Learn CAMH Education: The Way You Walked In

Published on June 19th, 2014 | from CAMH Education

The Way You Walked In: A student placement experience at CAMH

By Melinda Wade, MSW student, Complex Mental Illness program

Recently our CAMH internal site, INSITE, featured a story about this year’s Arnold Morrissey award winner, Melinda Wade. She has just completed her placement at CAMH. We asked her if she would share her a bit about her experience here. 

As a Masters of Social Work student at the University of Toronto, I was delighted when I discovered my placement was at the CAMH. I went into my program with a strong willingness to help and change the lives of children. So, when I was randomly assigned my placement in the adult Complex Mental Illness program, I became very excited and intrigued about what the new learning experience would provide for me, but I was also a little hesitant.

“The way you walked in isn’t the same way you walk out!”

As I walked towards the doors of CAMH on my first day, I felt a mixture of feelings. I was unsure of what this learning experience would provide. I thought to myself, am I good match for this placement? Am I safe? I was completely ignorant to what this opportunity held. On my first day, I passed many individuals in the hallways on the way to my assigned unit. I interacted with one individual who very loudly shouted to me, “The way you walked in isn’t the same way you walk out!” As I asked the individual what he meant, he said, “the way you came in, it’s not the same way out!” This statement confused me, and overwhelmed by a new environment, I walked away nervously, not giving the individual’s words a second thought at that time.

As I met my supervisor, Ashley Smith, she began by telling me about the placement population; most inpatients were diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. I was asked if I knew what schizophrenia entailed. “Yes!” I eagerly replied as the willing student I thought myself to be. After all, I had read several books on mental health in my psychology undergraduate and while completing my education degree. I felt fairly competent that I knew about mental illness.

In hindsight, the answer was no. No, I had no idea what schizophrenia was and in fact I had little knowledge around what living with mental illness meant for these people. Beyond my lack of experience, I was in fact perpetuating mental health stigma. I was worried and I was judging. It wouldn’t be until a few weeks on the unit that I would begin to understand this population; and experience how this would fundamentally change my biases. The clients I worked with were some of the most gentle, compassionate and resilient people I know. The same people I was so quick to judge four months ago.

Over the course of my placement I was able to complete practices around integrated care plans and inter-professional team rounds. I have understood assessments, therapeutic practices and allied staff functions. I was able to observe the importance of nursing staff and doctor-patient interviews. I have learned about the mental status exam and symptomology behind schizophrenia. I learned about outpatient teams, housing, evidence based practices as well as understanding the importance of families and community supports in recovery processes.

 This is what CAMH provided for me, an opportunity to discover mental health from different perspectives while gaining the confidence to become an advocate for those in vulnerable times.

If there was something to be learned at this placement my supervisor taught me, and she certainly changed my stereotypes. Recently, when I heard people in my personal life make comments about mental health, often thoughts that support stigma and stereotypes, I had to challenge their thinking. This is what CAMH provided for me, an opportunity to discover mental health from different perspectives while gaining the confidence to become an advocate for those in vulnerable times. Because of how profoundly this placement affected me, I changed my specialization to Mental Health and Health.

I feel confident going into my second year placement at Sick Kids Hospital that I can apply the skills I learned at CAMH. Lastly, I can’t help but reflect on my interaction with the individual that I met in the hallway on my first day. He was right. The way I walked into CAMH would not be the same way I would walk out. I left my placement with an abundance of practical skills but I also left CAMH with so much more. I left with a vast change in perspective and a passion for mental health advocacy.

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