The Value of Comprehensive Career Counseling

The utilization of a comprehensive approach to career development is essential to the exploration and validation of who you are and can be as a person.  The direction and form your career takes is important.  Half of an adult’s working life involves work activity.  Additionally, it is estimated that 50% of a person’s happiness and sense of fulfillment can be attributed to satisfaction gained through work experiences.

Unfortunately, recent surveys have found that fewer than half of Americans are satisfied with their employment.  This is particularly true for the younger and/or less educated portion of the workforce.

Why such dissatisfaction?  There are literally thousands of different occupations to choose from and some 140 million work positions in this country.  Furthermore, career training opportunities abound in the U.S.  Educationally there are over 7,000 colleges and universities in America as well as more than a million high school, federal, state and county wide vocational training programs.

So again, the question begs, with so much at stake regarding one’s career satisfaction and given the multitude of job opportunities and training resources, why are so many dissatisfied with their career choices?

The answer lies in part with the paucity of comprehensive career counseling services available to younger and middle aged adults.  The career counseling offered to high school students is typically superficial and oriented toward college bound placement.  Vocational counseling in post-secondary programs vary in quality but rarely include the individualized attention necessary for longer term planning and decision making.  Sadly, for most, career decisions become more of a “crap shoot” than a series of informed, considered judgments.

What makes for effective career counseling?  Fundamentally there need to be an effective going between comprehensive career assessment and self-insight.  The assessment aspect should focus on the identification of an individual and their most significant life influences, work values, present and potential skills, work personality and life situation.  A skilled clinician can interpret test results a manner that is clear, precise and readily understandable.  More specifically the clinician needs to avoid using the “test and tell” system rather they need to provide meaning and insight for asset findings.

The ultimate goal is to help the individual develop and validate a personalized “vocational self-image” which they may use as an on-going compass in navigating their future career planning.  Emphasis also needs to be placed on increasing understanding of the world of work as associated with careers of interest.   Career clusters will be identified as well as specific occupations in which they might flourish.  Individuals can then be guided into researching their best career options via computerized programs, reading materials, vocational interviews, shadowing, trial classroom experiences and work experiences.  A written report summarizing findings and detailed short and long term action plans will serve as a compass.  It is important that the career counselor remain available to help with emotional and practical aspects during the sojourn.

As you may sense, comprehensive career counseling is both an art as well as a science.  With so much riding on your career why settle for less?

Four Questions to Healing

img_inner_childWhen I was in grad school I took a particular interest in cross-cultural healing.  What I found was that many ancient and tribal cultures approached psychological issues with great concern for the creative, younger part of the individual.  If someone was unhappy, anxious, depressed or just feeling stuck in life, they would visit the village elders.  By way of assessment, the elders would first ask the following 4 questions:

1. When did you stop singing?

2. When did you stop dancing?

3. When did you lose interest in stories, particularly your own?

4. When did you become uncomfortable with silence?

I love these questions because they speak to something which brings many people into therapy – healing the inner child.  When you think about it, children are clearly passionate about each of these four topics – singing, dancing, stories (especially their own), and while they may make a lot of noise themselves, they are certainly not intensely uncomfortable with silence the way adults are.  We were all passionate about these things at one time.  And although we are now adults with busy schedules, we each still have an inner child who is in great need of care.

Between early childhood and adulthood something happens internally which causes us to lose touch with our inner child.  As we grow up we make all sorts of assumptions about ourselves and the world around us, which in turn, teaches us to close ourselves off from our feelings, from taking risks, and consequently, from experiencing true joy.  Think about those four questions again.  Each of those topics asks us to embrace an attitude of openness toward experiencing a full life, releasing ourselves from the rules and “should” statements we have created for ourselves.  Our inner child is longing to be set free, to help us relieve stress and adopt a more flexible way of viewing life.

Often times, however, facing those four questions involve facing our inner critic.  How many of you read the first question above and thought “Oh no, I can’t sing!”  That was your inner critic speaking.  If you look again, the question is not “When did you stop singing well?”   It does not matter one bit what you sound like.  The simple act of singing is what brings healing and growth to the soul.  Children understand this.  They have the freedom to sing simply because they love to.  The question of whether they can sing well or not doesn’t even cross their minds.

Many of us may have lost touch with that open, risking-taking, creative part of ourselves, but the good news is we can heal our inner child.  We may have learned faulty lessons when we were young that caused our inner child to become wounded, but we do not have to wait until we feel healed in order to embrace that child-like freedom.  In fact, it is exactly the opposite.  By choosing to sing, dance, tell our story, and sit in silence, before we ever feel totally comfortable doing so, we will find that healing of which we are in need.  New, healthier beliefs will replace the old, and our liberated inner child will transform each of us into a new person.

So for today, even if you don’t feel like it, what will you sing?  Where will you dance?  What story will you tell?  And when will you set aside some time for silence?

Guilt and Shame: How are they different?

Every one of us – at least those of us who are not psychopaths – has experienced guilt and shame at some point in our lives.  Many people experience them on a daily basis.  Sometimes we think of guilt and shame as being one and the same, but they’re really not.  They serve two very different purposes.  Guilt can actually be useful and constructive, guiding our behavior and ensuring that society does not devolve into chaos; but shame can be quite destructive, and can manifest as countless forms of psychological distress.

Guilt and shame may feel physiologically similar, but the cognitions we associate with them are qualitatively different.  When we feel guilty, we are thinking, “I did a bad thing.”  When we feel shame, we are thinking, “I am a bad thing.”  Guilt says, “I know I did something I shouldn’t have done, something that was hurtful to others or to myself.”  Shame says, “There is something about me that is so fundamentally terrible and unacceptable that I need to keep myself hidden, or to compensate for it in a major way.”

If you do a bad thing – if you make a mistake – you can apologize and take steps to ensure that you don’t do it again; you can learn from the experience and do it differently next time.  If you are a bad thing – if you are a mistake – well, what’s to be done?  You’ll just have to make sure no one finds out how awful you truly are, you’ll have to work very hard to distract them from your essential horribleness, and you’ll have to act in self-destructive ways since you don’t really deserve to love and be loved.

Let’s say you ask your boss for a raise, and you’re denied.  You go home and act snippy with your spouse, or your kids, or your dog – you take out your frustration on someone who has nothing to do with what made you upset.  Later, you feel guilty about it.  You can say you’re sorry, and you can acknowledge the fact that you displaced your anger onto someone who didn’t deserve it.  You can resolve to increase your self-awareness to minimize the chances of doing it again in the future.

Or let’s say you’ve resolved to stop drinking, and so far you’ve been successful.  Then you have dinner with an old drinking companion who’s in town on business, and you end up having four cocktails.  You feel guilty.  You can spend some extra time on the treadmill at the gym the next day, and you can insist that your friend meet you at an alcohol-free restaurant the next time s/he comes to town, and you can seek professional help for your addiction.

But if you act snippy with your spouse or fall off the wagon and you tell yourself that you’re a worthless loser who always ruins everything, you’ll just spiral into depression, or start having panic attacks, or develop insomnia, or become a workaholic to prove to everyone that you’re not a worthless loser who always ruins everything.  And if you’re gay, or not Caucasian, or short, or tall, or obese, or transgender, or hairless, or Albino, or disabled, or anything other than some non-existent Norman Rockwell stereotype of what a human being is supposed to be, and you tell yourself that you don’t deserve love and respect, you will sabotage yourself in any number of ways.

Guilt can move us forward by motivating us to do better.  Shame is dead weight, and it only holds us back.


One of the biggest myths perpetuated by classic children’s stories – and by Hollywood – is that, once they are married, couples live “happily ever after.”  The reality, as we’ve all heard by now, is that nearly half of marriages in the United States end in divorce.  Many obstacles factor into that dispiriting statistic, but one of the greatest challenges to a lasting relationship is an expectation that many people bring – consciously or otherwise – into a marriage:  “Now that I’ve found my soulmate, we will ride off into the sunset together and always be happy.  My spouse and I will value and desire the same things.  We will have sex as often (or not) as I want to.”  In short, “we two will become one.”

In a way, fairy tales like Cinderella and Hollywood romances like Pretty Woman do us all a great disservice, because nothing could be further from the truth.  Marriage is not a magical, alchemical transformation of two people into one being that automatically meets its own needs.  In fact, one of the biggest challenges in any marriage is figuring out how to stay true to yourself while remaining in relationship with someone else – another, different person who often does not think or behave the way you do, feel the same emotions you feel, or want the same things you want.

The ability to compromise is essential in any enduring relationship, but compromise can come from two very different places.  There is a world of difference between, on one hand, “I’ll go with my spouse to the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie – even though I’d really rather chew off my own leg – because I’m afraid that, if I don’t, s/he will leave me and I’ll fall apart” and, on the other hand, “I’ll go with my spouse to the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie because s/he really wants to share the experience with me, because it won’t exactly be like drinking battery acid, and because I would actually like to develop a taste for action movies – I’m getting a little bored with the biopics I usually watch.”  In the first scenario, the reluctant spouse fears that asserting her/his strong aversion to Schwarzenegger movies will lead to rejection and abandonment.  In the second scenario, the biopic aficionado chooses to step outside of her/his comfort zone in the interest of growing herself/himself.

Knowing who you are (what you think, what you feel, what you like, what you don’t like, how far you’re willing to go) and being able to communicate that information to your partner are crucial elements of a healthy relationship.  A strong marriage is about two, separate selves choosing to be with one another because they want to, helping each other to be the best they can be, willingly expanding their concepts of themselves.  It’s not about giving up values or behaviors that are deeply meaningful to you because you need to be with someone in order to function.

Finding the balance between individuation and interdependence is always a work in progress.  It’s one of our main tasks while we are here on this earth.  Rely only on yourself, and cater only to your own needs, and you’ll feel pretty isolated.  But always give yourself up, twist and contort yourself to be whatever you think someone wants you to be, and you’ll eventually feel resentful, angry, and as alone as if you lived on a desert island.  The key to a lasting relationship is in knowing yourself and knowing when to bend.