ACA Blog

Kevin Stoltz
Nov 16, 2009

Using Occupational Images in Career Counseling: A Return to Yesteryear

Okay, every adult had a childhood and in that childhood we used to play. Many of those play themes had to do with work. Specifically, I played with cars under a large tree in our backyard. Much of the play themes centered on me traveling from house to house visiting people and building lakes and bridges. We also daydreamed and had specific characters from books, movies, or television that had special meaning for us. One of mine from early childhood was the Lone Ranger (Yes, I am old enough to have watched the series in black and white on a real black and white television!). But, I digress. The meaning of the Lone Ranger had special significance to me. I saw this man as an ethical person that was concerned about the world and society from which he came. However, there was a down side to his drastic independence; he had very little connection to the society that he spent his life trying to protect. In many ways I lived this theme in my early work life.

I traveled over the entire US for a large corporation attempting to teach and help people install building products in accordance with architectural specifications (Okay, no silver bullets, but remember we are talking themes here!). Interestingly, my father was a sales representative and traveled throughout my entire childhood and adolescence. In my personal story you should be able to see some occupational image begin to arise. I saw myself as a very independent person and desired to be exploring the world and connecting with people for brief periods of time to be of help or assistance. Who was that masked man? Well, as you may guess, I eventually came into an occupational crisis. I wanted to have more connection, but this was difficult in that I was away so much that I did not even know my neighbors. Additionally, the position I held was more focused on things rather than helping people. This crisis led to a new career search and I wound up in the profession of Counseling. I still get to travel, I have a position that allows me to meet people and be of help, and I get to have more permanent relationships in my life. I am hoping that with my brief autobiography that you can see that my occupational image from childhood is still alive and well in my adult life. Even with all its pitfalls and struggles, my occupational image is mine and I have learned a great lesson from understanding more about this part of my early learning and experiences.

So what does this have to do with counseling? The narrative literature is focused on having clients tell stories and then counselors helping the client to narrate changes in that story. This process is used in career counseling, most notably by Mark Savickas. In his writing he posits a semi-structured interview called the Careerstyle Interview (Savickas, 1998). Specifically, one of the questions is about role models and who you wanted to pattern your life after. This and other questions help to form the individual’s occupational image that each person develops throughout childhood. It is this image that helps us succeed, yet it may also lead us to crisis. Understanding occupational images helps clients to understand their own values, morals, and interests. In addition, the occupational image may assist the client in understanding why he or she moves through life and especially work life in a specific manner. Exploring the early memories of clients in a broader context, like play themes, heroes, experiences and activities, and daydreams can coalesce into a full picture of values, interests, and even personality traits. Relating these to the world of work and asking about early views of worker roles helps to round out these occupational images. I have found that these types of discussions and focused interactions with career clients are extremely effective and help to further articulate more traditional assessment approaches.

I am interested in reading your thoughts about using occupational images in your work with clients. As I sit and read over this blog I can still “hear the thundering hoof beats of the great white horse silver”, yes, “the Lone Ranger rides again”!

What are your occupational images?



Kevin Stoltz is counselor and an assistant professor at The University of Mississippi. He specializes in career counseling and Adlerian Psychology and has a strong interest (no pun intended) in early recollections related to work life.

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