Research interests

Social work practice is underpinned by a wealth of theory and practice wisdom, but little research evidence. I am interested in developing the evidence base about ‘what works’ in social work with people with mental health problems. This requires an understanding of the social interventions that social workers deliver and the use of experimental methodologies to evaluate their effectiveness.

My primary interest is in the social context of people’s lives and how this may help or detract from their recovery from a mental health problem. The concept of social capital is quite helpful in understanding the location of an individual in a web of networks which may provide resources to assist the recovery process. My research at present is exploring how health and social care workers help people to connect with others and enhance their access to social capital. I also supervise a number of MSc research projects in a wide variety of topics and am involved in other studies of relevance to social work practitioners.

Current studies:

Connecting People

The Connecting People study is investigating how health and social care workers support people to connect with others and enhance their access to social capital. It is using ethnographic methods to observe and understand practice in a variety of contexts – statutory mental health services, housing support services and innovative social inclusion projects. The study aims to develop a social capital intervention that practitioners in a range of health and social care settings could use. Although the research is primarily being conducted with young people who have recently experienced an episode of psychosis, we aim to make the intervention applicable to a range of people with different needs in a variety of contexts.

The intervention will be reviewed and made appropriate for people with a learning disability and older people with a mental health problem prior to extensive piloting in 2012. The outcomes of the pilot study will inform future experimental studies and the national roll-out of the intervention.

If you are interested in finding out more about the study, please take a look at the Connecting People study blog where we post updates about both the intervention development and the pilot study. A PDF brochure about the study can be downloaded here.

Both studies are funded by the National Institute for Health Research School for Social Care Research.

Personalised Care in Mental Health

The personalisation of adult social care is transforming the organisation and delivery of services to people with social care needs. It empowers people to make important decisions about their own care, such as who they employ to care for them and what they would like to purchase to improve their quality of life and well being. However, the development of personalised care in mental health is largely in the absence of a robust evidence base. I have convened a group of researchers with interest and expertise in this field to develop some research proposals. More information about our work – and to submit your own ideas for research in personalised care in mental health – can be found on our webpage. This research group has some seedcorn funding from the Mental Health Research Network to facilitate meetings and collaboration.

In 2011 the group was successful with a bid for an NIHR Programme Development Grant on personalised care in mental health. This grant provides funding for a one-year project to investigate the feasibility of conducting a programme of studies to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of personalised care in mental health services. The work we will undertake in 2012 will include a practice survey, systematic reviews and a feasibility study.

Community Health Networks

I am working with colleagues at Rethink on an ambitious project that aims to understand how people build and use ‘community health networks’ in their recovery from severe mental health problems. We will be mapping the social networks of 150 people in west London and Devon to develop models of effective community health networks. These models will be applied in a third site to test their generalisability. Practice guidance and other resources will be produced for practitioners. Further information can be found on Rethink’s website. The study is funded by the National Institute for Health Research Service Delivery and Organisation Programme

Evaluation of Kingston Recovery Initiative Social Enterprise

The Kingston Recovery Initiative Social Enterprise (RISE) aims to develop a recovery community consisting of people recovering from substance misuse issues. As a user-led social enterprise, RISE  will provide problem solving opportunities, learning and skills development and peer support for those currently in their recovery journey. The project is being both developed and delivered by service users in recovery, targeting Kingston’s c.200 substance users accessing existing services. It hopes to expand to other vulnerable groups such as people with mental health problems following an initial pilot. With the support of a visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry I will be evaluating the pilot of RISE to assess outcomes for its members. We will collect data from the first 40 members of Kingston RISE and evaluate whether or not it improves their well being and access to social capital over three months. We will also evaluate members’ perceptions of the benefits of RISE for them.

AcLit Study

I led the development of some online academic literacy learning materials for postgraduate students in 2009-10. These learning materials are currently being evaluated in a randomised controlled trial involving over 230 students from four schools of King’s College London. The AcLit study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the learning materials in improving students’ academic behavioural confidence and their grades. More information about the study can be found on the study’s webpage. We are currently in the process of collecting follow-up data from the part-time Masters students.

MSc student research

I supervise a number of MSc student research projects on a variety of topics, including an evaluation of the effect of mental health training provided to police officers on s.136 MHA admissions and stress and burnout in social workers. One of the studies is a national survey of Approved Mental Health Professionals which is collecting data until March 2012.

Other research studies

I am also involved in a number of other studies:

Recently completed studies:

Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey: Why is the response rate so low?

The Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) is an annual national survey of postgraduate students to evaluate their experiences of their course and university. With the ‘student experience’ set to become increasingly important in the competitive Higher Education marketplace in the UK, it is likely that PTES results will in the future be published to inform students’ choice of university for their postgraduate studies. However, in 2009-10 only 15% of postgraduate taught students completed the survey, potentially providing an unrepresentative picture of students experiences. This rose slightly to 18% in 2010-11, but it still pitifully low.

In 2011 we conducted a study examining reasons for this low response. Across four health schools in King’s College London we asked postgraduate taught students why they did or did not complete the PTES in 2011. We also held some focus groups with students to explore their thoughts about PTES. The final report was submitted to the Higher Education Academy Health Sciences and Practice Centre in December 2011 and will be published shortly. In the meantime, further information about the study can be found on the study’s webpage.


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