Understanding client empowerment: an online survey of social workers serving people with mental health issues

Jialiang Cui*, Limin Mao, Grenville Rose, Christy E. Newman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This study explored how social workers located in Sydney and Hong Kong conceptualised client empowerment. Further, it investigated these professionals' perceived facilitators and barriers to their empowerment practices, based on an ecological framework. A cross-sectional online survey was used, where the original Empowerment Scale for clients with mental health issues was adapted to measure conceptualisation of client empowerment from social workers' perspectives. Eighty-three social workers serving people with mental health issues (MHIs) in Sydney and eighty in Hong Kong responded. A two-factor model was generated suggesting that practitioners tend to conceptualise client empowerment into two aspects: a relation-based dimension and a resource-oriented one. Compared with their Sydney counterparts, the Hong Kong practitioners considered resource-oriented empowerment as more integral to client empowerment (t(161) = 4.17, p < 0.001). Several key factors were found to be independently associated with endorsement of the two-factor client-empowerment model by practitioners: perceived less support from medical specialists but more support from teams serving the same client, perceived benefits of social work training and, finally, beliefs in the importance of social workers' role in client empowerment. The study highlights the multiple dimensions of client empowerment and a wide range of inter-professional and sociostructural factors enabling social workers' practices that support empowerment. Our paper highlights the role of professional empowerment as a stepping stone to enable their client-empowerment practices through policy support and inter-professional collaboration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-350
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • client empowerment
  • mental health service delivery
  • social work


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