We, at Foundations for Change, recently made our second presentation to ERSA members, where we talked about our approach to working with people who have a history of substance misuse problems and long term unemployment, through the NEXT project, an intensive psychology for recovery course for those affected by substance misuse.

We believe that one of the things that makes the NEXT Project so unique and effective is our approach to teaching trainees (notice not ‘clients’) to understand themselves through an introduction to basic psychological theory. The training is delivered in a structured, enjoyable and accessible way over 24 full day sessions. The trainees are helped to apply the theory to their own lives which brings about a profound understanding of the underlying causes of their problematic drug or alcohol misuse. The course has been described by a former trainee as akin to taking the red pill, in reference to a scene in the film ‘The Matrix’ where the main character is given the option between embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red pill) and the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue pill).

Often while it may be tough, understanding the reality can help you change it. Once you have gained an understanding of your behavioural patterns through the ‘bigger picture’ of psychological theory, it’s hard to continue with dysfunctional self-damaging or delusional behaviours. Of course the process isn’t as simple as ‘taking a pill’, but by helping people to understand who they are, they become better equipped make positive and long lasting changes in their lives.

At Foundations for Change, this psychological course is followed by a six month volunteer placement for two days a week in which people further develop their confidence and build skills and experience that improves employability. We believe that our approach is something that Work Programme providers could learn a great deal from and our outcomes show why. From the people we have worked with recently, 13% from 2014/15 are in full-time employment, rising to 41% from 2013/14, with the figures for 2011/12 at 61% in sustained full–time employment. In a climate where payment by results is increasingly common, perhaps a payment for individuals who sustain volunteering for a set period would be more appropriate for this particular group of individuals while also reducing the pressure that an employment-focused outcome can create for small charities like ours.  
It’s always interesting to talk to ERSA members, because we get to talk to service providers who are well aware of the complex issues involved in long term substance misuse and unemployment and who are pragmatic about the restrictions and frustrations of meeting unrealistic numbers/time outcomes.

As they know, the reality is that there is no ‘magic pill’ that can solve the challenges around helping people change their lives and find fulfilling careers. However, looking at different methods of support and sharing best practice can help us all to develop the best support possible for jobseekers.

By Liz Naylor, Director of Learning, Foundation for Change