When I speak of using Adlerian concepts in career counseling I tend to get very strange looks even from the Adlerian counselors. I just smile and yes, you heard me correctly! Adler did talk about work as one of the 3 life tasks and he recognized that work has a central social role for adults. Following this line of thinking some Adlerians developed concepts to assist individuals in career selection. McKelvie (1979) wrote about the practice of career and life planning from an Adlerian perspective. He discussed the role of assessing lifestyle and helping the client to make career decisions using elements from the lifestyle. Watkins (1984a) wrote an excellent article outlining the use of Adlerian concepts to create a theory of Adlerian counseling. This article outlined several principle corollaries that help organize the theory into a framework for understanding the use of Adlerian ideas in career development. A central tenant is how lifestyle interacts with career decision making and the social role of work.
More recently, Savickas (1998; 2002) developed the careerstyle interview. This interview sequence is used in career counseling and represents the integration of Super’s (1990) life-span, life-space theory, Holland’s (1992) matching theory, and Adler’s (1979) individual psychology. Specifically, one of the interview questions concerns the collection of 3 early recollections. Savickas explains that these memories help to develop a theme of challenges for the individual. These challenges play out in all the life roles discussed by Super, including work. Thus, by understanding our themes we are better able to navigate exploration and decision making in the work life task.
The theme is not determined by the counselor alone. Adlerians use a collaborative democratic process to arrive at an understanding of the themes. Once identified, one very important aspect of counseling is understanding that the theme is related to the striving for superiority. Often, misunderstood, striving for superiority is not competition with others; that would not be a socially interested striving. The striving centers on the individual trying to emerge from a feeling of inferiority to feeling competent and productive. A focus on contributing to the social system is inherent in this striving. However, the striving can be over utilized and under utilized. This is often the case in experiencing difficulties in social relationships. People tend to use strengths all the time in an unconscious process trying to realize an expected result. This is called the final fiction or the expected positive outcome. So helping people understand the striving is a key element in Adlerian career counseling, because we help the client understand her/his use of the striving to meet fictional goals.
This process can help individuals chose a career, function in a career, and address problems in a career. It is a useful approach for the career adaptability paradigm that is being explored in much of the career literature. I realize that this is a quick and rough sketch. Perhaps a case will help to illustrate some of this approach.
Stay tuned for Part II!!!
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.