The emotional context of mental health practice

Morton, JW ORCID: 2009, 'The emotional context of mental health practice' , in: Dilemmas for Human Services Papers from the 12th International Research Conference, 2008 , University of East London, London, pp. 132-137.

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This paper will consider some recent sociological writing on emotion and mental health and examine the significance of this for social work practice in the field of mental health. What does an emotionally contented life look like? In the medicalised world of much mental health practice there are numerous therapeutic and pharmaceutical interventions to balance out our emotions and make us happy. In contrast, when practice focuses on those perceived to have more severe forms of mental illness, talk of emotions is often absent and interventions are often considered to have potential to unsettle stable states and ‘talk up’ even more problems. The conceptualisation of emotion as fundamental to the constitution and operation of reason and the role emotions play in our well-being (Williams, 2005) provides opportunities to think about how emotion is considered (or not) by social workers as well as other mental health practitioners. Current service configuration in the UK functions to support a dichotomy in mental illness with a split between primary, the sector supposedly dealing with more common mental health problems, and secondary services, targeted at those with less common and more severe forms of mental illness. This dichotomy is often unhelpful and does not reflect our experience of mental health difficulties. The experience of crisis for example, when emotions become non-containable, can occur to any of us irrespective of a diagnosis (Morton, 2006). This polarised view of mental health is also apparent in discourses about emotion which operate in practice in these services. There is general acceptance that ‘emotions’ or disturbance of emotional stability are linked to a vast array of mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety and talking about emotions in many therapeutic interventions is considered part of the ‘cure’. When it comes to the more severe illnesses such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder, consideration of an emotional life appears to be missing and often avoided. However, even here, emotions are subject to scrutiny - the recording of ‘euthymic’ in medical out-patient notes when the patient with bi-polar disorder is seen and judged stable, the attention paid to high expressed emotion (EE) in families living with someone who has schizophrenia. I want to explore how both preoccupation and avoidance positions are unhelpful, how underlying assumptions about emotional wellness are ever present whether explicitly or implicitly whenever practice intervenes to help people with ‘mental health problems’, and to question the presumption that a steady emotional state would be desirable for any of us let alone achievable.

Item Type: Book Section
Editors: Chandler, J, Barry, J, Berg, E and Piipola, S
Themes: Subjects / Themes > H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Subjects outside of the University Themes
Schools: Schools > School of Health and Society > Centre for Applied Research in Health, Welfare and Policy
Publisher: University of East London
Refereed: Yes
ISBN: 9781905858170
Depositing User: JW Morton
Date Deposited: 23 Dec 2010 11:21
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2022 10:48

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