A Return to Professional Life with the Help of the Avancée Program

1 March 2017

From left to right : Patrick Pain, specialized educator, Martin Ayotte, specialized educator, Alain Archambault, specialized educator, Julie Desrochers, clinical activities specialist and Avancée coordinator, Louise Racicot, specialized educator, Julie Paquet, occupational therapist Pierre Veilleux, specialized educator, Hélène Plourde, occupational therapist, Lyne Bouchard, specialized educator and Mario Dauphin, occupational therapist.

For those people who suffer from serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders, it can be very difficult to reintegrate the labour market or to go back to school. Even if these people are able to find work or reintegrate the educational system, their professional or academic careers can often be very short.

In Quebec, even though there are many government or community services that accompany people seeking work or that help future students make academic choices, few of those programs are able to meet the particular needs of those who suffer from a mental illness.

Customizing Supportive Care

At the l’Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal, the people treated for major mental illnesses can be considered very lucky. The Avancée Program, the Institute’s socio-professional reintegration program, offers users three separate programs: an employment support program, a study support program and an internship program. The three programs are meant to integrate workers into the regular labour market.

As noted by Julie Desrochers, the coordinator of the Avancée Program for the last ten years, the opportunities to reintegrate clients both on a social and a professional level depend in large part on how the program is adapted to each situation: “At the Avancée Program, we emphasize the strengths and the personal preferences of each patient. By doing so, our participants feel respected and valued and as such their chances of success increase significantly.”

Marc Corbière, a researcher at the IUSMM, points out that “employment support programs like the Avancée Program are recognized as a set of practices based on empirical data that make it possible for more than half the people enrolled to find work in the regular labour market.”

To meet the needs of its clientele, the Avancée Program depends of the work done by a team of dedicated professionals, mostly made up of specialized educators and occupational therapists, who offer the necessary support to participants throughout the reinsertion process and as long as it proves necessary.

“More than 60% of our clientele manage to find work through a customized approach offered by our professionals and with the financial support of our Foundation,” stated Mz. Desrochers. “We are always seeking to respect the rhythm of our clients and to be aware of everyone’s specific needs.”  

Sharing Experiences that Help People Grow

Over and above the individual supportive care, clients have the opportunity if they so desire to participate in a group workshop. Mario Dauphin and Julie Paquet, both occupational therapists, hold a weekly two-hour workshop where participants from the three Avancée programs are able to share their respective experiences and to support each other during the recovery process.

According to Mario Dauphin, “the sharing of different experiences in small groups allows each participant to relativize what is happening to them and to others. They soon realise that when they talk about their fears, difficulties and successes they are not alone and that other people go through the same stages or meet with similar difficulties. The experience of each participant becomes a source of support, encouragement and inspiration.”

Lelya, who participated in the year’s first group session and who is a regular participant in the Avancée Program’s workshops, shared her wishes for 2017: “I would like to find a job that matches my strengths and interests but that also respects my limits. My goal would be to find part-time secretarial work that would allow me to strike a balance between work, leisure and my personal life.”

In this regard, Julie Paquet reminds us of the importance of self-respect when job hunting: “If you look for work that respects your personal preferences, strengths and lifestyle, you will significantly increase the chances of being happy at work and staying there a long time.”

Recognizing Perseverance

At the Avancée Program, the first signs of snow in December rimes with recognition. Each year, the organisation invites participants, professionals and partners to a special night to celebrate the progress made by the people enrolled in the three programs.

Last December, the Foundation celebrated an emotional evening. Cohosted by two participants in the program, the event made it possible to highlight the perseverance, the successes and the courage of several people enrolled in the Avancée Program. The people gathered for the occasion in the Filteau Room of the Institute listened to inspirational testimonials made by men and women who chose to go back to school or to reintegrate the labour market.

The voluminous research on the subject all comes to the same conclusion: going back to school or finding work leads to improvements in mental health. When you listen to people talk positively about their experience in the Avancée Program, it is easy to conclude that their participation in the program makes it possible for them to acquire a better self-esteem, to improve their quality of life, to find balance and to be an integral part of society.

The fight is far from being won for anyone who suffers from a mental illness. The struggle is never completely over in the Avancée Program; rather, there are only small victories week after week, won by each patient working at their own rhythm on their own personal road to recovery.  

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