The Growing Importance of Career Counseling

My old vision of career counseling. Lapels ahoy!

My old vision of career counseling. Lapels ahoy!

Allow me describe two fairly recent events that underscore something I’ve been pondering for a while.

First, I believe was part of the last group of UNK counseling students to receive a degree in Community Counseling. From this point forward, the degree will be in Mental Health Counseling. There are a few key differences, including a 60-hour requirement over 48 hours, but I think the name highlights a shift in thinking in our field.

Second, I heard another counseling student behind me at an ACA conference session expounding loudly about how she hates both kids (ok…I’m not great with little kids either, although I certainly don’t hate them) and career counseling class. In fact, she called it (and Lifespan, as well) total BS.

I’m proud of my community counseling degree, having entered the counseling field because of its broad scope and ability to help people facing a wide range of issues that affect mental health. Our field is rooted in career counseling, and I’m not totally confident in a shift away from it.

I also hated career counseling at first. It can seem so…musty. Frumpy. Un-fun. However, I’ve grown as a counselor since I first posted about it, and my views have shifted a bit. Now, I see a real need for competent, relevant career counseling, at a time when both our world of work is rapidly changing and counseling seems to be moving away from addressing career.

Over the past year since I originally posted “The Problem with Career Counseling,” I have witnessed many career struggles, both inside the counseling office and in my own life. I have seen my internship clients struggle to find appropriate jobs, especially because many of my clients lack either the personal or professional resources (such as adequate computer skills or even computer equipment) needed to secure an appropriate job. The job game has changed so much in the past decade or so that finding a job now can seem daunting to just about everyone, much less someone coming out of prison or the hospital after five years. I have seen friends, unaware of their own strengths and skill sets, stick to a single career path even when it’s clearly not working. I’ve struggled myself. Even though we’re told to “keep it professional,” (meaning detached and impersonal, I suppose), career struggles are tough. They hurt. Deep down, career struggles often are personal–we lack some personality trait or skill, or face interpersonal strife at work. Something about us isn’t right for the job at hand.

Work often mirrors bigger life issues. If we struggle with work relationships, then we may struggle with friendships or family as well. If we never follow through at work, then we probably don’t do it outside of work, either. If we can’t be flexible in seeking a variety of job options, then we may not have a great deal of personal flexibility. Work and life are integral to each other, and ignoring career when counseling someone just seems like a big mistake.

Addressing career issues in counseling can also prove empowering. Some of my most cherished memories from internship involve helping my clients get back on track with their careers, from helping them complete a resume (often their first) to finding out they’ve accepted their first job in years.  Working together, counselors and clients can explore a host of bigger growth areas through the lens of career–making meaning, identifying strengths, learning resiliency and flexibility, applying communication skills, and practicing social skills. Just like problems at work can mirror problems at home, growth at work can translate into growth at home.

In addition, the counseling field’s original focus on career can continue to separate us from other helping professionals. We are uniquely qualified to help clients sort out career issues and their implications on life. Now that I live in a state where “counselor” in job descriptions often actually means “social worker” (SO ANNOYING), I see my training in career counseling as something unique I can offer to future employers to better serve clients.

I’m starting to see that career counseling shouldn’t be relegated to high schools and colleges, but instead integrated into all aspects of counseling. I’ve become more interested in the field–joining the NCDA when renewing my ACA membership this year, and attending several career-focused sessions at the ACA conference–and am contemplating where this interest may lead. I wrote last year about focusing on relationship, and still stand by this. Now, I’m also wondering if we have a responsibility to include aspects of career counseling in just about all other counseling.

In the end, I’m not saying effective career counseling will cure all of the world’s ills, but it can help create a more empowered, flexible, and knowledgeable workforce in a time of rapid change. By extension, good career counseling can also help a more empowered, flexible, and knowledgeable general population. It can differentiate counselors from other helping professionals. And none of this is total BS.


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