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


What about Career Development?


What Questions Should I Ask?

  • If my family member has never worked before, how do they begin career planning?
  • Is it realistic for my family member to consider a career?


What You Should Know

For many people with serious mental health conditions, they begin their road back to employment at entry-level jobs, often on a part-time basis. If we were to compare their “reentry” or “first job” part of the employment journey to a young high school or college student, they would look similar. Unfortunately, for many people in recovery, they end up for long periods in these entry-level, part-time jobs and do not know how to move on to a job that has more meaning or offers higher pay, in other words, to have a real career.

It is hard to predict who will get a job and just as difficult to predict who will have a career or a really meaningful job. The best position is to be ready and supportive for either one (or both) to happen. Often career choices do require having the training and skills that anyone would need (as well as special supports for someone with a mental health condition). Most colleges, universities, and training organizations that have any federal funding offer accommodations and supports for students with disabilities. Other vocational resources also can have some training funds or resources for those pursuing a career (e.g., Dept. of Labor, Vocational Rehabilitation, Trade Unions, etc.)



  • Speak to your family member about the career option. Families play an essential role in the career development of individuals in recovery. They provide encouragement and support, but more importantly, they serve as important role models. Share your own career path with your family member (or that of other extended family members). Tell them about the challenges you faced or those that other members of your family faced in establishing a successful career.


  • Encourage your family member to consider the career option. Another barrier to career development for individuals in recovery are the negative messages that they receive about pursuing their career. They may receive these messages from a variety of sources, including providers and sometimes other loved ones. Individuals in recovery need to be reminded of their personal accomplishments (whether work-related or not) and need to explore their work-related goals and expectations. For example, it is helpful to weigh the pros and cons of the career option.


  • Explore the career option. Sometimes individuals in recovery may not know what career to pursue or whether to return to a previous career that was disrupted. Remind them that career development is a lifelong process which does not end when a job ends. It typically begins in childhood and continues well into adulthood. Most of the time, we think of the “career ladder” or “career lattice” where a person takes one step after the next to get to their ultimate goal. Instead, it is more helpful to think of a career as a “jungle gym” where a person may need to take sideways and even backwards step to get to their goal or goals.Taking a step back can provide an opportunity to reflect on what someone is really interested in.

    As Michael Jordan said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.


  • Help create a career story: Here are some basic questions to ask your family member to get the process started: a) Who are you?, b) Where in the world of work would you like to be?, and c) How will you connect to occupations that you might like? To guide this exploration, you can use “My career story: An autobiographical work for life-career success (Savickas & Hartung, 2012; see below). Individuals in recovery need help figuring out what kind of work they want to do and how to go about it. All of this requires planning, feeling hopeful, feeling in control of the future, exploring possibilities (many of which are TERRIFYING), building confidence, solving problems that get in the way, and tapping into both internal and external resources.Savickas, M. & Hartung, P. (2012). A workbook for helping individuals to get on a career path. My Career Story.