09/01/2004

Helping Clients Ease the Stress of a Career Identity Crisis

by Betty Boza

As counselors we may recognize the fact that when people explore career alternatives, they may experience a career identity crisis. This condition often occurs as the client starts to emotionally divorce her-/himself from the old career and begins steps toward (but is not fully integrated into) a new vocation. Although clients may feel as if they are in limbo, a counselor can address and offer solutions to ease the stress of this transition.

While undergoing any significant career changes clients will make a variety of adjustments and many times feel like they are starting a career for the first time. Depending on the vested interest in the old career, these changes can be extensive. Even though they may be disenchanted with their type of work, employer, and/or co-workers, and may now be anxious to move forward, they often still have a strong identity with their existing career.

The most common and obvious adjustments may be a reduction in salary and benefits. However, there are other viable components that encompass career identity. These can include the work environment and culture, social status, job title, familiarity with work tasks and expectations, close relationships with co-workers and autonomy.

As a counselor, it is essential to address the client's experiences and any challenges associated with her/his career identity. As a client enters into a new profession s/he will be viewed as a novice. The following proactive steps can be beneficial in reminding us how we can help boost a client's self-confidence and bridge the challenges between careers:

Join professional memberships
A majority of careers have one or more associations dedicated to the professional development of its group. Persuade your client to investigate and join at least one organization. The associations provide up-to-date information regarding current topics and trends through their monthly or quarterly publications. As an added bonus, they can include their professional memberships on the resume.

Attend association meetings and conferences
Attending association events is an excellent source of information on specific topics and are usually conducted by recognized leaders in the industry. In addition, it is a tremendous opportunity for someone to meet and talk with others in the profession, establish contacts and develop a professional network.

Continue formal education
Encourage your client to continue their formal education. For potential employers, it is an indication of the job candidate's commitment to a new career. For certain professions additional education may be a necessity for required credentials. In addition to learning theories and practices, it allows clients an opportunity to meet others with similar interests and goals, and extend their network through the instructors who are currently working in the field.

Develop a support system
One of the challenges of a career change is the lack of support clients may experience and a feeling of isolation they may encounter with the decision to make a transition. At a time when it is essential to have a support system, sometimes the people closest to the client are not in alignment with the decision. In addition to sharing these feelings with a counselor, it is helpful for clients to develop an extended support system. It can be someone who is in a similar situation or someone with whom they can safely share their experiences and minimize their vulnerability.

Trust the process
Clients may be overwhelmed and intimidated with the work involved and perceive minimal rewards for their efforts. They can get frustrated, discouraged and possibly suspend their goals. Major transformations do not take place overnight and it will take some time before they are assimilated into their new career. During this transition it is imperative that their experiences and feelings are validated. As challenging as it appears, sometimes it requires them to trust the process and measure the small milestones already achieved.

Career changes are not simple. They create stress and require major adjustments. With patience, hard work and perseverance the career identity crisis can be transformed into the rebirth of a new career.

Betty Boza has a MA in Professional Counseling. She has a private career counseling practice, Renaissance Career Solutions', where she offers services as a career counselor, employment specialist and life coach. Her mission is to encourage, inspire and enlighten others to realize their true potential and unlimited possibilities on their journey of career and personal development. She can be reached at bboza@att.net or visit her website www.rcareer-solutions.com.


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