This is the story of Syd and how Tom, a support worker, assisted him to achieve his recovery goals.

Summary of the story

Syd is a 40 year old Kamilaroi man from country NSW. He has recently returned to his hometown after spending most of his adult life in the city. Syd left school early and moved to Sydney when he was 16. He has lived with bi-polar mood disorder for the greater part of his life and has had multiple hospital admissions. Syd has also received support from public community mental health services.

Whilst in the city, Syd lived a transient life. He stayed with a number of family and friends, but never lived independently. This meant that Syd missed out on developing some important day-to-day living skills. Recent success with medication has meant his moods have become stable. When Syd returned to his hometown, he was keen to reconnect with his country and be a part of his community, keep moving forward on his recovery journey, and live as independently as possible.

Since Syd moved back on country, he has been living with his older sister Kaye and her family. Kaye works full time so Syd wanted to be able to take some pressure off her by helping with the cooking, a huge challenge for him.

Tom has been assisting Syd, each week for the past two months, to build his skills and confidence to take on more responsibility for his activities of daily living e.g. cooking and cleaning. Today Syd informed Tom that he cooked dinner last night for the family for the first time. Syd also informed Tom that there is a community event coming up and he would like to volunteer, with Tom’s support.

This section outlines tools and techniques used to walk alongside Syd and support him to achieve his goals.

Starting the journey

Taking time to build rapport – When Tom first spoke to Syd on the phone he seemed really apprehensive about the meeting, so it was important that Tom took the time to build a rapport. Syd indicated that he would like Kaye, his sister, to be present for the first meeting. As Kaye worked full time, the meeting was arranged to be at Syd’s home after business hours.

Tom talked to Syd about his move back to country, what supports he had in place, what his days looked like and what he wanted to achieve with Tom’s support. At first Syd found it really hard to decide. With Kaye’s help, he determined his goal was to improve his living skills and connect with community. Tom and Syd worked together to develop a plan to help Syd reach this goal.

Tip: It may take time to build a trusting work relationship and develop a plan to help someone reach their goal. Take the time to understand their story and be open to appropriately sharing some of yours, as a way of developing rapport. It is okay to ask questions about culture, particularly if there is something you don’t understand.

Taking time to listen since each person’s story is different – Coming back home had been important for Syd to rebuild his sense of self and reconnect with his family and community. It also raised his grief on issues impacting him as the son of parents from the stolen generation. This was a bit outside Tom’s area of expertise. Syd gave Tom his Wellness Recovery Plan to read, which had been developed with Syd’s Aboriginal Health Worker. It detailed signs of when Syd might be becoming unwell, who to contact and what actions to take if Syd’s wellbeing was at risk. Syd gave Tom permission to talk to his Aboriginal Health Worker if Tom had concerns about Syd’s wellbeing. Tom encouraged Syd to talk to the Aboriginal Health Worker about how he was feeling.

The Wellness Recovery Plan also outlined the language Syd likes to use in relation to his mental health and diagnosis. Where possible, Tom used the language Syd identified.

Working with Syd to achieve his goals

Once Syd determined the main thing he wanted to do was to be able to cook, a plan was developed for how this could be achieved. This included:

  • identifying activities he could already do (supported by Tom’s presence for confidence building). Syd could already go shopping for food and prepare basic light meals
  • identifying activities where he needed support and building of skills, and determining who else might need to be involved
  • identifying what success would look like for Syd in relation to this goal.

Starting with what Syd could do meant that Tom was able to focus on Syd’s abilities and explore his strengths and skills.

‘Looks like you already have some skills to build on to reach your goal. I will be here to help when you need it.’

Together Tom and Syd put a plan in place to achieve his goal. This involved:

  • planning a healthy meal
  • going shopping for the grocery items and discussing healthy food swaps
  • going home to Syd’s place to prepare and cook the meal.

Syd was pretty tired and critical of himself because he had trouble identifying the items needed for the meal. After Tom talked to Syd, they both realised that this was due to the fact that he had difficulty reading. Together they worked out how Tom could support Syd to locate items in the supermarket.

Reflection is important

At the beginning of each session with Syd, Tom reflected on how the last session went, what Syd thought he did well and what he felt he still needed some help with.
While Tom was there to encourage Syd, it was Syd’s journey and his views on his abilities were the most important. Tom was careful not to over praise because he knew that can seem patronising. These conversations ran at Syd’s pace and were collaborative rather than just Tom asking multiple questions.

When Syd identified steps that he was not confident with yet, Tom reassured Syd that this was okay and Tom was there to help out until Syd felt he had mastered each step. If Syd kept mentioning the same barrier, Tom worked with Syd to find a different way of approaching the task. Everyone learns differently and the first thing Tom tried wasn’t always right for Syd.

Moving forward

As Syd’s skills in one area grew, Tom opened up the conversation to other possibilities that Syd had mentioned he would like to work on. 

For example, while Syd was cooking Tom discussed Syd’s connection to community. During one of these conversations Syd voiced an interest in reconnecting with his land and culture and asked for Tom’s help. Tom connected Syd with the Aboriginal Community Worker at the Community Centre who ran weekly trips onto country for Aboriginal men.

Today Syd told Tom that last night he cooked dinner for the family for the first time. Syd also mentioned that through the Aboriginal Community Worker he had found out about an upcoming cultural event and that he wants to volunteer to work on the BBQ for this event. Because Syd needs less support to complete his cooking tasks, Tom is able to free up some time to support Syd with this new goal. It will also be an opportunity for Tom to learn about Syd’s community. Sharing learning is an important aspect of recovery support and it will allow Syd to share his knowledge and pride in his culture.


Working with Aboriginal People: Enhancing Clinical Practice in Mental Health Care
This video and related discussion guide talk about the significance of culture, family, community and spirituality in the healing journey for Aboriginal people.
Type: Video | Closed captions
Viewing time: Multiple short videos, totalling 26:06
Produced by: NSW Health

Aboriginal health services
This site provides links to various NSW Aboriginal Health services.
Type: Video
Produced by: NSW Health

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and mental health conditions
This chapter of the manual highlights mechanisms and services that are available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to maximise their access to mental health care, treatment and support in NSW.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Produced by: Mental Health Coordinating Council

Recovery Oriented Language Guide
The Recovery Oriented Language Guide provides guidelines for language and communication, and helpful do's and don'ts to promote acceptance, hope, respect and uniqueness.
Type: Guidance document
Length: 32 pages
Produced by: Mental Health Coordinating Council

Current as at: Wednesday 9 November 2022
Contact page owner: Mental Health