I wrote this article for the Baltimore Washington Psychoanalytic Institute Newsletter in June 2009. It has been republished, with permission, here.Dr. Lynn Friedman pioneered psychoanalytic, career assessment. She devotes much of her practice to psychoanalysis and intensive psychotherapy. As an adjuvant to this work, she provides psychoanalytically-informed, career, assessment. This article, originally written at the request of psychoanalyst colleagues, may be useful to laypeople, too.

Psychoanalytically-informed, work-life (career) consultation

    • A young man, with an Ivy League pedigree, is floundering uncertain about what he wants to do with his life. He calls seeking, “career counseling.”
    • A successful professional working in the corporate world is about to branch out on her own. She wants help increasing her client base.
    • A head of a prominent independent school seeks consultation in navigating the turbulent waters of change.
    • The president of a non-profit wants help “improving morale”.
    • A president of a major company is grief-stricken after his lay-off; maybe I can help.
    • A 40 year old engineer gets laid off every few years. He’s not sure why. He says that he is not a “go getter” and he’s already looking forward to retirement, adding, “Maybe a career coach can help but I doubt it”. I’ve tried it before and it’s been fruitless.

As we speak, I get the feeling that the “umph” should come from me, not from him, as if it were my job to prove that my services, (to quote him) aren’t just a scam. When I point out the relationship between his “non-go-getter-ness” at work and the message he conveys to me, he makes the connection.

Who seeks psychoanalytic, career assessment? What is it? What kinds of presenting complaints are the province of the work-life consultant and what sorts of concerns yield only to psychotherapy or psychoanalysis? When is collateral work with psychoanalyst colleagues indicated and when is this contraindicated? Each question will be addressed in turn.

Who calls for a career assessment?

Often, people with career difficulties have no idea what sorts of interventions might be helpful. Many have endured workplace unhappiness for years before calling. Some harbor the fantasy that career coaching, unlike psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, will be the elixir that will provide them with a “quick fix” to their longstanding work-life misery. Others face more focal challenges, such as: attempting something new; writing a book or opening a business; being under-employed or underpaid; having difficulty identifying a meaningful career path or dealing with the isolation inherent in being a corporate or organizational leader.

Explaining psychoanalytic, career assessment to prospective patients or clients

Unlike with patients seeking psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, with career counseling clients, I spend time on the phone establishing expectations regarding the evaluation process. I outline the nature of psychoanalytic evaluation noting that as an adjuvant to this process I include career consultation tools.For those who are unfamiliar with this method, this spadework is an important prerequisite to helping clients to consider their difficulties in a broader context. I indicate that at the end of the evaluation, I will share my understanding of their work-life difficulties and I will make a recommendation as to what sorts of interventions might prove useful. Also, I describe the kinds of possible interventions (organizational consultation, career coaching, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis) that I might recommend and I describe how they work.

Frequently, when I mention the possibility of psychoanalysis, clients are surprised to learn that it still exists and sometimes I hear a gasp associated with sticker shock. I provide assurance that if this treatment is warranted there are a plethora of low fee resources to which I can refer. A psychoanalytically-informed, career assessment allows me to understand the complexity of the individual’s intrapsychic dynamics and to assess the presence of more serious psychopathology.

What sorts of concerns are the province of the work-life (career and organizational) consultant and what sorts of concerns yield only to psychotherapy or psychoanalysis?

I listen to try to understand what sorts of compromise formations are contained within the person’s career conflict and what types of interventions might be useful. Typically, short-term difficulties and focal problems are likely to respond to career and organizational consultation. For example, most relatively healthy people can be helped to negotiate salary, apply to graduate school, interview for jobs or develop an effective job search strategy, if they are not excessively conflicted about these goals.In contrast, longer-term struggles that have been repeated throughout the person’s work and relationship history such as difficulties with commitment, motivation and self- esteem, often require psychotherapy or analysis. These types of therapy may also be indicated for difficulties with separation and growing up, establishing a coherent identity, character pathology and more significant psychological troubles.

Working collaterally with psychoanalysts: Indications and contraindications.

Ideally, if a prospective client is already in analysis, the psychoanalyst calls me to make a referral. This allows us to collaborate in assessing whether I might be of any help. In situations where the client needs to be taught a very specific skill (interviewing, networking for a particular kind of position, etc.), psychoanalysis and career coaching can have a synergistic effect. For those patients who are in a more regressive phase of their treatment or who are more troubled, working collaterally runs the risk of diluting the transference. Since so often work-life conflicts entail struggles with competition and aggression, a destructive splitting can occur in which patients reenact core conflicts outside of the analysis serving as a frustrating resistance to both analyst and career counselor and ultimately being a disservice to the patient.In these cases, I provide consultation directly to the analyst. For example, if an accountant who is in analysis is having trouble networking for referrals, I might talk with the analyst about the kinds of strategies the accountant might employ. Then, using defense analysis, the analyst might inquire of the patient, “what stops you from engaging in the strategies that accountants typically use to launch their practices?”

If the patient calls me directly, I ask her to talk with her psychoanalyst so that the psychoanalyst can assess whether an evaluation would be useful. If the patient decides to proceed, I ask for permission to talk to the psychoanalyst. I have found psychoanalytic, career consultation to be an interesting adjunct to my practice in that it can open doors to helpful treatments that patients may not have previously considered.

Dr. Lynn Friedman enjoys presenting to professional and lay audiences. Also, she enjoys providing psychoanalytic, career assessment. Those interested in either are welcome to call her: 301.656.9650.

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