When George C., a psychiatric social worker in the VNSNY Parachute program, first met Carol*, she’d just completed a stay at a psychiatric hospital. A Manhattan resident in her early 20s, she was diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder that had forced her to drop out of school and had resulted in two hospitalizations. Now, George and his colleagues in the Parachute program, a division of VNSNY’s Community Mental Health Services (CMHS) that treats New Yorkers with psychotic disorders, had taken on her post-hospitalization care.
As with all Parachute cases, Carol’s treatment involves both medication prescribed by her Parachute team psychiatrist and regular counseling sessions with George, a peer counselor, and family members, which the psychiatrist will also attend as needed. “The peer counselor is someone who has ‘lived experiences,’ meaning they’ve had experiences with the mental health system that may be similar to those experienced by our client,” explains George. “The peers add a whole other perspective to our program. They really help our clients’ confidence, because they can say, ‘You know, I’ve had those experiences too.’”
George and the peer counselor meet periodically with Carol and her family to monitor her progress. “We’ll review how she’s doing with her medications and whether she’s encountering any life stressors that she’s having trouble with. If so, we’ll discuss what might help her to feel better, and figure out next steps for resolving the issue.”
The CMHS Parachute program serves clients in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. It employs a “needs-adapted” model that originated in Europe, in which the client and family drive the process, including how often treatment sessions are held. “It’s all very transparent,” says George. “Every decision is discussed openly in front of everyone. In our model, the client and their family are the experts, and they come up with their own solution. We’re there to facilitate and help them communicate with other.”
Because the client is empowered, the members of the treatment team are viewed as allies rather than adversaries. “We’ve seen very positive outcomes with clients using this approach,” notes George. Carol is one of them: Between biweekly counseling sessions and consultations with her VNSNY psychiatrist as needed, she’s been able to return to school, and recently started a part-time job as well.
The program is funded by the New York City and State governments, and costs clients nothing. Clients can also remain in Parachute for as long as they feel they’re benefiting from it, and a number have been with the program several years. For George, who worked with the CMHS Mobile Crisis Team for five years before joining Parachute, his extended involvement with clients has been rewarding. “It’s a privilege, seeing different aspects of people’s lives, and hopefully having a positive impact and helping them change for the better,” he says. “I really enjoy it. I also want to emphasize that I have a great group of co-workers, who give me tremendous support. Our work together as a team is a big part of what makes Parachute so successful.”
* The patient’s name has been changed for privacy.