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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Vocational Rehabilitation

Q. I have a sister who was diagnosed with schizophrenia 4 years ago. She is 30 years old and taking medication, but she lives with my parents because they feel they need to protect her. I think she needs to get out of there and work at a ranch or something low-stress (something in touch with nature), so she can feel useful. If you can recommend anything please let me know.

A. I think it's important to ensure that your goals for your sister are consistent with her own wishes and needs; and with the goals of her professional caregivers (psychiatrist, counselor, etc.). There are lots of options besides the sort of ranch you may have in mind; e.g., a good vocational rehabilitation counselor may be very helpful in getting your sister back into the working world, in a manner that fits her psychiatric needs and capabilities.

That said, you may be interested in the Gould Farm, located on 600 acres in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. Their website [http://www.gouldfarm.org] describes this as "an eclectic village which provides psychiatric rehabilitation for guests...we are a diverse community of more than 100 people: farmers, gardeners, cooks, forestry managers, weavers, social workers, musicians, grandparents, parents and children...we care for a hundred acres of farmland and gardens...we shear sheep in the spring...Counseling, 12-step programs and medication are integrated into the normal structure of work and community life."

You may also be interested in the Restoration Project, which is a "transitional employment workshop" in Acton, Mass., whose purpose is "..to enhance the lives of people with mental illness by increasing their skills, their ability to deal with other people, and their confidence in pursuing careers of their own choosing." Housed in a former mill, a small group of young men and women with mental illness is being taught to sand, stain, fix, and refinish old furniture, by master restorers. Their website is www.mentalwellness.com, and you can reach the program at 978-263-0416.

Of course, these places may not be feasible, if your sister can't relocate, or if the idea just doesn't appeal to her. The first step might be to raise the issue of "voc rehab" with your sister, and see if she has discussed this with her treaters. Then, I'd probably leave it in their hands.

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August 2001
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