Exploring the views of mental health social workers on cultural diversity in multi-disciplinary settings

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Theme: Interdisciplinary working, diversity and mental health social worker practitioners in mental health settings are increasingly working with other professionals and within other organisations. The most common of these is the NHS. There is documented recognition of the crucial role of social workers in mental health settings (Allen 2014) given their emphasis on social perspectives and the social determinants of health. Included in the complement of the social worker contribution to mental health practice is the longstanding focus on anti-oppressive practice and skills in working with diversity. However, it is not clear to what extent these approaches are accommodated or supported in interdisciplinary settings given the predominance of the medical model – we will aim to explore these tensions in this presentation.
We will draw on findings from a pilot study that explored how mental health social workers in multidisciplinary teams address diversity. More importantly, the presentation considers the challenges for mental health social workers in working across organisational boundaries to address racial and ethnic inequalities.
We identified a range of discourses emerging from the conversations with mental health social workers. These included the more dominant discourse that revolves around cultural competence and diversity that was evident at team level. However in terms of the organisational hierarchy, other priorities such as resources and meeting individual need dominate. These divergent positions meant that practitioners would assimilate to the organisational culture rather than the team commitment to responding to and addressing cultural diversity. The presentation will explore the themes that emerged from the pilot study:
•Working with diversity as part of everyday work: “It’s what we do, it is important” -
•Silencing of the discourse in a neoliberal context: “There is a lack of spaces to talk about diversity and inequality”
•Meanings attached to integration with health: “Have we lost Social Work?”
These themes will be discussed and contrasted with related studies. We conclude that social work based approaches for engaging in cultural diversity in mental health work (social histories, social networks, and advocacy) seems to be neutralised by an overriding individualistic organisational approach. Given that social work practice intersects between organisations and individuals, families and communities we propose that these initial findings require further exploration.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2015
EventJSWEC - Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Jul 201418 Sept 2015


Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • diversity
  • mental health
  • organisational practices

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