“One way to earn people’s trust, a foolproof way, is to treat them with dignity.” – Donna Hicks
Looking back at the history of career development, we can see that there has always been a close relationship between the fields of psychology and career development. From the use of psychological testing in the early days of the vocational guidance movement, to the development of counselling psychology throughout the first half of the 20th century to aid veterans returning from the Second World War, the guiding principles of psychology have helped to shape our profession and many of our guiding principles. Included within these principles are elements such as integrity, justice and the respect for individuals.
Dignity is another element connected to the principal of respect. While these terms have similarities, the differences that exist are significant. At its core, respect refers to the admiration we have for someone because of certain qualities or actions, whereas dignity refers to our inherent value and worth as human beings; everyone is born with it. Dignity is something that we instinctively recognize. It is why social justice has become front and centre of many of our conversations; we want to respond to the harm that we see being done to individuals across the world.
Professional associations such as the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and the Canadian Psychological Association highlight dignity within their codes of conduct/ethics as a key principle for practitioners to be aware of. We can also see this reflected throughout the rest of the field of psychology, where the concepts of respect and dignity are represented equally.
However, in the career development field, dignity does not seem to have the same level of prominence as other principles. One reason for this is that we do not have national associations that compare to the institutional scale of those in psychology. Recent efforts by the Canadian Career Development Foundation around the development of the National Competency Profile and Code of Ethics are certainly moving us in this direction. However, it is important that we continue these efforts, as a national voice not only helps to develop the public trust in our industry, but as we hold ourselves to a higher standard of care, it is important to have these benchmarks and language to demonstrate what this standard of care entails.
The second reason dignity is not a consistent guiding principle for career professionals is because of the language we use. In the newly updated Code of Ethics, the phrase dignity appears only two times, compared to the 35 times it appears in the Canadian Psychological Associations Code of Ethics. Does this mean that dignity has been ignored? No, it doesn’t.
What we see instead is wording being used in place of dignity such as “the client’s voice/perspective” or “respect.” But is this enough in terms of guidance to career professionals?
As noted earlier, the word respect implies a transaction: I respect you because of this reason. But what happens when our clients have nothing to add to this exchange due to their situation or because their actions go against our notions of respect, such as challenging our position? In these instances, we see that a reliance on respect represents a power differential vs. an understanding of the person. This is where dignity steps in.
If we take the position of viewing individuals through the lens of dignity vs. respect, and seeing their intrinsic value, it makes it easier for us to understand the challenges they are facing and the pain they are feeling. To help with this understanding, our field has a number of approaches and theories including Culture-infused Career Counselling, Narrative Career Counselling and Systems Theory Framework, which make use of the clients’ story and personal narrative as a foundation for developing client-centric action plans.
While dignity is not a part of our everyday language within the career development field, it permeates everything that we do in terms of our interactions with clients, colleagues and leadership. By taking a focused approach to dignity in our practices and making a concerted effort to make it a part of our day-to-day conversations, we can bring this principle into the light and make it a core tenant of our profession. Doing this will not only help us in our own work with clients but also increase the confidence and trust that clients have in our profession.
In a recent article for CareerWise, Workplace and Wellness Strategist Jodi Tingling highlighted that as career practitioners, we should be ingraining diversity, equity and inclusion in everything that we do. I would add that we can use dignity as an anchor in our work to advocate for our clients and to challenge the barriers that they face in their development.