Learning to detain
: transitions from student to newly qualified Approved Mental Health Professional

  • David Watson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is concerned with professional education. It explores the experiences of Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs) in their first year of qualified practice and how they learn to practice as an AMHP. The AMHP has a pivotal role in implementing the Mental Health Act 1983. The study took a social constructionist approach. Data was gathered via semi-structured interviews with a total of seven participants from two successive cohorts of an AMHP course. Participants were interviewed at least twice during their first year in practice. All were qualified social workers. Interview transcripts were analysed by a process of thematic analysis.

The AMHP course enabled the participants to successfully engage in AMHP practice once qualified. As students, the participants experienced elements of AMHP practice with limited responsibility or accountability. Once qualified and warranted, the participants were quickly acting independently, with overall responsibility for the coordination and outcome of referrals. This represented a significant development in their practice, learning to manage uncertainty and emotional distress, with higher levels of risk and professional responsibility than as social workers. There was limited opportunity for engagement with other AMHPs. The focus on the early stage of professional development of AMHPs is an original contribution with no literature currently considering this. The application of an ontological and epistemological perspective on professional education has rarely been used with social workers or AMHPs. Whilst students engaged in situated learning with qualified AMHPs there was no evidence of them being part of a community of practice. The newly qualified AMHPs were negotiating their professional role and continued to identify primarily as social workers, with the AMHP role being a ‘hat’ they put on. The participants’ development of the AMHP role and practice was informed by their experiences of managing risk and being professionally independent and accountable during Mental Health Act assessments.

A greater focus should be placed on the learning trajectory to becoming an AMHP, from initial social work qualifying education, through the AMHP course and into practice. This includes developing a distinctive AMHP discourse, based on a sociological perspective on mental distress and on mental health legislation. In their first year of practice, AMHPs need greater support developing their understanding of their professional role, either spending a probationary period as a full-time AMHP, or through a structured period of supervised practice.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorMark Erickson (Supervisor) & Dinah Morris (Supervisor)

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