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Evolution of a career development association: Supporting practitioners on the journey toward professionalization

How the Manitoba Association for Career Development has helped CDPs develop skills, share resources and build capacity within the field

By Deanna England

The first meeting of what would become the Manitoba Association for Career Development (MACD) took place in May of 2013. It was held in a local pub with a total of three attendees. Fast forward five years and the association has passed by-laws (June 2016), hosted Annual General Meetings (November 2016 and 2017), has an elected board, has a growing membership body including annual fees, offers professional development events and co-ordinates the provincial Career Development Conference “Let’s Get to Work,” which hosts over 100 attendees annually in November during Career Month.

The journey to creating a provincial association was the culmination of several events. In 2009, the Canadian Career Development Foundation (CCDF) released the “Pan-Canadian Mapping Study of the Career Development Sector.” This study had considerable Manitoban involvement and signalled a desire for the establishment of a local organization specifically to look at certification. The following year, current MACD board member Ahniko Handford returned from completing her Career Development certificate in BC, having noticed that the significant presence of a sector organization (such as the British Columbia Career Development Association) was absent in Manitoba.

At the same time, current President Troy Mercer and Vice-President Gail Langlais completed their Career Development certificates in Winnipeg. After participating in the CCDF study, many of their classmates acknowledged the same organizational gap in the local community. It didn’t take long before Mercer, Langlais and Handford found each other, and the first steps toward the creation of a network began.

Beyond the 2009 CCDF study, the vision for a Manitoban organization was informed by the needs and priorities of practitioners in the region, which were reflected in additional studies performed in Canada at the time. These studies suggested a gap in terms of support, resources and capacity-building in the career development field. Significantly, in 2011, CERIC sent out a national survey to career service professionals. The results showed that 11% of respondents were considering leaving the field due to burnout. In a 2015 followup, CERIC again found that burnout was listed as one of the most prevalent reasons for consideration of leaving the field.

In 2014 and 2018, MACD performed local surveys. The responses revealed that 59% (2014) and 45% (2018) of respondents had fewer than 10 years in the profession. In addition, when asked what they would find the most useful in terms of professional development, respondents overwhelmingly identified the opportunity to network with others in the field.

Similarly, in 2013, ContactPoint shared an article by Kathy McKee on “Career Practitioners and Mental Health.” McKee pointed out that “career practitioners … were puzzled by the complexity of working with people with mental health challenges and a feeling of inadequacy or lack of expertise in this area.” She indicated that “[t]he research uncovered that almost half of career practitioners themselves report as having mental health problems.” While the MACD survey did not address the mental wellness of practitioners, it did ask whether they felt they had sufficient coaching, mentoring and training opportunities. Only 42% confirmed that they had adequate training, while 85% indicated that they gained their knowledge and skills mainly while on the job.

In 2016, a subsequent article by Deirdre Pickerell and Roberta Neault highlighted the need for increased resilience within the career development field. Pickerell and Neault pointed out that “when the challenge is too great for the available capacity, individuals can feel overwhelmed; unaddressed, this can lead to burnout and, ultimately, disengagement or apathy.”

“On a national, provincial and local level, having the opportunity to develop skills, share resources and build capacity within the field has been consistently identified with each survey of CDPs.”

In MACD’s 2018 survey, respondents summarized what topics they would like to see at the next provincial conference; 25% reported wanting to learn how to get more done with less staff and 15% wanted strategies for managing workloads. When asked what kind of sponsor industries they would like to see at this event, over 88% selected health and wellness.

In 2017, MACD hosted a strategic planning session to allow Manitoban practitioners to connect and share their professional needs. From this meeting, an Operational Plan from 2017-2020 emerged, with Goal #1 identified as “Bring awareness and highlight the importance of career development.” This confirmed results from the 2014 MACD survey indicating that 70% of Manitoba practitioners feel that developing an identity for the profession should be a very important goal for the organization. Achieving this goal would more clearly articulate the practitioners’ sense of community, professional development and offer increased capacity via the connection to valuable resources. This strategic-planning session highlighted the desire and dedication of the local population to offer their time, energy and expertise to create a network of professionalism and support.

Career development practitioners have expressed a desire to network and build community.

On a national, provincial and local level, having the opportunity to develop skills, share resources and build capacity within the field has been consistently identified with each survey of CDPs. This priority informed the management shift of the “Let’s Get to Work” conference from Career Trek – a local not-for-profit that works with career development for young people – to MACD in 2017. This transition enabled the Manitoba sector to sustain this event and allowed revenues to flow directly back to the local career development community.

This matters, as notwithstanding issues such as staffing limitations and time, an additional barrier to participation in professional development (PD) opportunities is cost. Over 60% of the respondents surveyed by MACD indicated that PD is too expensive for them either personally or organizationally – not a surprising response considering almost 70% of the sector identifies as working either in a not-for-profit agency or as a private service provider. Recognizing the need to mitigate lack of funding as a potential added stressor, MACD’s “Let’s Get to Work” conference offers members discounted rates to enable them to attend. In addition to the annual conference, MACD in 2018 also hosted free workshops on the future of work, planned happenstance, and Manitoba’s labour market and job openings forecast.

The third Annual General Meeting in November of 2018 will display the first “passing of the torch” of the MACD board. The initial board elected in 2016 will have the opportunity to present their achievements since inception and offer the opportunity for others to join in the development of this burgeoning organization. The continuing growth of MACD not only allows the membership to take advantage of valuable resources and opportunities, it also lets practitioners have a voice in its direction and progress. Consequently, each practitioner’s contribution assists in developing capacity, expertise and overall wellness within the field. While still in its nascent stages, the future looks bright moving forward for the small but mighty Manitoba Association for Career Development and the resilience of its members.

Deanna England is a member of the inaugural board of the Manitoba Association for Career Development. This burgeoning organization was created to promote the standards of practice for career development practitioners through education, professional growth and certification throughout the province of Manitoba. More information may be found at:


How Mental Health First Aid works and why it’s needed

This interactive program helps participants identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness

By Stephen James Landry

One in five Canadians will experience a mental-health problem this year with a cost to the economy in excess of $50 billion, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Given the prevalence of mental-health issues, it is crucial that workplaces are educated on how to respond.

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental Health First Aid, a program of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, is an interactive training program that teaches participants to recognize the signs that a person may be developing a mental-health problem or experiencing a mental-health crisis.  Participants learn how to provide initial help and guide the person to appropriate professional resources.

It helps participants build mental-health literacy, decreases stigmatizing attitudes, and helps individuals identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.

Mental Health First Aid teaches about recovery and resiliency – the belief that individuals experiencing these challenges can and do get better, and use their strengths to stay well.

First established in Australia in 2001, more than 300,000 Canadians are currently trained in Mental Health First Aid. The program is active in 25 countries including Canada, China and the United States. MHFA Canada is available in both English and French.

How it works

MHFA is similar to physical first aid administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained. MHFA is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved. The opportunity to practice – through role playing, scenarios and activities – makes it easier to apply these skills in a real-life situation.

MHFA teaches participants to follow an action plan for a variety of situations, including:

  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviours
  • Non-suicidal self-injury
  • Acute psychoses (e.g., hallucinations or delusions)
  • Overdose or withdrawal from alcohol or drug use
  • Reaction to a traumatic event
Why Mental Health First Aid is needed

Mental-health problems can affect a person’s ability to work, look after themselves and maintain relationships. This can also be costly for businesses.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 82% of organizations rank mental-health conditions in their top three causes of short-term disability (72% for long-term).

If unaddressed, the impact of mental-health problems on lost productivity (due to absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover) will cost Canadian businesses $198-billion over the next 30 years.

The vision for Mental Health First Aid is to have every Canadian in need within reach of effective mental health first aid. Too often people suffer in silence, not knowing where to turn. In order for this vision to become a reality, organizations provide a safe space for employees to discuss their mental health in the workplace and provide supports, in addition to Employment Assistance Programs (which are not available in every workplace).

Are you in crisis? Call Crisis Services Canada at 1.833.456.4566, text 45645 or go to

Stephen James Landry is an Employment Consultant at the City of Ottawa. He completed his CDP (Career Development Practitioner) accreditation from Career Development Practitioners Certification Board of Ontario. He regularly advocates for his clients to upgrade their lifelong learning, including taking Mental Health First Aid courses to increase self-awareness and to assist others. He has a strong connection to Mental Health First Aid through his current work and will be taking the Mental Health First Aid for Seniors in September 2018. Landry has helped clients with mental health issues for over 25 years.

self care isn't selfish signageCareering

Self-care can combat burnout for career development practitioners

How CPDs can develop a self-care plan to prevent compassion fatigue and burnout

By Dr Michael Sorsdahl

Career development practitioners (CDPs) are helping professionals who get drawn into their line of work due to their desire to help others. Jacobson’s research[1] in 2012 demonstrated that helping professionals often have a tendency to put others’ needs ahead of their own, which puts the practitioner at risk of experiencing mental-health issues such as compassion fatigue or burnout.

Shannon et al.[2] in 2014 outlined the same risks in the helping professions, and conducted research specifically on social-work students to see what self-care strategies could help build resilience against those risks. According to Shannon et al. and Merriman (2015)[3], some of the most common mental-health issues that helping professionals such as CDPs face are vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout. The articles cited above along with Sansbury, Graves and Scott (2015)[4] found that if these issues are left unchecked, helping practitioners risk doing harm to clients instead of helping them. However, there are ways to build resilience and counter these mental-health issues; it just takes awareness and commitment by the practitioner.

Consider the safety brief on an airplane that tells people to put their own oxygen mask on first before helping others; this concept of self-protection is just as important for helpers to heed, or they risk mental-health issues. CDPs must be aware that burnout, compassion fatigue and other conditions are a common by-product of working in the helping field. This can have consequences not only for the helper, but also for their family and friends if they take these issues home. Exploring and implementing ways to increase resilience, and becoming more proactive in looking after oneself, will lessen the mental-health risks of working in a helping profession.

Understanding what to look for is an important first step in the proper response to and prevention of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue, which can lead to complete burnout. Vicarious trauma looks very much like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma injury symptomology as laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. PTSD or trauma reactions may occur after exposure to a traumatic event (including hearing details about one), which can result in the existence of intrusive symptoms such as negative thoughts or behaviours, avoidance of traumatic triggers, changes in mood, changes in reactions and arousal, and feeling highly distressed.

Compassion fatigue is a little different, and includes the following symptoms:

  • Changes in personal identity and world view
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Becoming easily emotionally overwhelmed
  • Numbing or disconnection from any distressing feelings related to the event
  • Loss of connectedness to others and self
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty connecting with joy

If these symptoms are left unchecked, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment may occur. Ultimately, the perceived demands of the job will outweigh the resources to do it, which may cause people to burn out and leave the helping profession.

Developing a self-care plan

Career development practitioners can build resilience by creating a workable and adaptable self-care plan that is designed for the specific helper. Shannon et al. (2014) along with Sansbury et al. (2015) have shown that this practice increases life satisfaction and can help practitioners build resilience to cope with stress.

When creating a self-care plan, consider that a good self-care strategy meets these three conditions: 1) specific enough to be implementable, 2) flexible enough to fit into your busy life, and 3) enjoyable.

Shannon et al. (2014) and Sansbury et al. (2015) have shown that the best self-care plans span multiple areas of people’s lives. If a CDP creates one or two strategies in each of the following areas, then the plan is likely robust enough to help build resilience.

Examples of self-care strategies include:

  • Physical care: exercise, nutrition, sleep, massages and walking
  • Mental care: meditation, listening to/playing music, cooking, reading
  • Relational care: date nights with partner, games night with friends, dinner with friends and telephone/Skype calls with friends/family
  • Physical environment care: keeping a clean home, spending time outdoors, taking vacations

It can be helpful to reflect on activities that you have found enjoyable, along with things you might like to try in the future. This will give you a database of options to work from. If the activity is not enjoyable, it is not self-care. There are healthy things that we “should” do, but that does not make them self-care strategies – just necessary actions for healthy living. Depending on the helper’s life circumstances, either more strategies or increased time doing selected strategies may be required to counter the negative symptoms outlined above.

Vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout are a risk for helping professionals such as career development practitioners. If the CDP combines awareness of symptoms that indicate these conditions with a strong self-care plan, resilience to these stressors can be built. Making the helpers’ health a priority is essential to remaining competent in their work.

Assessing your need to review self-care strategies
  • Take a Quality of Life Assessment or wellness survey periodically to track dips
  • Journal regularly about your levels of stress
  • Review self-care strategies to see if you still enjoy them (if not, change them)
  • Ask a friend/family/co-worker to help identify any of your negative symptoms
  • Seek supervision in your work to debrief regularly

Dr. Michael Sorsdahl, CD, PhD(Education), RCC, CCC, GCDF-i, Provisional Psychologists (Alberta) is a psychotherapist, provisional psychologist, and educator who works in the areas of Trauma, Career, LGBTQ2+, Couples/Relationships, and counsellor education. He founded Juvenation Wellness, a counselling, coaching, and education service in BC.


[1] Jacobson, J.M. (2012). Risk of compassion fatigue and burnout and potential for compassion satisfaction among employee assistance professionals: Protecting the workforce. Traumatology, 18(3) 64-72). DOI: 10.1177/153476561 143 1833

[2] Shannon, P.J., Simmelink-McCleary, J., Im, H., Becher, E. & Crook-Lyon, R.E. (2014). Developing self-care practices in a trauma treatment course. Journal of Social Work Education, 50, 440-453

[3] Merriman, J. (2015). Enhancing counsellor supervision through compassion fatigue

education. Journal of Couseling & Development, 93(3), 370-378.

[4] Sansbury, B. S., Graves, K., & Scott W. (2015). Managing traumatic stress responses among clinicians: Individual and organizational tools for self-care. Trauma, 17(2), 114-122. 

young girl with disability and a woman looking at a laptopCareering

How CDPs can help clients with disabilities navigate legislative changes

Practitioners must stay informed about legislative changes and be aware of provincial programs to best serve their clients

By Jaclyn Krane

As career development practitioners, we are often tasked with helping people make sense of their lives both within and outside of the workplace. We help people understand who they are and how their talents, skills and abilities fit within the world of work. However, clients with disabilities can face additional barriers in their search for employment. How can career development practitioners be prepared to address this?

People with disabilities often experience frustration not only with job searching, but also with the systems designed to help their job search. Some of the frustrations that jobseekers with disabilities experience include short-staffed employment service programs, long wait times to receive service, travel challenges and lack of access to job search tools, such as telephone (TTY) or internet access with screen-reading software installed. Career development practitioners, while sympathetic, are often left feeling just as frustrated, as bureaucratic barriers can limit their ability to help their clients.

Career development practitioners seeking guidance, strategies and suggestions for helping clients diagnosed with disabilities, including mental health issues, are often faced with a challenging task, because there is no national strategy for addressing disability and employment in Canada. Without a road map for those employed in the helping professions, career development practitioners are often left without any clear policies, tools or structure surrounding the employment of people with disabilities.

Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

However, the landscape in Canada is beginning to shift. For example, on June 20, 2018, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Kirsty Duncan, tabled the Accessible Canada Act, which aims to make Canada barrier-free in areas under federal jurisdiction.

As identified at the 2017 Disability and Work in Canada Conference, the need to shift Canada’s focus from the “unemployed disabled person” and their circumstances toward fostering a deeper and respectful understanding of social contexts is key for creating career-related long-term employment outcomes. Using local and regional labour market agreements to determine career development service delivery standards has only led to fragmentation across the country, an issue that could be remedied by using the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a guiding document. The conversations to date have often focused around “reasonable accommodation,” but aiming to surpass expectations and embrace progressive transformation is the path to true inclusion and the creation of long-term sustainable systemic accessibility.

What role can career development practitioners play during this time of legislative transformation? Staying informed about legislative updates is paramount to better informing clients and colleagues. Career development practitioners should get involved in legislative consultations and begin the process of collaboration with all stakeholders, including people with disabilities, federal and provincial leaders, and First Nations communities.

As part of regular preparation before face-to-face career counselling sessions with clients with disabilities, career development practitioners should spend time researching their provincial income-support programs and employment strategies, and how the programs interface with looking for work and volunteerism. Jobseekers with disabilities who receive social assistance might have limitations on their work parameters (e.g., the number of paid work or volunteer hours per week) as well as what subsidies (e.g., travel allowances) they might be entitled to. It is important for career development practitioners to stay informed at the legislative level as changes may trickle down to the programming levels, affecting the services or benefits clients with disabilities might be accessing.

“Career development practitioners should get involved in legislative consultations and begin the process of collaboration with all stakeholders, including people with disabilities, federal and provincial leaders, and First Nations communities.”

Career development practitioners should also research local employment programs and their eligibility requirements. Although many employment service providers aim to provide accessible services for all, often specific organizations provide tailored services that can assist with the transition into employment, something that will be beneficial for clients with varying job goals. Picking up the phone to speak with an employment specialist, job developer, or resource and information specialist to better understand the scope of their work when it comes to supporting jobseekers with disabilities will enable career development practitioners to be more knowledgeable and effective, which will only benefit clients in the long run. To better empower jobseekers with mental-health challenges in being the leaders of their own job searches, ensuring that clients actively participate on these calls, along with a debriefing following the call, guarantees the client’s voice is heard and concerns are addressed. In my experience, the majority of employment programs aim to be flexible, and asking questions regarding additional supports and subsidies never hurts.

Also, when making referrals to community agencies for employment supports, don’t hesitate to request success stories of jobseekers with disabilities. You can share these stories to motivate other jobseekers with disabilities, and this also helps you to gauge whether strong accountability measures are in place to guarantee people are receiving appropriate assistance with their employment search.

To best assist their clients, career development practitioners should stay informed about how the Accessible Canada Act will provide income and employment supports for persons with disabilities, and the role employers will play. Career development practitioners should also get involved in upcoming conferences and roundtable discussions taking place over this fall and winter to help ensure Canada’s employment landscape remains accessible to all.

Jaclyn Krane is the Special Projects Manager of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW), a non-profit organization committed to promoting and supporting the meaningful and equitable employment of people with disabilities across Canada. Before joining CCRW in 2011, Jaclyn worked with students, recent graduates and young professionals at the University of Ottawa’s Counselling Services department and Youth Employment Services Montreal – a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young Montrealers explore career options and engage in the career development process.

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Assisting adults with autism transition from post-secondary into the workplace

Many people who live on the autism spectrum are under- or unemployed, but with some support, this differently talented group can offer a lot to the workforce

By Sarah Taylor and Dr Anna-Lisa Ciccocioppo

Autism Spectrum Disorder is commonly thought of as a childhood condition but in fact, ASD is a life-long neurological difference. Children will rarely lose the diagnosis as they get older, and an increasing number of individuals are being diagnosed as adults. Statistics from the U.S.-based Center for Disease Control in 2016 indicate that as many as one in 68 children were diagnosed, and statistical trends across various sources suggest that the number of individuals identified on the spectrum is growing considerably.

The diagnostic criteria according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) include persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, non-verbal communicative behaviours used for social interaction, and in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that there is a wide degree of variation in the way it affects people, but they have a shared core of traits. The level of (dis)ability and the combination of traits varies tremendously from person to person. In fact, two people with the same diagnosis may have very different behaviours, abilities and life outcomes.

Providing support in post-secondary

Although the specific reasons for the increase in the prevalence of autism are unclear, it is incumbent on post-secondary institutions and the world of employment to learn ways to better engage and support this different but valuable talent pool. The 78% increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism between 2002-2008 (Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 2012) is now being observed by post-secondary accessibility staff. Many of those students are now entering higher education and require some level of accommodation to be academically successful.

As these examples suggest, students on the autism spectrum may have difficulty coping with the post-secondary environment, which may cause them to drift from one field of study to another, leading to frustration, anxiety, depression and dropping out (Dipeolu, Storlie, & Johnson, 2015). As such, these students can experience greater challenges in general with career planning and the school-to-work transition.

Barriers to entering the workforce

Recent American statistics indicate that 85% of people living on the autism spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. The study also found that only half (53%) of young adults with an ASD diagnosis had ever worked for pay outside the home in the first eight years following high school, representing the lowest employment rate among disability groups even when controlling for impairment severity, household income and social demographics (Howlin, 2013).

What are the workplace barriers that contribute to these concerning statistics? One issue is that autism is an invisible disability and people tend to be more compassionate and understanding about disabilities they can see. The increased emphasis on social versus technical skills, and finding the “right fit” for the team, in addition to the increased role of behavioural scenario questions in the interview process, can make it difficult for a prospective employee on the spectrum to present as a desirable candidate in an interview situation.

Once hired, there can be additional challenges with developing relationships and communicating effectively with colleagues.  Individuals living on the autism spectrum can have difficulty understanding language with multiple meanings, including humour, sarcasm, synonyms, idioms and metaphors. The desire for fixed schedules and routine can mean that employees on the spectrum may seem inflexible with changing work expectations and environments.

In spite of these challenges, employees on the spectrum offer many strengths to the workplace. They are reliable, dedicated employees who offer strengths in attention to detail, concentration, long-term memory, special interests and tolerance for repetitive tasks. They are attentive listeners who will follow the outlined protocol carefully, focus intently on the task, and are less likely to gossip or be caught up in office politics.

Easing the transition

So, how can we best help young adults on the spectrum successfully transition from post-secondary studies into the workplace? Briel and Getzel (2014) identify a number of best practices:

  • Provide information that is clear and precise – avoid using metaphors or jokes to communicate career-planning information.
  • Provide experiential learning opportunities related to the job search. For example, train jobseekers through role play how to demonstrate interest in a position through their body language and active listening, and how to become comfortable with being asked open-ended questions in an interview.
  • Assist with goal setting, problem-solving and decision-making. Help jobseekers address challenges such as disorganization, inability to multitask and literal-mindedness. Encourage them to look for a work environment where they can function well, rather than the “perfect” job.
  • Aid with time management and stress management. Expose them to situations in which time management, sustained effort and delayed gratification can be demonstrated and learned through discussion and role play. Stress-management strategies such as regular exercise, listening to relaxing music and reframing negative thoughts can be helpful to jobseekers on the spectrum.
  • Help prospective employees develop a disclosure plan or self-efficacy script to articulate functional limitations and areas of strength. Encourage students to thoroughly assess the situation during the interview process before deciding whether or not to disclose. Functional limitations can be the focus of disclosure, as the employer does not need to know a diagnosis.
  • Assist students with transition planning and skill development as soon as possible to appropriately prepare high-school students for post-secondary life and beyond, with parental involvement (Dymond, Meadan, & Pickens, 2017).
  • Help them understand accommodations they could request in the post-secondary and/or work environment (e.g., periodic breaks, alternatives to open cubicles, limited exposure to ringing phones and soft lighting) to reduce sensory overload (Dipeolu et al., 2015).

While there are challenges involved and resources required to support people who live on the autism spectrum to be successful in post-secondary studies and in the transition to employment, we reiterate that there are tremendous benefits to engaging this increasingly prominent and differently talented group of students and workers.

Sarah Taylor began her career in autism treatment in 1996. Her many years of experience in assessment, consultation and advocacy help provide a framework for curriculum/project development and sensitivity training for employers.

Dr Anna-Lisa Ciccocioppo is a Registered Psychologist and Counsellor at the University of Calgary. She focuses much of her research and practice on the career development of post-secondary students.


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDMN) (2012). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders— autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 14 sites, United States, 2008. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 61(3), 1–19.

Briel, L. W., & Getzel, E. E. (2014). In their own words: The career planning experiences of college students with ASD. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 40, 195-202.

Center for Disease Control. (2016). CDC Estimates 1in 68 school-aged children have autism; no change from previous estimate [Press release]. Retrieved from

Dipeolu, A. O., Storlie, S., & Johnson, C. (2015). College students with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: Best practices for successful transition to the world of work. Journal of College Counseling, 18, 175-190.

Dymond, S. K., Meadan, H., & Pickens, J. L. (2017). Postsecondary education and students with autism spectrum disorders: Experiences of parents and university personnel. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 29,  809-825.

Howlin, P. (2013). Social disadvantage and exclusion: Adults with autism lag far behind in employment prospects. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52 (9), 897–899.


Well-being-based career practices and interventions for preventing and treating mental illness

Career development practitioners should take a holistic approach, supporting their clients’ mental health while helping them navigate career planning

By Derrick McEachern

Career planning is a mental-health intervention and a well-being practice. What people do each day shapes who they are and how they feel about their daily lives.

People who are disengaged from their work, unemployed, undergoing a work transition or ambivalent about their career path may struggle to varying degrees with stress, uncertainty, low self-worth, anxiety and, in many cases, depression. However, government programs traditionally focus solely on employment: helping people find work using their current skills or retraining them in specifically targeted fields with a high probability of employment.

Well-being and mental-health research (Walsh, 2011) suggest a more holistic approach is necessary. There is a need for more comprehensive services that account for employees’ lifestyle factors and support employee engagement and retention while also addressing mental-health problems.

Well-being and mental health

In their book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, Tom Rath and Jim Harter document research conducted across 155 countries that suggests five interconnected elements are predictive of overall well-being.

  • Career well-being: liking and finding purpose in what we do each day
  • Social well-being: having positive, supportive relationships
  • Physical well-being: having good physical health and energy
  • Financial well-being: having financial stability and security
  • Community well-being: taking pride in, and contributing to, our communities

Well-being goes beyond happiness. According to Gallup, people with high well-being in these five areas have the resources to meet and manage the challenges of everyday life.

Research from other organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO, 2018), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, no date) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2016) emphasizes the importance of comprehensive and holistic approaches to improving individual and community well-being.

Although Canadians in general score high in well-being, some worrying trends have been identified by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (Canadian Index of Wellbeing, 2016). Since 2008, Canadians on average are spending:

  • ⅓ less time on vacation
  • 16% less time volunteering
  • 30% less time with friends
  • 15% less money on culture and recreation

In his book Lost Connections, Johann Hari documents research from social scientists around the world challenging the prevailing wisdom that depression and anxiety are the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. This research provides a new window into the rise and prevalence of mental illness as a result of disconnections in people’s lives from:

  • meaningful work
  • other people
  • meaningful values
  • childhood trauma
  • status and respect
  • the natural world
  • a hopeful and secure future

Such research may begin to explain the prevalence of mental-health issues – one in five Canadians in any given year experiences a mental-health or addiction problem (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). It also supports a more comprehensive approach to understanding, preventing and treating mental illness.

The relationship between well-being, mental health and career development

Career service providers work at the cross-section of where work, well-being and mental health meet. Therefore, they should be skilled at recognizing and supporting client well-being and mental health while helping clients navigate the career-planning and employment process.

The following example illustrates this complexity:

Toniesha is 28 years old and has been working full-time at a grocery store for the past eight years. She is currently going through a divorce and is struggling financially. She has two children ages 4 and 7. Concerned she cannot provide for her children’s needs on her current income, she is considering moving to a small apartment in a more affordable but less safe community. With only a high-school education, she fears finding more reliable work with a significantly better income isn’t promising. She says, “I know it’s the middle of August, but I am thinking about going back to school and I’m looking for help. I can’t afford to make a colossal mistake.”  

Given Toniesha’s personal and financial situation, the pressure she is under, and the short timeline she has to make a decision, choosing an unsuitable career path is a real risk.

The above case is not a unique one faced by guidance counsellors, post-secondary counsellors, employment advisors and other career practitioners. Companies and organizations also encounter employees like Toniesha who are suffering, disconnected, unable to make ends meet financially, or longing for more meaning in their life or work.

Career well-being as a mental-health practice

Career well-being occurs when a person’s life and work are aligned with their mental-health needs. They like what they do, are highly engaged in their work, have a feeling they belong and are making contributions through their work.

Reversing our trends in mental health and increasing individual well-being require greater understanding of what makes people thrive, as well as the causes of mental illness. It requires greater compassion and a more holistic approach in government-funded programs, companies and organizations, schools, colleges and universities. We all have a part to play in facilitating career planning, employee well-being and improved mental health.

Government-funded programs could:

  • Provide well-being-based career-exploration and planning services for employees in low-paying jobs with little long-term security to retrain and advance their careers
  • Ensure people who are unemployed have access to career counsellors and practitioners who are trained in well-being-informed career services and interventions as an integral part of the career development process

Employers could:

  • Implement employee success planning that incorporates well-being and career planning into their annual reviews
  • Ensure access to employee assistance program (EAP) services that offer well-being-based career counselling, interventions and planning

Schools, colleges and universities could:

  • Provide well-being-based career planning for high-school students to help them envision and identify their career and well-being needs
  • Provide comprehensive career-development services for prospective students, helping them make informed, well-being-based life and work decisions
  • Train counsellors and advisors in assessing and improving student well-being by identifying areas of disconnection as risk factors for mental illness

Career counsellors could:

  • Include assessment of five interconnected elements of well-being as a central part of career counselling services
  • Incorporate well-being-based career interventions that support behavioural and lifestyle changes to sustain long-term well-being and mental health

Preventing mental-health problems and supporting people who are living with them requires institutions and individuals to take a more proactive and compassionate approach.

It is important that we remember that employment isn’t enough. Organizations need healthy, productive, engaged employees. People need work and lives where they can make meaningful contributions and have a hopeful, secure future.

Well-being-based workplace practices and career interventions can improve mental health, sustainable employment, an organization’s productivity and, ultimately, the economy.

Derrick McEachern is a Registered Counselling Therapist (RCT) in Nova Scotia, and Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC). He has worked as a Therapist and Career Counsellor in post-secondary student services for 12 years and is the owner of Five Star Wellbeing Counselling and Coaching.


Canadian Index of Wellbeing. (2016). How are Canadians really doing? Retrieved from

Center for Addiction and Mental Health. (n.d.). Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from

Centres for Disease Control. (2016, May 31). Well-Being Concepts | HRQOL | CDC. Retrieved from

Hari, J. O. (2019). LOST CONNECTIONS: Uncovering the real causes of depression and the unexpected solutions. S.l., NY: BLOOMSBURY.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (n.d.). Measuring Well-being and Progress: Well-being Research – OECD. Retrieved from

Rath, T., & Harter, J. K. (2014). Wellbeing: The five essential elements. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

Walsh, R. (2011, October). Lifestyle and mental health. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2018, March 30). Mental health: strengthening our response. Retrieved from


Building resilience can have a positive impact on career transition


How clients can learn to recognize stressors and develop strategies to better manage them during career change

By Mary Ann Baynton

Any transition in life can be stressful. Career transition in particular often happens at the same time as other life stressors, including personal, family, health or financial concerns. Recognizing our current reactions to stress and choosing healthier, more effective responses is what building resilience is all about.

Resilience is the capacity to adapt or recover from stressful situations, including a transition into the workforce or from one job to another. Building resilience doesn’t mean you’ll avoid stress. What it means is that you’ll be able to cope better and recover from stress more effectively.

Research has helped us understand practical strategies to build resilience.

Identifying our stress responses

For most of us, stress is a daily occurrence and our responses to it are automatic. This means we don’t choose or plan them. With that in mind, if we can identify some of our immediate responses to stress, we’re more likely to recognize and address them before they create a major life or health concern.

Some automatic responses can be physical in nature – cold sores, hives, and sweating or stomach problems. Some may be behavioural responses such as reaching for a substance, sleep pattern changes, clumsiness, forgetfulness, impatience, overscheduling or overworking. Emotional responses may also be present and could include irritability, anger, frustration or emotional outbursts.

The point to keep in mind is that these are involuntary and may still occur, but the earlier we identify them as stress responses, the sooner we can identify the stressor and make changes.

The importance of giving and receiving social support

One of the changes that can be made is to either give or receive social support. Ironically, we can reduce stress in our lives by focusing on helping others as well as reaching out for support for ourselves.

If you feel you just don’t have people in your life who you can count on, there are options. One is to offer to help others through volunteering, joining a club or just assisting someone in need. This could be someone at home, work or in the community. The more people you support, the more people who may also be there when you need help.

“We can reduce stress in our lives by focusing on helping others …”

There are also many organizations and communities that exist across the country with the specific purpose of providing support to those in need. Just reach out! Don’t wait until the stress is unmanageable before investigating what is available. Unsure where to start? Try a local government representative’s office to ask about services in the community.

Developing healthier coping strategies

Another strategy to build resilience is to explore new ways of coping that can help you prevent, as well as manage, stress in the moment. Every person is unique. What reduces stress for one person may increase it for another. For example, some people may really enjoy interacting with animals to reduce stress, while others could be afraid or allergic.

Some of the approaches that can be taken to develop healthier coping strategies include mindfulness, practicing gratitude or deep breathing. Others find art, music or time in nature are most effective. Take time to notice what works for you, and then commit to doing it on a regular basis.

Examining your options and making good decisions

Even with an awareness of our automatic responses to stress, and the inclusion of healthy strategies to manage that stress, we may still become overwhelmed at different points in our life. At a time like this, it could be helpful to step back and consider additional ways to address our stress.

One strategy is to use the four A’s:

  • Accept the things and people you really cannot change. As hard as it may be, accepting what’s not possible to change (rather than desperately or hopelessly wishing it were different) can allow you to manage your stress more effectively.
  • Avoid unnecessary stress. Not all stress can be avoided. It may even be unhealthy to not deal with stressful situations that need to be resolved. However, when appropriate, try to avoid unnecessary stress by learning how to say no, limiting time with people who may foster a stress environment for you, and prioritizing your to-do list with an eye to eliminate tasks or activities that aren’t truly necessary.
  • Alter ways you can communicate and operate in your daily life to minimize stressors. You can do this by expressing your feelings to people you consider safe, being open to compromises that help reduce stress, and being open and honest about your needs in ways that others can understand and support.
  • Adapt to the stressor by changing your attitudes and behaviours. Reframe problems with a more positive and solution-focused perspective, consider the consequences of taking specific actions, and set reasonable and clear expectations for yourself and others.

Looking at each of the four A’s in relation to a stressor will help you think about it from a variety of perspectives. Then, you can choose the response you feel will work best for you.

When considering these strategies as part of a career-transition process, it’s important to anticipate and understand that potential work stressors will arise. These stressors could include: a new learning curve, fear of failure or success, a new organizational culture, different ways of interacting with people and an environment and building new relationships.

It may seem counterproductive to think about all the things that could go wrong, but considering potential stressors and healthier responses in advance can help reduce the actual burden, should they occur as you begin your new job.

Make building resilience part of your lifelong learning

As we’ve seen, there are many practical strategies that can be put in place to help build resilience. Building resilience includes: becoming aware of our automatic stress responses, improving our ability to give and receive social support, adopting healthy coping strategies and lifestyle choices, stepping back to have an objective perspective about what’s possible in addressing stressors and conscious awareness of the stressors that could happen as well as how you’ll deal with them.

Some of us may have more of these skills than others right now, but they can be learned by anyone. Building resilience can, and should, become part of lifelong learning, as our lives are constantly in a state of transition.

Free resources that can help you develop a personal plan for resilience and deal with specific workplace stressors are available at:

Mary Ann Baynton proudly serves as the Program Director for the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, which develops and provides free tools and resources for anyone who wishes to prevent, manage or improve psychological health and safety at work. She is the author of several books including Mindful Manager, Keeping Well at Work, Preventing Workplace Meltdown, Resolving Workplace Issues and The Evolution of Workplace Mental Health in Canada.

woman sitting in front of a laptop holding her headF18 - Features

Overcoming barriers to returning to work after a mental-health leave


Career development practitioners can work alongside health professionals to help clients consider all possible return-to-work options during their recovery

By Dr Marie-Helene Pelletier 

The facts are clear: mental-health issues represent on average more than 30% of long-term disability (LTD) claims (Mental Health Commission of Canada), with half of those claims for depression (Sun Life Financial). It is no surprise that career development and health professionals are bound to be working at some point with individuals off work due to a mental-health issue.

Whether I’m speaking with professionals who support people on leave, or individuals off work because of a mental-health issue, three barriers to a return to work consistently emerge. Here’s a quick overview of each – and how they can be overcome.

Barrier #1 – I can’t picture myself going back to work at all

 I hear this in my office regularly – and it’s not surprising, given how the cloud of depression can influence our thoughts. My answer is a simple one: advise your client to focus first on their return to good mental health. Your client’s health professional will have their return to work in mind from the beginning and will help them move in that direction. One of an individual’s key accountabilities while on leave is to seek treatment and take an active role in it. So, if they’re seeing a psychologist, a physician and accessing other resources as needed, they’re on the right track. The details of their return to work will emerge as recovery gets closer.

Barrier #2 – I’m not sure I can return to optimum health

Leave optimum health aside and focus on a return to simple, everyday functioning where a return to the workplace in some capacity is possible. Insurance carriers work hard with health professionals to keep individuals focused on a return to work (as opposed to working on everything that could be optimized). Small steps can eventually lead to big gains and a return to pre-disability performance.

Barrier #3 – I’m not sure I can handle my old job

The truth is that there are many paths available to individuals, and only one of them is a return to their full-time job, typically with a gradual return schedule. An individual may be cleared to return to work by their physician and psychologist, they let the employer know and a gradual return to work is agreed upon. The individual starts work two weeks later and gradually assumes more responsibility, with the individual touching base with their psychologist a few times.

There are many other scenarios, including the employee assuming another job with the employer, or leaving the employer entirely for another organization. The time off to recover is also a time off to reflect – and it’s a tremendous opportunity for individuals to think about their work role and where they believe they can excel and want to be.

As professionals, part of what we do is support an individual in their return to good health and encourage them to consider all possible paths as they re-enter the workforce.

Dr Marie-Helene Pelletier is a bilingual practicing psychologist and experienced senior leader with the rare combination of PhD and MBA. She helps individuals and businesses increase health and performance via her individual therapy practice and workplace mental health consulting and as a resilience keynote speaker. Connect with Dr Pelletier on drmhpelletier.comLinkedIn and Twitter.