User empowerment: implications for training the mental health workforce



In the 2005 Mental Health Action Plan for Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) European Member States agreed to ensure for 2010 "representation of users and carers on committees and groups responsible for planning, delivering, reviewing and inspecting mental health activities"(WHO, 2005). The implications of such user empowerment with regard to training the mental health workforce are not to be underestimated. Initial and essential steps in this direction have traditionally involved training professionals to help users access knowledge about their mental health problems, treatment and how to handle the mental and social health-care systems. However, mental health service user empowerment cannot be reduced to simple psychoeducation. Real empowerment also involves rethinking the paternalistic/maternalistic, doctor-knows-best model of care on which contemporary professional training in Europe is generally founded. Similarly, the implications for training service managers are considerable, as empowered users will play increasingly powerful decisional roles in mental health care and in mental health systems. Developing the skills needed for working alongside empowered users, their organizations and the highly qualified professionals they will increasingly employ – as well as providing professional training for these new health care actors – are the current major challenges to effective training for mental health professionals.