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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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The Alliance between Vocational Rehabilitation and IPS: The Best Plan for Job Seekers

by Sarah Swanson, Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center and Mike Cohen, NAMI New Hampshire

VR and IPS for job seekers For many people, work is a critical component of recovery from mental illness. In fact some family members have even suggested, “work is treatment.”  The evidence tells us that about 15 percent of people living with mental illness are competitively employed while almost 70 percent say that they want to work.

Individual Placement and Support (IPS) supported employment is an evidence-based practice that assists people living with severe mental illness in returning to return to work. Compared to other vocational approaches, people who utilize IPS are almost three times more likely to find a regular job in the community than people who participate in other types of employment programs, including state vocational rehabilitation (VR). However, when state VR partners with IPS, people are even more successful than if they use IPS alone because VR and IPS programs each have different resources to bring to the table.

IPS Supported Employment Principles

  • Every person who wants employment is eligible
  • IPS services are integrated with mental health treatment
  • Regular jobs in the community are the goal
  • Personalized benefits counseling is provided
  • Job search starts soon after the person expresses interest in working
  • Job supports are continuous
  • Individual preferences (job type, location, type of assistance…) are important

VR counselors have educational backgrounds in rehabilitation and can help IPS team members and job seekers think about a wide range of jobs that may be a good fit. They are also knowledgeable about long-term illnesses and other disabilities that could impact the employment plan. Finally, because VR counselors typically stay in their jobs for long periods of time, they may even have knowledge about particular employers in the area.

Employment specialists from the IPS program have small caseloads (no more than 20 people) to allow them to provide as much assistance as necessary to help people succeed with vocational goals. For example, employment specialists spend time each week talking to local employers to learn about their businesses and they also help some people directly apply for jobs. (Whether or not the employment specialist shares information about a job seeker with an employer is up to each job seeker.)  Employment specialists spend the majority of their time in the community so they are able to visit people in their homes, at work or whatever place that feels most comfortable to their clients. Employment specialists also work closely with mental health practitioners, including case workers, counselors and medication prescribers.

When an employment specialist and a VR counselor work together, they are much more likely to follow IPS principles. For example, rather than asking people to participate in vocational testing or “job tryouts,” the VR counselor and IPS specialist talk to the person about his/her job history, strengths, current symptoms, job preferences, etc. and then initiate a job search within one month of the person entering the program. Another example is that after the VR counselor closes the person’s case, the IPS program continues to provide job supports for about one year, on average, or until the person no longer wishes to receive support from the IPS program.

Working side by side with each other and with the client, the VR counselor and the employment specialist create a team to ensure the best opportunity for that person to find—and keep—that job.

Learn more about IPS supported employment.

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