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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Emma Dorn

Emma’s professional background is as a team leader and an occupational therapist. Emma has worked at the Adult Mental Health Rehabilitation Unit (AMHRU) for NorthWestern Mental Health (a secure extended care unit) for over 10 years. She has been pleased to see the rehabilitation principles of occupational therapy implemented in practice at AMHRU, which operates with a focus on recovery for people with severe and persistent mental illness.

AMHRU is very holistic, and focuses on more than medical management of illness. And so I find working here very rewarding, particularly working in my current team.

Getting to work with clients over a longer period of time around their goals is the most rewarding aspect. Our clients’ goals can be so diverse. A lot of the magic that happens is based on recovery goals and client stories that maybe seem so small or insignificant to others. It really fits with occupational therapy, and this can be where you can really make a difference.

Emma describes AMHRU as providing a more intensive rehabilitation than is otherwise available, given it is longer‑term rehabilitation. She sees the culture as being person‑centred and achieving positive outcomes for people.

There’s evidence that there’s a sense of hope here. We try to talk about the positive things we’re doing and the impacts we make. I think the culture is potentially what’s different to other units. Staff are really satisfied by the case management model, because they get to work really closely with one individual. I think that makes a difference, helping one person to achieve their goals. The case management model means there’s a bit more continuity and accountability for helping someone to address their recovery goals.

Emma’s vision for the future mental health and wellbeing system is that it will have more opportunities for people to experience this kind of extended rehabilitation. Part of her vision is for more rehabilitation units that also have smaller numbers of people, and female or cohort‑specific units.

In an ideal world, I think there would be a female gender–only space or unit. We would have those smaller secure houses, with more intensive support in the community.

Emma recalls that previously, there were specific programs for people leaving AMHRU to assist them to live independently in the community. They included daily outreach and intensive support designed to help with the transition, and she hopes people will have access to this again in the future.

The level of community support, and the type of community support that can be provided for our clients does limit our discharge options, or makes it more complex to get the right supports in place.

Emma has been able to see many people achieve their recovery goals at AMHRU, and she attributes much of this to the workplace culture.

I think it’s about a culture, about having a culture of hope and a culture of community, that really is what provides a difference.

She says this has meant that the program has become more innovative, and has been able to run activities, such as camps, which have been linked with consumers’ recovery goals.

Having those opportunities like a camp and the group outings where you go to the beach with the patients, and you take your shoes off to just put [your feet] in the water, it sounds like something small, but it just creates a sense that we’re all just human, and helps make those connections.

Source: RCVMHS, Interview with Emma Dorn, November 2020.