First Seminar Recap

Many thanks to all of you who participated in the first seminar of the ESRC series Re-imagining professionalism in mental health: towards co-production on 5 January 2016 at the University of Leeds.

Thanks so much for the lively and interesting discussions which generated so many ideas and raised such intriguing questions.  I’d initially been worried that the conversation might dry up prematurely – but there was definitely no danger of that!

I think we all realise all too well that establishing co-production (as authentic power-sharing) in mental health will not be achieved over night. The challenges are considerable but, although daunted, I’m feeling enthusiastic and determined.  Last week’s conversations definitely energised my commitment.

Here are just a few observations from the first seminar.

Albert Dzur started off the day’s proceedings with an exposition of his theory of Democratic Professionalism (DP). DP requires a fundamental shift in power relations between ‘service users’ and ‘service providers’, and may be allied to a participatory (rather than representative) form of citizenship. Experts by experience, for example, are demanding that professional practices in mental health be opened up to democratic deliberation.

In their talks both Albert and Michael Guthrie emphasised the importance of role models, but a key challenge seems to be how to embed democratic professionalism into organisational cultures. After Michael’s and Annie Dransfield’s talks, we started to ask some interesting questions about what should constitute professionalism and whether the definition should be expanded to include service users, informal carers and peer support workers. On the other hand, it was mooted that we should perhaps dispense with the term ‘professional’ and talk instead about appropriate behaviour and judgement.

At one point there was an interesting discussion on whether co-production is aided or hindered by regulation. If it is regulated from above, does it then cease to be about democratic power-sharing? On the other hand, how can it become established without being endorsed by policy-makers and managers? I’m sure this is a point we’ll return to…

Scott Bell led a workshop which again generated lots of interest. He emphasised that co-productive relationships should be about mutuality and reciprocity. Scott pointed out that this is not reflected in the term ‘user-led’ which arguably places all the responsibility for recovery on the service user. Others pointed out that terms such as ‘service user’ need re-thinking as they perpetuate the arguably oppressive binary between service user and service provider. A model of ‘recovery together’ was suggested as an alternative.

Pamela Fisher

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