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Teaching and Learning – A LEARN and Design Exchange Collaboration


By Natalie Yiu, Occupational Therapist at CAMH’s LEARN

I work at CAMH’s Learning, Employment, Advocacy, Recreation, Network (LEARN) program, which serves clients who have experienced an episode of psychosis, and is aimed at re-integrating them back into the the community. We strive to offer clients a varied experience, through programs that are thought-provoking, challenging, and fun – while also improving their mental health and well-being.

So when Brigitte Huard, Programming Coordinator at Design Exchange, approached me about doing a community outreach program with LEARN to enhance access to arts and design, it was a dream come true!

One way to facilitate recovery is through artistic expression, and our clients show strong interest in expressing themselves through their art. I had collaborated with the Design Exchange (DX) for outings in the past, and they always treated our clients with respect and courtesy. It was clear that a meaningful partnership with DX was a perfect fit.

Planning it out, getting it done
Implementing a new partnership can daunting, but it’s also filled with excitement and promise. We discussed topics for our arts and design workshops, solicited feedback from clients, and provided training to DX artists and instructors to prep them on working with our client groups.

Over the course of several weeks, Design Exchange facilitators came to LEARN to teach – delivering programs specifically developed for our clients. Activities such as silk screening, wet felting, wax coating and embroidery were just some of the activities they participated in, capped off with a field trip to the Design Exchange’s 3DXL Exhibition and 3D Printing Workshop. Most of our clients hadn’t had the opportunities to try these activities before, and it was incredible to see them learn and experiment. Expressing their artistic side helped clients develop self-esteem.

Olga Kouptchinski, an instructor at DX, spoke proudly of the contributions of her new students. “The development of style and improvement of hand-eye coordination within clients resulted in a more passionate disposition,” and she was surprised by the work of one student in particular, who “developed this wonderful minimalist style – at the beginning of the classes the student took a long time to come up with an idea. But towards the end, the goal was so clear. The student was confident that the image would look great and was not afraid to get started.”

Many of us who work in our field are fully aware of the potential of our clients – we see it every day. But it was encouraging to hear it from someone who doesn’t work in mental health.

“It was always just as much about the dialogue and relationships formed, as it was about developing new artistic skills,” says Alicia Nunes, another facilitator from DX. “This experience has reinforced my perspectives about mental health. Stigma is something that can take a long time to unlearn. By creating a discrimination-free zone and offering opportunities to create, programs like this help to put everyone on a level playing field.”

“Learning something new is a gift that can never be taken away, and that addition is something that counters the losses the clients experienced within their lives,” says Olga. And it’s these experiences that act as a bridge between the clients we serve and the community that surrounds and supports them.

The DX Experience

The program wasn’t only beneficial to the clients. Instructors learned a lot from their weekly interactions, helping them gain a better appreciation of the work we do at CAMH.

“I felt like I could really relate to the clients,” said Olga. “Dealing with my own problems has always seemed like a never-ending struggle. While working with the clients, I saw the development from a distance and I never realized how big of a difference artistic pursuit makes. Towards the end, the confidence from developing a personal style made me realize that incremental steps work. I was inspired by seeing that change.”

In the end, while the project was primarily about providing a new and creative experience for our clients, we were pleased to show DX – and by extension, you, our readers – an idea of the various ways we help our clients through their recovery. We look forward to future interactions with the Design Exchange team, with the knowledge that in life, teachers can be students, and students can be teachers too.

For more information about Design Exchange, visit their website at

One Comment Post a comment
  1. I think the Design Exchange’s program to help clients achieve better mental health is a good idea for those who are well enough to take advantage of it.

    October 3, 2015

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