When helping our service users, the largest part of recovery for them happens outside of our sites. This means that we need to work with communities to help provide environments for our users to receive support. We spoke to Tara Becker who is a Family Intervention Practitioner, about her role along with how we work with families to make sure that the treatment we provide can be beneficial.
Tell me a bit about your role?
I am a family intervention practitioner for families where there is someone with psychosis or bipolar disorder. My role is to initially explain why it may be helpful to speak as a family, or group of friends and then to offer sessions as needed with the family/network. Usually, this involves the client directly and can be a space to reflect on what has brought them into the service, how they have found mental health services and also how the wider network has been coping.
It is great working with families and openly talking about their strengths, as well as areas that they may have found hard and at times traumatic. It is a chance to get to know more about worries and hopes, as well as talk about what happens next. This role heavily focuses on the values of not-knowing and remaining curious. We also spend a lot of time looking at how people want to be supported in the future if things become difficult again.
What is a typical day in your Social worker's role?
I spend a lot of time talking with lead practitioners - identifying people on their caseload with psychosis and bipolar and offering to meet them. We are trying to make family work as routine as possible in our teams and so this means that most families are suitable. I tend to spend a lot of time working out when and where is the best time and place for families to meet. This can be tricky as everyone has a different schedule. Clinical work tends to be done in pairs with other trained colleagues. This is refreshing after years of working alone. It allows for the family to hear differing thoughts on their situation and for the session to be well held. I personally find this the best part of my working week. I have learnt so much from my colleagues and feel really supported.
Social work involves working with the community a lot. Do you find it rewarding to do that instead of just one-to-one work?
Being a family intervention worker means that my role is implicitly social-network based and builds directly on social work theory. I believe that the largest part of recovery happens outside of NHS sessions and that relationships can be meaningful and healing. I have previously struggled when services appear to favour an atomised understanding of the human experience and feel that my role in sitting with families has really helped me to not assume how a problem is perceived. A key part of my training is that 'the person is never the problem'. This is a hopeful way to start conversations with families who have been supporting their loved one for many years.
Part of my training is to be explicit around working with differences (age, cultures, gender, sexual orientation etc). This has allowed me to work with a wide range of communities and to make links with organisations that can help our clients and their families: e.g. Asian mental health lines, employment support, young carers groups etc.
Why is working at Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust different from any other place?
Family intervention is a NICE guidelines approved intervention, but there is nationally a huge shortfall in the numbers of families being offered this in a meaningful way (1-2% of families). I am proud that SPFT has allowed me to specialise in this role. The Trust is clear that family work in psychosis and bipolar disorder is core business and resources have been put behind this, including technology to support during Covid. I have been encouraged to look at how we can increase the number of meaningful offers of family work, as well as look at ways to support others who are trained in Family Intervention via the Quality Improvement Team, as well as help to develop a CPD program for trained workers.
If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing on your first day what would it be?
You are not alone - your colleagues are the best support you could hope for!