Monthly Archives: May 2012

Damaging Labels

On more than one occasion while doing trainings on assisting people in recovery with returning to work, I’ve heard participants refer to the people they work with as “low functioning.” I always ask what that means, as we all “function” at different levels at different activities. Some people are better at math than others, so does that mean poor math students are “low functioning?” After processing with the group on what they meant by “low functioning,” the reply is that it is a way to refer to program participants whose impairment from their psychiatric symptoms tend to be more severe than other participants. However, I point out that mental illness tends to cyclical, and often there is great variation in level of symptoms and impairment. Also, the recovery process has been defined as a dynamic, non-linear process.  So ultimately, the term “low functioning” is a meaningless, damaging label.  

Aside from being meaningless, there are other problems with the term. First of all, it is highly disrespectful to label someone as “low functioning.” Also, it denotes low expectations that recovery is possible, thus negatively impacting the quality of services the person is likely to receive. At the typical training, after addressing these concerns with the group, I suggest they bring these concerns back to their programs to change the use of this language. Inevitably, I hear, “then what do we call the low functioning group?” After some reflective listening and responding, the participants are confronted with the fact that they don’t need to label anyone, and their job is to facilitate the recovery process.

Another way to look at their concern is that different individuals may have different support needs among their program participants. However, if someone has more support needs at a certain stage of their recovery, there is no reason to suspect that they will always have higher support needs, because as mentioned above, the recovery process is a dynamic process. Therefore, the consensus is that using language such as low functioning doesn’t ease the recovery process. USPRA has language guidelines which could be a useful resource to bring back to programs,

The point is to always be respectful and assume that recovery is both possible, and the expectation of all service delivery in the mental health field. I am interested in hearing from the blogosphere on the prevalence of the use of the term “low functioning”, and to hear some ideas on how people address the use of this term in order to help the mental health field become more recovery-oriented.

3 Quick Tips for Job Searching in a Weak Employment Market

Is the current job market keeping you from looking for work?  If so, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t postpone a job search. Postponing a job search does not give you an advantage in your hunt for that perfect job.  In fact, it just creates longer gaps in employment.  According to a 2009 focus group study I conducted along with Francine M. Bates, Human Resource professionals in NJ describe gaps in employment as negatively affecting a job candidate’s application.  In other words, continue to keep abreast of your field’s job openings and apply for positions that interest you.  You may not get something immediately, but you have a better chance of finding a job if you are continuing to look for one!
  2. Use your creativity.  Be creative in your job search.  For example, think of new ways to identify job leads. Ones that don’t involve just looking online or in the newspapers.  Network with people in your field.  Are there professional associations or other business related groups that you can link up with to meet people who might have job leads?  Does your local library have any job related support groups or other opportunities to meet new people?  How about job related groups held at the local One Stop Center? Find your local center by following this link: Explore as many options as possible. This will not only increase your job related network, but may also be a fun way to meet new and interesting people! 
  3. Remain calm, cool, and collected. Easier said than done, right? Well, as much as possible, try to maintain a sense of confidence and positivity. When the right job lead comes along, you want the employer to see you as a confident and composed individual.  A person who is not easily shaken by the negative things in life, but one who looks forward to the future with optimism and confidence!   How do we stay cool under pressure?  Consider taking up yoga, art, or other relaxing activity.  Find something that interests and de-stresses you.  Look into the adult classes held at your local community college and/or vocational technical school.  In addition to the emotional and physical benefits, these classes are great ways to network with people—who knows, they may know of a job opening!

 These are just a few tips to enhance your job search during a period of high unemployment.  Yes, these tips are common and not terribly complicated. However, we all need reminders at times and encouragement to keep moving forward.  If you have any tips you have used that have been helpful in your job search, please let our blog community know.  We would love to hear what has worked for you! 

Physical Wellness & Employment: Just Right Together

As a practitioner it is important that we focus on our own physical wellness. Though work is exciting and brings a pay check it can also be stressful, challenging, and difficult to meet the changing demands of our funders and person served. Too often we neglect our own self-care in pursuit of serving others. The following are some suggestions that staff may consider personally and to share with individuals seeking employment:

Be sure to get enough sleep at night:  Sleep is critical for being alert and attentive to support people in their employment efforts. Tending to our sleep hygiene give us energy to meet with employers, do job development and rapid job search.

 Prepare healthy meals:  Healthy meals can go along ways instead of catching fast food on the run.  Bringing healthy lunches and snacks several days a week can remind us about taking needed lunch breaks to refresh the mind and body.

 Relaxation and Stress Management:  Planning weekly distressing activities outside of work whether its, yoga, walking, running, swimming, and or weights are important to balance job tasks and responsibilities.  When I have not balanced physical health needs my work performance suffers, I’m easily frustrated, and I do not enjoy my work; unless, I am demonstrating self-care practices. 

 Role model:  As I actively participate in self-care practices I feel much better about the good work I’m doing including meeting the demands of the people I serve and supervisor. Many of these self-care practices are important to share with the people we are helping to get a job.  As a practitioner we are role modeling self-care practices to help people we support.  An additional benefit is that we may also feel better about the work we are doing and feel physically well.

I welcome you to share the self-care practices you are using for your own physical wellness.

Work and Recovery

In my work as a service provider in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation field in a number of areas, I’ve been fortunate to see the positive impact of PsyR services on the recovery process. Services that help a person in recovery return to living in the community after sometimes spending years in a hospital is both a rewarding and inspiring experience for a service provider. However, in my experience, of all the rehabilitation services, facilitating the return to work has always appeared to have the greatest impact on the recovery process. In a matter of a few months, I’ve seen individuals literally blossom before my eyes! While providing supported employment services, one gentleman comes to mind that was particularly inspirational. I recalled meeting this job seeker for the first time and remember that he appeared a bit disheveled and unsure of himself. Nonetheless, there was a positive energy and determination to get back to work from day one. He worked tirelessly to improve his interviewing skills and update his résumé. He also starting going on job interviews although at first he was really nervous. After about four months he landed his first job in more than five years, and I will never forget the new bounce in his step and the new confidence he exuded. Within a year, he won employee of the month at his job! Returning to work really does wonders for the recovery process