Social work formulation: Principles and strategies for mental health social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand


  • Jo Appleby Auckland University of Technology
  • Kendra Cox University of Auckland
  • Karyn Black Registered social worker
  • Natasha Marsh Registered social worker


formulation, Mental health, Clinical social work


INTRODUCTION: Social workers are important members of multidisciplinary mental health teams and formulation is a core skill in mental health practice. However, there is little published guidance about what strong social work formulation looks like. As a group of mental health social workers, including experienced and recent graduates, we identified this discrepancy between the importance of a social work perspective on formulation and the lack of guidance available to us. We propose some key principles for social work formulation in Aotearoa New Zealand. This theoretical article is designed to encourage our mental health social work colleagues, new and experienced, to engage in formulation that is informed by social work values and knowledge.

APPROACH: As a group of mental health social workers, we approached this task with a mix of theory and practice. We conducted a literature review of both social work formulation and Māori formulation, then discussed how these approaches align with the social work knowledge base in Aotearoa New Zealand, social work core competencies, and our experience of mental health practice. From this approach, we identified six key principles for social work formulation in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

CONCLUSIONS: Strong social work formulation is bicultural, collaborative, strengths-based, ecological, has a social justice lens and is whānau-inclusive.

Author Biography

Kendra Cox, University of Auckland

Te Ure o Uenukukōpako, Te Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou


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How to Cite

Appleby, J., Cox, K., Black, K., & Marsh, N. (2024). Social work formulation: Principles and strategies for mental health social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 36(1), 75–88. Retrieved from



Original Articles