The School of Occupational Therapy at Pacific University and York St. John University have been working together since 2010. The two institutions are creating a Student Exchange program for study abroad opportunities, as well as a partnership to share research and education. The occupational therapy programs of both schools were interested in creating a connection to explore the impact and role of occupational therapy between the two countries and cultures. Through the relationship, Pacific learned of the Converge Program at York St. John for mental health consumers. After seeing the success and impact of Converge, Pacific’s School of Occupational Therapy sought to bring Converge “across the pond” in order to benefit mental health consumers in the local community. Three occupational therapy students and a faculty advisor spearheaded the project. Due to the structure of Pacific, the undergraduate campus provided an excellent opportunity both for a partnership with the Applied Theatre program and a university location to familiarize mental health consumers with college campus life.
Participants for the pilot program of Converge at Pacific University were found through the Early Assessment Support Alliance (EASA). EASA is a program offering a two-year outreach treatment for young adults, ages 15-25, experiencing early psychosis. The symptoms must have begun within the last year and not be due to any other medical condition or substance abuse. EASA started with five counties in 2001 and now covers 19 counties in Oregon, with the goal to cover the entire state by 2015. EASA strives to “keep young people with the early signs of psychosis on their normal life paths” (Early Assessment and Support Alliance [EASA], 2014, para. 3). This is done by increasing community awareness and providing easily accessible and effective treatment by an interdisciplinary team of highly skilled clinicians and professionals. Within the program, EASA provides individual and group counseling, occupational therapy, low-dose pharmacological treatment, life-skills coaching, 24/7 crisis support, family education and support, and vocational training. Pacific University and EASA have a long-standing relationship, including multiple Pacific graduates working in the organization as well as ongoing fieldwork placements of current occupational therapy students. Due to EASA’s mission and values regarding both building community awareness and increasing client participation, this organization was the perfect fit for our pilot program to implement the Converge model in the U.S. (EASA, 2014).
Workshops were held over the course of three consecutive weeks in March 2014 at the Pacific University undergraduate campus. For each class, three applied theatre students and three occupational therapy students participated as peer role models and social supports. Theatre students were familiar with the games and activities used in the workshop and were closer in age to the EASA members, providing an excellent source of typical peer interaction. The occupational therapy students were unfamiliar with the theatre curriculum and learned the games along with the EASA members. The occupational therapy students also provided additional support to EASA members and observation of possible crisis signs from within the workshop. Practicing occupational therapists were available to provide support and crisis services as needed.
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