Supporting our hopes as well as our fears


The past year has been a chance for many of us to think about our mental wellbeing in new and interesting ways. We have been given licence for some ‘me time’ and to develop self-care strategies involving Mindfulness and Meditation, creating routines regulating our diet and sleep cycles or simply ensuring that we have a support network in place, whether this is online or offline. Inherent in all of this activity is the idea that we can participate in planning our own mental healthcare regime. 

In the same way, modern mental healthcare systems are emphasising the value of participatory approaches; and it is increasingly felt that successful outcomes require commitment from practitioners that the views and experiences of people with mental health problems are valid and valuable; and that service users can and should be involved in their own treatment plans. Here’s 8 reasons why this is so important. 


1. The ability to see the ‘whole’ person

A fundamental part of modern psychological therapies is the understanding that a person’s subjective experience is a key facet of their mental health problems and therefore can and should be part of the solutions. Central to this idea is psychologists seeing service users as ‘whole people’ with well-developed inner lives and not simply focusing on a list of our ‘conditions’ to be treated. 


2. Harnessing our knowledge

Service user participation has evolved over recent decades in part as a response to a population which has a higher education rate, a higher literacy rate and immediate access to the limitless store of information to be found on the internet. We are more informed about our mental wellbeing than ever before; and as such it is incumbent on professionals we work with to recognise this knowledge and harness it.  


3. The role of significant others

Placing us at the heart of our own care plans will inevitably either directly or indirectly involve significant others in our lives. Nobody lives in a vacuum and whatever has led someone to seek support for their mental health will invariably involve family members and friends. Whether or not these significant others become part of the process of treatment is entirely up to the person involved, but taking a user-led approach at least identifies and acknowledges their presence. 


4. More participation = more personalised service

This is a very simple one. If people are part of co-designing their own treatment and care plans, it follows that these plans will be more targeted and personalised to those people. A very direct and cyclical arrangement; which in turn offers efficiency and can potentially yield cost savings for any mental healthcare system as all resources are centred on the individual service user.  


5. All aspects of ourselves

Being involved in co-designing our own mental healthcare plans ensures that all aspects of ourselves and our lives are taken into consideration. Practitioners can focus on our hopes and aspirations, as well as fears and phobias; the positive as well as the perceived negative. This in turn can help us feel more in touch with any future treatment we receive, making it part of us, ultimately helping us to live the lives we want to live. 


6. Fostering independence and self-worth

Numerous studies have shed light on the fact that in situations of crisis, those involved in the decision-making process about their future were those who were better able to invest in the situation and as a result, more likely to get better. Being part of the process fosters independence and self-worth by promoting ownership of our own treatment plans. This is very much in line with innovations in modern mental healthcare practices including deinstitutionalization and community‐based care. 


7. User participation through groupwork

In recent years the user-led model of treatment has developed further with the introduction of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme with its emphasis on service user participation through groupwork. Inherent in this therapeutic model is people taking part in group exercises, learning and developing alongside others who are experiencing the same mental and emotional difficulties. 


8. And finally…human rights

Human rights pervade every walk of life in the modern world and mental healthcare is no different. No longer do we think of society as top-down: bestowing edicts on its citizens; but rather, top-up: prioritising the choice and autonomy of individuals. The recommendations coming out of the recent Mental Health Act Review formalise this by ensuring people are part of discussions about their care plans through ‘advance choice documents’ setting out their wishes for future treatment. You can read more about this here