Morello explains that the importance of a job coach is to figure out the specific stressors for individual job seekers, and help them target jobs that fits his or her needs. “Once we figured out the benefits, which a job coach has to know inside-out, it’s really about getting to know the person well … We want to know about their relationships, their weaknesses, their passions, their strengths, and their trigger points. If they get severe anxiety from answering phones, I am not going to look for a reception job,” explains Morello.
Over the last six years, Morello has coached hundreds of people with schizophrenia at transitional-employment program that connects job seekers with part-time, six- to nine-month jobs. “We go with them to the workplace, train them on the job, and cover for them when they cannot make it,” Morello says of the program. “Being trained by a stranger can be a huge stressor for people, so if they know and trust me, they may feel more at ease if I am the one to train them.” The program comes built-in with accommodations for workers with schizophrenia, which takes away a lot of the fear of asking for special accommodations on the job, as Muhammad and Armstrong experienced.
Armstrong believes that the mental-health industry should focus more on people’s skills and reach out with practical help. “Routine and work has saved me,” he said, “but it took me decades to find out what I need.” Armstrong found his perfect job a couple of years ago, and he is not planning to quit anytime soon. As a counselor for the VA, he organizes peer-support meetings and activities for fellow ex-veterans with schizophrenia. Muhammad, for his part, found his calling at Schizophrenics Anonymous and NAMI Connecticut, where he organizes peer support groups and gives lectures about schizophrenia at schools and hospitals. In the past 20 years, he has also written poetry, which has earned him multiple prizes in the VA's annual arts contests and two international awards, including the title of 1995’s Poet of the Year from the International Society of Poets.
Armstrong and Muhammad believe that sharing their experiences and techniques is critical to helping others find the jobs and coping mechanisms that fit. “For me, I need to work full time to reach that equilibrium of calmness,” says Armstrong, “and I need to be able to show up 10 minutes late when I feel a bit rocky in the morning and need to lie down with my relaxation tapes for a few minutes before I leave the house.” Muhammad, on the other hand, has no problems with mornings, and prefers part-time, rather than full-time work. “I just need enough time to unwind and rest, and make sure my work gives me purpose and lets me help other people,” Muhammad said.
“My personal belief is that employment is the biggest tool in recovery,” said Morello. “When someone is working,” he continued, “it gives them self-confidence and makes them part of a team.”