A Discursive Study of how Mental Health Social Workers Constructed their Professional Selves within the Context of National Health Service Mental Health Services

  • Kim Woodbridge-Dodd

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Since the 1990s there have been continued drives in England to integrate National Health Services and Local Authorities’ social care within a single mental health service, with the aim of bringing about improvements in health and social care (Local Government Association et al., 2016). This is underpinned by the belief that through bringing the different professional health (such as psychiatrists and mental health nurses) and social care disciplines together, people in need will have a single point of access to a range of skills and knowledge, that no one system could deliver alone (Cooper, 2017). However, the very unique professional approaches that have been stated as the reason to place social workers in NHS Mental Health Services have been the ones that mental health social workers have struggled to hold onto in this setting (Allen et al., 2016). This is a thesis of how mental health social workers constructed a professional self within the context of the NHS mental health services. I used a Foucauldian approach and the notion that professional identity is a socially constructed sense of self, produced from discourses, subject positions and a process of subjectification. Twelve social workers were interviewed; seven mental health social workers and five social workers who held positions as managers or educationalists. I asked social workers questions about their professional identity, their answers provided a rich source of ‘talk’ that I could analyse using Parker’s steps to discourse analysis. The findings discuss the nature of social work as a profession, generic and specialist social work, and suggests a typology of subject positions drawn from the mental health social workers’ discourses. These findings provide a useful resource to support critical social work practice, both as an example of how Foucauldian theory and concepts can be a rich toolbox for understanding practice in complex settings, and through the use of the typology of subject positions as a source to prompt self-reflection for mental health social workers’ practice.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorMichelle Pyer (Supervisor) & Jane Callaghan (Supervisor)

Cite this