“Career counseling vs psychotherapy”, was previously published in Washingtonjobs.com, a subsidiary of the Washington Post.
People who find themselves thwarted in their work life often ask me, which will be more helpful to me, career counseling vs psychotherapy? Or, psychoanalysis? How do I know what sort of help do I need? My bias is to encourage anyone in this predicament to seek a psychoanalytically-informed, career assessment. This evaluation to explores the meaning of the career conflict.
That is, it asks: 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 allows him to avoid closeness.
Thus, in this situation the goal of the career assessment is, in part, to understand how the career conflict protects the individual.
A psychodynamically-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. The psychologist tries to understand the individual’s early experience in the world of school, work and home. What were parental attitudes about school and work? What views did they convey about the world of money?
Who are the key people in the individual’s life? How does the individual’s career decisions effect 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 these key people supportive or undermining in the person’s attempts to achieve work-life satisfaction?
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 (aka psychodynamic 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.
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 out a psychotherapist who is knowledgeable about and qualified to conduct career counseling, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. In this way, the clinician can carefully consider the potential usefulness of each of these interventions.
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.)
For some, career counseling is not helpful. For example, when the person remains stymied despite having undertaken the following step, such as having:
The fact that these self-help efforts have proved ineffective is a warning sign. It suggests that the person can benefit from a more comprehensive approach. For these people, career counseling can be enormously frustrating. Working in a group can be even more painful. In a group, these individuals witnesses others progress, but, finds themselves unable to change. Career counseling is not helpful because the true conflicts are outside of the person’s conscious awareness. A deeper approach aimed at bringing the conflicts into awareness, where they can be resolved, is more likely to be successful.
Ideally, a psychoanalytic career assessment can assess what whether psychodynamic therapy or psychoanalysis can afford them the opportunity to achieve work-life satisfaction. Often, in tandem with career counseling can allow the person to achieve their career 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.)