Voice of a Mental Health Social Worker

This is a guest blog post and thought piece by Tom Hall, First-Step Social Solutions, accredited mental health social worker (AASW) at Launch Housing Elizabeth Street Common Ground (ESCG). This article is one in a series that Launch Housing is publishing around mental health and homelessness.

“Many people take on far too much responsibility for being homeless or see it as inevitable and enduring.”

While a personal experience of trauma and issues of early childhood development are significant, there is also the social and power dynamics of how people come to homelessness.

Often homelessness services want to “fix” things for people.  But that misses the person and their potential sense of discovery about themselves, how they deal with threats and how societal power, through policies and programs, can constrain and confine people as much as their own lived experience.

A sense of self comes through relationships. Sharing and pulling apart experiences.  Finding strength in unexpected places. Knowing your limitations.

A Strong Foundation for Change

I often find people who want change in their lives are an older group in their mid-thirties to mid-fifties.  But younger people also want support in processing events to find a way forward in the present or immediate future.

Only when people have decided they want to change, can change happen.  I have come to understand how our development through the lifespan can affect this decision.

Stable accommodation can be the foundation of this change and this is what Launch Housing provides with the ESCG support services.

Being present in a counselling relationship is key to giving people a voice – in court through reports that tell the judiciary who the person is, in accompanying the person to employment consultants, to meet landlords and attend the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

This can help the person improve their experience with a community agency, through having the opportunity to say how it is, and having a trusted person as support.

In the support is the opportunity for the person to question and challenge processes and attitudes.  This can occur with the actions of an agency whether this is housing, mental health, employment, income support, banking or general health.  The purpose of support here is to come to a negotiated compromise.

Strategies, Reflection & Learning

The process of building trust takes time. When we are both comfortable with each other, we then try to take the events the person has dealt with and pick them apart.

This reflection helps build a better understanding, develops learning and new strategies to deal with situations.

The task is talking therapy, perhaps in combination with medication, that focuses on process and learning rather than simply escaping and avoiding or chemically managing distress and problem behaviours.

I don’t hold all the knowledge. The person does.  But to reflect, learn and develop, the person needs to begin to understand how feelings and thoughts can influence actions that they can share.

Over several sixty-minute cost free sessions this can happen.

You can contact First-Step Social Solutions via [email protected].

Are you interested in learning more about homelessness and mental health?

Discover more in our submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.