People have received help with their career development from time immemorial. Masters led their apprentices, students worked with teachers, daughters and sons worked alongside mothers and fathers, and the young have been guided by Elders all in the service of helping individuals hone their craft(s) and progress along a vocational pathway. This help, however, had little to do with the choice of vocational pathway and much more to do with competence along the path.
Formalizing help regarding work selection – choosing the kind of work individuals want to pursue – is a relatively recent development in history. Efforts to help people, particularly young people, choose their work seems to have started gathering steam in the late 1800s in America. In 1881, Lysander Salmon Richards published Vocophy: The New Profession. A System Enabling a Person to Name the Calling or Vocation One is Best Suited to Follow (you can download it here: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Lysander_Salmon_Richards_Vocophy?id=pZIZAAAAYAAJ). It’s difficult to tell how much impact this book had, but there’s evidence that some high school courses around that time were devoted to vocational choice. Also, we like to speculate that Frank Parsons, who lived in Boston, was influenced by Richards. Parsons, in 1908, established the Vocation Bureau, the first service to explicitly help individuals (young men) choose their vocation. His book, Choosing a Vocation, articulates the broader aim of choosing “a line of work to which he is adapted”: “If a young man chooses his vocation so that his best abilities and enthusiasms will be united with his daily work, he has laid the foundations of success and happiness.” (Our apologies for the sexist language here.)
With “success and happiness” firmly in sight, Parsons and many after him dove into the minutia of vocational choice – interests, characteristics, values, skills, aptitudes, labour market trends, job openings, salaries, decision-making and more – and it seems that “success and happiness” just became taken for granted as the natural outcomes of vocational choice. The pursuit of these wellbeing concepts and mental health generally as outcomes of career development was mostly abandoned, with occasional sparks of interest by career development theorists and thinkers such as Brown and Brooks (1985), Herr (1989) and, more recently, Blustein (2006), McIlveen (Kossen & McIlveen, 2017), Peruniak (2010) and Robertson (2013).
The lack of enthusiasm to actively identify career development and mental health connections in a sustained way may have been due to:
- The “uh, duh” factor – i.e., the general connection is so obvious as to not be worth studying (Super (1957) alludes to this).
- Our collective focus on and prioritization of employment related outcomes. We have done a good job measuring placement outcomes because our livelihood as a profession has depended on being accountable to the interests and preferences of our funders.
- The difficulty in generating direct evidence for the mental health outcomes of career development. As a field, we have very little solid evidence that our interventions help with career development, never mind mental health!
- The perceived need to get our theoretical house in order regarding career development before pursuing broader connections. Like other areas in social science, we have a lot of theories and models, and maybe as a profession our collective energy has been going into creating these. As an example, consider the recent CERIC publication of over 40 current career theories/models (https://ceric.ca/resource/career-theories-and-models-at-work-ideas-for-practice/).
- A generally subdued interest in mental health as compared to mental illness. Although mental health (addressing or preventing mental health concerns such as stress, depression, anxiety and addictions) is front-and-centre in the minds of the public, governments, educational institutions and organizations, it has not always been this way. In the mid-1900s, Maslow was considered a real innovator with his focus on the best that humans could be rather than on their failings. He and Carl Rogers led what would become the humanistic psychology movement, a movement that examined health as well as illness. In the late 80s and 90s, others, such as Frederickson, Keyes, and Seligman, followed suit with the positive psychology movement. These efforts, as well as very strong economies in the Western world, have culminated in cultural shifts toward deliberate pursuits of happiness, satisfaction, balance, meaning, and positivity, all potential indicators of mental health.
Why should we care about this historical background, you may be asking? The answer is reasonably simple: So we can figure out how to maintain the momentum to keep pursuing career development and mental health connections in theory, research and practice until we know what the connections are, how to improve them, and how they relate to other predictive factors. Our goal with this and a few other related projects is to maintain and sustain a focus on the mental health and wellbeing outcomes of career intervention. Finding evidence for the mental health outcomes of our work as career practitioners will help us as a profession to make a strong case for our value, but it will also certainly have positive long-term impact on the wellbeing of the clients we serve. It goes without saying that making the career-mental health connection and helping career intervention to find its proper place among other health and well-being interventions, will also address some of the significant economic consequences of mental health concerns for individuals, organizations, and national economies. But more on that interesting topic two blogs from now.
We’re working pretty steadily on the book – check CERIC’s recent update: https://ceric.ca/2019/06/ceric-to-fund-project-that-demonstrates-how-career-development-can-improve-mental-health/. We would love to hear what you would find useful/interesting in our emails to you. We are also looking for a guest blogger or two who could write specifically about how their career development practice has created mental health outcomes for clients (500-700 words). We will continue to share evidence we’re finding, but we’d like to also share practitioners’ success stories.
 We’ll come clean now that when we use terms such as “history,” we’re referring to “Western world” history, particularly history that has made its way into the English language. We’re simply not knowledgeable enough to discuss career development history in other parts of the world such as Asia or the Middle East, nor do we claim to understand traditional Indigenous career development approaches in Canada or elsewhere.
 Brown, D., & Brooks, L., & Associates (1996). Career choice and development (3rd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
 Parsons, F. (1909). Choosing a vocation. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, p. 3.