There are discernable themes, feelings and experiences that a client brings to vocational counseling. How these are experienced and manifest in the lives of a specific client are of course very different but here are several common examples: burn out, disengagement, a lack of fulfillment, a lack of purpose, a decrease in energy and initiative, a lack of personal authenticity in the work place, feeling emotionally defeated or “flattened” by systemic cynicism and negativity. The pervasiveness of these experiences within the workplace and the impact they continue to have on individuals and communities is at times discouraging even for someone like myself who works in the area of vocational counseling. And yet behind the issues that compel clients to seek vocational counseling and coaching there is a very palpable and positive motivation that is both hopeful and resilient and speaks to a consistency in our human striving. Some examples include: the desire for mentorship, for clear and authentic dialogue, the skills to be more present, for work that is meaningful with a sense of purpose and mastery and that is also linked to the common good, to ethical work.
Being exposed to and working with these experiences and themes, I have found a natural dialogue and relationship between Existential Analysis and vocational counseling. Existential Analysis focuses on some of the following: the uniqueness of the individual and our boundless potential, the relational reality of our lives, our capacity to expand our self-awareness, to be more conscious of our experiences, attitudes, decisions, actions and responsibilities, to be more fully present in our day to day lives. An existential perspective addresses our motivations, core beliefs and the desire to see our lives within a context of deeper meaning, purpose and striving. It underlines our capacity to grow, learn and expand our potential throughout the course of our lives. It sheds light on our human capacity to experience fulfillment, engagement and creativity and to translate these experiences into concrete behavior and action in our daily lives. Existential Analysis helps clients transform what they value and who they are into unique contributions to the communities and professions they are involved in. It is both a counseling and coaching approach that helps us become more aware of our expanding capacities, our resilience and ability to gain self-knowledge and perspective from our experiences, all of which allows us to develop a very personal expertise.
Here are 5 examples of the dialogue between Existential Analysis and the issues I often hear clients express in vocational counseling:
Many clients, when envisaging a positive work environment, express a desire for mentorship. Mentors encourage space to learn, brainstorm, make mistakes, experience, listen and collaborate. Mentors offer invaluable perspective and insights. Encouraging these types of relationships and dialogue reminds us all of the vital roles and contributions we play to keep work environments vibrant at every stage of our professional lives. Work environments profit immeasurably from both the new and the seasoned. The by-product of such collaborations is the well-spring of energized work, perspective, a sense of mastery and increased productivity.
We are inundated with the word communication; how to communicate, how to communicate better, how to have effective communication. But we don’t often articulate and define what that means. Clients often express the desire for clear, authentic, face to face dialogue and engagement. We are relational and interconnected beings. We need affiliation, relationship and interaction. We want to understand and be understood. Authentic dialogue requires time and space, being present and not distracted, acknowledging the person before us. Experiences of authentic engagement make us feel valued in addition to opening our capacity to value others, value the environments we are connected to. Understanding, compassion and empathy are born from the reciprocity and spontaneity of dialogue.
The fatigue, emotional deflation and disengagement that stem from work environments fraught with cynicism and negativity are very real. What clients seek, what we all seek, are professional environments that both value and foster a positive and hopeful outlook. I see clients who want to make a contribution, they want to feel they are an integral part of something, they want opportunities to strive, offer their unique talents and be recognized for them. Personal experiences of recognition, affirmation, being acknowledged, valued and literally “seen” for who we are have a tremendous and positive impact on our capacity to feel connected to others, to communities and to the world beyond ourselves. Such experiences develop our capacity to encourage such behaviors and feelings in others.
We want professional lives that enable us to experience a sense of purpose. We need a “why” or purpose to our existence. We need orientation. This includes: having goals, direction, being committed to something in the future, seeing ourselves engaged in and contributing to a wider context, experiencing our lives as interconnected with others and having a sense of purpose beyond our individual selves. The alignment of our core beliefs with who we are and what we do leads to experiencing greater levels of meaning and fulfillment, the cornerstones of well-being and healthy development. This opens us to greater awareness, fuels our motivation, drives our passions and keeps us excited about what we are doing.
Being “present” takes constant practice to concentrate and connect in the moment. But the practice of being “present” enables us to evaluate what is happening before us and how we are feeling, perceiving and sensing our environment, relationships and surroundings. Being present enables us to experience the value of a specific situation, illuminates what is possible NOW, reveals what concrete actions can be done NOW that are the most appropriate and meaningful. The practice of being “present” brings us closer to a deeper and more substantial awareness of our engagement with others or with a particular task we are occupied with, it enables us to access greater levels of motivation, creativity, productivity and sense of purpose.
Existential Analysis is a perspective and framework that has enabled me to take seriously and work with the purposeful striving that clients demonstrate even in the midst of difficult and challenging professional and personal circumstances. I believe as counselors we should champion, cheerlead, reciprocate and mentor this uniquely human and positive striving.