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6 steps: Finding a psychosocial support worker

People with psychosocial disability often experience difficulty in finding a suitable support worker. Here's a Recovery Coaching best practice approach.


Updated 15 Apr 202417 Jun 2022

 Assisting a participant to find the right support worker or team is often one of the first things a recovery coach does. Done well, it can make all the difference.

It might seem like a straightforward task, but there’s lots to consider. There are important steps recovery coaches can follow, along with big pitfalls.

Searching for the right support person or team can be challenging for anyone. For people living with psychosocial disability, there are specific challenges that crop up regularly.


Many people with psychosocial disability need support with daily living, and those support needs might not be consistent or predictable.

It can be important to have a support person or team that can accommodate a flexible schedule. Not every day is going be a good one. Some days people might need space, no matter what has been planned.

Creating a regular schedule allows a support worker or team to plan ahead. For a recovery coach, understanding and discussing flexibility measures early can reduce strain on the relationship.

To manage expectations, recovery coaches can discuss flexibility with participants and other providers ahead of time. Remember to discuss notice periods, cancellation policies, and minimum shift times. These can quickly become expensive if there isn’t enough flexibility.

Stigma and knowledge of recovery-oriented approach

People with psychosocial disability face high levels of stigma and misunderstanding. While this is not unique to psychosocial disability, it can show up in some specific ways for people with psychosocial disability. Stigma or misunderstanding may look like

·      Perceiving a level of risk based on diagnosis or appearance

·      Providing uninvited judgements

·      Using lazy or ableist language (saying, for example, “I had a crazy day!”)

·      Lacking an understanding of trauma (for example, not knowing how best to work with a range of psychosocial symptoms and presentations).

People who receive support with daily living in their homes need to be able to let their guard down and feel safe. It is the task of an attentive recovery coach to make sure support workers or teams have the right level of compassion, understanding, and awareness of key principles.

Clarity in the support worker’s role

Good roles are clear roles. Selecting a support worker based on a set of values or principles can also impact the quality of support. It is worthwhile to provide training in clear tasks. This makes it easier for the support worker to know what doing a good job looks like and what gaps might need addressing.

Psychosocial disability is a diverse label – the support provided by a support worker will change from person to person. These are some things to look for when selecting the right worker:

·      Strong values to refer to as a compass

·      Exceptional relationship skills and awareness

·      Grounding in theoretical frameworks (recovery-oriented services, trauma informed care, etc.)

·      Good organisational support to seek guidance and facilitate reflection

·      Solid judgement, and

·      Some fluidity.

Finding all of this in one worker can be a tall order, so it’s not surprising that skilled support practitioners are in high demand.

Supply challenges

There’s lots of demand for support workers who are flexible, aware, and confident. Workers who are well trained in a recovery framework and workers practiced at managing risky situations are snapped up quickly. For these reasons, supply in this market ebbs away from psychosocial support.

With some common challenges acknowledged, we turn now to the steps to successfully search for a support worker or team.

Steps to engage a support worker

Step 1: Defining tasks

Start with a discussion about the tasks and activities that a support worker or team might assist with.

This discussion should include what the support person will be assisting with. It will also include exploration of how the person wants to be supported in these areas. In this discussion with the participant, you might cover questions like

·      Do you want assistance around the house?

o   Is it support with motivation? Do you want to be reminded, to do things together, or to just have some things done for now?

·      Support with grocery shopping?

o   Does this include support with getting to the groceries, and practicing spending time in the community with support? Or can you just not manage that at the moment and need it done for you for now?

·       Assistance to attend appointments?

o   Do you want support to get there? Do you want support during the appointment, or would you like the worker to wait outside? Before attending, would you like support to clarify the thoughts and requests you want to raise in the appointment?

Step 2: Listing qualities and skills

This step explores the qualities and skills the person is looking for and who will be a good fit for them and their goals. 

Some questions you might ask are as follows:

·      Are you looking for a support worker who has lived experience of mental illness and recovery?

·      Are you looking for any specific skill sets or qualifications?

·      Do you have any cultural or religious preferences?

·      Is it important to you that they are easy to talk to?

·      Are you looking for someone who is a good listener?

Step 3: Getting clear on logistics of support

This step is about making sure times, locations, and frequency of supports are clear and match the available funding. It also provides a chance to talk about flexibility needs and preferences and things like how to manage cancellations from the support worker or team side. Some example questions to get going:

·      If we put a roster in place, are you generally okay to keep it? Or is it important to you to be able to cancel if you’re not feeling up to it on the day?

·      If your usual worker is sick or unavailable, do you want someone else so you can keep the same routine, or would you rather wait a day or two and see if they’re back? If it’s hard to know now, would you like us to put this decision to you if and when it comes up?

·      Thinking forward a few months, are you likely to want to keep the approach discussed above? Or should we plan for regular reviews as you build your confidence about being in the community with support?

Step 4: The search

As part of defining the search, it can be helpful to consider some of the different kinds of providers and discuss possible differences. It is necessary to communicate the difference between, for example,

·      A sole trader versus an organisation,

·      A large provider that does lots of things versus one dedicated to support work, and

·      Registered versus unregistered.

As a recovery coach, you will build up your local knowledge of supports and services over time.

Local Area Coordinators (Offices and contacts in your area | NDIS), web searches, asking your network of recovery coaches and support coordinators is a good place to start.

Step 5: Interview 

It is important to support the person to begin a relationship with open, full, and honest conversations. With your notes above, you can support the person to engage in a discussion with the provider about what they are looking for.

The NDIS empowers participants to make purchasing decisions. As a recovery coach, it is really important to be sure the person you are supporting is in the driver’s seat.

You can support, prompt, and help prepare (using your notes from above), but make the most of this opportunity to empower, build assertiveness, and become a discerning customer.

Step 6: Feedback and adjustment

This is not a static process; it will need to be reviewed regularly. This is to make sure that the support provided and how it is being provided keep up with expectations and needs as the recovery journey progresses or preferences and goals change.

In addition to higher-level review, the recovery coach should encourage the participant to provide feedback and complaints at any time. This includes positive feedback, which is typically a powerful ingredient in feeling good about how things are going and letting people know what to focus on and keep doing.


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