Clinical professionals who visit the offices of WestBridge Community Services for a job interview will find at least one non-traditional member of the interviewing team: a WestBridge patient. Of course, they might not want to use the word “patient” in the group’s presence: The New Hampshire-based facility specializing in the treatment of co-occurring disorders refers to its service recipients as “participants.”
And the participation that takes place in the hiring process is no make-work venture designed as a token gesture to the individual. Involving program participants in the process of hiring WestBridge staff is so central to the organization’s tradition that the views of participants about job candidates carry a weight that likely cannot be seen in any other addiction treatment program in the country.
If WestBridge staff members favor a candidate but the participant or participants involved in the hiring process do not consider the person a good fit to work productively with individuals in treatment, “The participant’s vote trumps the others,” says Mary Woods, WestBridge’s CEO.
Woods traces the involvement of participants to the very beginnings of WestBridge, when the original staff members visited a local mental health drop-in center to conduct a focus group to broaden their understanding of what patients look for in their clinicians.
“We asked our very first participant to be involved,” says Woods. “Even if someone was symptomatic, if they could understand what we were doing, they could be involved.”
During the interview process, candidates meet in a group setting with WestBridge staff members and participants; they do not learn of individuals’ specific job title in this process. Kevin Keefe, MSW, WestBridge’s chief of human resources and facilities, says the process often reveals a great deal about a candidate, sometimes in subtle ways.
“Sometimes the candidate will not look at the participant, focusing the answers instead to the staff members,” Keefe says. “Then there are others who connect really well.”
Says “Leon,” a former WestBridge participant who was involved successfully in so many interviews that the organization would eventually hire him so he could continue, “The question I ask myself is, ‘Would this person meet the unique needs of this [dually diagnosed] population?’ A lot of the time we can be challenging.”
Leon says he already stands a good chance of not being taken seriously in a professional setting, in that he looks considerably younger than his age of 30. Yet he says, “If they can’t show me respect, how will they show respect to the other participants?”
He says this job (he also does IT work for WestBridge) offers him more work satisfaction than any other position he has ever held, and this has been instrumental in his long-term wellness. “It also fills up gaps in your resumé,” he says.