3 Benefits of Using the Asset Model

I’m from Brooklyn. That could account for things.

I know that if a young female patient sat across from my desk in the summer wearing gold silk pajama pants and a brown tee shirt and carried a Swiss Army canteen pouch as a pocketbook:

I’d want to know “Cool pants. Where did you get them?”

Yes I’d think: “Okay, maybe an office job isn’t for her.” Yet I’d surely think that some other career could be possible, so let’s work together to find out what it might be.

In the last blog entry I limned the perils of how mental health staff stigmatize the very people they’re tasked with helping by focusing on our perceived deficits and weaknesses.

In contrast I use the Asset Model to help people find the jobs they might love and be good at. I’ve been doing this for over 7 years now.

The Asset Model draws on each person’s gifts, strengths, individual traits, and life experiences in creatively coming up with possible careers.

Let’s face it: there are some things you won’t ever be good at. There are things I won’t ever be good at. Instead of trying to correct flaws a better and more productive use of our time would be to maximize our strengths.

Three benefits of using the Asset Model to treat people–whether in therapy or career coaching–are:

You give the person a clean slate to start from. A person with a history of drug addiction can become a shining candidate for a job.

(That’s how I won the Golden Paperclip Award–I created a stunning resume for a hypothetical client who had been addicted to crack and did jail time and volunteered for the parks department.)

You don’t waste time–yours and the client’s–trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Unlike a lot of staff who are outsiders I would have no preconceived notion that a person should do or want to do something that I automatically think is the only best thing for them.

You can act like a detective to uncover a client’s potential and help them to truly succeed.

Our intuition is impressive–each of us can use it to figure out the best course of action to take in our recovery, in our life, and in our possible careers.

Listening to what a client WANTS to do is imperative. Guiding them and helping them to figure out how to get there IS worth taking the time to do.

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about my early experience working at my first jobs. After that I’ll talk about the 3 Major Mistakes in Choosing a Career.


Mental Health Treatment – My Experience

I was researching recovery topics on my own–and on the Internet– since 2002. As far back as 2002 I learned that any rehab program has to be time-sensitive and goal-focused.

I stand by my assertion that if you’ve had spectacular success being involved in a traditional day program or traditional community mental health system–that you’re the rare lucky person in this regard.

To remember is to understand–and I have a photographic memory.

I know what it’s like to be told you won’t be able to go very far–that because you’re “quiet” you should be shunted into the lowest level of groups at a day program.

What if you’re observing others carefully? What if you’re listening to them and getting ideas from them about what you can do in your own life?

What if you’re not a garrulous chimpanzee who chatters on and on, monopolizing the group or not giving particularly insightful feedback?

I tell you peers not to give in to feeling unworthy simply because staff reinforce that a personality trait is abnormal.

Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking circa 2009. This attorney vividly and forcefully argued her case that listening–though hardly valued in mainstream society–should be a coveted skill and that being “quiet” is an asset.

The other book title gets it right: Listening is an Act of Love.

Heaven knows we don’t need any more loud-mouthed orange chimpanzees or any other kind of babbling bobble-heads speaking on our behalf or simply speaking out loud because they love the sound of their own voice.

Here’s what I would tell any mental health staff:

Not to judge a patient solely by whether he or she is helping the group–to try to envision whether the group is helping the patient.

I was literally shell-shocked–lost my voice–when I was told I couldn’t look for a job, that I had to continue in another day program long-term.

Okay: we need to set and enforce clear boundaries.

Yet I maintain that when mental health staff make these snap judgments about us the silent unconscious message they’re giving us is that they’re not interested in getting to know us as people first.

It’s ironic that for so long peers were at once identified by our symptoms and that our personality traits were labeled as pathology. How could we win this duel?

There’s a better way to treat people. It’s called using the Asset Model. I use the Asset Model when helping people find the jobs they might love to do and would be good at.

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about The 3 Benefits of Using the Asset Model.

Volunteer Work Benefits

A host of physical and mental benefits accrue from doing volunteer work.

My earliest volunteer job was as a volunteer peer companion to Lila–a woman in her sixties who lived in a residence. We’d stay in the living room listening to Yankees games on the radio. I’d take her to an ice cream shoppe in the summer.

I was 26 when I did this. When I was 31 I volunteered at a thrift shop organizing and selling items for the local Alzheimer’s non-profit.

For 11 years I served on the board of a non-profit that provided advocacy employment and housing for people with mental health conditions.

What’s not to love about doing volunteer work to improve your life and the lives of others?

I say: do volunteer work when you’re able. It makes perfect sense to me to get out of our houses and our heads when we have an emotional challenge.

People who volunteer their time for altruistic reasons live longer too according to a recent study.

Number-One Resume Writing Mistake

I’m going to give employment tips now on Thursdays.

The number-one resume writing mistake is to not list volunteer work on a resume when you have no work experience or have gaps in employment where you weren’t working at certain times.

Attending a Clubhouse is not something you can put on a resume. It’s an insider secret that some employers frown on those of us who have no volunteer work listed to explain why we weren’t working.

Volunteer work can give a person the skills they can use on a paid job. I know a guy who creates Excel spreadsheets, does fundraising and development work, for a non-profit. He’s done this for over a year and it’s the greatest thing he could ever do.

Eighty-five percent of hiring managers view a job candidate favorably when they have this kind of volunteer work on a resume.

Attending a traditional day program a lot of times doesn’t give a person the skills an employer looks for in hiring a volunteer or a paid worker.

Doing volunteer work and placing this on a resume might indeed make the difference in getting a call for an interview.

Go on Idealist or VolunteerMatch to find a labor of love.

I will talk next Monday about my own experiences doing volunteer work.

State Vocational Rehab Experience

In August 1990 I started my first job as the administrative assistant to the director of an insurance firm.

In 1989 I dealt with OVR-renamed VESID and now Acces-VR. This New York State agency was set up to help people with disabilities find jobs or get trained in skills so they could get jobs.

My OVR counselor jumped into thinking I could become an elementary school teacher. Of course I didn’t want to do that. She then sent me for clerical training so I could get a job in an office.

In the 2000s VESID was trashed as not really helping people. They told one guy they couldn’t help him and that he had to look for a job on his own. They sent people who were deaf to a printmaking program long after jobs in that field became obsolete.

I spent 20 months in this first secretary job and then cycled in and out of insurance office jobs.

This is how it is: you’re a young person, a quirky artist, yet you’re female so you’re told you either have to be a teacher or a secretary or a nurse. This can be fine if it’s what you really want to do make no mistake about this.

Yet I talk about Practical Career Counseling because even circa 2016 today government funding for career help for people with disabilities is predicated on finding us jobs, any job, not the kind of careers we’d like and would be suited for.

For 11 years I was on the board of a non-profit that provides advocacy employment and housing for people with mental health conditions. Even that agency had their funding dictated by finding people any kind of job not the job that was a natural fit.

It’s called LISTENING–what I intend to and will be very good at doing. I hear time and time again that no one tasked with helping people with disabilities listens to us.

Yet I know what it’s like to have more gaps in your work history than a clothing store.

I know what it’s like not to have worked before and to want to have to job. I know what it’s like to have symptoms while working.

I know what it’s like to have job hopped so often you can put the Easter Bunny to shame having hopped along.

Finding the job you love can reduce the impact of your disability. It can give you joy and satisfaction. It can give you extra money to save in a peace of mind fund or to join a gym or to buy a music CD.

I will talk more in coming blog entries about employment. Stay tuned.

Risking Failure to Succeed

A little-known fact:

I was on the debate team in high school. I had to write a speech and memorize and present it as part of a team of students who traveled on Saturdays to other schools to compete.

Yes, I gave the speech from memory without looking at notes.

The students were ranked from 1 to 5–5 people the lowest–and the students with the most #1s took home the trophy.

I wasn’t an honors student at the time–I was in the regular classes. Yet I had gotten the ideas when I was a freshman in high school that public speaking was an important skill to have.

Readers, I routinely scored at a 4 or 5. That’s how I know that you can succeed at something even though you failed big time in the past.

As a junior in high school I got a job as a cashier in a supermarket using an old-fashioned cash register. I was fired five days later because I wasn’t any good at it. In college I had the chutzpah to apply for a job as a cashier in a supermarket again.

This time I succeeded.

I write about this because failure is often the cost of doing business in the real world. I write about this because it’s a reminder that for a lot of us success won’t come easy.

Giving up isn’t the answer. Seeing how we can do things differently or do different things so that we can succeed can be a better option.

The solution is to keep risking trying to do things.

Right now I’m writing fiction–my first novel. I have no idea whether it’s any good yet I want to perfect it so that I can start to publish fiction too.

I write about failure because often just starting out in recovery it isn’t going to be easy taking the risks to do the things you want to do.

Most of all, I wanted to be a cheerleader because I didn’t have a lot of cheerleaders when I was involved in the community mental health system.

There’s no shame in wanting to have a better life. There’s no shame in wanting to do better for yourself.

I cannot and will not be complicit in reinforcing that people with mental health conditions are helpless and that our future is hopeless.

So I dare readers: set a goal. Take a risk.

Believe in tomorrow because the future can be better.

Embracing Failure to Grow as a Person

The quote on the upper right side of this blog I stole from a silver paperweight I bought in a museum gift shop. The paperweight has this Michaal Jordan quote on it.

That should tell you something right there about the validity of the quote when you know a champion athlete with great success in life is the person quoted.

“Don’t Be Afraid to Fail. Be Afraid Not to Try.”

At HealthCentral when I was the Health Guide there for close to nine years the editorial team wrote a news article that must have stole something I wrote elsewhere on that website.

The editorial team had the boldness to write in the news article that: “The only real failure is the failure to try.”

And they understood that for those of us with an MH challenge sometimes trying can be as simple as getting out of bed or taking a shower.

My take on this is that as long as we try our best there can be no shame in failing. Giving our goals our best shot counts more than whether we actually achieve what we set out to do. I bombed out big time in my first career in the gray flannel insurance field.

Failure is simply the cost of doing business in the real world.

Experiencing failure is necessary to grow as a person.

When you’ve lost your mind there is nothing else you could ever fear losing.

Thus people with MH challenges have nothing left to lose and everything to gain by risking achieving goals.


We need to fail to learn what not to do.

We need to fail to experience all that life has to offer.

We need to fail in order to succeed later.

Like Michael Jordan I too was always afraid not to try.

The alternative–not risking getting a job–was no option.

I didn’t want to be doomed to collecting SSI forever and living in a dangerous crack-drug-infested apartment complex on the edge of town the rest of my life.

In recovery as in life there are no guarantees.

Yet if we don’t take these kinds of speculative risks that involve the possibility of failure (the possibility of gain or no gain):

There’s only one guaranteed outcome:

No chance of potential success either.

My motivation for taking the risk to get a full-time job in 1990 was simple:

I sure didn’t like living in an apartment where my friend and I joked that we had cockroach races to see which bug got to the other side of the living room first : )

I’ll talk more in coming blog entries about taking healthy risks.