution you can make to a more socially just society.”

He also advised the new cohort to be really clear about their “personal purpose” – the reason why they have chosen to train as mental health social workers. “My personal purpose got me through difficult moments in my career,” he said. “You all have your own personal stories as to why you want to embark on this journey.”

At the event, participants from our 2019 Cohort also had the opportunity to hear from Think Ahead staff, current participants, and our academic partner, Middlesex University, while getting to know each other and some of the Consultant Social Workers who will be managing participant units within community mental health teams.

When I get home at the end of the day, I have a list in my head of the things I’m proud of.

Chloe, 2018 Think Ahead participant

Members of Think Ahead’s service user and carer reference group shared their own encounters with mental health social workers, and gave the new recruits advice for the future. Christian spoke about his experience as a carer and reminded our participants of the potential impact of mental health problems on family and friends of those affected: “Be compassionate with everyone. It’s not only the service user who’s in pain – it’s the whole family, the whole network.”

Deb, who has experienced mental health problems herself, explained how her social worker helped her envision a positive future for herself: “She instilled me with hope for the future, and turned negative into positive.” She reminded our participants of what can be achieved with the right support: “However ill and distressed your service users are, recovery is possible – don’t put limits on what people can achieve.”

Participants also had the chance to hear from members of our previous cohorts. Chloe, who joined the Think Ahead programme in 2018, highlighted the challenges and rewards of the role, and gave advice to the new participants on joining multi-disciplinary teams. “Social work isn’t always welcome and it isn’t always heard around the table,” she said. She advised them to make a “conscious effort” to build relationships with other professionals, and said it was about “dripping social work into every conversation [whilst] respecting everybody’s role.”

She added: “There have been lots of highs and lots of lows, but at the end of the day I love my job… When I get home at the end of the day, I have a list in my head of the things I’m proud of.”