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 OTs (from left) Shannon Xavier,
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
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
The programs apply occupational therapy principles to help
- 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
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
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.