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

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

Making a Decision

What might I think about when making a decision about work?


How do I figure out what options fit my preferences, values, interests, and strengths?

The most important thing to do when making a decision about work is to identify the available jobs, careers, or training programs that best fit your preferences, values, and strengths.

Preferences are what you like.  We generally figure out what we like through experience, which also teaches us what we don’t like. To figure out your preferences, look back at your past jobs, volunteer experiences, or even school, to figure out what you liked and didn’t like. Think about what those experiences taught you about what you want in the future. Those are your preferences. For example, someone who didn’t like having a supervisor breathing down their neck may have a preference for some Autonomy in their next job.

Values are what is important to you.  Our values help us make decisions, and guide our actions. Examples of values may be beauty, honesty, status, fairness, success. Everyone’s values are different. Values may be important in choosing work because where we work and what we do for work may be influenced by our values. For example, if Family is a value for you, you might make decisions about work that allow you to spend time with your family, or that wouldn’t take you too far away from your family. If Status was important, you might look for jobs that would give you a feeling of having “made it.”

Below are a couple of sites that might help you to clarify your own values:

  • The Department of Labor’s O*NET has a work values section.
  • Therapist Aid: Worksheets and tools for mental health professionals has a simple, easy to use values list.
  • Steve Pavlina has a long, complex list of over 400 values.

Interests are the activities you like to do, or the areas that you like to learn about. Interests can help you think about how like to spend your time.  If we can find a job that matches an interest of ours, we may be more likely to be satisfied with that job.

Strengths are what you’re good at. We’ve talked about strengths before. Strengths have a part to play in making a decision about what work you want to do. What you’re good at may influence your goal, in that you may want to pick something that you’re good at, or that you have experience with. But, you may want to pick something you could become good at over time, with training and experience. Not knowing how to do something yet may not have to be a barrier to setting a goal to do a job or get into a career. Many people decide they want to be something before they can do it. This requires us to make plans for learning how to do that job before we do it, or even as we start doing it.

Examples might be: Deciding you want to be a paralegal, and applying to paralegal training programs in order to learn how to be one; or starting a job and getting on-the-job-training.

When you look at your job options, think about which one best fits your values, preferences, interests, and strengths.  You can try putting this into a table, sometimes called a decision-making matrix (Cohen, et al., 1991). Line up your preferences, values, interests, and strengths on one side, and compare them to your job or career options on the other. Tally up which option has more of what you want.  Below is a blank example:

Job Option 1 Job Option 2
My preferences
My values
My interests
My strengths

What if I need more education to get the job I want?

We may decide on a career or job that requires more education. This means that we won’t be able to perform the tasks of the job until we have some education or training behind us that says that we are qualified to do so.

Education may take several forms: A General Equivalency Diploma, or high school diploma, or a college degree.  Another form of education can come in the form of a certificate or a training.

There are programs that can help you get into school.  For example, state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies can provide education or training that is directly linked to your vocational goal.

Once you are in school, you may want to get support to be successful in school.  In some areas you may find Supported Education programs that help individuals with mental health conditions to choose, get and keep an educational goal. Supported Education has been shown to be effective at supporting people with psychiatric disabilities in school settings.

Most colleges and universities have Disability Support Services to help students through the program with accommodations and educational adjustments.

Resources to help you find a training program in your area:

Federal Employment Training Program Finder: The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) offers a comprehensive range of workforce development activities through state and local organizations. Here you can search by state to find a WIOA eligible training provider.

Education and training programs should be chosen based on the interests and abilities of the student. Get job placement help throughout the program you choose (McMullen).

Student employment can also help to stretch the dollars for education.  The best place to look for student employment is through the school’s placement office.  Some students who have college loans can access work study jobs that are subsidized. The schools prefer to hire these students to reduce the cost of wages.

Who can help me make decisions about my career path?

A vocational counselor can help you to make a decision about which direction to head in.

An employment specialist may help you do some quick decision-making while looking for a job.

A peer support specialist can support you as you make important vocational decisions, and can potentially relate to what it’s like to make a decision about what work to do after involvement in mental health and/or addictions services.

Return to the main "Choosing Work" page.

Where am I in my employment journey?

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