Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Choosing Vocational Resources

What if my family member wants to manage their own job development without help?

Some will choose a self-directed approach, that is, to conduct their own vocational decision making without outside help.

In some cases the individual will feel confident enough to proceed on a path to employment by using a Self-Directed method, choosing tools and resources to achieve goals that they can find. (McNamara) For example, they might visit the local America’s Career Center, find job search internet programs, find out about workshops, job fairs, or tools that could be helpful. Then the person could proceed to use tools and resources without much assistance.

In these situations, family encouragement and concrete supports may still be welcome and necessary. Families might provide rides, help support cell phone costs, be available to talk about the process, offer encouragement or just ask how to be helpful.

What are the pros and cons of choosing on one’s own, without professional support?

The major advantages of choosing on one’s own without much support are:

  • That the individual may have an increased sense of empowerment. They can proceed without feeling overly “pushed” in any one direction. The job seeker is “in charge”.
  • By not having a (disability) vocational specialist, a person who proceeds on their own can reduce or eliminate discrimination that is common in the workplace. There are different kinds of stigmatizing behavior that can happen related to the workplace such as failure to hire or to promote, firing or disciplining the employee, micro-managing the employee, gossip, more subtle microaggressions, and social discrimination. Sometimes any difficulty the employee might have is “blamed” on the mental illness even if it is totally unrelated. (Wheat)

The major disadvantages are:

  • Even if the person uses Self-Directed activities, they can still benefit from having an Employment Specialist or Rehabilitation Counselor in their corner as expert consultants on employment, market trends, employer leads, the ADA, transportation, or connecting to peer supports.
  • Programs offering rehabilitative services and employment supports are more likely to have already established relationships in the community or have more access to prospective employers as well as training/education resources.
  • Research indicates that programs which offer active job development (employer development) services have a 500% better outcome rate for acquiring jobs. (Cook)
  • If the person does everything on their own and does not disclose, the employer cannot benefit from tax credits or the consultation from an Employment Specialist. (IRS)
  • The Employment Specialist can also help with job keeping and proper accommodations, which will lead to job retention, and can also help with career exploration when it is time to move on.
  • Peer professionals are very effective in helping people at all stages of vocational recovery so it benefits the job seeker to have a peer supporter. (BUCPR)

What are the types of vocational resources that might help with choosing?

When helping your family member with the choosing process, it is worth taking some time to explore their readiness for making vocational decisions. To help a family member to consider readiness, you might support them to develop a personal folder. Inside the folder would be materials such as a profile of personal/vocational values; a list of those in their network (family, friends, neighbors, and professionals) who can help; draft of a resume; list of job search websites; where to find or acquire clothing for an interview.

Assessing readiness includes diagnosing the need (level of satisfaction and/or success in a current roles), commitment (beliefs about personal abilities, importance, benefits of and supports for change), environmental awareness (knowledge about potential future environments), self-awareness (knowledge about personal preferences, values, and interests), and personal closeness (perspective about the quality/type of interactions with practitioners). If your family member has concerns that seem to be getting in the way of “readiness,” you can assist them in making a list of those perceived barriers to employment (can be actual barriers or perceptions). Identify any barriers that might limit your family member’s confidence, hope, or motivation.

Community resources that may be helpful for your family member in the choosing process include: America’s Job Centers (One-stops), state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies, Rehabilitation-oriented (ICCD) Clubhouses, Supported Employment programs, and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams.

For veterans, there is a four phase process of making employment choices through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The first three phases (assess, explore, and plan) may be most relevant to choosing. A veteran may go back and forth to these phases before getting settled into one action plan.

Sometimes a person might access more than one program at a time, i.e. get supports from one program but actual job development from another. The Ticket to Work (SSA) maintains a list of vocational rehabilitation providers and a description of their services.There may be additional resources for special populations such as homeless (Project Return) or transition age youth (18-25 years old). (U. Mass) For those still in school, the school can be helpful in a number of ways if the administration is aware that the student person needs help. The school might provide part time employment through a work study program or internship. (NCSET)

For the purposes of making vocational choices, it is good to find someone like an Employment Specialist that the family member trusts and who is invested in helping him or her develop a successful future. Typically the resources that help with deciding on a vocational choice are the same resources that help the person set and reach employment goals. Tools available on the internet can also help the job seeker to explore possibilities at their leisure.

Mass CIS

This is a tool for career and school counselors, job seekers, students, and educators. It provides information and tools to help people make better-informed career and school choices. (Free in MA but available from University of Oregon)

My Career Story

This is a workbook in which the job seeker tells their own career story.


Search a variety of occupations based upon criteria such as personal interests, work values, and work environment.

International Center for Clubhouse Development (ICCD)

ICCD helps communities around the world create ICCD Clubhouses, which are community centers that give people with mental illnesses hope & opportunities to reach their full potential.

National Resource Directory

This website connects service members, veterans, and their families and caregivers with the resources and people who support them. Note: resources include vocational resources.

Military to Civilian Occupation Translator

The Military to Civilian Occupation Translator helps service members match military skills & experience to civilian occupations.

What if the kind of resource my family member needs is not available in our area?

If a resource is lacking in an area or region, family groups such as NAMI can be a powerful force for change by advocating for that resource. When families join together with other families such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (a chapter in all states) and when they speak with one voice in a consistent manner, there are often tangible results. Another approach is for multiple groups such as families, professionals, people in recovery, service organizations etc. to join together in advocacy for a particular service need.

An example of a resource that is not in all areas or regions is the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model of Supported Employment. While IPS is one of the most well documented evidence-based practices for helping people get employment, it is only available to about 2% of persons with mental health conditions who would benefit. (Becker)

The state agencies that would be most likely to offer vocational services would be the Department of Mental Health, the public Vocational Rehabilitation agency, the state agency that manages Medicaid and the workforce development agencies affiliated with the Department of Labor. At times there are other important “targets” such as the Board of Higher Education when it comes to free college tuition or America’s Job Centers when it comes to utilizing Department of Labor funds for vocational training. Persons in recovery can also be very effective in advocating for the kinds of resources they need. When peer organizations and family groups join together, there is double the power. The advocacy can be administrative (advocating for the state agency to provide the vocational services) or legislative (going to elected officials to advocate for vocational services).

On a more individual basis, if the resources are not readily available for a particular service, the family may have to find a similar but not exact service. For example, if there is not a program that provides easy entrance into a job, or pre- and post-employment supports, the person may have to get the job-finding and pre-employment services in one place, and receive job coaching or post-employment supports from another source. In other situations, the job seeker may have to travel to a different area, perhaps spending a longer time commuting to get the service that is needed. If you have trouble negotiating the service maze you may need to contact the Department of Mental Health in your area.

Another example is the family member might want to access a mental health Supported Employment Program (Individual Placement and Support) but there is not one in your community. The state vocational rehabilitation agency has supported employment that might be for persons with all disabilities, but it is not part of a clinical team. In this case the family member may get supported employment but not exactly in the context that they want.

Department of Labor: Office of Disability Employment Policy

The Office of Disability Employment Policy offers a range of links to employment resources for people with any disability in 37 topical areas, within which additional links can be found. Topics include accommodations, Federal employment, green jobs, and youth in transition.

Return to the main page on helping your family member Find a Path to Employment.

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