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“You have the opportunity to truly change lives and have a real impact” – welcoming our 2022 Cohort to the programme

Members of our 2022 Cohort have kicked off their journey to become mental health social workers through the Think Ahead programme.

New participants attended an online launch event on 11 June, and heard from current and former participants, members of our Service User and Carer Reference Group, members of our head office team, and staff from Middlesex University (our academic partner). Participants were also welcomed to the mental health workforce by Dr Navina Evans CBE – Chief Executive of Health Education England, Psychiatrist and Think Ahead Board member.

This is our seventh cohort to join the programme, and this year around 160 participants will join the programme to train to be mental health social workers, learning and working in NHS Trusts and Local Authorities across the country. When this cohort begins, we will have recruited 850 mental health social workers since our first cohort began, and will have partnered with 60% of NHS Trusts and 30% of Local Authorities.

“This is such a special career”

Dr Navina Evans CBE – Chief Executive of HEE England and Think Ahead Trustee, congratulated the participants on choosing this career, saying: “You have the opportunity to truly change lives and have a real impact… There will be tough times ahead over the next two years and beyond, but this is such a special career.”

Navina also passed on advice to the participants, saying: “Be curious. Listen very carefully. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. And don’t be afraid to ask why.”

“The results aren’t always instant, but when they do come, they are so rewarding”

Some current and former participants from the Think Ahead programme joined the event to share their experiences and advice.

Kally, one of our alumni, talked about the challenges and rewards of the role. She said: “As social workers, we need to find ever more creative ways to support people. It can be a really demanding and emotional role. The results aren’t always instant, but when they do come, they are so extremely rewarding.

“I’ve been so fortunate to be let into people’s lives at their very most vulnerable and during crises, and I’ve been able to support them in making significant, positive changes in their lives.

“When someone comes to you and tells you that their life has changed and improved, and it was because of the support or guidance that you gave, there is absolutely no reward like it and it makes all those challenging times so worthwhile.”

“Trust in the process of change”

Charlotte, who is currently in the second year of the programme, also gave advice for dealing with challenging moments: “Trust the process of change. Before you get to the point where you settle in the role and you feel confident that you’ve learned a certain level of skills, sometimes it does feel like a push. You have a choice in that moment whether you become overwhelmed by it, or you use that feeling to help you navigate the change. And make sure you use the support around you.”

“Providing hope is a really integral part of social work”

New participants also heard from members of our service user and carer reference group. Rebecca shared her experience of working with different social workers: “There has been a wide, varied impact, and I think the less helpful times have been when the problem has been located within me, rather than looking at my difficult social circumstances of poverty, of discrimination and of trauma. I have felt pathologised and felt that everything was put down to my diagnosis rather than looking at what was going on in my life.

“But I’ve had many more positive interactions than negative. In the positive interactions, there has been hope for my recovery. Where I’ve had repeated admissions to hospital for anorexia, it’s taken me to a dark place of a lot of hopelessness, and asking myself if things will ever improve. The social worker was alongside me and using their skills and values and enabling me to build a relationship with them. They showed me that there was hope and that there was a way forward – that was hugely beneficial to my recovery. I think providing hope is a really integral part of social work.”

Rebecca, also gave advice to the participants for when they start the programme: “I think on the programme you’re taught about theories and models of practice, and that’s really important. But don’t forget that the heart of social work is relationship-based practice, having empathy and compassion and genuinely listening to service users and carers. When I leave a good interaction with a social worker, I don’t think: ‘That was an excellent use of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’, I think: ‘I felt genuinely listened to. I felt heard.’ They’re the core parts of social work. So I would say don’t lose sight of those, they’re really important skills that make a real difference.”

We are really excited for this new cohort to get started on their journey to becoming mental health social workers, and are looking forward to supporting them through the programme and beyond! We will be sharing their insights and experiences along the way – keep an eye on our website and social media channels to find out more about how they’re getting on.