As workers face a changing and ever-complex employment landscape, traditional career theories and approaches may not be sufficient in meeting career challenges. Calls for integrated career theories have emerged as more people seek meaning and purpose in their lives and careers. This article proposes a career counseling option that integrates existentialism and Super's (1990) life-span, life-space approach to establish a foundation for a broader approach to career development that views clients holistically by exploring life and career meaning and purpose from a developmental perspective. A case example and interventions are provided to demonstrate practical application and a contextual framework, along with implications for counselors.
Keywords: existentialism. Super's approach, career, career development
Existential therapy evolved to address angst often associated with living in a postagrarian society. As the workforce became increasingly industrialized, a sense of isolation, alienation, and meaninglcssness emerged as part of the human condition (Corey, 2009). Existentialism describes a yearning for deeper understanding of the human condition and searching for significance, meaning, and purpose of one's life. May (1961) indicated that existential therapy focuses on the existing person as he or she is emerging or becoming. The central question asked from an existential perspective is, "What is the source of meaning for me in life?"
According to Yalom ( 1 980), existentialism is difficult to define and often subjective in its meaning. In his view, because of the subjectivity associated with defining this construct, existential themes (e.g., freedom, meaning, and death) create common ground. Yalom explained that existential therapy is not derived from a specific theory but rather is a psychotherapeutic approach with well-established roots in existential philosophy.
Existentialism has gained momentum in the counseling literature (e.g., Chen, 2001; Cohen, 2003; Maglio, Buttcrfield, & Borgen, 2005) as counselors seek treatment that aligns with client values, beliefs, and life meaning and purpose. Existential therapy has been used in counseling to address various problems such as life adjustment concerns, acute and chronic illnesses, grief and loss, cross-cultural issues, and end-of-life realities. One area in which existential therapy may have important applications is in career counseling. Given the changing employment landscape, integrating existentialism into traditional career counseling models can provide a comprehensive approach to addressing complex employment issues. Unfortunately, existential therapy has not fully manifested in career counseling despite its practical approaches and specific application in career decision making across the life span (Cohen, 2003).
Several scholars (Krumboltz, 1998; Mitchell, Levin, & Krumboltz, 1999; Savickas, 2000) have advocated establishing new career counseling models that reflect the postmodern workforce in which workers place less emphasis on career opportunities that align with specific traits and instead seek meaning, purpose, and value in the career development process (Thorngren & Feit, 2001). Integrating existential therapy with Super's (1990) life-span, life-space approach may have potential applications given that meaning and values associated with career development continually evolve across the life span. This article introduces an approach that integrates existential therapy and Super's developmental approach.
Existentialism and Career Counseling: Staring the Problem
Historically, traditional career counseling focused on matching clients' work values, skills, abilities, and interests with occupational opportunities. Job placement or career clarification was often the end goal. Guindon and Harina (2002) indicated that even though there is movement toward an integrative and holistic view in counseling, many career counselors continue to draw from traditional career counseling theories. Savickas (2000) added that career counselors who apply traditional theories without considering complex employment scenarios lose their effectiveness when career paths no longer continue along a prescribed trajectory. According to Maglio et al. (2005), shirting away from these traditional methods to more process-oriented approaches, which focus on better understanding the meaning one assigns to life, helps the counselor to better comprehend the client's current reality.
Integrating existentialism and traditional career counseling theories allows for greater exploration of meaningful career and life possibilities. Guindon and Hanna (2002) believed that the meaning one assigns to life is essential to one's well-being, adding that from a career perspective one continually searches for meaning in work across the life span. Patton (2000) reiterated views of others that as the workplace changes, so too will work and lifestyle values change.
Existentialism and Super's Approach
Overview of Developmental-Existential Approach
The existential view is based on the notion that humans' existence is constantly evolving and emerging; we are continually transcending our past and present to reach the future through our moment-to-moment actions and interactions (May & Yalom, 2Ó05). This view implies that we are discovering and making sense of our existence through continually questioning others (Mitwelt), the world ( Umwelt), and ourselves (Eigenwelt). May and Yalom (20Ò5) explained that much of what takes place in existential therapy is exploring universal human conditions. Yalom (1980) indicated that existential therapy focuses on four ultimate concerns: death, freedom, existential isolation, and meaninglessness. Facing and confronting these existential concerns is the key therapeutic issue. Existentialists (Frank!, 1984; van Deurzen, 2010; Yalom, 1980) view the search for meaning as the primary motivation for all human behavior. Existential psychotherapist van Deurzen (2010) believed people search for meaning to find fulfillment and seek identity to causes greater than themselves because life is ultimately about making sense of the world. Yalom (1980) indicated that people have the freedom to make choices, while accepting responsibility associated with the consequences of those choices. Frankl (1978) added that freedom exists but with limitations and conditions; people exercise their freedom by challenging these restrictions and barriers. From a cross-cultural perspective, Vontress (1996) mentioned that existentialism has broad appeal because it taps into humans' continual search for life and career meaning as well as subjective meaning of existence.
Super's (1990) approach is a synthesis of several theories derived from various psychology disciplines (e.g., developmental psychology, personality theory) woven together by self-concept and learning theory. What resulted was Super's life-span, life-space approach depicted in his life-career rainbow, a developmental approach that explores how one's life roles (e.g., worker, citizen, and student) develop across the life span. Two key components of Super's approach are self-concept and learning theory. Self-concept refers to how individuals see themselves and their situations. Individuals' perception of self is reflected in their needs, intelligence, values, aptitudes, and interests. Learning theory is based on one's interaction with the environment, where what one likes and dislikes when exposed to some external stimuli (e.g., object, person, or activity) can lead to feeling satisfied or dissatisfied, resulting in a learned experience (Strong, as cited in Super, 1990).
Overview of Super's Life Span: Meaning-Moment Dimension
According to Super ( 1990), individuals go through different life stages and developmental tasks as part of their career decision-making process. Life stages have specific defined developmental tasks that present challenges to individuals. Developmental tasks arc socially expected responses that coincide with certain biological, educational, and vocational milestones. Life stages and developmental tasks include growth (fantasy, interests, and curiosity), exploration (crystallizing, specifying, and implementing), establishment (stabilizing, consolidating, frustration, and advancing), maintenance (holding, updating, stagnation, and innovating), and decline (decelerating, retirement planning, and retirement living).
Within the developmental process, existential themes exist that can influence decisions leading to career maturity. The proposed developmentalexistential approach allows counselors to examine existential themes that influence client decisions across the life span. Career counselors using this approach may be better prepared to address the trial and transitional phases between life stages by opening up to the various existential themes clients may assign to these experiences. Trials and transitional phases may represent a form of death or nonbeing for clients (Maglio et al., 2005 ), as well as creating an existential vacuum and a sense of isolation and aloneness. Clients who experience career transitions, become unemployed, retire, or arc unable to work because of illness or injury may lose a significant part of their identity and feel an existential despair. Clients transitioning into new roles or developmental stages may feel anguish as they leave the familiarity or routine of their current position; face working with new people, situations, or environments; and learn new job tasks, roles, and functions. Maglio et al. (2005) mentioned that career counselors can use an existential focus to help clients face realities that prevent them from evolving and help clients better position themselves to understand how best to deal with transitions in the future while coming to terms with grief/loss related to work changes.
To transition successfully from one life stage, one must consider the importance of various social and biological developmental issues (Super, 1990), as well as the impact of social and institutional barriers on work (Blustcin, 2006). Helms and Piper (1994) believed that clients' perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors related to these issues and barriers can play a significant role in how they view work. Furthermore, van Deurzen (2002) said that "when it becomes obvious that certain ideals and values are very important to a person, [he or] she will often find a new strength to implement those ideals and values regardless of external or internal pressures and impediments" (p. 87). This may be particularly salient for individuals who face social barriers and limited resources or opportunities that hinder movement across life stages. The proposed approach can explore meaning clients assign to these barriers, the impact on how they define existence, and the degree of responsibility to achieve the desired outcome. Counselors may explore the extent to which clients feel empowered to challenge limitations/conditions when transitioning across life stages. When working with clients who present as disenfranchised, counselors can assist clients to explore beliefs and attitudes by targeting awareness of cultural identity development. Using specific racial, gender/ sexual, and spiritual/religious identity development models (e.g., Helms's People of Color Racial Identity Model; Helms, 1995) to understand one's stage of cultural awareness and identity can better prepare clients to address oppression, racism, discrimination, and disenfranchisement.
Overview of Super's Life Space: Meaning-Identity Dimension
The second dimension of the life-career rainbow is üfe space. According to Super (1990), Ufe space involves the roles people play throughout the life span. Super originally identified six major roles (child, student, worker, citizen, homemaker, and lcisurite) people play throughout their lives. Often these roles overlap, and a person could experience as many as six roles at a given developmental stage. As people move through Ufe stages, certain roles tend to dominate. For example, during the maintenance stage, the typical role is that of worker, whereas the role of student is often minimal or neutral. Career maturity is an important component in this dimension. Super maintained that career maturity occurs as one accomplishes age and developmental tasks across the life span. As an individual develops the capacity to deal with the developmental tasks, he or she can better navigate through the particular developmental stage.
One way individuals clarify values and life meaning is through life roles. According to Maglio et al. (2005), people's roles and the subsequent relationships that develop over their life span are manifestations of how they see their authentic selves and themselves in relation to the world. Meaning is constantly evolving to reflect dasein (being-in-the-world) as clients challenge restricted existence by broadening beliefs, increasing knowledge, and embracing life experiences and limitations, thereby allowing for expanded choices. Within the developmental-existential approach, new roles develop based on what one envisions as important and meaningful. Counselors need to assess shifts in meaning making and evaluate its significance on career decision making. In addition, as one moves through life stages, the meaning and purpose assigned to previous roles influences how one defines and expresses current roles (e.g., the role of student can shape the role of worker).
Overview of Self-Concept: Meaning-Choice Dimension
Super (1990) indicated that one's perception provides the initial step in preparing for and pursuing a career. He stated that interests, values, aptitudes, needs, and attitudes influence self-concept and one's perceptions over the life span. In his view, self-concepts can include traits such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, and role self-concepts, and these traits help shape one's personality. Maglio et al. (2005) believed self-awareness, a trait that contributes to one's self-concept, may be an important step in exploring meaning making relative to one's circumstances.
Existentialism proposes that choices are a function of being self-aware. As awareness expands, so does one's capacity to fully embrace life (Corey, 2009). Values, interests, needs, and attitudes reflect this expanded awareness. People make continual choices throughout the life span as to which occupational direction is appropriate, comfortable, and satisfying (Super, 1990), even though pursuing a course of action may mean relinquishing other equally attractive possibilities and alternatives (Yalom, 1980). Counselors help clients address the cost and benefit of this expanded level of consciousness by also focusing on difficulties and struggles that are associated with increased awareness.
Self-concept may also address issues associated with existential isolation in that the person becomes the "social organizer of his or her own experience" (Super, 1990, p. 221). By embracing connection with the larger whole across the life span, which occurs as one makes meaningful social, relational, and spiritual connections, one can reduce tension associated with knowing one is ultimately alone. Super (1990) saw the intersection of these constructs when he depicted career "as the life course of a person encountering a series of developmental tasks and attempting to handle them in such a way as to become the kind of person he or she wants to be" (pp. 225-226).
Key Assumptions of the DevHnpmenral-F/Yisrenrial Approach
From existential therapy and Super's (1990) developmental approach, several key assumptions provide a foundation for this integrated approach. These assumptions emphasize the importance of being, meaning, choice, and responsibility that influence decisions throughout career developmental stages, as well as focus on clients' unique qualities, interests, and traits that factor into establishing life meaning and career decision making. The following are the key assumptions:
* Fully embracing one's experience of becoming, evolving, and emerging will manifest through expanded levels of self- awareness.
* The meaning one assigns to one's experiences may present in either a first-person subjectivity or a socially derived sense of awareness.
* Transitioning across career developmental stages requires the integration of unique subjective realities within social, biological, and cultural dimensions.
* How one sees oneself in the here-and-now provides greater understanding of life meaning, purpose, and awareness of freedom and limitations.
Presenting Career Concerns
Naomi (a fictional client) is a 50-year-old, divorced, Black woman who has been attending counseling to address her depression and growing dissatisfaction and frustration with finding work. Naomi has been out of work for 8 months. She reported being laid off from her job as a quality inspector for a large furniture manufacturer after the company moved its operations to South Korea. During her recent session, she presented as feeling anxious, isolated, and alienated from others and life, with a growing sense of despair. She stated that she "found little pleasure or enjoyment in my job but it helped pay the bills." She mentioned that she is angry because many of the jobs she is interested in require specialized skills or a college education. She is concerned that being a Black woman may be hindering her job prospects given the downturn in the economy and previous experiences with what she classifies as "covert job discrimination."
During counseling, Naomi alluded to constantly feeling an existential neurosis as she often "questioned the purpose and meaning of life and my ability to embrace happiness" while describing undertones of living within an existential vacuum and "feeling empty inside." Naomi elaborated that she is currently being treated for breast cancer and has recently filed for divorce after 10 years of marriage. The divorce reinforced her feelings of emptiness and alienation. She reported never really loving her husband and often felt disconnected from him because they rarely spent time together or had mutual interests. She mentioned she married for financial reasons. Naomi indicated that at various points throughout her life, she found work unsatisfying and often took jobs because she needed the money rather than pursuing options that seemed more gratifying. She reported getting her first job at age 16 years working as a cashier at a local restaurant.
Naomi planned to attend college several times but lacked the financial resources. She often referred to herself as "working poor." Naomi indicated that several years prior to being laid off, she lost interest in her job and saw "little opportunity for advancement." Naomi described "feeling disconnected from myself and the world." At times she yearned to do something meaningful, something that would give her a sense of hope and purpose. Naomi is concerned that she has limited work options but knows on some level she is capable of change.
Because no interventions are specific to this integrated approach, treatment direction is based on the client's subjective life, career experiences, and issues, as well as the unique interplay between counselor and client. According to van Deurzen (2010), existential therapy, compared with other therapies, is dependent on the creativity and individuality of the counselor and varies across counselors. She stated it is "also very different with different clients or with the same client at different times" (van Deurzen, 2010, p. 235). Yalom (1980) indicated that the best way to understand the client's inner world is to "go direcdy to the phenomena themselves" (pp. 24-25). Counselors draw on techniques from other orientations based on assumptions and beliefs about the client's unique experiences. Prior to applying techniques, the counselor must assess the extent to which client themes are existentially based, which Klugman (1997, p. 304) described as "immanence of the first-person subjectivity [subjectivity as will]" or based on socially constructed narratives or themes described as "subjectivity as awareness."
Given the need to explore Naomi's inward subjective themes, it is important for the counselor to establish a strong therapeutic working alliance with her. Using various assessment tools (e.g., Strong Interest Inventory, Career Development Inventory) may provide insight into Naomi's beliefs and values and what life and career meaning she derives from these attributes. The creativity of the counselor in selecting interventions that address the existential concerns is important. It should be noted that the techniques used with Naomi have application across various theoretical orientations. Given Naomi's presenting issues, the counselor may consider several techniques developed by Hanna (n.d.) to explore specific manifestations of her existential dilemma, including mindfulness meditation, De-Role Exercise, IAm Exercise, Being-There Exercise, Inoculation of Being, Monitoring of Being, and Solo Empty Chair. Each of these techniques is discussed briefly next.
Mindfulness-based approaches are becoming commonplace within the helping professions (e.g., Fulton, Germer, & Siegel, 2005) and are integrated into existing theoretical approaches or are used to address specific pathology (e.g., Crane, 2008; Hayes, Follette, 8c Linehan, 2004; Segal, Williams, 8c Teasdale, 2002). Integrating the practice of mindfulness meditation into the therapeutic process helps Naomi become aware of her here-and-now experiences. Meditation allows her to explore the underlying messages that limit her from evolving and emerging. The mindfulness approach can access the critical voice as to what she should be doing and can help her come to accept "what is." It also helps to open channels to creativity and decision making by letting go of expectations and demands and experiencing clarity of thought. Mindfulness meditation may help provide an avenue to dialogue with those internal forces that prevent Naomi from fully seeing her potential.
The De-Role Exercise is intended to help clients become clearer about their core self by separating roles from their essential being. It can be effective in helping Naomi determine what her role(s) in life should be rather than letting the role(s) shape her. This technique can result in greater understanding of existential anxiety and greater awareness of how roles inhibit oneself.
The IAm Exercise creates opportunities for Naomi to shift from identifying with negative aspects of objects (e.g., employment issues, cancer) and people (e.g., ex-husband). Using this exercise may allow her to be conscious of self-perceptions related to negative feelings and images.
The Being-There Exercise addresses dasein by helping Naomi learn to be present in a situation and to address resistance. This exercise can allow her to feel more engaged in life and become more aware of her aliveness. It can also increase her sense of empowerment for life and living.
Using the Inoculation of Being activity increases resiliency and strengths in one's cognitive awareness of self and sense of being. For Naomi, this activity can increase her existential stability by feeling grounded in the world.
The Monitoring of Being activity allows clients to monitor anxiety and to understand what situations, circumstances, and people enhance or diminish their sense of being. For Naomi, this activity may result in enhancing her sense of a positive and healthy environment, as well as her awareness of existential strengths and weaknesses.
The Solo Empty Chair exercise can be used to integrate personality into one's awareness and provide some closure to lingering issues. It can also be effective in helping clients focus their sense of being. Using this activity with Naomi may help her become more resolved in various conflicts and struggles and to complete any unfinished business.
The counselor must be sensitive to potential social barriers that may be contributing to Naomi's presenting issues. Integrating multicultural counseling approaches may help her explore feelings of disempowerment, implications of racism and oppression, and implications associated with a lack of resources. Specific exploration of her racial identity development using Helms's People of Color Racial Identity Model (Helms, 1995) can provide content and context into her views toward social barriers and her attitudes, beliefe, and behaviors toward üfe and work.
Implications for Counselors
The proposed integrated approach adds another dimension for counselors seeking to address career counseling issues with a diverse, postmodern workforce. Movement toward career approaches that seek to integrate meaning and subjectivity into the career development process creates a realistic vision of client career needs. Incorporating existential therapy into Super's (1990) life-span, lite-space approach shifts the emphasis on career meaning from socially constructed themes of meaning making and fulfillment, as advanced by Savickas's (2005) career construction theory and Savickas et al. 's (2009) life designing approach, to a firstperson reality. The developmental-existential approach adds to how counselors view career development by exploring variations in client meaning making.
To some, differences between integrated approaches that focus on constructivist themes and existential themes may on the surface seem simply a matter of semantics, yet these philosophical systems have resulted in "distinct clinical approaches based on seemingly incompatible conceptions of subjectivity and its role in clinical work" (Klugman, 1997, p. 297). These conceptions of subjectivity become a distinguishing clinical feature that must be considered when assessing whether a constructivist approach is more applicable rlian an existential approach. Klugman ( 1997) indicated that tliese subjective approaches offer opposing views of the self, in which existentialism places a "bold emphasis on the first-person, subjective mental and emotional states, on experience over reflection, existence betöre essence, on inwardness and being in the moment," whereas "constructivism carries an awareness bias by virtue of its focus on the many different 'selves' that emerge in the process of being" (p. 304). This distinction becomes an important point of demarcation and may require different therapeutic interpretations, approaches, or considerations in how one addresses meaning.
One of the strengths of existentialism is the exploration of behaviors from a cross-cultural perspective. According to van Deurzen (2002), the application of existential therapy has cross-cultural appeal because it is does not dictate how one views reality. Von tress ( 1996) added that existentialism has worldwide appeal because people are constantly attempting to understand their life and the purpose of existence, specifically from their worldview.
Therapeutic application and counselor creativity are key strengths of this approach. Use of a wide array of treatment approaches drawn from various orientations creates opportunities for counselors to customize treatment on the basis of specific existential themes. According to Arredondo, Tovar-Blank, and Parham (2008), the trend toward technical eclecticism, which selects the best treatment for the client and presenting problem, has broad cross-cultural appeal. Huntley (1997) stated that a comprehensive approach to career counseling would provide more people the opportunity to pursue meaningful career options, especially those who may not have viewed traditional career counseling as applicable to their situation (e.g., people of color, people with disabilities).
This integrated approach focuses treatment from an individualistic approach, which may conflict with clients who are oriented toward a collectivistic worldview. Counselors need to consider cultural factors, such as one's environment, cultural group membership, cultural identity, and specific psychosocial issues (e.g., barriers due to poverty), and also the appropriateness of the interventions when selecting treatment approaches. May and Yalom (2005) indicated that timing and applicability of an existential approach are important considerations. If the counselor attempts to bring about change or is perceived as advancing a message for change before the client is prepared for action, it might limit or hinder the therapeutic alliance.
Given that existential therapy draws from the individuality of the counselor, ongoing and focused efforts to remain abreast of the philosophical underpinnings that drive this theory are important (van Deurzen, 2010). Because the application of existential therapy is unique to the counselor and often varies from client to client, specific evidenced-based treatment protocols are often lacking. Another limitation is the esoteric and abstract language associated with existential therapy. This can be a potential problem with clients who tend to view the world more concretely. Counselors can address this limitation by framing abstract messages into more relevant, culturally specific language.
The proposed developmental-existential approach creates a potentially valuable option for addressing career counseling because traditional career approaches may not be well equipped to navigate tJirough the complex and rapidly changing workforce. The importance of developing comprehensive approaches allows for inclusion of subjective and phenomenological forces to transcend the long-standing systematic, mechanistic trait-factor approaches that have dominated career development theory. Integrating existentialism and Super's (1990) approach expands career development opportunities by considering the importance of the client's life and career meaning as the client develops through life roles and across life stages.
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William R. Sterner, Department of Counseling, Marymount University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to William R. Sterner, Department of Counseling, Marymount University, 2807 North Glebe Road, Arlington, VA 22207-4299 (e-mail: email@example.com).…