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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Recognizing mental health issues in higher education career service sessions Miller, Chloé Alix


Career service sessions, once provided by counselling psychology graduates, are now typically provided in separate career centres, by staff with employment expertise but with little mental health training. Research finds that the majority of career practitioners urgently require improved skills for identifying and referring mental health issues among their clients (Burwell & Kalbfleisch, 2007; CERIC, 2012; 2020a), as career and personal issues are often intertwined (Schaub, 2012), and myriad factors may lead clients with mental health issues to present for career sessions (Vidourek, et al., 2014). The present study used the Enhanced Critical Incident Technique to explore the experience of career practitioners in Western Canada who self-identified as having experience with recognizing mental health issues among their clients. Qualitative interviews were used to explore what helped or hindered participants in recognizing mental health issues. Experience in higher education settings was selected because mental health issues are prevalent among students, and because pre-service mental health screening is not standard practice in separated campus career service departments. Participants reported recognizing a relatively high frequency of mental issues. Critical incident findings were organized into six categories: 1.Workplace Supports, 2.CP Person-Level factors, 3.Building a Low-Pressure Relationship, 4.Using Career Theory and Career Process, 5.Active Listening, and 6.Exploring Barriers to Progress. Findings suggest that recognizing mental health issues is a proactive activity which is influenced by context, enhanced when certain permissions, training opportunities, and referral networks are in place. Findings underscored the importance of a strong working alliance, of close ties with the counselling team, of active listening, of cross-cultural competence, of gatekeeper training workshops, of the value of career theory and career tasks, and of strong knowledge about common sources of student distress. Findings highlight the important role managers can play in either curtailing or enhancing this activity. Findings suggest that recognizing mental health issues is often a natural by-product of rigorous resilience-oriented career support, aimed at uncovering any challenges to provide students with a better chance of career success across time.

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