The Working Life: College and Educational Opportunities

  • While it's suggested that premorbid adjustment determines outcome, my contention is that while this is true in some cases, the opposite is also true: it's possible to do things after you got sick that you couldn't do before the SZ hit.

    This blog entry is devoted to educational and college opportunities that can lead to paid employment. Also, I know of people who get an education for self-enrichment, and that's a valid goal because nobody can take that away from you once you get the degree or diploma. Other kinds of self-improvement need to be looked at here as well.

    In the early 1990s, before my writing career took off, I would attend the Learning Annex in Manhattan. I took classes in personality type, magazine writing, handwriting analysis, and image consulting. I consider myself a student of life, too, and it is by working every day in the world that I learned valuable skills, such as interpersonal dynamics, and that will be the topic of the next blog entry: success on the job.

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    So how can you make the jump? Vocational training or college can do the trick. First, if you have the desire to go to school or work, approach your therapist, psychiatrist or other professional you deal with, and tell him or her. When I was in the day program, my social worker sent in the application for OVR-the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, now VESID-a New York State program.

    When I saw my OVR counselor, she suggested I could be a teacher, and I nixed that because I wanted to work in publishing. Either way, before I could be trained, I had to be examined by a psychologist. He had me repeat back a series of numbers that were faster and longer, do weird things with pegs inside a board, and gave me a questionnaire. It was a checklist that asked me to self-report certain tendencies, like, "I go to church on Sunday" or "I do drugs and alcohol." I had to give the definitions of words such as sepulcher. He asked me how I could tell time if I was lost in the woods.

    Surely I would fail, yet a week later my OVR counselor cleared me for vocational testing. I spent three weeks at the International Center for the Disabled [ICD] doing things like taking apart and assembling a lock, connecting electrical wires, sorting envelopes into mail slots, and adding up sales receipts. My OVR counselor analyzed the results, and I had the option of attending ICD's six-month clerical training or possibly getting a supported job. I chose the first, where I learned to operate a calculator, file documents alphabetically and numerically, type 65 words per minute, and do word processing. This enabled me to find my first job as an administrative assistant.

    Education and work are two activities that are helpful in recovery because as much as possible, young people need to get back into the swing of life. My contention is that a day program should be a stepping stone, not a life-long option, for those of us able to consider school and work.

    I wouldn't recommend you do what I did while at Pratt: work full-time, take two courses a semester, chair the law librarian lecture series, and write, report for, edit and publish to deadline twice a semester Keyword, the library science newsletter. All that came at a cost. Do what someone I know does: he takes one course a semester, maintaining a B average, and has a part-time job where his boss loves him.

  • As you explore college and other educational opportunities, schedule an appointment with yourself, and sit down and examine your strengths and weaknesses and brainstorm the things you'll need to have in place to follow-through on this goal. Work around your weaknesses, and focus on your natural abilities and talents.

    If you are able to express the readiness to make a change in your life such as school or work, you are on your way to realizing that dream. The whole of success comes down to two things: desire, and persistence. If you want something, you deserve to try, and try again.

    Your treatment team should support your decision to go to school or work, and it's their job to help you combat any obstacles to your goal. Best practices vocational rehabilitation involves offering clients competitive or supported employment rather than sheltered or unpaid work, rapid placement into paid community employment versus undergoing a lengthy prevocational training period, and ongoing vocational support after obtaining a job.

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    Often, people with SZ have persistent negative symptoms, or depression, and low self-esteem, so such programs need to be tailored to these dynamics, because the literature indicates when people with schizophrenia are treated the same way as people with other MIs, their rates of success aren't as high. As far back as 1990, Mancuso suggested the idea of altering the job and not just the worker is inherent in the concept of reasonable accommodations mandated by the ADA Act. It was believed that the legislation's support for job task and environment modifications could be useful for people with SZ.

    Whether before employment or after, those of us living with this medical condition need to take stock of where we've been, assess the tools we've used to get here, and remember that to be self-aware and have insight into what sets us off, will enable us to consider school or work and develop coping skills to use in these new environments.

    The good news is, Eli Lilly [the drug company that manufactures Zyprexa] offers the Reintegration Scholarship. Upwards of 70 people each year are awarded money so that they can attain a certificate or degree. Eligible programs include: high school equivalency programs, trade or vocational school programs, associate degrees, bachelor degrees, and graduate degrees. Noncredit, online and distance learning courses are not covered. The scholarship funds are able to be used on tuition, textbooks, and lab fees. Log on to for more information and to download an application. In order to be eligible for consideration, you must be diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizophreniform, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder.

    Once in college or university, your school will have an organization specifically devoted to students with disabilities, as my CUNY alma mater did when I was getting my BA. The ADA Act also governs education. You may need to take tests in a quiet area, or be given more time to take a test, among other reasonable accommodations. Ask for them if you need them.

  • Clubhouses, such as Fountain House in New York City, offer TEP jobs-transitional employment. One woman found work this way, which enabled her to pad her resume after a long employment gap, and today she is successful in the social services field.

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    Options abound if you want to go to school or work. So I urge you to keep in mind that though the road may be long, with detours or potholes, these hard-won victories are often the sweetest. Once you do find a job, the playing field changes, and so the next blog entry will talk about how to be successful at work.



Published On: December 02, 2008