What is Vocational-Based Treatment?

CALL NOW: (866) 300-6955

Having a job in recovery is extremely beneficial for ongoing sobriety. Vocational-based treatment refocuses people in recovery toward the world of work. It puts a heavy emphasis on developing the skills that will lead to employment, which helps individuals re-socialize and integrate into a sober lifestyle. Here, we look at how vocational-based treatment works and why it’s beneficial to so many in recovery.

Why Employment is Important in Recovery

A large body of research touts the benefits of having a job in recovery. According to an article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, employment helps people: 1
Fill time with productive activities that contribute to the community
Develop Healthy Relationships with Others
Prevent Feelings of Boredom and Isolation
Develop a healthy lifestyle and maintain a regular routine
Reduce financial stress
Improve self-confidence and sense of self-worth
Find purposeful and meaningful pursuits in life
While finding employment is important, it’s also important that your job brings you satisfaction. The more satisfied you are in your job, the higher your quality of life and the greater the likelihood you’ll stay employed and even move up the ladder. Vocational-based treatment helps you reduce barriers to employment and find a position that suits you.

Barriers to Employment in Recovery

Addiction leaves many people unable to work or maintain employment for any length of time. In recovery, a number of barriers can make it more difficult to find a job, according to the Association for Addiction Professionals. 2 These include:
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • A lack of education and skills
  • Unrealistic attitudes and expectations toward employment
  • Inadequate funds to pay for clothing, transportation, child care and other job-related expenses
  • A crisis lifestyle involving illness, violence in the community, family tragedies and family problems
  • Learned helplessness
  • A negative attitude toward vocational rehab, work, or disability
  • A history of criminal activity
  • A lack of social supports at home and in the community
A vocational-based treatment program will address these and other barriers to ensure the best possible chances of finding employment.

Elements of Programming in Vocational-Based Treatment

Vocational services in treatment strive to prepare you for a career. They help you overcome barriers to treatment, identify your strengths and interests and develop the skills you need to find and keep a job. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the overarching goal of vocational rehab is to improve an individual’s functioning in life and find a job based on his or her values, interests and goals. 3 This occurs through a variety of assessments, classes, counseling sessions and other interventions.

Assessments and Evaluations

Vocational rehab starts with a variety of assessments and evaluations surrounding education level, employment history, work experience, and job skills. These assessments help shape the vocational rehab plan and narrow down the choices for employment and career paths. Skills tests will determine the job skills currently possessed, including basic skills like reading and communicating effectively and more complex skills like problem-solving or technical or systems skills.

Personality, Interests, and Strengths Inventories

The goal of vocational rehab is to match you with a job that you enjoy, and which draws on your strengths and aligns with your values. To do this, a career counselor will use a variety of tools to inventory personality type, interests, strengths and values. These inventories reveal a lot about you, including what gives you energy, how you make decisions and your preferences related to learning, work style and leadership. This information is used to further narrow down the field of jobs you might find meaningful and interesting.

Goal Setting

Once assessments and inventories are complete, clients in vocational rehab receive counseling to help them set vocational goals and develop short- and long-term plans for achieving them. Your goals will depend on a number of factors, including the results of the assessments, the training resources in your preferred field and the range of employment opportunities in your area. Counseling also serves to empower individuals and create a shift away from dependence to independence.

Life Skills Training

For those who have a lack of basic life skills, life skills training will occur before the job seeking process begins. Life skills training prepares clients to manage the requirements of daily life, including engaging in appropriate social interactions, managing time and money, planning and executing daily household duties and engaging in a high level of self-care.

Job Skills Training

Assessments, evaluations and inventories will reveal where you need to brush up on job skills. Job skills training may take place in a classroom setting at the treatment facility, or it may involve classroom time at a community college or other training institution. In some cases, clients may receive on-the-job training, enter a school-to-work transition program, become an apprentice, or enroll in a technical school or university. Job skills training help develop essential workplace skills that will assist in finding and maintaining employment. These include:
  • Social skills, including interacting with others in an appropriate way
  • Phone and basic computer skills and etiquette
  • Customer service skills, including phone and face-to-face skills
  • Workplace culture skills, including dressing appropriately, being punctual and following workplace rules
  • Specialized skills specific to a particular job

Job Search Training

Learning to search, apply and interview for jobs is essential for finding employment, and these skills will serve you well far into the future. Job search training can take place in a group or a one-on-one setting with a career counselor. It may involve a “job club,” which features workshops, offers the use of computers and phones, and provides a high level of peer support. In some cases, program counselors will find job openings for participants using job banks and through networking with employers. In any case, it’s important to know where and how to search for jobs and how to write a resume, contact potential employers and nail an interview. Job search training encompasses all of these.

Access to Resources

Vocational rehab provides a large library of resources for people in the program, including:
  • Occupational guides
  • Newspaper classifieds
  • Contact information for the region’s largest employers
  • Public transportation routes and schedules
  • Course catalogs for technical schools, community colleges and universities
  • Employment-related publications
  • Access to Web sites like America’s Job Bank and state and local job search boards

The Treatment Component of Vocational-Based Treatment

Vocational programming is only one component of vocational-based treatment and serves to prepare people for a productive life in the workforce. The treatment component is equally important and addresses substance use disorders. Frequently the result of underlying causes, such as chronic stress, a history of trauma or a co-occurring mental illness, addiction is very complex. It also causes problems in life, including relationship, legal, financial, and physical and mental health problems. All of these issues must be addressed in treatment for the best chances of achieving successful recovery.

Holistic Treatment

Traditional Therapies Traditional therapies have been shown through research to be effective for treating addiction. Traditional therapies commonly used in treatment include:
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps you identify and change self-destructive patterns of thinking and behaving
  • Family therapy, which helps you repair damaged relationships and restore function to the family system
  • Psychoeducational classes, which provides practical information about a wide range of topics related to addiction
  • Pharmacotherapy, or the use of medications to treat the addiction or a co-occurring mental illness
Complementary Therapies Complementary therapies increase engagement in treatment and help clients make sense of difficult emotions and experiences. Complementary therapies include:
  • Restorative yoga or mindfulness meditation, which reduce stress, improve self- and body-awareness and promote mindfulness in recovery
  • Art or music therapy, which helps reduce feelings of shame, promotes spiritual healing and helps you express yourself in a new way
Treatment therapies help you restore all areas of your life, and they increase your motivation to recover for the long-term.

Vocational-Based Treatment is Effective

A high-quality, holistic vocational-based treatment program helps people end an addiction for the long-term and find their place in society and in the workforce. It helps them become confident and self-sufficient. Addiction rehab provides you with the tools, skills, strategies and resources you need to enjoy long-term recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction. Vocational rehab helps you find a job that fits your personality, strengths and values, and it can get you started on a career path that will contribute to a meaningful and fulfilling life. The ultimate aim of vocational-based treatment is to transform your life and promote self-sufficiency, self-efficacy and an overall higher quality of life in which you don’t need drugs or alcohol to cope or enjoy yourself. Vocational-based treatment is successful for most people who fully participate in their program, and it can help you restore function, productivity and happiness to your life for the long-haul.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1852519/
  2. https://www.naadac.org/beyond-getting-a-job-understanding-and-addressing-employment-and-career-development-issues
  3. https://store.samhsa.gov/system/files/sma12-4216.pdf
  4. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/recovery