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Sunday, September 26, 2021
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Tips & Training

Career interventions are mental health interventions. Here’s why

Part 1 of our three-part blog series on “Career and mental Health: Addressing the false dichotomy” introduced readers to our viewpoint that effective career-life development is a mental health and wellness intervention. In Part 2, we continued our commentary on the symbiotic relationship between career development and mental health by highlighting theories that inform our practices and help dispel the myth of the person-versus-career dichotomy. In this final blog post, we highlight some voices from the career development field, especially select speakers at CERIC’s Cannexus21 conference.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “… a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” This supports the idea that career interventions are mental health interventions.

Recognizing this reality means that career development practitioners (CDPs) need to attend to clients’ overall well-being. In their 2020 book Strengthening Mental Health Through Effective Career Development: A Practitioner’s Guide, Dave Redekopp and Michael Huston wholeheartedly agree that “whether you know it, plan it, or want it, your career development services inevitably create and influence mental health outcomes” (p. 119). Their book provides examples of how we achieve this and offers practical tips. It assists readers to understand the intersections of career development and mental health through stories and research.

During Cannexus21, we heard several speakers share their thoughts about the topic of career interventions being mental health interventions. In his keynote address, Kris Magnusson implored us to consider incorporating and attending to the emotional responses and reactions of our clients. He stated that “working with client emotion is not only within practitioners’ scope of practice, it is an ethical obligation to do so.” He reminded us that CDPs have recognized how powerful emotions are in forming people’s thoughts, perceptions and actions. Without a doubt, emotions play a significant role in our mental health as well as our thoughts, perceptions and actions in our career-life endeavours.

“Whether you know it, plan it, or want it, your career development services inevitably create and influence mental health outcomes.” – Dave Redekopp and Michael Huston

Gray Poehnell reminded us that career is about people’s stories, their life’s journey and what kind of life they want to live along that journey. Supporting clients (in meaningful and healthy ways) to find out how to use their gifts and talents to live the life they want encompasses our role as CDPs. Poehnell speaks of how our words have power – influencing how we think and feel about ourselves and guiding the actions we take. It is his premise that CDPs can and need to assist people to get beyond surviving to thriving. Poehnell says this is accomplished by living well – which includes being mentally well.

Tara Buchanan shared with us that if we cannot assist people with all their intersectionalities, we are likely not able to assist them at all. Like Buchanan, Nancy Arthur highlighted the importance of infusing social justice in all our work as CDPs “in a world that is uncertain, unstable, inequitable, and the availability of work is insecure.” This reinforces that we attend to the whole person, and all of their social and cultural locations. Arthur points out that the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered many biases and inequities, especially for individuals and groups who are marginalized or culturally different than people and groups in power. She declared that as CDPs, we have a duty to address the many inequities and ‘isms’ that are present so we can assist people to realize their potential. To do this, we must be allies with our clients – to work with and serve them in holistic ways in their own personal and cultural contexts.

Like the call to action from Dr. Arthur, we would be remiss if we did not name the elephant in the room: the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it magnifies the need to recognize and integrate career and mental health interventions in timely, accessible and culturally congruent ways.

We could continue to highlight the many Cannexus21 sessions that addressed the notion of incorporating mental and emotional work into our career work; however, perhaps one more will suffice. Shellie Deloyer, in her session on “Thriving with mental and emotional well-being,” spoke about the conscious mind as being the “goal setter” and the unconscious mind as the “goal-getter.” She went on to suggest that if CDPs only focus on the conscious and observable behaviours and talking points, we are missing 90% of what is motivating clients. Deloyer reminds us to attend to the stories that clients are telling us and, more importantly, themselves.

Most of the stories that impair career and life goals are unconscious and limiting beliefs. These limiting beliefs are often on a replay loop, playing over and over, and are typically historical in nature. Deloyer asserts that we can and should help clients create new stories that are healthy, that help them deal with their emotions and assist them to build resilience. In her session write-up, she wrote: “Effectively managing mental and emotional wellness is key for thriving in both work and life.”

In closing, we offer the following wisdom from David Blustein, who states in The Psychology of Working: A New Perspective for a New Era that “working is a central aspect of life, providing a source of structure, a means of survival, connection to others, and optimally a means of self-determination” (p. 1). The work of career-life development focuses on the interpersonal process of helping people to increase their career awareness through deepened self-awareness and the exploration of possibilities. Knowing that we (as CDPs) are contributing to people’s overall well-being is needed now more than ever. Career interventions are indeed mental health interventions!

Dr. Kathy Offet-Gartner is a Registered Psychologist whose counselling research, teaching and practice focuses on strengths-based, culturally informed career-life development. Dr. Natasha Caverley is the President of Turtle Island Consulting Services Inc. She holds an MEd in Counselling Psychology and a PhD in Organizational Studies from the University of Victoria.
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Dr. Kathy Offet-Gartner is a Registered Psychologist whose counselling research, teaching and practice focuses on strengths-based, culturally informed career-life development. Dr. Natasha Caverley is the President of Turtle Island Consulting Services Inc. She holds an MEd in Counselling Psychology and a PhD in Organizational Studies from the University of Victoria.
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