Integrating Existentialism and Super's Life-Span, Life-Space Approach

By Sterner, William R. | Career Development Quarterly, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Integrating Existentialism and Super's Life-Span, Life-Space Approach


Sterner, William R., Career Development Quarterly


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. …

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