Rayhan’s Journey with CMHA Toronto
Rayhan’s background is as impressive – and varied – as his career with CMHA Toronto. Graduating from medical school, he went on to further study and completed a Ph.D. in medical science. After moving to Canada, he took part in the Mennonite New Life Centre of Toronto’s bridging program for internationally trained professionals. “I had the prior knowledge and that’s where the bridging program and the placement with CMHA Toronto came in, to transfer those skills to the Canadian context,” Rayhan says.
Rayhan finished his eight-month student placement with CMHA Toronto on a Friday afternoon and began a full-time role the next Monday morning. By the time he had completed his first year with CMHA Toronto, he had worked in five areas of CMHA Toronto and achieved his designation as a registered psychotherapist (RP).
Rayhan’s student placement included time spent in the early psychosis intervention program (EPI), which overlapped with CMHA Toronto’s transitional youth program and work in a residential crisis support facility. When he finished his placement, he stayed on with EPI and also worked with the ACT (assertive community treatment) team. At the beginning of 2012, he settled into a case management role which he held for eight-and-a-half years, and then took his extensive clinical skills to the newly-formed Housing First & Strengthening Communities in Scarborough Program, where he served as a clinical lead.
For the past two-and-a-half years, he’s worked as a psychotherapist in the Mental Health and Justice Addictions Program, offering individual and group therapy to those involved in the justice system who may be struggling with addictions, mental health issues, or both.
If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.
“Within a month or so in my student placement, I was basically doing what other staff were doing, because my supervisor thought I had the skills,” Rayhan says. It’s a testament not only to his deep training and prior experience, but also to the versatility and many benefits of CMHA Toronto’s student placement program.
I have learned different ways to manage and deal with different clients and apply different knowledge and experiences in each role. I'm still learning and applying what I’ve learned to this day.
About the student placement experience
Rayhan had his choice of student placement spots – he had applied and was accepted to three different programs, including CMHA Toronto. Karen Richie, Program Manager, East Case Management Services, oversees the student placement program for the agency and says that CMHA Toronto hosts 30 students each year over three semesters across every area of the agency, and these placements are highly attractive to students.
The breadth and quality of CMHA Toronto’s services offer a great advantage. “CMHA Toronto is known for providing a high standard of mental health services, education, and health promotion. Students can put their skills to practice in a wide range of roles and settings, shadow different teams, and learn about a variety of CMHA Toronto’s programs and projects,” says Karen.
“Students may work in client's homes or community settings such as CMHA Toronto’s recreational centres or residential sites,” Karen says, adding that placements offer students networking opportunities and access to internal trainings while they complete their placement hours, which enhance employability.
“We accept students from all schools in Toronto and outside of Toronto if the student can access CMHA Toronto offices,” Karen says. “We get research and nursing students from U of T and Metropolitan University, social service workers through Seneca and George Brown, and students in addiction studies from Durham College.”
Students can contribute to virtually any area of the organization. For example, nursing students are often placed on ACT teams, where they are supervised by a registered nurse or registered nurse practitioner. CMHA Toronto’s Housing First program takes on paralegal students to assist with landlord-tenant issues. And the agency’s residential programs offer many different opportunities across various residential sites.
Rayhan points out that students are “not only learning from [their supervisor] but from the whole team.” He adds that the experience a student will gain at CMHA Toronto is as wide-ranging as the student’s own skills, interests, and goals. “I have had students who were able to take on some of my clients; I’ve had students co-facilitating groups; others helping with admin, or doing wellness fairs at companies. There are so many ways they can contribute.”
Breaking the “Canadian experience” barrier
I had a great opportunity, my supervisor was great, and I want to provide that to my students.
Rayhan says that acting as a student supervisor comes naturally to him. “In all my other positions, whether in medical school or through my Ph.D., I have always had students. One of the things that I like about supervising is that you not only learn new things, but you get a new perspective. It's refreshing my knowledge and renewing my knowledge. I like that a lot.”
Rayhan reflects on the hiring environment for international professionals when he was doing his student placement. “Back then, everybody asked about Canadian experience. Even in the job description, there was a specified amount of Canadian experience required.” [On November 9, 2023, the Ontario government announced plans to ban employers from requiring Canadian work experience in job postings or application forms].
Rayhan says that he was impressed from the start with the fact that “CMHA Toronto is great at providing a welcoming workplace where people can get that experience” without demanding it as a pre-requisite. “From my perspective, both as a student and as a supervisor, diverse students bring a wide range of skill sets that benefit the agency immensely. I definitely got very good exposure and very good supervising during my placement and I try my best to provide the same,” Rayhan says.