Learning from Practice: “Nature’s Physician”

This is the next story in our series Learning from Practice. Discover how Gastown Vocational Services takes an interdisciplinary approach to support people with mental health challenges.

Most adults facing challenges with mental health want to work, and that’s good because as many vocational service providers have seen, work is therapy – it is often “nature’s physician.” However, first you have to get a job, and if core mental health issues are not addressed, it can be difficult getting a job and even more difficult keeping it. Just ask the people at Gastown Vocational Services (GVS).

With over two decades of experience providing vocational and employment services for people with serious mental health challenges, the team at GVS believe that for their clients, the best route to sustainable employment is one that combines employment assistance with vocational and clinical therapy. It’s a “client-centered” approach. That is, while employment is the goal, client needs and capacities come first. If clinical therapy is needed before occupational therapy and support can begin, then that comes first, even if it takes several months.

For that reason, their team includes people with mental health expertise as well as job developers and vocational case managers – a unique interdisciplinary approach.

GVS has gained a reputation as the “go to” service provider for both youth and adults with mental health disabilities and has a long wait list for their services. Referrals come primarily from Mental Health Teams, physicians, public health staff, and other employment providers. In 2011-12, three-quarters of GVS “graduates” went on to either employment (47%) or education (27%).

Gastown Vocational Services credits their success to having a team that truly understands how to help people struggling with mental health challenges.