Work as Psychological Salvation

A long while ago, I provided business consulting for a psychology group based in Boston.  My job was to advise the group on how best they could build the practice.

Through analyzing their client base (all names made confidential), it seemed fairly clear that there were three types of people who came to see them:

(1) those with relationship challenges;

(2) those with serious clinical psychological symptoms; and

(3) those who did not feel successful.

Most everyone who did not feel successful had career problems. The clients would report boredom-lethargy or anxiety-stress related to work.  I remember one case quite vividly. The client reported feeling blasé throughout most of his work days.  He felt passionless, like he was just going through the motions, and leading a false life in his corporate façade. He was in stable marriage with happy, healthy children.  He was physically healthy and had never before had a history of prolonged sadness bordering on low-grade depression, as he did now.

The lead psychologist talked to him about his feelings, his childhood, and his sense of self-worth. I’m sure some of the discussions were helpful.  However, as I discussed the case with the psychologist, I asked, “Wouldn’t his problem be fixed if he was excited about his work?” This psychologist was secure enough to simply and definitely respond, “Yes.”

In other words, in this instance and in the case with others similarly situated, better work would be the best prescribed therapy.  Good work it turns out can be the best form of psychological salvation.

I feel compelled to clarify my views about psychologists.

My work is steeped in psychology.  I read a dozen or so books each year that are within the psychology genre.  I think most people spend far too little time developing psychological self-awareness.  So, big thumbs up for psychologists in general.

My alarm relates to some psychologists who masquerade as career counselors.  My evidence stems from discussions with many of my clients who had been to career counseling psychologists. They spent months talking through issues of minimal practical consequence and came to see me after they realized that they were not getting guidance on their career needs.

Think about the normal path of a psychologist who is now claiming to be a career counselor.  She studied psychology in college. She then went to graduate school in psychology. From there, she likely joined a psychological group of some sort and helped people with psychological issues.

This is a very narrow prism from which to view the work world.  No business experience, highly limited experience in different industries, and developed expertise in discussing abstract issues related to psychological problems (as opposed to concrete issues related to practical problems).

At some point, the psychologist decided to go into her own practice.  She noticed that many of her clients, like those in the aforementioned Boston based group, had career issues.   She then advertised that she helps people with career issues.

Unless this psychologist is of a different ilk than the common pattern, she will not help you with the practical challenges of figuring out how to find a new career or reposition yourself for a new job.  She simply is not trained for this type of work. She doesn’t have the broad based experience in the work world; has not studied the new world of work; doesn’t know how personnel decisions are made in large organizations; has made few hiring decisions herself; has not reviewed hundreds of resumes and cover letters; and has no real business giving career advice.

How do I know?  In building the career counseling practice for Career Counseling Connecticut, I interviewed numerous psychologists who claimed to be career counselors.  At best, the ones I interviewed had counseling experience in lowering the anxiety or depressive states of clients who were going through career challenges.  This is vital and useful.  But, even these strong psychologists were not up on the latest job trends, ways to market oneself, and other practical skills essential for career advice.  The bad psychologists not only were taking money away from their clients without producing results but some might have harmful.

I remember a particular psychologist who likely needed intensive counseling herself! “Alice” approached The Learning Consultants with hope that she could help build our career counseling practice.  She had been giving career counseling sessions for the last several years.  She claimed to be action-oriented. As our discussions progressed, it became clear that she knew little about the new world of work.  She had nothing to offer in terms of strategies for figuring out new career paths.  Instead, she would talk to her clients about their unhappy work lives.  She thought that counseling about someone’s career – as in learn how to deal with your horrible job – amounted to career counseling.  I explained to her that Career Counseling – while having counseling in the title – is designed to create action.  While helping someone deal with the psychological challenges of a job is valuable, the real work is helping someone move onto a better career.  Alice’s character revealed itself soon thereafter. Fortunately, she did not become a teammate of ours.

Are there exceptions?  Of course!  If you know of a great psychologist-career counselor, put her in touch with us as we are looking for additional talent to build our team.  But, otherwise, if your “problem” is work misery and nothing more profound, focus on finding on a new career and save the therapy for when you have psychological challenges.