We asked some vocational rehabilitation practitioners to tell us a bit about what they do, why it matters, and how they got into the industry. You can find out more about careers in VR here and find opportunities on our vacancy page here.
Sue Godby told us about her experience of working in VR
My first job as a qualified OT back in the late 80s/early 90s was in work rehabilitation. I was employed to work in what was called an industrial workshop, part of the range of vocational services established by the trailblazing Netherne psychiatric hospital in Surrey, where the rehab team were one of the earliest advocates of the importance of work for people’s health and wellbeing, so much so the services were awarded international demonstration centre status. I remember inpatients going out to work from the hospital and it was certainly seen as an important outcome.
As services moved into the community in the early 80s, I moved out as well, to work as part of an MDT in a work assessment unit. Here we adopted the supported employment model of place then train and applied the IPS (Individual Placement and Support) approach, which has become more well known in recent times. I worked in a number of exciting work projects run by the work services of the trust.
In 2000, I joined the board of Surrey Supported Employment – an umbrella body of supported employment providers where we ran best practice and networking events as well as leading on successful employment contracts with EU and DWP. I was a great believer in early intervention to keep people in employment when they became unwell and so worked with OTs in all the CMHTs to create employment leads in every team who championed the work focus in assessments and therapy.
By the end of the 1990s the NHS were sadly moving away from providing work rehab services, many of which were transferred to charities such as Richmond Fellowship. In the early 2000s I moved into the income protection insurance world, working as a VRC for 7 years at Unum where I learnt so much about VR. From 2011, I worked as an independent VR practitioner, initially as an associate consultant and latterly running my own business as a VR provider across the UK. I joined the VRA as a trustee in the last few years and have been fortunate to be part of a growing organisation and dynamic team of trustees.
I have so enjoyed my VR journey where I have been able to experience working in a wide range of sectors, statutory, voluntary, corporate and being self-employed and even having my own business.
I have always felt that getting people back to or remaining in work is what I consider to be ‘real OT’ and is such a valuable contribution we can make to people who are disadvantaged by illness or injury.
Vocational Rehabilitation practitioner? Me? By Dr Julie Denning CPsychol, Working to Wellbeing
This was a question that I was asked a number of years back now. I was at a conference and discussing the work that I do and the person opposite me said ‘Oh you are vocational rehabilitation (VR) practitioner then?’ This took me by surprise a little as I had up until then, identified myself as per my profession, which is a Chartered Health Psychologist. I reflected on this for a second and replied ‘yes, I guess I am’. This shift of thinking and adoption of a new professional label gave me cause to consider what my perception of a VR practitioner actually is.
I had always had an interest in the world of work alongside my training as a Health Psychologist. I worked briefly in the arena of selection and recruitment and gained a thorough grounding in competency frameworks. I led on an MSc in Occupational Organisational Psychology and Psychiatry course at KCL and furthered my interest in work and health. It was only when I started working for a market leading physiotherapy company as their consultant psychologist that I really put work and health together in my working life. But still even at this point I didn’t put two and two together: that I was a VR practitioner.
The conversation at the conference was around the time that I was developing our long term conditions service at Working To Wellbeing. We were designing work support services enabling people to return to work or remain at work and self-managing their condition. I was the Health Psychologist in the team, supporting my colleagues as I had always done, to upskill their knowledge in a work context.
For me, my agenda has moved on and taken a new lead where work needs to be a clinical outcome for all healthcare practitioners. This would mean that work, which we spend more time doing than time with our families, is at the centre of healthcare dialogue. This is the reason for me putting pen to paper today, if I can speak to you as a fellow healthcare practitioner and encourage you to start putting work on your agenda, then not only have I upskilled you to the role of VR practitioner in a small way, I have put work where it needs to me in my eyes.
So, I would encourage you, when you next meet your patient, ask them about their work, the role it has in their lives and the impact it has on their health and vice versa. They will be grateful you asked and you will help them along their journey of recovery. Oh, and don’t forget, come and join us at the VRA and we will support you to develop your skills further in vocational rehabilitation. You honestly won’t look back.
My journey into VR by Joy Reymond
Maria Morris our 2021 VR Practitioner of the year shares her journey into VR.