Breaking Down Barriers

On the 24th May, we at the VRA held our annual Spring Conference.  We decided to take a different tack for our theme this year, focusing on groups of individuals who need more of the limelight in the context of vocational rehabilitation.

Our focus was on young people with complex presentations, those with learning difficulties, people who are homeless or those who have criminal records or a  substance use disorder.  It was interesting to hear about the vocational rehabilitation needs, often highly complex, of these different groups of people and fascinating to identify the common threads between them.

Two words from Shane Creedon’s presentation on substance use disorder stood out for me: compassion and dignity.  This theme resounded through each of the presentations under different guises. Whether that be the importance of taking the individual’s needs at the starting point, the importance of flexibility when working with someone who has complex needs and the necessity for a holistic perspective.

During the panel discussion, focus was paid to the need in such cases to build a strong relationship before designing interventions or implementing support. To engage with people, to truly understand their perspectives and their differing needs.

In his opening summary during the panel discussion, our Trustee Andy Tyerman remarked: that he was struck both by the interface of VR with health, education, social and voluntary services in the context of personal, vocational and broader social circumstances and by the common need for a client-centred, holistic and flexible approach.  He was also reminded of the need to recognise the value of a broad range of vocational outcomes (not narrow in terms of employment), and the need to strive to support people forward incrementally in terms of their vocational goals in some way, however modest in challenging circumstances.

Compassion was not only for those in our care but for VR practitioners too.  Attention was turned inwards in terms of how we are looking after our needs and ensuring that we were maintaining our resilience and ability to do a good job.  We talked about the importance of different types of supervision whether peer or senior guidance and the importance of seeking out the right supervisor for the right case.  The theme again of the right support provided at the right time was shining through.

Also of significance, was how much we can learn from each other’s practice.  In my closing speech, I remarked on how much I value learning from my fellow psychologists across our different professional groups of occupational, clinical, health and counselling psychology. There is so much potential during a cross-pollination exercise and I felt this keenly as I listened to vocational rehabilitation practitioners practice their shared profession within different remits. We have so much to learn from each other and good practice to share.

Finally, the audience themselves was inspiring. We are all now fully versed in online conferencing and using the chat box frequently.  The comments and reflections made throughout the day were insightful and thought-provoking and significantly added to the richness of the event overall.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our speakers, Spencer Rathborn, Sharon Patmore, Lynn Rae, Stuart Miller and Shane Creedon for their knowledge and insights and to our panel chair, Andy Tyerman and panel member Andrew Frank for their stimulating discussion.

It was a great Spring Conference!

Julie Denning


Members can access the recordings of presentations and our resource sheet here. Non-members can purchase access for £25 here but why not join instead and get access to all the other benefits!

A reminder of our conference sessions:

  • Vocational Rehabilitation:   Pushing the norms of vocational rehabilitation for clients with complex presentations:  More than a return to work,  Spencer Rathborne, Bush & Co
  • Understanding general learning difficulties and what we need to consider as VR practitioners – Sharon Patmore, VRA
  • The Marie Trust: Striving to End Homelessness, Dr. Lynn Rae, The Marie Trust
  • Criminal Records: Disclosing with Confidence, Stuart Miller, SDM Training Services
  • The Impact of Substance Use Disorder, Shane Creedon, Regain Recovery Holdings Ltd
  • Panel discussion Chaired by Dr Andy Tyerman, VRA