Veteran occupational therapist retires after 32 years in Psychiatry Department

Suzanne Rouleau
Suzanne Rouleau

Suzanne Rouleau credits JGH for supporting her research and clinical initiatives

After 32 years as an occupational therapist in the JGH Department of Psychiatry, Suzanne Rouleau is bringing down the curtain on her 40-year career as a clinician, content in the knowledge that she has “helped to give patients some respite from their difficulties and left them a little more hopeful.”

Having joined the Institute for Community and Family Psychiatry in 1988, Ms. Rouleau retired in early January, gratified to have had an opportunity to aid in the emotional and cognitive aspects of the care and recovery of her adult patients.

Unlike psychiatrists or psychologists who provide support mainly through conversation, occupational therapists like Ms. Rouleau encourage activity among patients, often in groups that focus on such pastimes as cooking, physical exercise and crafts, or written and practical tasks that deal with recovery and readiness to work.

“These groups can have a very powerful effect,” Ms. Rouleau says, “because they bring together people who have experienced similar difficulties and can now connect with one another. These patients also become models for one another: a person who’s feeling better can give real hope to someone who needs it.”

Although Ms. Rouleau will no longer be seeing patients, she does intend to continue teaching at McGill University, to which she devoted one day a week while at the JGH. “It’s something I really love and I’m happy to keep going,” she adds.

After her first 15 years in the department, Ms. Rouleau was appointed Coordinator of Occupational Therapy Services in 2003, a title she held until 2016 when a reorganization was undertaken by the newly created CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

Since the early 2000s, she has also provided individual case management that has helped people with severe mental illness to prepare to return to work.

Ms. Rouleau’s professional contributions won her the 2009 Award of Excellence from the Quebec Order of Occupational Therapists. And in 2015, she was named to the Honours List of McGill’s Faculty of Medicine, which made her feel “privileged and very touched that my colleagues submitted my name.”

Ms. Rouleau says she also takes pride in her involvement with her department’s Patient Advisory Committee, which ensures that patients’ views are considered and their opinions are heard whenever major, new projects are proposed for Psychiatry.

Especially enriching was the encouragement and support that were extended to her—and to other occupational therapists in Psychiatry—to conduct research and to embark on innovations that ultimately improved care. This was a particularly notable hallmark in the term of Dr. Michael Bond, who became Chief in 1999, and it continues today under Dr. Karl Looper.

“That openness to our initiatives really kept me going,” she explains. “It goes hand in hand with the quality of care in our area and the values of the hospital as a whole. They don’t just say it; they really live it.”