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Earlier this year, Industry Training Organisation (ITO) Careerforce, announced it was partnering with the Yale University Program for Recovery and Community Health.

Careerforce sought emerging leaders with lived experience including mental health and addiction, to participate in the LET(s)Lead Academy, a transformational leadership development programme.

The LET(s)Lead programme is sponsored by Careerforce and offered at no cost to fellows in this first New Zealand cohort. All tuition fees are paid by Careerforce and the program is taught by internationally respected academics and thought leaders in the field of mental health recovery.

Rod Bentham, General Manager of Learning Solutions at Careerforce says “The sector identified a need for leadership training for people with lived experience and the Yale programme looked ideal for this. Furthermore, the team at Yale were very mindful and respectful of New Zealand’s bi-cultural context and wanted to adapt their curriculum and engage guest presenters to ensure this context was reflected in delivery”. 

The nine month programme consists of a 10-week seminar series followed by four months of project work, including monthly meetings and monthly mentoring sessions offered in an online “virtual classroom” setting.  The nine New Zealand candidates selected for the programme have now completed the first phase of the program and Careerforce is following their progress along the journey.   Candidates are expected to complete their projects by the end of the year.


Moving and inspiring experience for Yale organiser

“It’s been a real privilege getting to know and work with all the fellows in the program”, says Claire Bien, Yale’s New Haven, Connecticut-based Project Coordinator. “Hearing them speak about their lived experiences and the ways in which those experiences informed their vision and perspective was moving and inspiring. I watched this vision and understanding grow as the participants engaged with the curriculum.”

The weekly classroom sessions provided the fellows with an opportunity to learn from about such key concepts of leadership as cultural humility, appreciative inquiry, change management strategies, and power and influence mapping.  There were also sessions on the state of affairs in mental health services provision in New Zealand and internationally; the most effective ways to serve as advocates and educators on boards and committees; and the importance of incorporating Maori and Pasifika perspectives and other cultural considerations on mental health services provision in New Zealand which provided additional perspective on the many facets of leadership and change management.

Ms. Bien notes that one of the most inspiring aspects of being able to interact with the members of the New Zealand cohort has been observing the growing bonds between the fellows—born of a firm desire to develop mutual understanding of and respect for one another and their varying backgrounds and experiences.


Grand-daughter of Scottish Miner seeks social change

Lisa Archibald, Operations Manager at Peerzone is one of the Careerforce New Zealand cohort. “I am so privileged to have this opportunity. So blessed!”

Originally from Scotland, Lisa is the grand-daughter of a feisty miner with a big character.  She presently has two work roles: Project Lead for ‘No Worries’, a Like Minds Like Mine funded initiative educating workplaces on how to understand and respond to mental distress, and Supervisor for Piki Peer Supporters, – a Wellington based youth project.

“I am privileged to be leading two of the strongest lived experience led training providers in New Zealand. I love being able to grow and develop authentic and high-quality peer support training and resources in this country, as I see it benefits the mental health sector and gives credibility to the model especially.   All this in a time where I see much support described as peers lacking the very essence and qualities of this mahi.”

Lisa experienced a tricky life with many significant challenges and losses along the way. “It’s no surprise I came to see the world as unsafe and relationships as unpredictable and painful,” says Lisa.

“A lot of bereavement and grief in my life led to me becoming quite a detached, solitary person. These challenging experiences have led me to see things through that particular lens and this has caused many experiences of mental distress over the past 25 years of my life.  I would never describe myself as ‘recovered’, but I have learned and grown as a result of each difficult challenge life has thrown me. I am a person who struggles to navigate relationships but has found contentment in my work as well as creating a quiet life I am in control of, 12,000 miles away from my home.”

Lisa was inspired to participate in this Yale programme presented in partnership with Careerforce, because she wants to create social change. “From a young age I was taught that there is power in community and power in the collective voice,” says Lisa.  “I saw the opportunity to be part of something that would be a platform for me to showcase the power of being relational, in strengthening communities so they come together more united.”

Having completed most of the first phase of the programme (10 weekly, 2-hour online seminars), Lisa is learning about concepts such as developing personal vision, transformational change, appreciative inquiry, strategy, cultural humility and change management.

“It’s been a fast pace from the start, but I have loved getting to know better the other fellows, feeling part of a diverse and eclectic array of personalities with fantastic ideas. The mentors have been hugely supportive, knowledgeable and inspiring. I have enjoyed the zoom calls and the topics.

“I have stopped to gain the thoughts and reflections of my peers more than usual. To ask the opinions of other fellows and mentors rather than just relying on my own instinct.”


Touched by mentaI illness, and wanting to create change in a broken system

A second participant on the Yale/Careerforce program works with one of New Zealand’s largest District Health Boards as a Consumer Advisor, as well as providing brief intervention therapy to clients referred through their GP’s, in her capacity as intern psychologist.

Sarah* has always had a passion to work with individuals. Early on in her career, she became aware of how broken the publicly funded mental health system was and decided she wanted to work with the ‘system’ and support mental health organisations in creating change, and being able to adapt to it.

“Working with organisations and creating change can be quite a challenging task”, says Sarah.  “Staff are burnt out, there is a lot of resistance, a lack of resources available and a lot of bureaucracy. I often feel exhausted and defeated when I don’t see change taking place. However, working one-on-one with clients at the same time helps keep me grounded and continues to remind me why I am so passionate about my work.

“My lived experience stems back to when I was a young teenager and struggled to make sense of who I was and my place in the world. There were years of falling over and picking myself up, to eventually getting to a place where I developed insight and reflected on the various types of trauma that I had experienced and what this meant for me.”

Sarah has been busy completing her internship this year, but she knew she couldn’t turn away an opportunity to do the course with Yale University, in partnership with Careerforce. “The value that individuals with lived experience bring is often not noticed”, says Sarah, “and I have already found that being affiliated with Yale University has changed the way others are viewing my project.

“The Yale course has been extremely interactive. It’s been great getting to know the rest of the cohort, in addition to being so closely linked to the teaching team. The guest speakers have all been invaluable, and surprisingly enough, the general content of the Yale course happened to fit quite well with my learnings from my internship.

“The pace of study was great and the month in between classes allowed more than enough time to do the readings and do some homework!

“My chosen project is related to something I am extremely passionate about; mental health disclosures by clinicians, being registered with a professional body and identifying as someone with lived experience myself.

“I strongly believe that most professionals that decide to work in the mental health sector do it because they have been touched by mental illness in some way, shape, or form, either themselves or through a family member. Most professionals enter the space with a lot of empathy and compassion, and along the path of working within a broken system, eventually experience burn out and compassion fatigue themselves, therefore impacting the care that they are able to provide others.

“I am also aware of the stigma that exists around disclosing mental health issues, with a rather large grey area around disclosures when you are a registered health professional. I am hoping my project will highlight this grey area and weigh out the pros and cons of mental health disclosures, how to do it safely, appropriate time/place. – in hopes that it removes the ‘them’ versus ‘us’ ideology that exists in mental health services.


What next for the Yale/Careerforce partnership

Now that the first phase of LET(s)Lead 10 weekly, 2 hour online seminars is complete, participants are focused on the second phase.  Candidates have selected or been matched with a mentor of a national or international community leader to work on a self-chosen project that will contribute to  systems transformation in their own communities or in the mental health and addiction sector.

Rod Bentham says, “Careerforce is pleased to have been able to partner with Yale to successfully pilot the Let(s)Lead programme in New Zealand. If you would like more information, or would like to express an interest in participating in further offerings of the programme, please contact Chyrell Bellamy


*Not her real name