Students who are service users: integrating dual identities

There is an interesting article in the latest issue of Social Work Education, which will have relevance across the disciplines.

Service user or service provider? How social work and human services students integrate dual identities


Students studying undergraduate social work and human services (SWHS) degrees may have used health and human service agencies, before and during their university education. Using services provides them with insights that are useful for professional practice. However, this article identifies that they experience a fear of shame and stigma revealing this during their studies. In examining interview data from 15 undergraduate SWHS students they recounted how they integrated their experience of being a service user into their professional development. It is argued that insider knowledge of services can provide them with valuable insights for practice. Students spoke about how positive experiences motivated them to study and provided models of effective practice, exemplifying its potential power to assist those in need. Negative experiences of service use can also be beneficial for learning what ‘not to do’. Although students found the experience of service use invaluable, they felt it was never acknowledged within the curriculum. Consequently, students interviewed in this study identified service users as ‘others’. They feared disclosing their own use of services due to perceived shame and stigma. Failing to provide opportunity for students to integrate their service user experience into their professional development creates a false dichotomy which does not acknowledge the intersection of these dual identities.

Service user or service provider? How social work and human services students integrate dual identities
Students studying undergraduate social work and human services (SWHS) degrees may have used health and human service agencies, before and during their university education. Using services provides them with insights that are useful for professional practice. However, this article identifies that they experience a fear of shame and stigma revealing this during their studies. In examining interview data from 15 undergraduate SWHS students they recounted how they integrated their experience of being a service user into their professional development. It is argued that insider knowledge of services can provide them with valuable insights for practice. Students spoke about how positive experiences motivated them to study and provided models of effective practice, exemplifying its potential power to assist those in need. Negative experiences of service use can also be beneficial for learning what ‘not to do’. Although students found the experience of service use invaluable, they felt it was never acknowledged within the curriculum. Consequently, students interviewed in this study identified service users as ‘others’. They feared disclosing their own use of services due to perceived shame and stigma. Failing to provide opportunity for students to integrate their service user experience into their professional development creates a false dichotomy which does not acknowledge the intersection of these dual identities.

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Comment by Jill Anderson on July 21, 2017 at 14:15

Any suggestions for other reading on this topic?

Here is one article: Wood, H., Lea, L. & Holttum, S., (2013). Finding the personal in the clinical psychology swamp. Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, 8(1), pp.15–25. 

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