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The Intersection Between Mental Health and Career Counselling: An Ongoing Discussion

by Barbara Smith

The relationships between unemployment and mental health are well documented (Herr, 1989). Okasha (2005) notes that the rate of mental health disorders has been closely related to economic, social and cultural conditions. The World Health Organization (2004) states that “economic instability [has] been linked to increased levels of psychiatric symptomatology and psychiatric morbidity” (p. 22). A 2009 survey in the United States found that unemployed individuals were four times more likely to report mental health related symptoms including thoughts of self-harm (MHA, 2009).
Herr (1997) states career counselling may be a preferred form of counselling. Clients may come not just for career guidance, but also to deal with issues ranging from retraining to mental health issues that co-occur with and confound career issues, including depression and substance-abuse.

Oversimplification and misunderstanding of career counseling have caused psychologists to overlook its potential as an intervention in spite of evidence generated nearly [50] years ago (Brown & Brooks, 1985, p. 861).

Herr proposes redefining career counselling, which traditionally separates career from the personal, suggesting a “fusion of career and personal counselling to address the complexity of the emotional and behavioural consequences persons experience associated with such phenomena as work adjustment or unemployment” (p. 81).
My experiences with clients have shown that they experience “telling-their-story fatigue” when they are referred to multiple service providers. Some clients cannot bear one more referral. Weary from attempting to navigate many different systems, they become frustrated and discouraged and “drop out” of services.
There appears to be an “artificial” divide between career and personal counselling (Niles & Pate Jr., 1989). Although career counselling and career guidance have evolved over time, the increased correlation between mental health and career may require further discussion and evolution. The result could be an intentional synthesis of career and personal counselling to increase the effectiveness of both types of counselling; successful employment can play a role in mental health improvements, and improvements in mental health play a role in career development.
Amundson (2009) suggests an active counselling approach that provides a greater range of options and advocates for flexibility in the choice of interventions. This flexibility should allow career counsellors to deliberately integrate career and mental health counselling rather than referring clients to other service providers. However, an integrated service delivery model calls for a rethinking of career theory, counsellor education and training as well as funding and reporting models to more effectively and efficiently assist clients in their career development processes.
Barbara Smith is a counselling psychology graduate student at the University of British Columbia, currently working at UBC Career Services. She will present at Cannexus 2011, along with Lauri Mills, on the relationships between globalization, mental health, creativity and career development.


Amundson, N. E. (2009). Active engagement: The being and doing of career counselling. (3rd ed). Richmond, BC: Ergon Communications.
Brown, D. and Brooks, L. (1985). Career counseling as a mental health intervention. Professional  Psychology: Research and Practice, 16(6), 860-867.
Herr, E.L. (1989). Career development and mental health. Journal of Career Development, 16(1), 5-18.
Herr, E.L. (1997). Career counselling: A process in process. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 25(1), 81.
Niles, S.G. and Pate Jr., R.H. (1989). Competency and training issues related to the integration of career counseling and mental health counseling. Journal of Career Development, 16(1), 63-71.
Mental Health America. (2009). Economic Downturn Taking Toll on Americans’ Mental Health. Retrieved from
Okasha A. (2005). Globalization and mental health: a WPA perspective. World Psychiatry, 4(1), 1-2.
World Health Organization. (2004). Prevention of mental disorders: Effective interventions and policy options. Retrieved from

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