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Jul 16
Vocational Goals & Recovery

Contributed by Matthew Tsuda, MScOT, OT Reg. (Ont.), BEd, BA (Hons), Education Specialist and Therapist at the Gambling, Gaming and Technology Use Knowledge Exchange (formerly the Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Matthew Tsuda

Take a few seconds to think about your vocation (i.e., your job, schooling or volunteering). How big of a role has vocation played in your life? What benefits has it brought?

There are often obvious benefits to vocation, such as generating income or a sense of productivity; however, it can also have the additional benefits of providing structure to your life, building confidence and feelings of accomplishment, and creating an opportunity to develop important skills. Our jobs, schooling and volunteering are often core tenants of who we are and how we identify ourselves. We tend to have a number of other life roles that shape our identity too, but vocation is often a big part of our lives.

Furthermore, employment and education are important social determinants of health (the social factors that affect a person’s overall health). For instance, poor working conditions can negatively influence our health. When our work/school is disrupted, our health can suffer and in turn, our health can affect our productivity at work/school.

Think about problem gambling―in what ways can gambling problematically disrupt work/school? How can it impact a person’s ability to focus and perform well? The impacts can surely be detrimental. This is exemplified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V which lists “has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job or educational/career opportunity because of gambling” as one of the criteria for diagnosing Gambling Disorder.

As an Occupational Therapist, I see this commonly in practice. Clients have told me about how their preoccupation with gambling has affected their performance at work or their work attendance. It’s not uncommon for a client to report they were terminated from their job and/or have experienced difficulty finding employment. Some clients have also experienced legal issues (related to their gambling) that impact their ability to work. Clients who are in school report similar disruptions, in terms of missing class or not submitting assignments on time. At the same time, some clients find that their working/schooling conditions create stress, which can be a major trigger for gambling. In general, work and school can impact and be impacted by problem gambling, and these are important factors to consider when providing treatment.

As part of a client’s treatment and recovery plan, it can be helpful to explore (and support) their vocational goals. This can be an important motivator for a client and can tie in with their gambling goals. For example, I recently worked with a client who wanted to improve his performance at work. This client understood that maintaining his harm reduction gambling goal would help him get back on track at work, as he would have more time and energy to allocate to work efforts. As his work performance improved, so did his self-esteem, which positively reinforced his ability to stay on track with his gambling goals.

Using my Occupational Therapy (OT) lens, I’ve been able to provide vocational services to clients with problem gambling, supporting goals in the areas of work, school and volunteerism. As an adjunct service, I provide practical support to clients, such as goal planning, resume building, preparing for interviews, strategies for job searching, navigating work/school accommodations, etc. This is in line with current best practices within the areas of mental health and addictions, which emphasize the importance of supporting clients in their efforts to achieve meaningful employment in competitive jobs and capitalizing on clients’ motivation to return to work or school. There is an abundance of literature supporting the value of vocation in relation to supporting a person’s recovery process.

Although important, it can feel daunting at times to support a client with their vocational goals. Here are some brief tips from an OT perspective:

  • Meet clients where they are at in terms of their readiness to return to work/school (see link to guideline below).
  • Elicit relevant strengths, skills and work/school history.
  • Help clients set a SMART vocational goal, creating a goal that is realistic and in line with their past experiences and skill set.
  • Help clients identify the steps needed to accomplish their goal.
  • Connect clients to employment services (e.g., an employment support agency).
  • Discuss the potential of work/school accommodations as needed; many clients are unaware of this.
  • Build on their motivation using motivational interviewing skills.
  • Provide practical resources (e.g., how to build a resume, how to prepare for an interview, etc.).
  • Provide education on the value of work/school in relation to recovery.
  • Explore stress management strategies that can help clients effectively cope at work/school.
  • If there are significant employment gaps, encourage them to consider volunteer work or to take a course to build recent experiences into their resumes.

Like navigating any behavioural change, it is important to tailor the strategy to the stage of change the client is in. In this case, it would be in terms of their readiness to return to work/school. Learn more about strategies that can be implemented during each stage of change.

For additional information on how to support clients with their vocational goals, please contact Matthew Tsuda at


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