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Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice in Mental Health




by Anish Alex MSW, RSW

Current mental health approach in Canada is a shift from the traditional mental health services to a community based Psychiatric rehabilitation (Steele, et al., 2007). The guiding philosophies of community mental health rehabilitation are empowerment, competence and recovery. This approach is a combination of ecological and progressive system models. There are various theoretical perspectives in the social work practice in a community mental health rehabilitation setting such as developmental theories, personality theories and practice theories. Generally practice theories are predominantly used such as psychodynamic theories, cognitive-behavioural theories, humanistic theories, and postmodern theories.A conversion of conceptualized anti-oppressive perspective into real life and values of practices required a connection between theory and practice in the area of community mental health. Even though postmodern theories are being used; the overriding perspective in the ground of mental health is a bio-psycho-social model (Diaz-Granados et al., 2010).

Oppression Can Only Survive Through SilenceAs an anti-oppressive social work practitioner, I have to define my theoretical understanding about the fundamentals of anti-oppressive practice like egalitarianism and social justice. The principles for specific practice behaviour and relationships that minimize power imbalances and promote equity and empowerment would help me to practice an anti-oppressive social work among mental health consumers (Larson, 2008). As Larson (2008) explains, during the psychiatric intervention, workers need to develop a service plan component which includes treatment plan, vocational service, peer support and life skill training in full participation with the service user.  Jennifer Martin (2003, as cited in Larson, 2008) suggests that anti-oppressive practice stands for social justice and criticizes the current social relations which are promoting social injustice especially in social work practice. Anti-oppressive practice basically addresses power imbalance and promotes change in the power relationship. This practice includes a self reflection, understanding of the oppressor and oppressed and critical evaluation of entire intervention process in terms of nature of relationships between worker and client (Larson, 2008). It also include a set of behaviours’ and /or skills of the practitioner in harmony with specific clientele circumstances.

A clear and conscious consideration of my social location will perhaps helps me to avoid the reproduction of ‘power over’ relationship with my clients; it also reinstate the connectedness with the client problem. Critical self reflection includes a critique on our own assumptions, values and believes (Hickson, 2011).  As Fook & Askeland (2006) explained critical self reflection is the manifestation of critical theories and it is the reflection through the lens of critical thinking (as cited in Hickson, 2011). I believe that critical self reflection is an approach to personal as well as professional practice to integrate or reintegrate and make sense of own believes and assumptions. I learned that progressive practice on the ground of critical and postmodern theories are possible in various social work fields including mental health, in spite of the dominance of medical model. Social work profession with its theory, practice and research and with a holistic approach needs to develop a primary alternative to mainstream mental health approaches (Morley, 2003).

A study conducted by Arboleda-Flórez & Stuart (2012) found that stigmatization degrades the value of people with mental illness. A social and professional support system need to be created to support mental health consumers and provide proper services. Anti-stigma approach needs to be practiced in all levels of mental health services. Social workers can be a strong partner in the initiative of anti-stigma practice and do advocacy for equitable treatment for service users from the mental health service system as well as from the society. Moreover social worker should be aware about own behaviour that could reproduce stigmatization (Steele, Dewa, & Lee, 2007).  Educate general public about the myth and misconception about mental illness; also resist and protest the negative representations. I think anti-stigma initiatives will not only help the service users but also increase the credibility of social work profession (Arboleda-Flórez, & Stuart, 2012).

I found that mental health field in Canada have some dominant construction of social work practice and limited space for progressive thoughts. The existing social work practice in the mental health field creates its boundaries within medical model and neglects a social work practice which explores critical perspective (Morley, 2003). Critical social work helps people to understand the dominant ideology discourse and relocate subjectively in to that discourse. It will empower people to reconstruct their socially constructed identity and engage in social change process. However, this process will possibly enable people to challenge the existing dominant ideologies and deconstruct the social status quo order.

As a social worker, I think it is my responsibility to assist my clients to deconstruct the dominant discourses which are maintaining social orders and power relations. From a critical point of view, I understand the need for raising consciousness about structurally oppressive factors which are influencing the use of mainstream mental health services through my social work interventions with service users and communities.


 An equitable distribution of the mental health service sector requires more targeted inclusionary strategies and beneficial approaches. We must strengthen the link between need of assistance and use of mental health services. In addition, it is important to develop a comprehensive policy to promote the use mental health services among those who are marginalized and in need of assistance. The influencing factors for mental health service use and determinants are varied in various studies; the common themes are stigmatization, lack of role in the treatment process, power imbalance, culture and lack of knowledge about the system. An approach with an anti-oppressive perspective can make changes in mental health service sector. A critical approach in mental health field is inevitable to make the field more accessible to general public. I think multiple approaches can bring mental health as a priority area in social policy discourse. According to Larson (2008) anti-oppressive social work practice in mental health field faces numerous challenges. An alternative thought from the existing dominant “marginalized and pathologies” (p.44) model can make significant changes in service user’s life. Above all, though this framework is truly motivating the social work professionals especially those who are just out from the universities, the existing dominant system in the mental health field is not supportive (Larson, 2008) thus it is important to fill the gap between theory and practice.


Arboleda-Flórez, J., & Stuart, H. (2012). From Sin to Science: Fighting the Stigmatization of Mental Illnesses. Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry57(8), 457-463.

Diaz-Granados, N., Georgiades, K., & Boyle, M. H. (2010). Regional and Individual Influences on Use of Mental Health Services in Canada. Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry55(1), 9-20.

Hickson, H. (2011), Critical reflection: reflecting on learning to be reflective, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives12(6), 829-839.

Khandelwal, S. K., Jhingan, H. P., Ramesh, S. S., Gupta, R. K., & Srivastava, V. K. (2004). India mental health country profile. International Review Of Psychiatry16(1/2), 126-141. doi:10.1080/09540260310001635177

Larson, G. (2008). Anti-oppressive Practice in Mental Health. Journal Of Progressive Human Services19(1), 39-54. doi:10.1080/10428230802070223

Morley, C. (2003). Towards critical social work practice in mental health. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 14(1), 61–84.

Anish Alex MSW, RSW is a Canadian Social Worker who currently attends Ryerson University. You can visit his blog at

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Child Welfare

How to Support Foster Children



When you choose to become a foster carer the rewards can be great. Supporting a child through a difficult period in their life, watching them grow and develop into a well-rounded individual; it’s understandable why so many choose to pursue this worthwhile vocation.

However, as with any profession, it does come with some downsides. Primarily helping some children to cope with the trauma and stress that being in foster care can evoke.

So, how can you best support a foster child in a meaningful way? One that will be beneficial to the both of you.


Feeling like the most overlooked member of society can have a damaging and long-lasting effect on foster children. Meaning that the simple act of offering them an ear to vent their worries, experiences or anything at all can be extremely positive. It establishes you as a point of reason in their life.

You can’t always solve the issues that are brought up during these moments. Nor should you try, but it is worthwhile simply being there to hear. Because, at the end of the day, your foster children deserve to be listened to.


Birthdays. Christmas. Halloween. Important events can often go overlooked as a foster child. So, taking the chance as a foster parent to celebrate these milestones – no matter how little or big – can be the change that a child needs. Simple things such as helping put up a Christmas tree could be a moment they will remember for a long time to come.

And at the end of the day events like Halloween and Birthdays are fun – something every child needs a little more of in their lives.


Your support is vital, but often the support of peers can also be invaluable for the wellbeing of those children in foster care. Setting up playdates – even for older children – can be a great way to help them interact and enjoy time with children their own age.

Older children or teens may be unreceptive to you making playdates for them. But, arranging ‘coincidences’ of kids their age coming over can always be an alternative solution. What they don’t know…

This can also be beneficial for any of your own children that may also be in the house. A disgruntled foster child can be a distressing presence in the home, so balancing this out with a familiar friend and playmate is often needed to offset this. All of the children in your home can benefit from socialising with others both in and outside your own home at times,


Sometimes life can get a little too much when you are forced to come and go through a number of foster homes, which is a reality for many foster children. A day out – not even an expensive day out or holiday – can be a bright spot in an otherwise overcast moment in their lives. The zoo, beach, museum and even the park can be an adventure.

It’s not always clear what a child is going through, nor will they always express their emotions in healthy ways. Removing them from the environment which creates these feelings can be a relief in many cases.

Help with School

On average, foster children tend to do worse academically and behaviour wise in school than other children. The reasons are often self-explanatory, but it is something which you can positively influence whilst they are under your care.

Helping with homework, actively engaging with teachers over what you can do further to help and encouraging after-school activities are some ways to do this. Goals should be set, but ensure they are realistic and rewarded when surpassed.

Overall, being a foster parent is a big task but one that can bring so much enrichment to a child’s life. As a solid figure in their life, you can help ensure the rest of their life is more positive than the start. Supporting a foster child can be a challenge, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you see a positive effect on the life of a child.

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A Student Perspective: Social Work and First Responders




It may be rare for a social work student to reflect on an assignment as something inspirational rather than a stressful experience with a deadline, but at the end of  3rd year of my social work degree, one assignment was a challenge filled with hope. The assignment allowed me to contribute to a program that will give insight to other helping professionals about the mental health of first responders: police, firefighters, paramedics and others who respond to emergencies on the frontline.

The University of Newcastle has a particularly effective way of integrating workplace experience based learning with academic learning throughout the degree. The program options offered in third year which allow students to develop a program for a real agency was the most useful for me. To know your work might form a foundation for a real program in the community was a great honour and challenge to work on.

In the beginning, I was unsure of what to expect from the program development project. I was apprehensive about working with a professional capacity with a real agency, but I was excited also to learn more and try something new. There were diverse programs offered- from gardening programs to developing group projects designed for children and developing a program for professionals working with first responders.

The university gave us a chance to preference our interests and I was fortunate enough, with some other amazing women to be selected for the first responders team. The aim of our project was to put together a draft training package for helping professionals to enhance understanding of first responder mental health.

This topic drew my interest as it was beyond my scope of knowledge and I have a keen interest in mental health, so it was intriguing to me on both a personal and professional level. On starting, I very quickly became aware that I had actually put very little thought into the work first responders do in our communities to keep us all safer.

I learned just how complex the actual work of first responders can be, I learned the challenges that first responders face as a consequence of their work, the most traumatic of which is often invisible to the communities that they protect. I learned how repetitive exposure to trauma can complicate all aspects of first responder’s lives if they don’t or can’t seek or obtain support. I learned how much awareness is lacking within the multiple levels of the community, which is needed to enact change for first responders and their families.

Also, I learned the difficulties that can be faced by first responders and their families when attempting to access help. Whilst organisational supports are in place for some of the services, the stigma, shame and potential for the loss of their profession is very real. I heard stories about those medically discharged dealing with the grief and loss of their profession and identity.

My part in the group was to examine the supports already in place for first responders. I was concerned at the limited avenues for assistance and the extent of the difficulties for first responders to seek help. Besides limited services, stigma and organisational culture are barriers to effective help seeking. I found attempting to identify potential services to be frustrating, especially when looking for options within communities rather than those which are employer organisation based. My mind quickly went to how this frustration might feel for someone who was attempting the same whilst being unwell.

Gaining insight and recognition into the role first responders play, the impacts on their mental health, their relationships and all aspects of their lives and the flow on effect to their wider social ecology,  I  realised just how large the scale of first responder post-traumatic stress and other mental health consequences have on our community overall.

The hardest part of this learning experience was seeing the end of the project. The topic is so significant, it is hard to not to explore the topic further.  To me, this feels like a core social work and social justice issue, yet one which is invisible much of the time. My learning from this project has given me a totally new perspective. I have a renewed respect and a much deeper understanding of the issues faced by police, firefighters, paramedics and all others who work on the frontline in emergencies.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the knowledge it takes to work with first responders and enact positive change in their lives. I hope more research is completed and potentially more opportunities for training and professional development come up for social workers, whether it be integrated into core teaching within university programs or externally in workplaces.

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Need to Learn a New Language: Modern Technologies That Will Help Beginners




The first time people thought of using computers. Previously called Computer-Assisted Language Instruction and the Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), the general concept has its humble roots in the 1960s. With the invention of the microcomputer, the CALL technologies moved away from the mainframes of major universities and into the wider population. Today, when most people have a supercomputer, they are proliferated to include everything from a gamma to a virtual reality.

With the list of ever expanding options, here are some of the most popular technologies that can help all language learners:

Video calls help connect the world

There is no way to underestimate the effect of Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. Before these technologies became widespread, meeting and having a face-to-face conversation with somebody from another country. Now, you can find a conversation in your target language in the blink of an eye and having online lessons has never been easier. There are all platforms dedicated to finding and setting up your first online language exchange or lesson. All of this makes the language in your living room easy and comfortable.

A recent development that language learners might want to use with video calls is the Skype Translator. Especially for beginners, it can help (almost) real-time video calls. While it might be considered cheating, it can also prove to be a great tool for you.

Gamification makes learning fun

A surprising benefit of being always connected to the internet. When “language learning” is used to mean cramming vocabulary and grammar, these apps have very successfully gamified learning, making it more addictive than ever. These certainly help Although the most beginners, they’re also a great way of squeezing in some language practice in between lessons and keeping your brain active and focused on your target language.

The ruling king of language learning apps right now must be Duolingo, but you can also give busuu a try. Memrise is a great way to learn new vocabulary, especially if you prefer a lot of repetition. The newcomer Lingvist promises to teach you a language in 200 hours, although their selection of languages is currently quite limited.

New types of translators

Naturally, you do not need to be a language learner to use translators. Indeed, most of the time, text translators are used by people. But you can also use translators to assist you with learning. Picking up new vocabulary is the easiest when you have a handy device that can translate new words quickly and conveniently.

Starting with the (almost) real-time Skype translator, tech companies have been pouring money into new types of translation services, including text and visual translation. There’s the much-used and known Google Translate which is useful even without its more exciting add-ons. Once you download their app, once you download their app, once you get their Google app, you can use Google’s visual translations – just take a picture of whatever (road sign, menu item, sentence, etc.) English. Other companies are taking these technologies even farther, providing almost instant speech-to-speech and speech-to-text translations.

While, in the long term, these technologies can instantly be translated, for, they can surely help.

Artificial Intelligence – the way of the future

Artificial Intelligence has had another hot topic these past few years. From being hailed as the salvation from everyday labor to us. For us, AI can also be herald as a new era in Computer-Assisted Language Learning. Although, so far, the machines still find a human language rather confusing, so much so that they’ve even led to their own bot-talk to communicate. Be that as it may, the implications are still groundbreaking.

For example, the European Union is currently funneling money to get AI robots teaching preschool children a second language. On a less ambitious scale, AI can be used to also take language learning apps to the next level. Imagine programs that take into account your personal learning style and adapt appropriately, teaching you-specific vocabulary. Although this technology might still be a bit further down the road, Duolingo has already started engaging its users with AI-powered chatbots, a sign of things to come.

Virtual reality will transform immersion

It’s generally agreed that total immersion is an effective way to learn a language. The idea is simple. So far, the only way to really immerse yourself, however, is to travel to the country. Thanks to virtual reality, this is now changing.

There are already apps that make use of virtual reality to create a quick back-and-forth, much like an actual conversation with a native and definitely a step above Duolingo’s chatbots. The future regards virtual reality and language learning. ImmerseMe is a language start-up that is planning on creating authentic virtual realities to help you immerse in your target language. Since culture and travel are such good motivators for learning a foreign language, it’s easy to see why people are getting excited.

Conclusion – technology can make language learning more exciting and enjoyable

Already, several scientific studies have been provided with evidence on how to assist in acquiring a second language. While some of the technologies mentioned above are still just getting started, video calling and visual translators have already made language learners. Only time will tell how much simpler acquiring a second language can become.

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