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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Helping our clients pursue their vocational dreams

By Matt Tsuda, Occupational Therapist, CAMH Downtown West (Archway) Clinic, and Wafa Chaudhary, Occupational Therapist, CAMH Complex Mental Illness Program.

Clients with mental health problems often experience barriers to employment, and those who have also been involved with the legal system may face even bigger challenges.

Two programs developed by CAMH Occupational Therapists (OTs) are helping our clients pursue their vocational goals and dreams.

Work into Action (WIA) is offered on the general forensic units, while Focus Forward is available to clients on the secure forensic unit in the Complex Mental Illness program, treating patients with illnesses like schizophrenia (CAMH forensic programs specialize in treating clients who have had involvement with the law.)

CAMH Occupational therapists
Dream team: CAMH OTs (from left) Shannon Xavier, Imran Juma, Kim Mullens, Eric Quan, and Wafa Chaudhary, are dedicated to helping clients pursue their vocational goals through programs such as Work into Action and Focus Forward.

Clients often have an idea or vision about work, school or volunteer opportunities. Sometimes they need some focus and support to help with their motivation. It’s been really rewarding to see how these programs can help our clients:

  • One young man now works as a part-time dishwasher after being a patient in the forensic unit
  • A young female client was able to enroll in classes at George Brown and Project Read, a Parkdale literacy program
  • An older client who had not worked for many years is now volunteering at the Salvation Army several days a week, and he’s also taking steps to part-time employment
  • Another who initially thought he would never work again was able to update his resume and is now applying for volunteer roles.


How do we help clients to get from there to here?

First, we need to look at their readiness. Some are in a “contemplative” stage of change, while others are more ready to take action.

Next, we explore their skills and interests, as well as potential opportunities, says Imran Juma, who helps facilitate the Work Into Action (WIA) groups. “Then we can help them to create SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound) goals to work towards those opportunities.”

The programs apply occupational therapy principles to help clients:

  • Discuss what’s meaningful to them
  • Identify and build on their strengths
  • Develop resumes, practice interviewing and explore community resources
  • Get peer support input, including from former clients who have made progress on their vocational goals.


The young man who now works part-time as a dishwasher had set a goal of finding part-time employment with flexible hours. With assistance from CAMH Occupational Therapists, he created a resume, explored different job search techniques, and practiced his interview skills. “He also learned about community resources including the Employment Services offered through the Canadian Mental Health Association,” said Shannon Xavier. “This service subsequently helped him to secure his part-time job.” Meanwhile, CAMH reached out to connect with his new employer and supported him toward his goal for full-time work. He continues to work and receive support from CAMH as an outpatient.

CAMH OT Facilitators such as Imran, Shannon, and their fellow CAMH OTs Eric Quan and Kim Mullens are trained in related areas such motivational interviewing (a collaborative counselling style to help individuals strengthen their motivation to change), models of personal change and goal-setting. They use outcome measures including pre- and post-Readiness Rulers and the Return to Work Scale.

Our colleague Courtney Brennan, has worked with us to trial the WIA program at our outpatient Clinic (Archway) with good outcomes -- this shows that the programs are flexible to different populations and needs and can be used effectively in an outpatient setting.

The programs have roots in an addictions group encouraging career exploration. “When I started working in the Complex Mental Illness program in 2010, I realized there was a definite need to support clients on the secure units to explore vocational goals as well,” says Shannon Xavier. “This led to the development of Focus Forward.”

Focus Forward is offered annually, with about six to 10 clients participating. WIA is offered several times each year, reaching several dozen clients.

There are about 70 Occupational Therapists across CAMH, working in both clinical and management roles. It’s really rewarding to use programs like WIA and Focus Forward to transform lives for our clients.

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