Supported employment program achieves early successes

The UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health launched a new evidence-based supported employment program for individuals with mental illness in June of 2014. The program recently received an exemplary rating by the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

Supported employment program achieves early successes click to enlarge Matthew Diehl, MSW

The foundation of the program is the Dartmouth Individual Placement Support (IPS) philosophy and the research behind it. According that research, individuals with severe mental illness have unemployment rates up to 85 percent, yet it is also known that having a job is a major step toward recovery.

“For a long time, job placement services have operated on the basis that the provider or counselor is the expert,” said Matthew Diehl, MSW, supported employment supervisor. “This model is very client-centered so we really try to focus on what the individual wants to do.”

The program currently serves clients in Orange and Chatham Counties and is one of four Dartmouth IPS-supported programs in the state.

Once enrolled in the program, clients decide what type of work they would like to do and an employment specialist like Diehl provides one-on-one advice and encouragement, while also helping establish job search connections with potential employers.

“Many of the people we work with have been out of work for years,” Diehl said. “It has been really interesting to see the positive effects of being actively engaged in a job search. Even if they don’t get the job, just getting an interview or a call back can be incredibly motivating.”

The process starts with the creation of an in-depth career profile, Diehl said. During initial meetings with clients, he said it is common to spend several hours discussing previous work history, what they liked about certain jobs and disliked about others. They also discuss the person’s diagnosis, medication and how involved they would like the program to be in their job search.

It culminates with the employment counselor asking the client to name his or her dream job.

“We really do whatever it takes and whatever individual clients need,” Diehl said. “Some people want us to work completely behind the scenes; some are okay with us sharing certain information, but not other things. We also see plenty of cases where the initial approach may not be successful and we have to change things as we go.”

Diehl said a tenet of the Dartmouth model is that clients make contact with at least one potential employer within 30 days of beginning the program. At this point, the program is serving 30 clients, with 15 currently employed.

Diehl added that this program is designed to serve clients long-term. Once a client is employed, regular meetings to talk about the work the client is doing and how he or she can succeed continue. He said the program also helps clients identify continuing education resources to address gaps in computer skills, for example.

“We have folks who haven’t worked in years and now are employed. It may not be their dream job, but we’re getting them back in a routine and helping to build momentum. This really makes a huge difference in their recovery and long term health,” Diehl said.

The program collaborates with Dartmouth University, the North Carolina Divisions of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Substance Abuse Services and Vocational Rehabilitation, in addition to Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions.

Filed under: