What makes generalist mental health professionals effective when working with people with an intellectual disability? A family member and support person perspective

J Appl Res Intellect Disabil. 2018 May;31(3):413-422. doi: 10.1111/jar.12420. Epub 2017 Oct 20.


Background: Generalist mental health professionals are inadequately equipped to meet the rights of people with intellectual disability. A better understanding of the attributes of effective professionals may assist in the development of workforce capacity in this area.

Methods: Twenty-eight family/support persons of people with intellectual disability participated in four focus groups. Thematic analysis was undertaken applying the Intellectual Disability Mental Health Core Competencies Framework.

Results: Participants described attributes that aligned with current professional expectations such as working together and new attributes such as differentiating between behaviour and mental health. An unexpected finding was the need for professionals to be able to infer meaning by interpreting multiple sources of information. Participants also wanted professionals to acknowledge their professional limitations and seek professional support.

Conclusion: Family/support persons identified a range of attributes of effective mental health professionals to support people with intellectual disability. Further research is necessary, particularly from the perspective of people with intellectual disability.

Keywords: core competencies; family member and support person; intellectual disability mental health; lived experience; mental health professional; workforce development.

MeSH terms

  • Family*
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology*
  • Mental Health*
  • Professional Competence*