Michele Robinson helps young woman with co-occurring disorders re-enter community after prison by providing supported employment

Michele Robinson helps young woman with co-occurring disorders re-enter community after prison by providing supported employment

—by Paul M. Kubek and Matthew K. Weiland

Mentor, OH—Michele Robinson is an employment specialist embedded in an Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment (IDDT) team, which serves people diagnosed with co-occurring severe mental and substance use disorders. The organization for which she works, Neighboring, in Mentor, is utilizing the evidence-based Supported Employment model to help people in the community find regular (non-workshop) jobs of their choice.

Some organizations understand how evidence-based practices like IDDT and SE complement each other to maximize consumer quality of life. They pay attention to the research and put it into practice. Neighboring does this, making them among Ohio's leaders in implementing these service innovations. The agency has seen its commitment to EBPs come to fruition through the sustained recovery of many community members.

Michele Robinson shares a story about a woman in her twenties who started her teen years and adult life with the odds stacked against her. She experienced the following:
Began using drugs at the age of 14 (i.e., marijuana, alcohol, and eventually acid & crystal meth)

  • Began experiencing symptoms of bi-polar disorder at 17
  • Hooked up with a crystal-meth crowd
  • Got arrested
  • Spent time in prison

Employment: The Great Barrier Buster

This is a story which demonstrates that the prospects of getting an enjoyable job can help people overcome some of the most challenging barriers to recovery, health, and well-being, including the following:

  • Severe mental illness
  • Multiple substance use disorders
  • Limited work history
  • Criminal history

The Conversation

Robinson participated in the Annual Ohio Supported Employment Conference 2009, sponsored by the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University and held in March in Columbus. She answered our open invitation to attendees to share their lessons-learned stories and consumer-recovery stories. Robinson's story is one that illustrates a smart use of Supported Employment's core principles and components. For starters, note that this story is built primarily upon two principles:

  • Employment is Integrated with Mental Health Services
  • Zero Exclusion

Part 1: Rapid Job-Search  (1m 46s)

This woman was released from prison, was living in transitional housing, and was referred to Neighboring's IDDT services. She expressed an interest in getting a job, so the team did what the research recommends. It utilized the "rapid job-search" principle and referred her to Robinson, the employment specialist, who began to work with her immediately.

Download this audio file (right-click and 'Save As')

Part 2: Consumer Preferences are Important (56s)

Robinson started with some simple questions: What would your dream job be? Where would you like to be

Download this audio file (right-click and 'Save As')

Part 3: Jobs as Transitions (1m 18s)

This consumer wanted to start working only for a few hours on weekends at a restaurant, mainly because she liked being around people. She got the job, and it facilitated some significant changes (transitions) in her life. She bought a bike she could ride to and from work. She saved money and paid off traffic tickets, so she could get her driver's license again.

Download this audio file (right-click and 'Save As')

Part 4: Consumer Preferences: Disclosure (1m 51s)

The consumer started looking for full-time work on her own and chose to disclose her entire life story—felony, recovery, help from Neighboring—to a potential employer, who was impressed with her honesty and offered her a full-time job with an accommodation. She is now a sponsor in 12-step programs and provides peer support.

Download this audio file (right-click and 'Save As')

Part 5: Celebrate Successes (51s)

Initially quiet and unsure of herself, this young woman has discovered her own sense of identity through work and the self-esteem that accompanies it. She is sociable and willingly talks to other people with co-occurring severe mental illness and substance use disorders who might be hesitant about work and recovery.

Download this audio file (right-click and 'Save As')

The National Scene

Supported Employment (SE), the evidence-based practice, was created and is studied by researchers Deborah R. Becker, MEd, CRC, and Robert E. Drake, MD, PhD, and their colleagues at the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center at Dartmouth Medical School.
They have provided leadership for national implementation of SE via the Johnson & Johnson-Dartmouth Community Mental Health Program. The State of Ohio and the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve—through its Ohio SE Coordinating Center of Excellence initiative—are participating in this national project.

Paul M. Kubek, MA, is director of communications and Matthew K. Weiland, MA, is senior writer, producer and new-media specialist at the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University.