What is Psychodynamic Career Assessment?
Career Coaching or Executive Counseling are effective for many people. However, they do not work for everyone. Some are uncertain as to what sort of career would be satisfying to them. Others know what they would like to do. Yet, they become stymied when it comes to developing a plan for doing it. Many, know what they want to do. And they have designed a plan for achieving their goals. Despite this clarity, when it comes to implementing their plan, they seem unable to put one foot ahead of the other. When traditional career or executive coaching fails, Psychodynamic Career Assessment might prove helpful.
What are the signs that a Psychodynamic Career Assessment is Warranted?
The individual has taken many steps to identify their work life goals but have been unsuccessful. For example, they:
- have consulted more traditional career counselors. However, they have been unsuccessful.
- don’t want career counseling. But, someone else has told them to do it (e.g. parents, spouse, etc.). And often that someone is paying for it!
- are chronically late to their appointments.
- forget to attend.
- show up for their appointments but can not focus.
- agree upon homework but don’t do it.
- have a library on careers. Yet, they don’t take any of the suggestions.
- completed numerous career exercises. But, are unable to follow up with next steps.
- have undergone comprehensive career assessment and testing. However, they feel helpless.
- show up with a compendium of career tests that they’ve taken but they report feeling stuck.
- are consciously, or unconsciously, enraged at their parents who chose their major, or their career, for them.
- can not envision career happiness.
- are terrified of growing up.
- experience terrible difficulties with separation. This may be out of their conscious awareness.
- have the idea, albeit possibly unconscious, that someone else should support them.
- suffer from the imposter syndrome.
- are too depressed or anxious to work.
- have writer’s block but want or need to write.
- are terrified of success although they may not know it.
These are all signs that traditional career or executive coaching will not work. UNTIL these difficulties are understood and addressed traditional career coaching may not be effective. Individuals experiencing these roadblocks often acknowledge, if only to themselves, feelings of immobilization, frustration, sadness and helplessness.
What does a psychodynamic career assessment entail?
A psychodynamic career assessment is a psychological assessment. It takes a psychoanalytic approach to understanding the career difficulty. It asks, “what are the origins of this difficulty?” Does it reflect some sort of internal conflict? Is it indicative of a skills deficit? Or, both. What is happening inside this person that leads to their feeling immobilized in this area?
As with any psychological assessment, I attempt to understand the individual in the context of their early beginnings, their current situation and their hopes for the future. Career dissatisfaction may signal that something is operating outside of the individual’s conscious awareness. For instance, career difficulties are, often, a sign of internal struggles. In addition, a career conflict may reflect that the person is in intrapsychic pain. Therefore, I try to learn more about the psychological, personal, family and biological factors that have led to these difficulties. Consequently, I take a comprehensive approach.
Questions that a Psychodynamic Career Assessment Clarifies:
I attempt to obtain:
- a detailed work history.
- the particulars of early experiences and role models in the world of work.
- a history of educational experiences starting with, today, and going back to the individual’s earliest beginnings (because school is the “career” of children).
- information about family attitudes towards education and careers.
- an understanding of parental expectations.
- For instance, as they struggle to identify and pursue career goals, who are they attempting to please? Occupationally, what do their parents and their siblings do?
- Within their friend group and their community, what are the career expectations?
- If they have a life partner, what is that partner doing, career-wise? How has their partner reacted to the individual’s career challenges?
- an understanding of the perils of career success. For example, I want to know, what is the downside of finding career happiness?
- What obligations and stresses will that bring?
- How will success shift the dynamics in their family of origin?
- If they have a partner, how will success alter their relationship?
- How will it change how they are seen by the key people in their lives?
- In what ways will it affect their view of themselves?
- What seems frightening about success?
When I ask about the perils of career success…
People often find the above questions bizarre. Most are quite able to identify the benefits of success but less able to see its downside. This is because, often, their fears are outside of their conscious awareness.
Beyond this, a psychodynamic assessment explores whether the career difficulties are recapitulated in other areas of the individual’s life. For example, does the person who has difficulties with self-assertion in their career also have difficulties with self-assertion in relationships?
Answers to these questions lead me to a tentative formulation as to what’s going on beneath the surface. I attempt to articulate how beliefs, outside of the individual’s awareness, are interfering with the individual’s motivation to achieve work-life satisfaction.
This assessment leads to a recommendation as to what sort of intervention might be helpful. Sometimes, this extended psychological assessment functions as a mini-career counseling experience or a short-term psychotherapy. The roadblocks are clarified, understood and overcome. More often, however, a recommendation is made for further career counseling, psychodynamic psychotherapy, psychoanalysis or a hybrid.
To learn more about psychodynamic career assessment (aka psychoanalytically-informed, career assessment), read, The Role of Unconscious Conflict in Career Counseling, The Role of Transference in Career Counseling and Analyze this: My job, my life and why I’m not thrilled.