View of surveyor working in field through blades of grassCareer counseling, also known as career guidance, is counseling designed to help with choosing, changing, or leaving a career and is available at any stage in life. One's career is often one of the most important aspects of adulthood, and embarking on a new career, whether for the first time, the second time, or any time thereafter, can be a stressful event, especially when economic difficulties such as recession are a factor. A career counselor can help by outlining and discussing one's potential career options.

What Is Career Counseling?

Most Americans will spend a third of their lives at work, but a 2014 study showed that only 52.3% of Americans report being satisfied with their jobs. Job stress may lead to anxiety or depression, so finding a fulfilling career is considered to be important to mental well-being. When choosing the most fitting career or finding a new job when one proves unsatisfying or frustrating, the services of a career counselor may be helpful.

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A career counselor could be a therapist, life coach, or a volunteer from the business world but will generally be trained to provide career information resources, discuss career development, and administer and interpret aptitude and ability assessments. Students might see a guidance counselor in high school before applying to college and then again in college before choosing or changing majors, but career counseling can help anyone who wishes to change careers, leave work altogether, or explore ways to be more satisfied with a current career.

Choosing a Career

Choosing a career is an important task, but it may also be a difficult one. It may not be easy to decide what type of job will be the best fit, and since career counseling helps people assess their skills, needs, and desires in order to find a career that works for them, this type of counseling is considered to be an important step to take before deciding on a permanent career. Researching a wide variety of potential careers may be overwhelming, and information on the skill sets and education needed for a particular position may be contradictory or difficult to find. A career counselor will often be able to provide valuable information in these areas and others.

Some of the following questions may be helpful for narrowing one's focus when considering a career change:

  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What kinds of activities are fun and fulfilling for me?
  • What am I good at?
  • What is my skill set?
  • What qualifications do I have, such as a degree or experience?
  • How much money do I need to make to feel satisfied?
  • What jobs are available in the place(s) I’d like to live?
  • Do I want to travel?
  • What are my values?
  • Is it important to me to be of service to others?
  • Am I looking for intensely challenging work or something relatively easy?
  • Am I willing to do what others tell me without question, or would I rather make most decisions on my own?
  • To what degree do I need stability and security?

How Career Counseling Can Help

In a career counseling session, the counselor will help a person explore skills and strengths, consider education levels and give advice about continuing education, and determine interests and personality type. Counselors may also administer an IQ test or an aptitude test. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has also been shown to be useful at helping individuals determine possible careers based on personality traits.

Some potential topics of discussion in career counseling:

  • Particular skills or talents. In which careers might they be useful?
  • The educational commitment required of various careers.
  • The potential earnings of various careers.
  • The daily working environment. Some people enjoy working in an office, while others might be more successful in a fast-paced or outdoor environment.
  • The opportunities for change or advancement in a particular career. Some careers are more flexible than others. Lawyers and doctors, for example, may shift their focus or area of specialty but will generally remain lawyers and doctors. Other careers or education paths might more allow mobility between positions in a given field.
  • The necessary skills/education for a desired career.

Some counselors may also be able to offer advice on how to improve one's position at a job that is, for the most part, enjoyable. For example, possible ways to earn a promotion or the best methods to negotiate a salary adjustment could be discussed.

Case Example

  • Therapy to cope with stress from returning to school while working full-time: Mandy, 30, is unhappy in her career as a paralegal but not sure how to make a change. She would like a less stressful job where she can be of more help to people, but most of the jobs she thinks she would enjoy require more education, and she cannot afford to stop working. Working 45 hours a week while going to school sounds stressful and frightens her, and she makes an appointment with a therapist, who helps to normalize her feelings and discuss Mandy's fears about going to school while working full-time. After a session of exploring her goals and current stress level, it becomes quite clear to Mandy that she cannot stay in her current job for much longer. She realizes that, despite the possible difficulties, she needs to continue her education in order to change careers. The therapist helps her identify resources, including financial aid resources as well as ways to manage stress, so that Mandy can explore ways to successfully continue working while attending school at night. The therapist also points out to Mandy her own strengths, made apparent by her work as a paralegal: the ability to multitask, work long hours, do extensive research, and complete projects and difficult tasks on her own. This knowledge gives Mandy hope and the confidence that she will be able to finish school while working.


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