by Gloria Welton
Strength is an addiction and mental health program in Summerside for youth ages 15 to 24 from all over PEI. It is an intensive 12 to 16-week treatment process.
In addition to 12 in-patient beds, there is space for up to four day clients. They must be referred by a community addictions counsellor or a community mental health therapist.
Tanya Goodwin is an Occupational Therapist and Acting Supervisor with the Strength program. “At the beginning of the program, we want the youth to focus on their recovery. As they progress, we plan for their transition to work or on to education,” says Tanya.
“For clients who are in high school, we gradually work with them to transition back into the classroom. Support and planning for those wanting to upgrade or work on their GED is also provided by our education specialist. This can include linking to post-secondary opportunities.
“Our linkages with community agencies such as Holland College, REACH Foundation, East Prince Youth Development Centre, Career Development Services, Credit Counselling Services of Atlantic Canada, Dieticians, and Canadian Mental Health Association has been great to help our clients move forward with their goals and develop supports for after-care.”
The transition plan
In the Strength program, clients work with the multi-disciplinary team on their identified goals. Before leaving the program, staff work with clients on developing a healthy plan to transition to the community. This can include going to a transition home for four to six months, such as St. Eleanor’s House, Talbot House, or Lacey House Extended Care for women. Others move to independent living or stay with healthy supports.
“They may do a gradual discharge from the program by spending time at home and here. This allows clients to get help working through issues that may come up.”
Tanya says they try to make the transition a gradual process with lots of support and planning. “Recovery is a life-long process. Especially the first year, it is a lot of change to learn how to manage life without using substances.
“We help them come up with a plan as to who to follow up and connect with, such as counsellors in the community or a mental health therapist. Some clients start work before they leave our program.”
Finding the right housing is a challenge
“One challenge is finding appropriate housing for our homeless clients,” says Tanya. “If treatment is working well, there comes a point when the client needs to move on, but many have no appropriate housing to go to. This can cause the client to feel stuck.
“We get creative to find solutions for people. No one is left on the street. Transitional homes are a great support to our clients, and more such housing supports are being developed, which will be helpful.”
About the staff
- The clinical team works Monday to Friday, and some Youth Workers work days, evenings, nights, and week-ends to provide 24/7 coverage.
- Three Youth Addictions Counsellors work directly with clients. One Youth Counsellor also runs the family program using the CRAFT program.
- There are 13 permanent Youth Workers, plus casual positions.
- Two Mental Health Therapists with a Masters of Social Work also work directly with clients.
- An Education Specialist (Certified Teacher) helps clients with their academic needs. She can help them earn high school credits, start the GED process, or help them figure out next steps in their education paths.
- A Nurse helps clients with their medical needs.
- A part-time Occupational Therapist helps with life skills assessment and development especially related to discharge planning.
According to the PEI Occupational Therapy Society, Occupational Therapists (OTs) work with people of all ages who may have physical, mental, or intellectual challenges that may compromise their ability to participate in the routines of daily living.
The goal of occupational therapy is to minimize or prevent the effects of these challenges on people’s lives, enabling them to carry out their life roles as independently as possible.
Tanya Goodwin’s path to becoming an Occupational Therapist (OT)
In the 90s, Tanya entered university with plans to become a health professional. She earned a Bachelor of Science at UPEI. “I didn’t know what careers were out there for me. By my third year, I had met an OT student and became more interested in the field.”
After finishing her BSc, she took the OT program at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “With this profession, you can choose what area is the best fit for you. That idea really appealed to me. The Monday to Friday work week appealed to me as well. I knew I would not do shift work well.”
After university, Tanya worked in the US on three-month contracts. She has also worked in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.“My job was quite flexible, and I could find work wherever I went. Nowadays, it’s a bit harder to find work. The profession is becoming more popular and people are more aware of it. When I was in school, they took about 30 students, and now they take about 60.
“Even though I moved a lot and I worked in a lot of different areas, I always gravitated back to mental health.
“When we first moved back to PEI five years ago, I did some casual work and then had a permanent position in homecare in O’Leary for one year. I enjoyed the work. If I wasn’t working in mental health, I would work in homecare. I enjoy going into people’s homes and working on their goals to help them to function better and stay in their home.
“I took a part-time position in Community Mental health, and then I added the 50 percent OT position with Strength to make almost full-time hours. I really enjoyed both jobs. I was able to take the acting supervisor position at the Strength program due to my very supportive managers.
“I have always enjoyed working with a team. The great thing about having multiple disciplines in a program is that we all come from a different approach. So we can collaborate and make the best plan for the client.”
Educational requirements for Occupational Therapists
To become an Occupational Therapist, you need an undergraduate degree to enter the two-year MSc(OT) program. Dalhousie offers the only such program in Atlantic Canada.
The demand for OTs
“The demand for OTs is growing on PEI,” says Tanya. “There is more awareness of the role we can play in certain environments. People have a pre-conceived idea of what an OT does, based on their experience with an OT (eg. stroke care). I am the only OT working in addictions on the Island.”
Why chose to specialize in mental health?
“While in school, we had to do one placement in mental healthcare. I really enjoyed it, and asked for another one. The area was a good fit for me. I liked working in acute mental healthcare, but I always gravitated towards the community.
“It really struck home with me that life for people with mental illness can be better, and there are ways to better cope or manage. That’s what drew me to the career and that’s what keeps me in it. Life is too short. If you are not happy in your career, you might as well do something else.”
“I am aware of other OTs who have moved into management positions at the Prince County Hospital and at the QEH.”
About 65 registered Occupational Therapists work across PEI in a variety of settings such as:
- Acute care hospitals
- Rehabilitation programs
- Home care programs
- Long-term care facilities
- Community mental health
- Private practice
- Schools and/or early childcare centres
- Workers Compensation Board