For overcoming workplace obstacles, which is more helpful, career coaching or psychotherapy?
People who find themselves thwarted in their work life often ask me, how do I know what sort of help I need? Should I seek career counseling or psychotherapy or psychoanalysis? My bias is to encourage anyone in this predicament to seek a psychoanalytically-informed, career assessment. This type of evaluation is devoted to understanding the meaning of the career conflict.
That is, what function, or purpose, does the career conflict serve? At first blush, to most people, this may seem like an odd question. However, when any of us have a conflict, we derive some benefits (often, unconscious) from it.
For example, consider what is, here in Washington, DC, a ubiquitous difficulty: work-a-holism. The man whose work-a-holism causes him to lose his marriage may be very sad about that loss. However, simultaneously, (often, unconsciously); he may be relieved. He may be quite frightened of intimacy. Thus, his work-a-holism may allow him to avoid closeness.
The task of the psychoanalytically-informed career assessment is to begin to understand the career conflict in a broader context. That is, the goal of the career assessment, is, in part, to understand how the career conflict protects the individual.
What is a psychoanalytically-informed, career assessment?
A psychoanalytically-informed assessment asks, what are the origins of this conflict? It attempts to understand the individual in the broader context of their historical and current life situation. With regard to history it asks, what was this individual’s early experience like in the world of school, work and home? What sorts of attitudes, views and feelings did their parents convey about the world of school and the world of work? What views did they convey about the world of money?
With regard to the current situation, who are the key people in the individual’s life? What impact will the individual’s career decisions have on these relationships? What did/do the individual’s parents and siblings do, occupationally? Does the individual view them as successful? Does the individual view themselves as successful? How might the individual’s career “success” or “failure” effect these significant people? Are they a source of support or conflict about the individual’s attempt to resolve these difficulties.
A psychoanalytically-informed career assessment explores whether the individual’s career difficulty is recapitulated in other areas of the individual’s life and if so, how? For example, does the person who has difficulties committing to a career also have difficulties committing to relationships?
The answers to these questions will inform a recommendation as to whether career coaching (or career counseling), psychoanalytic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis is warranted.
The best way to know which sort of help is appropriate in a given situation is to seek evaluation with a professional who is knowledgeable about, and trained in, career counseling, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.
What credentials should the work life consultant have?
There are a wide range of professionals, with a diversity of backgrounds, who provide career counseling. Many of these professionals can be quite helpful. However, in pursuing a psychoanalytically-informed, career assessment, it is important to seek a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about and qualified to conduct career counseling, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. In this way, the professional can carefully consider the potential usefulness of each of these interventions.
What is Career Coaching? When is it the most appropriate intervention for Career Difficulties?
Most people, who seek out work-life consultation, are hoping for a short-term, focused, intervention that will allow them to quickly address their concern and get on with the task at hand: that is, identifying and pursuing a career goal. And, for many people, this type of intervention can be incredibly helpful.
Career coaching, conducted individually or in a group, entails supportive relationships in which the individual is helped to establish and pursue concrete, measurable, behavioral goals. The coach and/or the group members function as a supporting cast encouraging the individual and helping them to devise and implement effective strategies for pursuing their goals. Each week the individual makes a commitment to take small steps toward the identification or pursuit of the career goal.
While this approach can be valuable for many people, particularly those who have not had much exposure or modeling as to how to go about pursuing work-life goals, it is not useful for everyone. Similarly, it can be useful for people with focused, specific short-term goals. Beyond this, it can be helpful to those individuals who are able to consistently follow through on career counseling assignments. When a client consistently cancels appointments, arrives late, fails to complete agreed upon assignments and/or otherwise torpedoes the career counselor’s best efforts, this is a sign that career counseling may not be the appropriate modality. (Career counselors: to learn more about the signs and signals that psychotherapy or psychoanalysis may be a more useful kind of help, read this National Career Development Association article: Understanding the Role of Transference in Career Counseling.)
When is Career Counseling not helpful?
Take, for example, the individual who has read numerous career books, attempted career exercises, taken a battery of a career tests but remains stymied. The fact that none of the self-help efforts have proved effective is a warning sign that career coaching is not likely to be comprehensive enough to help that type of individual. In fact, it can be enormously frustrating, particularly in a group, where the individual witnesses others progress, but finds themselves unable to change. For this type of individual, career counseling is not helpful because the true conflicts are outside of their awareness. A deeper approach aimed at bringing the conflict into awareness, where it can be resolved, is more likely to prove effective.
Ideally, people in this situation, should seek a psychoanalytically-informed, assessment to evaluate whether psychoanalytic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis might be effective in helping them to fulfill their personal and professional goals. (For career counselors and coaches, interested in learning more about when career counseling is not the optimal treatment, read this National Career Development association monograph. Understanding the Role of Unconscious Conflict in Career Counseling.)
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