West Queen West CAMH Wednesday: Making strides towards recovery at the CAMH pool. By Mike Hajmasy.


December 6, 2017

There’s something to be said about the therapeutic nature of water. It can be a calm and humbling presence; a place to focus on the task at hand. Lifeguards at the CAMH pool know this better than most, and recently took the initiative to organize a ‘learn to swim’ group for clients enrolled in the ENCORE (Engaging Consumers in Opportunities for Recovery Education) program.

“Over the summer, we received a lot of feedback and interest from clients using the pool who wanted to improve their swimming skills beyond what they knew from casual swims,” explains CAMH lifeguard Jeremy Gignac. “We didn’t have a time slot in our activity schedule dedicated to anything like this, so we teamed up with ENCORE to make it happen.”

CAMH lifeguards with RT Pamela Maddock
CAMH lifeguards, including Naomi Hazlett (left) and Jeremy Gignac (right) teamed up with RT Pamela Maddock and ENCORE to design the ‘learn to swim’ group at the CAMH pool. The pool is just next to the Wellness Centre in the Queen Street Community Centre.

Jeremy, alongside fellow lifeguards Naomi Hazlett and Mathew Neeson mapped out a 10-week program, taking place weekly on Fridays for clients to come and work on a swimming skill of their choosing.

“If anyone isn’t sure what they want to work on at first, we help them by making suggestions,” says Naomi. “There are stages to swimming, so for some it’s about getting comfortable in the water, for others it’s about learning to float or swim the length of the pool. We center the lessons around the goals of the client.”

READ MORE: ENCORE programming a hit with CAMH clients​

The lifeguards act as coaches, meeting clients wherever they are in terms of skill. “And if they prefer to work independently, we have pre-designed exercises and routines printed out on waterproof cards for clients to take into the pool with them,” Jeremy adds. “Sometimes it’s just about having someone else in the water with them for reassurance.”

Pre-designed exercise leaflets
Pre-designed exercises are a good way to guide time in the pool.

This has proven to be just the right fit for ENCORE, which offers a semester-based curriculum of workshops and activities designed around education, skill building, peer support, self-management, recreation, and family and career support to clients in the Complex Mental Illness Service.

“We’re fortunate to have a pool here and I think it’s really special that our lifeguards have taken the initiative to make it a part of recovery for our clients,” says Pamela Maddock, Recreational Therapist with ENCORE. “What’s even better is that they’re so great with everyone they work with.”

With backgrounds in Behavioural Science, Occupational Therapy and Recreational Therapy respectively, Jeremy, Naomi and Mathew bring the right approach to engaging with CAMH clients at the poolside.

“There’s something really unifying about water,” Jeremy says. “Barriers and labels are left at the door. People are here to get lost in the enjoyment of the pool and to work on their goals. And we’re here to help.”

The feedback following the first semester of the ‘learn to swim’ group has been overwhelmingly positive from both staff members and client participants.

“When I started here I couldn’t even put my face in the water – it scared me,” says one client who recently completed all 10 weeks of lessons. “Now I’m doing the front crawl for the first time in my life and it feels really good to have accomplished that for myself.

“It’s about conquering fear. If I can do this, I can take on the next challenge.”