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01.12.2014 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2014 Open Access

International Journal of Mental Health Systems 1/2014

“Walking alongside:” collaborative practices in mental health and substance use care

International Journal of Mental Health Systems > Ausgabe 1/2014
Ottar Ness, Marit Borg, Randi Semb, Bengt Karlsson
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

All authors were actively involved in the research project and contributed to all aspects in the preparation of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Although the importance of collaboration is well established as a principle in research and in theory, what it actually means for practitioners to collaborate in practice, to be partners in a collaborative relationship, has thus far been given less attention. The aim of this study was to identify key characteristics of the ways in which mental health practitioners collaborate with service users and their families in practice.


This was a qualitative action research study, with a cooperative inquiry approach that used multi-staged focus group discussions with ten mental health care and social work practitioners in community mental health and substance use care. Thematic analysis was applied to identify common characteristics.


We identified three major themes related to practitioners’ experiences of collaborative practices: (1) walking alongside through negotiated dialogues, (2) maintaining human relationships, and (3) maneuvering relationships and services.


It appears that even with the rich knowledgebase that has developed on the merits of collaborative relationships, it continues to be challenging for practitioners to reorient their practice accordingly. The findings of this study indicate that the practitioners focus on two types of processes as characterizing collaborative practice: one focusing on conversations among practitioners and service users and their families and the other focusing on management and control among health care providers, service sectors, and service users (i.e., inter/intra-system collaboration).
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