chapter  18
12 Pages

Mental health, social work and professionalism

BySelma Macfarlane

Critical social work perspectives in relation to mental health encompass a rich and thought-provoking expanse of ideas and practice possibilities. When considering the underpinnings of a ‘critical’ approach to social work, there are some key concepts. These include: openness to questioning assumptions; valuing diverse forms and sources of knowledge; concern with how our everyday actions contribute to personal and social change; and an acknowledgement of how social structures, language and discourse create power relations. There is an emphasis on respectful, dialogical relationships, acknowledgment of the fl uid nature of identity and the signifi cance of context. Such an approach draws on traditional critical theory with its focus on structural inequality and social change, as well as more recent thinking associated with postmodernism and poststructuralism. Walsh observes ‘the postmodern call to multiple perspectives, to the critique of master narratives, to multiple truths and diverse voices is indeed familiar territory for social workers’ (2011, p. 354). Critical approaches


1. To present alternative constructions of professionalism from voices that are not always heard;

2. To invite consideration of the assumptions underpinning our understanding of mental (ill) health and our role as professionals;

3. To consider the potential value of alternative constructions of social work practice and professionalism in mental health.