Vocational Rehabilitation and Social Skills Training

Currently Canada is facing large numbers of unemployment. At the same time one in five Canadians will be touched by mental illness in some way. Unemployment rates for those who are dealing with mental illness are 26%. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that some of the unemployed are out of work due to their struggle with mental illness. When those who have deal with a brain illness are ready to reenter the work force what can we as professionals do to insure their greatest success? That being, not only getting the job they want, but also retaining it for the long term. Studies have shown enhanced success rates when Vocational Rehabilitation Therapists include social skills training in their client programming.

Social skills training is a methodical way to teach the skills needed for positive and empowered social interactions. This style of therapy is directly focused on behavior as opposed to what caused the behavior. It simply addresses the client's social impairments which may or may not be related to their mental illness.

When someone has stepped away from their employment situation due to a mental illness often their social skills become impaired. Long periods of institutionalization, anxiety, depression, paranoia, and psychosis all contribute to the impairment. It is essential that Vocational Rehabilitation Therapists who work to aid those reentering the work after a mental illness has forced them out; spend time on the development or re-acquisition of their client's skills.

In the 1960's and 1970's mental health researchers began to examine the effects of social skills training. At first they examined its effects on skill acquisitions for individuals whose skills were severely affected by their brain illness, such as those with schizophrenia. Then research began to examine how it could affect other areas; such as, in day to day activities and within the work force.

Social skills training has never been viewed as a stand alone form of treatment but rather as a good partner for drug therapies, talk therapies, cognitive therapy, dialectical therapy, supported employment, and family psycho-education. This is also the case for Vocational Rehabilitation.

Evidence-based research has demonstrated repeatedly the four following facts for clients who have taken a social skills training program prior to reentering work force:
1. The individual can learn new social skills if their brain illness has caused a delay in accusation.
2. The individual can retain their skills over time.
3. The individual retains a degree of spontaneous generalization and transference of the skills from training sessions to new situations.
4. Social skills training improves social function, including the quality and number of social relationships.

In 2001 research studies demonstrated the best success rate on reentry into the workforce force and maintaining employment for those clients who had taken a social skills training program during their Vocational Rehabilitation. Success increased further when clients also received regular follow-up employment support. Subsequently, it is the fastest growing component to the best Vocational Rehabilitation Programs.

Today Social Skills training is widely used for clients in many different populations, including young offenders, those dealing with addictions, physically handicapped, long-term prisoners, students, individuals who are dealing with a mental illness, and for clients who are attempting to reenter the workforce after mental illness forced their exit. Combined within a Vocational Rehabilitation program, it aims to change the social behavior of the individual. As the individual becomes more socially skilled, changes in other areas of their life may occur, but that is not the focus. The goal is to aid the individual in finding a satisfying employment opportunity and empowering the individual in the skills needed to maintain the employment opportunity for the long-term.