Find a career counselor in Washington DC

Find a career counselor in Washington DC

This article, “Find a career counselor in Washington DC,” was previously published in a subsidiary magazine of the Washington Post. It explores how to find a career counselor or career coach.

You feel your work-life is “off-track”

Your work-life is “off-track”. You had a job you loved — but, over time it began to feel routine and mundane. Or, perhaps you loved your job but it began to consume your entire life. And you began to feel that there must be more to life than work, work, work! Or, maybe, you found yourself trapped in “golden handcuffs,” working in a less-than-interesting career for a more-than-interesting salary. Or, maybe, you never felt that you had the ideal career. Maybe you were of the work-to-pay-the-bills, “remember, that’s why they call it work”, mentality. Over time, however, you came to realize that you wanted more out of your job. You didn’t want a career, you wanted a “calling”.

You’ve been unhappy at work for some time

You’ve been unhappy at work for some time. After talking with the significant people in your life; you’ve consulted colleagues and mentors. Still you aren’t sure how to go about charting your career path. You’ve decided to work with someone who is knowledgeable and experienced; someone who can help you formulate and pursue a work-life plan.

You are considering  career counseling. However, you are wondering, how to wade through the array of options to figure out what kind of counseling might be most helpful. Washington DC might be arguably one of the most credential-oriented towns in the country. However, finding a career counselor in Washington DC can be daunting unless you know what questions to ask yourself. So, how do you go about assessing whether a career counselor’s qualifications and background are a good fit for your needs? In choosing a career counselor, consider these four questions:

(1) Before you select your career counselor, how can you assess your own needs and expectations?

(2) How can review your prospective career counselor’s qualifications?

(3) How can you evaluate whether you should work individually or in a career counseling group?

(4) How can you decide what to pay your career counselor?

Each will be addressed in turn.

(1) How do you assess your career counseling goals?

An important prerequisite to selecting a career counselor is to clarify your career goals. Yet, if you knew the exact nature of the help that you needed, you might not need a career coach. It is the old “chicken and the egg” problem.

Before getting started, take this challenging step. Write a paragraph about the kind of help that you think that you need. That is what obstacles do you face? Do you need help:

  • determining your career goals?
  • developing a strategy for pursuing your career goals?
  • overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving your career goals?
  • overcoming a fear of rejection?
  • overcoming being a “bad beginner” (i.e. not wanting to do anything in which you don’t already have skills)?
  • addressing anxiety?
  • overcoming apathy or depression?

List the roadblocks that you are facing. Ask yourself:

  • What prevents me from achieving your goals?
  • Is it not knowing my goal?
  • Is it not knowing people who have successful at achieving similar goals?
  • Am I looking for help with specific aspects of work life such as salary negotiation or being more assertive with my boss?
  • Am I looking for help overcoming inertia, a lack of confidence or low self-esteem?
  • Do I lack the requisite motivation to launch a career search (if so, why)?

After writing this paragraph, write a second paragraph. Describe your special talents and strengths.

  1. First, if you are uncertain as to your special skills try this exercise. Ask five friends to identify your five best talents. DO NOT ask about your weaknesses!
  2. Then, write a paragraph describing how you will know if the career coaching has been successful.
    • What, specifically, will be different? Don’t just say something like, “I will have a lucrative job that I love”.
    • Detail the steps that you will need to take in order to identify and to achieve your career goal.
      • Specifically, what career counseling process do you believe will help you to achieve this goal?
        • This step is crucial for two reasons. First, many people seeking career counseling or coaching, understandably, expect or wish for magical or instantaneous solutions to problems that have plagued them for years.
        • Therefore, they may seek career coaching with the thought that after attending 3-4 sessions, their long-standing difficulties will be resolved.  If this is the case, inevitably, you will be disappointed.

When is a short-term focus appropriate and realistic?

While a short-term focus may be very appropriate and realistic for a new or a relatively situational difficulty, long-standing struggles may yield only to a more persistent effort. Thus, this kind of personal inventory will help you to clarify your expectations and strengths. Morevover, it will help you to assess whether your time-table and goals for career counseling are realistic.

The second benefit of this step is that your self-inventory will help you clarify the nature of the career counseling that you require. For example, the array of professionals who offer career counseling includes people with who have: MBA’s, masters in information technology, psychologists, counselors, social workers, psychoanalysts, an army of “coaches” with coaching certificates as people whose expertise comes by dint of experience, such as published authors, and those from numerous other backgrounds. Each offers something unique.

Choose your career counselor in Washington DC

How do you decide what sort of help you need?

Sometimes the path to identifying a career counselor is a straight-forward one. For example, you know that you want to:

  • pursue training to become an internet administrator. You’d like help networking in that arena. So, you seek a career counselor with special expertise in that area.
  • write. Thus, you might seek out a career counselor who is a well-published, author.
  • consider medical school. Therefore, you find a career coach with expertise in guiding people toward that goal.

Similarly, if despite economic success, you have never enjoyed your work, you might consider working with someone who might help you begin to become more aware of your likes and dislikes, such as a psychologist, a psychoanalyst or a mental health professional who specializes in career or work-life concerns. It should be noted that people who are unaware of their likes and dislikes often need psychotherapy or psychoanalysis not because they are particularly troubled but because something has gotten in the way of their knowing what they enjoy.

What if you find it impossible to write these paragraphs?

Difficulty writing these paragraphs is a “diagnostic” sign that your career difficulties MAY have a psychological component. If this is the case, consider a psychoanalytically-informed, career assessment. This type of assessment is described in detail in the August 2000 issue of, and in the Washington Business Journal. Also, it’s more comprehensively described for career coaches and counselors in Career Convergence the magazine of the National Association of Career Development. However, many laypeople have reported that they’ve found these articles helpful.

It can be helpful in clarify what gets in the way of you identifying the sort of career counseling that you need.

(2) How do you review your prospective career counselor’s qualifications?

After you define your career goals and needs, how do you go about selecting a career coach or career counselor?

This is especially challenging when one considers that the titles “career counselor” or “career coach” are not regulated by state law in most jurisdictions. This means that anyone can legally hang out a shingle and call themselves a career coach or career counselor. Yes. Anyone.

So, how do you assess whether your prospective counselor has the requisite skills to be helpful to you. For what sort of expertise are you looking? Information technology? Publishing? .coms? Nutrition? Health Care? Law? Business? Or, do you feel that your career concerns are more related to difficulties with self-esteem, conflicts about success, self-doubt, motivation or other internal struggles that you may not fully understand?

The important consideration, here, is that you need to seek out a career counselor who is knowledgeable about the challenges that you face. Beyond this, you need to seek information about your prospective career counselor’s credentials. Anyone should be willing to describe and document their background.

One possibility: Consider seeking out someone who is both a career counselor and a mental health professional

Unless you need highly specialized, career-specific, expertise, you consider seeking out someone who is both a Career Counselor  AND a licensed, psychologist, social worker, counselor or some type of helping professional; these individuals may specialize in career counseling or career coaching AND have expertise in psychotherapy and mental health.

An advantage to working with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in career coaching is that they have broad-based training in understanding human behavior. Often, they are trained to understand and to address roadblocks to change.

Moreover, they are trained in, and expected to adhere to, the ethical and professionals standards of their discipline. They are well trained listeners. Finally, if they feel that they lack the requisite skills to help you, they can do an assessment and refer you to someone whose skills match your needs.

Another possibility: Consider seeking out a career coach with special expertise in your niche.

For example, if you want to establish a small business, you might seek someone out who has successfully navigated that journey. That is, you might seek out someone with an MBA or a business background. Again, this depends on how you define your needs. Another possibility is to seek someone with field-specific expertise (i.e. if your goal is to publish, someone in publishing.)

What about people with a “career coaching” certification?

There are a plethora of “career coaching” programs. Usually, these are not university based. Rather, they are established, and sometimes trademarked or patented, by groups of individuals who have established their own approaches to career coaching.

These certifications are still in their infancy and consequently, less is known about them than about career counseling programs. The important thing to remember about unlicensed professionals is that they may not be prepared to deal with psychological and emotional concerns. And, while some will be very skilled with niche-specific expertise, others will have few or no credentials at all.

(3) How do you consider whether you should work individually or in a career counseling group?

When you contact your potential career counselor, you consider whether working individually or in a career counseling group will be most helpful to you. Individual consultation, which is often a good place to start, can afford you the opportunity to focus very specifically on your unique issues. However, real benefit can be derived from working in a group and sharing the wisdom of the group. Often group members provide helpful suggestions, ideas and support to each other. Beyond these benefits, groups are often cost-effective.

However, groups can be demoralizing for the individual who finds that their challenges make it difficult for them to keep up. Similarly, groups are not helpful when their is a mismatch between the goals of the participants.

Often these types of groups are difficult to find. However, if you are considering a group, ask your career coach if they lead groups or they can recommend someone who does.

(4) The cost of career counseling

People working in the career counseling arena, with individuals, vary greatly with respect to the fees that they charge. Some charge a per session rate for a 45 minute session while others charge a per program rate (which can cost several thousand dollars).

Beyond this, one should be a bit wary of anyone who asks you to make a financial commitment to a long-term program. Some career counselors exhort prospective clients that they must make this financial commitment if they wish to succeed. To my knowledge, there are no empirical investigations that corroborate this contention.

Ideally, the career coach will charge you only for those sessions that you schedule. I do not recommend seeing any career counselor or career coach who requires that you sign on for an entire program. An exception to this rule seems to me to be participating in a time-limited group. Career counselors who lead groups need to ensure that the group is viable. Therefore, they often require “tuition” at the outset. This seems legitimate to me.

Other than that, my bias is to urge people to pay a per session rate. In this way, you can re-evaluate the benefits as you progress. I know that Richard Bolles, the author of, “What Color is your Parachute“, shares this view. Consequently, it seems to me that paying per session, or for a few sessions, as you go is the most prudent course. I’d at least recommend that you take the career counseling situation for a “test drive” before you make a long-term commitment.

In sum, finding a career counselor in Washington DC can be enormously useful. Taking a few preparatory steps can improve your results exponentially.

If are considering career counseling, psychodynamically-informed, career assessment, psychodynamic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, with me, you are welcome to call: 240.483.3530. Note that it is easiest to reach me between the hours of 6:00 pm – 8:00 as during work hours, I’m generally seeing people. I welcome your call.

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Dr. Lynn Friedman

Dr. Lynn Friedman, Ph.D., FABP, is a Clinical Psychologist, a Supervising and Training Analyst, and a Clinical Supervisor in full-time, private practice. She provides evaluation, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as supervision to psychoanalysts-in-training and other mental health professionals. Beyond this, she is a board certified, psychoanalyst who teaches at Johns Hopkins University and the Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis.

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I provide psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, clinical consultation, supervision & executive coaching. If you are seeking consultation from a psychologist, psychoanalyst, in DC, feel free to call me: 240.483.3530.