Cover image of Let's Talk Employment guide
Let’s Talk Employment
A Guide for Family Members of Individuals in Mental Health Recovery


Vocational Decisions & Vocational Resources


What Questions Should I Ask?

  • What kind of resources can help choose and get employment?
  • What specific programs serving mental health are especially important?

Checklist of items with a pen

What You Should Know

Too often people with mental health conditions have received more attention for their disability than their ability, more attention to symptoms and problems and less attention to their strengths. For someone with little or no work history, building a sense of “worker” is important. As mentioned earlier, one can build worker identity by volunteering, interning, or by actually working. Work through a vocational program, in particular, helps to form worker identity through a series of self-assessments, training, or work experiences. It is important to be able to identify some of the key employment resources and models for people with psychiatric disabilities, as discussed below.



As your family member is ready to take the next step beyond “considering,” you might help them to “rewrite” their own vocational story by focusing on wellness, interests, and strengths. This can be a motivation-building activity. For help with resumes, cover letters, applications and interviews, see EMPLOYMENT RESOURCE BOOK under Finding Vocational Resources on the next page.

Keep in mind that peer professionals (other people in recovery), who experienced positive results in employment can be extremely effective in providing support at any stage. If your family member does not have peer support, you may help to point them in the right direction (see section 6 below).
Puzzle that reads, this is my story

Finding Vocational Resources: Some vocational services are generic, which is, part of an existing educational program or facility. For example high school students may receive help from the vocational support person or special education job coach at the school. Homeless programs may have job development services within the program. Colleges and technical schools have their own placement offices. In such situations the staff may or may not have expertise with working with persons with mental health conditions. Here are some other vocational resource possibilities.

Individual Placement and Support: This ever-growing approach to Supported Employment offers rapid job placement services tailored to individuals with mental health conditions. This is a heavily researched (evidence-based) model of service and includes close collaboration with clinicians and employers. To find an IPS Supported Employment Program in your state or area, you can do an Internet search and/or contact the Department of Mental or Behavioral Health in your area for information on the location and eligibility for IPS services. Eight specific principles guide the IPS model and help it to be an extremely effective model.

Principles include:

  • Competitive employment is the goal
  • IPS supported employment is integrated with treatment
  • Zero Exclusion – as long as it is the client’s choice, no one is turned away
  • Services are based on client preferences
  • Benefits counseling is important throughout the process
  • Rapid job search is provided without need for other evaluations and begins within the first 30 days
  • Systematic job development is provided by Employment Specialists who work with the clients and the employers for the right fit
  • Time-unlimited supports are provided for as long as needed and wanted.

The Department of Mental or Behavioral Health may help locate programs with their listing of Central Offices (you may ask if there is an Employment Specialist to further guide you). When your family member is ready to begin the job-finding process, contacting the IPS Supported Employment program in your area would be an excellent place to find the vocational professional to work with. The IPS program will help your family member to consider, choose, get, and keep employment.

Combining evidence-based practices, especially with IPS Supported Employment, may improve your family member’s chances of being successful in employment. For example, Thinking Skills for Work is another evidence-based practice that can help your family member to deal with the cognitive requirements of a job, such as memory and concentration. It currently is available in portions of Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, New York, and New Hampshire. By combining the two approaches, job seekers have a much greater chance of being successful.

Amorphic figures holding up individual letters which spell out the word support

State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies: “VR” can help to assess the individual, develop a vocational plan, and provide or coordinate the services necessary to attain the desired goal. A Rehabilitation Counselor works with the individual job seekers to decide what they want to do and develop a plan to achieve the goal. Rehabilitation Counseling staff serve people with many different disabilities and have access to a wide array of services and supports for assessment, training, placement, and job retention.

There typically are offices throughout the state and services are supported by combined federal and state resources. VR agencies may fund programs, such as IPS Supported Employment and Rehabilitation Clubhouses by sharing funding with other agencies. VR often can help with academic or vocational training funds, job supplies, uniforms, transportation, job coaching, on-the-job training, and many other vocational supports on an individual basis. They also may support through contracts vocational programs such as Supported Employment.

Rehabilitation Clubhouses exist in 46 states but not all communities. There are four levels of work: in-house volunteering; transitional employment, paid part time work in jobs held aside for club members; supported employment in person’s own job but with support of the program and independent employment. The programs work with individuals at whatever stage of vocational recovery they might be in. Many also offer social and housing supports in addition to work units, transitional employment, supported employment, and independent employment.

The building which houses Genesis Club

America’s Job Centers (One Stop Career Centers) in each state: These Centers serve large numbers of people, but have direct connections to employers and often direct access to specific training programs. There are many on-site resources and workshops, such as computer skills, help with applications, or job finding.

Professional vocational services for veterans: The Veterans Administration offers Therapeutic and Supported Employment Services including Individual Placement and Support (IPS) service and Transitional Work at every site, Community Based Competitive Employment at some locations (less support services than IPS), Vocational Assistance at some locations, a two-session training on resumes, interviews, and job searches. There is also another set of VA programs for homeless veterans. In addition to the VA, there are many non-profits and veterans services agencies operated in the cities and towns. Veterans’ representatives typically are available at the America’s Job Centers (see above).

An admission ticket with the phrase Work Hard and the word hard crossed out and replace with smart. Final version reads work smart.Finding Vocational Professionals through the Ticket to Work Program: This is a benefit of the Social Security Administration, which provides SSI recipients a list of potential providers and the type of individuals or disability groups they serve. Services are free of charge.

IPS Employment Resource Book. Although this resource book is written for Supported Employment job seekers, it is really usable for anyone for things, such as resumes, cover letters, applications and interviews. Center for Practice Innovations, Columbia University. (2014) A workbook for job seekers; free download is available in English and Spanish.