Interview with Alain Vigneault
By Raphaël Scali | July 19, 2021
The day Alain Vigneault decided to organize a pool tournament to help many people in need, he hardly suspected that, a few years later, this event would have an unexpected influence on his life.
It all took place in the early 90s, when he was working in a community organization in the Thetford Mines region. Due to a lack of human and financial resources, the social worker had to constantly find new tips to help the community. One day, finding himself alone in the organization’s room – where a pool table was enthroned – Alain had a sudden idea: to keep people away from drug addiction by offering them an unexpected activity.
“I thought to myself, if people are playing pool, they’re not using.” Already at that time, Alain had a hunch that this was the right thing to do. “I remember, I found myself alone, for long hours, in front of the pool table. It was at that time I had the idea to go find sponsors and organize a tournament for people who take needles, who smoke or who are alone in the parks,” he says. His passion for social reintegration was still in its infancy.
“Social reintegration means helping to re-establish links between a person and their society (or their micro-society)”
One has to understand the idea of a tournament came from a very simple instinct, that of offering a certain freedom to those suffering from addiction. Thus, during the event, participants were free to return to their consumption or not, unless, of course, they were inside the room. This rule therefore promoted better behavior in the establishment, while creating meaningful links, explains the advocate.
The expertise of the RESO System
A few years later, this idea made it possible to lay the foundations for a training which is now renowned in the field of social reintegration. After a formative stint at the Ministry of Health and Specialized Studies in Psychotherapy, “I built my entire philosophy and my approach, and I created what is now called the RESO System”.
In addition to being a measurement tool, the RESO System is built around a unique vocabulary and a “philosophy” of specific intervention. “In order to fully understand this tool, you must also be able to discern how it works,” he emphasizes. “For me, it was important to develop a way of approaching social reintegration.”
Since then, this training has become a must in the industry. Indeed, thousands of people have benefited from the RESO System over time, explains Alain. “Since 1996, I must have given […] this training more than 500 times. I gave it all over the place.” Never could this social worker have imagined such great success early in his career. This intervention tool is now used and taught in various fields: in psychoeducation, guidance counseling, psychology and social psychiatry. A large number of Quebec social reintegration organizations have adopted this approach, and its use is also expanding in Europe. Note that training is now offered in English, so the RESO System is also taught across Canada. “One of my last dreams would be for someone at the doctoral level, maybe in social work or another field, to study the impact of the RESO System. I think it will happen one day. Will I see this in my lifetime? I do not know!” he laughs.
The origin of the term RESO comes from Réinsertion Sociale (Social Reinsertion).
The RESO System is a measurement tool and an intervention template.
Several organizations use it, including:
Correctional Services Canada, the Réseau des carrefours jeunesse-emploi du Québec, as well as a large number of halfway houses and mental health centers.
The training has been given over 500 times across Canada. The RESO System is even used in Europe, in some rehabilitation centers.
Connect to kindness
Even if we know that social reintegration is an immense challenge for those who try to (re)integrate society, we sometimes forget the social workers can also be confronted with certain obstacles during their career. Precisely, to be able to establish their approach and their “philosophy” intervention, Alain preferred to choose kindness rather than hatred. So do we have to know how to identify the hatred that inhabits us before being able to help others?
Go beyond hatred “by trying not to condemn or judge it, while prioritizing kindness instead”.
According to him, yes, because anger is an integral part of the human experience. Thus, everyone is capable of both anger and kindness, since we are damaged beings, he admits. “Hatred, I am not trying to condemn or judge it. I’m not trying to qualify it as good or bad. Because if I start calling it that, I’m going to repress a part of me.”
It is this conflict the social worker has decided to face in his life, in order to take responsibility of himself and do his job better. In fact, if hatred is capable of occurring more easily among people in need, it was also able to manifest itself in Alain at the start of his career. “All my life, for very personal reasons, I have often been filled with anger. Then, at some point, I decided that I didn’t want to take that path anymore,” he confides with emotion.
It was through meditation he was able to better manage his anger. “I decided to face anger, hatred and violence through several meditative techniques and today I am happy. During my studies in neuroscience, I learned that for ten minutes of hate or violence […], our level of cortisol increases, and it takes seven hours before regaining a balance. I can’t afford this. Anyway, I can’t afford to waste so many hours of my life,” he adds.
High level influence
In addition to his passion for social reintegration, Alain Vigneault has developed another very captivating field of expertise: the optimization of mental preparation, especially among top athletes. This field has allowed him to accompany many professional athletes, even to the Olympic Games; an event that he has exceptionally decided to avoid this year due to health reasons.
Even if he concedes that mental preparation is an advantageous tool for social intervention, he remains mixed on the perceptions that some people have with regard to his work in sports, the feeling of excessive performance is often pointed to. This is why Alain wants to show that the strategies to help someone who is struggling or who is among the best in his discipline are different, of course, but “the objective remains the same”.
“When I help someone with a drug addiction or mental health problems, I will help them activate or recognize certain mental preparation strategies. It’s the same with a young child who does not have confidence or a top athlete who lives for the Stanley Cup or the Olympics […]. For me, performance is not a medal. Performance is about achieving something.”
After all these years, which area of expertise does he prefer? Both, he said without hesitation, even though helping his neighbor was more important to him. He admits that it is not necessarily the fact of accompanying athletes “that inspires him”. The important thing for Alain is to help his neighbor and not to judge the suffering of those who are supported. In his work, they are “first and foremost people in my eyes, who want to achieve a goal and who suffer. And that, when we talk about suffering, distress or objective… I am here! It is my life mission. There is nothing else. Help my neighbor… If I don’t have this, I cannot breathe!” he explains with passion.
Still a long way to go
It goes without saying that the RESO System has evolved a lot since its inception, but for Alain Vigneault, all is not yet finished. Society needs to be much more inclusive and tolerant of people with substance abuse or homelessness, he says. “There are still too many people who are far from being able to reconnect with society. In my opinion, our social programs are not very advanced nor tailored to people who have lived in isolation for a very long time. There is still a long way to go […] to help people experiencing social exclusion.”
The same goes for marginalization, continues Alain. In his opinion, social workers should never prematurely judge what is marginal or what does not correspond to popular beliefs. “Marginalization is seen where we see it. For me it doesn’t matter. At my age, whether it’s hair, tattoos, facial piercings or clothing, it doesn’t have an impact anymore. It’s what is underneath the hair that is important. It is what is found in the brain or the heart that matters […]”
“There are still too many people who are far from being able to reconnect with society …”
With these wise words, all we wish for Alain Vigneault is to be able to continue to carry out his passion for many more years to come.
For more information on the RESO System, visit the website: http://www.alainvigneault.com/reinsertion-sociale.html