Realising Potential our own and others

Report from the National Allied Health Professional Mental Health LeadsGroup on Implementation of the Action Plan 2010-2011

Integrating vocational rehabilitation in mental health

There has been a huge amount of successful work in this area, and there is real momentum around recommendations 9 and 10 from Realising Potential. The Towards Work in Forensic Mental Health[18] and Realising Work Potential[19] documents have been developed, published, disseminated and have been supported by local events within NHS boards to meet Realising Potential's commitment to reviewing current models of vocational rehabilitation used by AHPs in mental health and producing national guidance.

The documents empower AHPs with support from senior management to take forward the outcomes they set out and promote partnership working among health, social care, employer and employability partners. Their main messages are that:

  • everyone has a contribution to make to vocational rehabilitation
  • the "work question" should be asked, focusing on: Have you had to take time off work to come to this appointment today? What information would help you start thinking about work? What would you like to do? What support do you need to work? What sort of work and training have you done in the past?
  • AHPs have the skills to play a key role in implementing evidence-based supported employment, which has an international evidence base demonstrating how individuals experiencing complex mental health conditions can successfully achieve and maintain mainstream employment roles.

The two vocational rehabilitation leads delivered workshops and presentations on the documents throughout Scotland and the UK between October and December 2011. Their presentations provided an overview of the documents and the evidence around vocational rehabilitation to support health boards and service providers to consider their current practice and identify specific areas for development.

AHPs in mental health are being encouraged to lead the way in promoting timely access to effective vocational support for service users through informed signposting and implementation of evidence-based models of practice. Employability training to raise awareness of the positive link between health, recovery and work is now available to AHPs and colleagues, who can find more information on the NES website (

Promoting vocational rehabilitation through art therapy

Although art therapy has an established role in supporting recovery, the more specific area of vocational rehabilitation is perhaps less likely to be considered as core to the art therapist's role. There is nevertheless a number of ways in which art therapy can contribute to supporting important aspects of vocational rehabilitation:

  • strengthening self identity: art therapy provides a means of exploring and strengthening sense of self where it may be fragile
  • promoting relationships: tricky relationships can be thought through and new ways of relating discovered
  • easing transitions: art therapy can be particularly useful in providing a safe and consistent space for reflection and learning during times of transition and change
  • encouraging creativity: the process of working with art materials within art therapy can provide a meaningful and engaging experience that may provide an inroad to further creative work.

Art therapist Adrienne McDermid-Thomas believes art therapy can be useful throughout people's journey through forensic mental health services.

"An open group approach may be helpful during initial stages of admission to secure accommodation, while more intensive individual art therapy may be of greatest benefit during an inpatient rehabilitation period," she explains. "In response to Realising Potential, I am currently focusing on art therapy provision at the point of moving beyond the secure unit. There is a real opportunity to concentrate specifically on issues that arise in the process of returning to living and working in the community."


Email: Elaine Hunter

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