Why Evidence-Based Supported Employment Matters

Employment can be one important part of the journey toward wellness and recovery. Research has shown that persons served who “engage in competitive work do experience improvements in self-esteem and in control of symptoms, compared with [persons served] who do not work or work minimally.”1

An Evidence-Based Supported Employment Program helps and coaches individuals with behavioral health disorders to find competitive jobs in their community. Competitive jobs are those which pay minimum wage or higher. This is particularly important because it distinguishes Evidence-Based Supported Employment Programs, like those at Arundel Lodge, from other vocational programs that use “sheltered workshops” or “work centers” that are authorized by the federal government to employ disabled persons at below minimum wage.

Under an Evidence-Based Supported Program, Employment Specialists not only assist with the job search process, but throughout the whole work experience, providing an ongoing support system even after jobs are obtained. This is another distinguishing factor from vocational programs, which may hold workshops and teach job skills to persons served, but do not help individuals find employment in the broader community or provide ongoing support for those in the workplace.

Several studies over the last few decades have found that supported employment leads to better outcomes than traditional vocational programs do. These outcomes include higher levels of getting and keeping a job, as well as higher earnings.1

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently advocates for Supported Employment Programs as part of “evidence-based practices” for people with behavioral health challenges. Evidence-based practices are determined by established research that has shown the most effective and efficient ways to help people toward recovery. As experts in the field of behavioral health evaluate what strategies and principles work best in the real world, it simply makes sense for organizations like Arundel Lodge to shape programs and services using this knowledge.

The Lodge is committed to using evidence-based practices in all of our work, including our Supported Employment Program. We even consulted with the University of Maryland’s School of Psychiatric Medicine to develop our program. In November 2013, a team from the state Behavioral Health Administration evaluated Arundel Lodge’s program and gave us a high score, 71 out of 75 possible points, for following the Evidence-Based Supported Employment model, which is centered on the following eight principles:

  1. Zero exclusion (every person who wants to work and is eligible for services can participate).
  2. Competitive jobs (the goal is competitive employment, not sheltered workshops).
  3. Clinical coordination (services are integrated with mental health treatment).
  4. Benefits planning (each participant can learn how his/her benefits–disability, military, housing, food, etc.–might be affected by income).
  5. Rapid job search (the job search starts soon after a person expresses an interest in working).
  6. Employment Specialists build relationships with community employers (based on the job seeker’s work interests, Employment Specialists build business relationships that can create matching opportunities).
  7. Individualized support (Individualized supports are time-unlimited–as often and as long as a person needs or wants them as well as the type of service requested).
  1. The preferences of persons served are honored

(It is the Employment Specialists’ responsibility to ask what type of work the person wants and not to tell them what they think they need based on their disability).

In alignment with the Recovery philosophy, principle #8 is held highest above all other principles. It’s about treating all individuals with respect.

Arundel Lodge’s Evidence-Based Supported Employment Program assisted more than 30 individuals in the last quarter, and it provides ongoing support and coaching to help persons served obtain competitive jobs that have included sales, human services, landscaping, and food preparation.

  1. Gary R. Bond et al., “Implementing Supported Employment as an Evidence-Based Practice.” Psychiatric Services, March 2001.

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