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Help IPS clients without directing them

When concerned about a client's choices, it can be difficult not to impose your own wishes. Here are a few tips for effectively working with your supported employment clients.

When clients say that professionals are not good listeners, they often mean that many professionals offer advice before really understanding the problem from the person's point of view.  Giving advice is dangerous for several reasons:

  1. It tends to shift the focus from the client coming up with his own solutions to relying on the professional to be the expert. Advice can foster dependency. 
  2. Some people feel like they should agree with their employment specialist in order to be cooperative and to please the specialist.  That doesn't mean that the person will follow through with the advice later.
  3. Giving too much advice can be annoying.  It's a reason that some people may tune out of the conversation. 

Rather than giving advice, encourage clients to find their own solutions.  One way to do that is to help the person identify different options and the advantages and disadvantages for each option.  For example, an employment specialist might say, "So there are some days that you wake up feeling depressed, and on those days it's really hard to get out of bed and go to work.  What are some different ways that you can think of to deal with that situation?  What has worked for you in the past?"  After the person has thought of some different strategies, the specialist could suggest, "Let's think about the positives and negatives of the different ways."  This strategy, as opposed to telling the person what to do, empowers the client to think and feel in control of the situation. 

It also helps to talk to clients about what has worked for them in the past.  Sometimes people are shy about bringing up their past successes.  However, asking about past successes reinforces that the employment specialist doesn't have all of the answers and that the client already has skills and experiences that are useful.  For example, when developing a plan for looking for work, the employment specialist may find out that the client has been able to find jobs on his or her own in the past.  The client's job-seeking approaches may be a little different from the ones the specialist is used to, but they may be a good fit for the client's personal style.
In some instances the employment specialist may find that she honestly disagrees with a client's plan.  In this situation, the specialist could ask if it would be okay to share some strategies that she has seen work for other people.  Because the specialist asks first, the client is much more likely to consider the ideas.  However, if the client clearly wants to go with a plan that the specialist feels is not practical, the specialist needs to be honest and continue to support the person. For example, if someone absolutely does not want to give a two-week notice when quitting a job, the specialist can explain why he doesn't think that is an effective way to leave a job, but should also offer to help the person with a new job. 

Example of Effective Interaction with a Client

Peter:  I'm not going back to that job.  I hate cleaning out the grease pit, and those other guys are jerks.

Calvin:  Well, you gave that job a try.  It's been four weeks and you still don't like it.  Have you already given notice?

Peter:  No, I'm not going back at all.  It's a crummy job and I really don't care. 

Calvin:  So it sounds like one of the advantages to walking off is that you don't have to go back to a job that you don't like.  What are some other advantages to walking off? (Open-ended question)

Peter:  I can't think of any, but I don't want to go back, so that's important.

Calvin:  OK.  You don't want to go back, and that's important.  (Reflection)  On the other hand, there could be some advantages in giving notice.  Your boss liked your work, and if we talk to him I bet he will give you a good reference.  What are some other possible advantages to giving notice?  (Open-ended question)

Peter:  I don't care.  When I walked out of work today, that was the last time.  All I want to do now is get another job.

Calvin:  O.K.  You really just want to focus on a new job.  That's your choice.  (Reflection)  I need to go talk to your boss since I have a relationship with him.  Basically, I am going to thank him for working with our program and ask him to consider working with us in the future. But you and I can start looking for another job right away.  I guess the key is to think about a job you might like better…

The only exception to letting the person lead is when someone's safety is at risk.  In this situation, the employment specialists let the person know what they are required by law to do and take the necessary actions to keep people safe.  Talk to your supervisor to ensure that you understand your agency's policies for handling situations where safety is a concern.

Excerpted from Supported Employment: Applying the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Model to Help Clients Compete in the Workplace. Dartmouth, 2008, 2011. Published by Hazelden.

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