Can a Therapist Help Guide You Toward Your Ideal Career?

March 6, 2017
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Even though college graduates work their way to various degrees, they aren’t necessarily adept at finding satisfying employment with them. Some newly employed graduates discover, to their horror, that they don’t even like the professions they pursued. Underclass students sometimes learn to regret their majors earlier in their college lives. The realizations are rarely the result of chance. Such students could have been poorly served by career guidance officers (a phenomenon that happens in earlier grades, too), misunderstood the guidance counselors, or ignored sound advice. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, US college campuses tend to offer career guidance rather late in the college career and in a fixed manner that doesn’t suit all students. That guidance is often based on the Myers-Briggs exam or others also geared to discerning a person’s characteristics as suitable for one profession or another. Then again, there are things that guidance counselors wish students knew before accessing their professional help. There’s even a school of thought that career guidance should begin at younger ages. Perhaps there is wisdom in seeking a one-on-one therapist for career guidance, since the existing options don’t work all that well.

According to conventional wisdom, students seeking career guidance on or off campus need to know their personality traits and interests. That knowledge alone allegedly helps them to best assess the careers good for them. The truth is, though, that sometimes the knowledge helps, other times it does not. Knowledge is one thing and skill another. Personality quirks also matter to career options, as do financial goals and the amount of time and energy you’re willing to invest in a workday. Here’s a life lesson that might benefit career seekers: This TEDTalk or other presentation about a young woman in perpetual motion who had been considered to be “troubled” when the truth was that she simply needed a dancing career, not a desk job

Career-choice making is not a one-size-fits-all decision process. This American Psychological Association blurb about Careers in Psychology exemplifies the problem: It’s next to a box offering career guidance to people of color, various ages and educational levels. None of the icons address personal needs or the metaphysical yearnings of some puzzled career path-seekers. Individuality is not accounted for. People of color and without it, at any educational level, have differing needs and abilities. That missing focus on individuality might be the reason that some people end up in undesirable careers. Unique strengths and/or looks at life are not valued or considered by career guidance givers. The problem is worse when a gender gap is part of a prejudiced mindset against females. Figuring out what else you should think about during a career search is a multi-faceted necessity.

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Perhaps a therapist can make up for all that’s missing in the career guidance picture. Statistical evidence of that reality is still being collected, so conclusions can’t be based on much certainty. And even if therapy can promote successful, satisfying career searches, we cannot necessarily know when or why it’s necessary. The good news is that any attentive, insightful and sympathetic individual can make a positive impact on someone’s career search.

The following story does not directly involve a therapist, but did involve an engineering professor’s advice to a student that he change his career aspirations:

“I taught fluid dynamics to a foreign student who never turned in any of the required homework, so it was no surprise that he failed the monthly quizzes and the midterm exam. When his final exam was also a failure, he came to request that I review his final grade. He said that he had a scholarship and if he could pass my course with a C- instead of a D- he would retain his grant for the rest of the year. Apparently, this one grade would lower his average below his C- cut-off point.”

“I was quite busy at the end of the semester, so I told him I would look at it when I had time the next day.  The next morning I reviewed his final exam, quizzes and (non-existent) homework, but it didn’t change anything. In my subsequent meeting with a colleague I expressed my bewilderment that this student thought he deserved a C- for obviously failing work. With astonishment, my colleague reported that he had the same student, and the student also claimed that only his course was affecting his average and he too was asked to raise a failing grade to C-. I checked with two other instructors to find they were put in the same situation.”

“When the student came to me to learn my decision, I recounted that I reviewed everything and hadn’t changed my mind or the grade. I briefly mentioned that his other teachers also understood that he was asking for grade changes. I suggested that he wasn’t made out to be an engineer, but he nearly convinced 4 people to change their grades. I thought he would make a great salesman, and asked permission to speak to his student advisor. I recounted the story and the advisor got him into some variety of business tracks. Last I heard he was doing just fine.”

The vignette exemplifies the student advisor as having been remiss in not realizing that the young man had no propensity for engineering. An astute instructor rescued the flailing scholar’s future professional life.

Here’s another look at the career-seeking situation. One graduate with a Master’s in Education realized that she hated teaching because it involved disciplining unruly students. She left her job and took a jewelry-making course to fill her unemployment time. She considered what to do with her life while learning to twist metal, wrap stones, polish gems and related tasks. By the time she realized that becoming a professional jeweler was her calling, she’d made lucrative sales of custom-made earrings and necklaces, rings and other ornaments. Her business then thrived from a home-based studio with an office and an Etsy account. It was not a career direction that she or her advisors had foreseen. That sort of phenomenon has happened to countless adults.

Though statistics can give us an idea of the efficacy of career counseling, the people who need it would be wise to research employment options themselves, too. The US Occupational Outlook Handbook is one tool that informs job seekers of the possibilities before them. So do the annual USNews&World Report Best Jobs/Careers report, the Wall Street Journal’s How-to Career Guides and similar fare. There are also informative options for career seekers uninterested in high-profile employment lives. The Internet is packed with career/job-finding options. Type the terms relevant to your job search in a browser and watch what happens after you click “Search.” Medically credentialed job seekers can access sites such as flexjobs, which is suited to their needs, and so on. Medical students might be wise to read this Physician Interview Qs&As article, by the way. It offers many clues about a doctor’s potential medical career.

Be sure to learn about social and support groups for your chosen career (e.g., 4H and similar groups) as they can lead to employment networking opportunities. Apprenticeships can also be invaluable for letting career seekers sample the work they’d focus on for a significant part of their lives, in order to decide if it’s desirable.

Utilizing the options cited above with or without therapy, and other professional career guidance, can empower job seekers into entering professions they enjoy.

Yocheved Golani is a popular writer whose byline has appeared worldwide in print and online. A certified Health Information Management professional, she is a member of Get Help Israel. Certified in Spiritual Chaplaincy (End of Life issues) and in counseling skills, her life coaching for ill people puts a healthy perspective into a clients’ success plan for achieving desired goals.