Last time I left you with a quick sketch of Adlerian counseling and suggested using the theory in career counseling. In this blog I will outline an example to better communicate these ideas. Now, on to Alan! Alan, is not a real client, but represents an amalgamation of a few clients that I worked with several years ago. Alan was a white male aged 24. He did not graduate from high-school and was working in construction jobs for which he held very little interest. Alan was in jail 2 times for selling drugs and he was recently released. He was referred by a friend of his that told him I could help him get a better job. “Don’t you just cringe when former clients build you up like that!?”
Well, Alan and I talked for awhile and I finally got around to asking him what he liked about his former jobs. He paused for a moment and then began telling me what he liked about selling drugs. I was surprised that he conceptualized this as a job or even a career. I thought, now this is a creative fellow that understands the work task. We immediately began focusing on what exactly he liked about this “job”. He told me that it was a challenge at first; that he had to get people to trust him and have confidence that he was good to his word. He liked the challenge of convincing his customers. I asked Alan if he would tell me more about his early life. He agreed.
Alan, was the youngest and second born and consistently was held in low esteem to his older brother. Everything Alan did was compared to his older and “perfect” brother. In school, teachers would make this comparison. At home neighbors would make this comparison. Yet, in all of this Alan loved to try to change people’s minds about him. He would never stop trying to convince others that he was capable. Alan reported this early recollection: “I remember when I was about 10. My older brother and I were in a store and I got the idea to shoplift some candy. I took the candy and put it in my pocket and began walking out the door. The sales clerk stopped me and questioned me about the theft. I was able to convince the sales associate that I and my brother were very poor and did not have the money to pay for the candy. The sales associate allowed us to leave with the candy. I remember being happy and feeling powerful because I got away with it.”
Although I saw some negative behaviors here, I looked for some positive and how his striving could be applied to socially interested effects in society, especially in the work life task. I was first struck by Alan’s narrative concerning liking to convince his customers and gain trust. In his early recollection, he also exhibited the desire to convince the sales clerk of a lie. Persuasion is a key element in Alan’s relationships with people. I immediately informed him that persuasion is a key ingredient in several careers. He reacted with disbelief! He said that he found it hard to believe that careers would sanction lying. I corrected his restatement and said it is not lying that I am talking about; it is persuading others and building a sense of need in others that may not necessarily be there. We talked a long time about this concept. Now, I must say that this challenged my value system. I am not a big fan of selling people things they do not need, but I calmed my conflict with saying that if he involved himself in selling things that were less harmful than drugs, then I was doing a better service for this client and society. A small rationalization, but my goal was to begin to broaden the way he applied his skills to work.
In a later session, he took an interest inventory and came up with his highest score in Enterprising. I related his high score to the content of the the early recollection and early sessions. We used the score to enhance our discussions concerning his lifestyle and what he thought he needed in a career. Alan’s face demonstrated a big surprise and he stated that he did not realize this as a talent that could be applied to “real work”. This was a turning point for this client. He began to understand his need, which was to persuade people and get them to believe in him. He realized his lifestyle goal (having prestige) and final fiction (having to have others think my way).
Once Alan realized this and how it was driving him in a non-socially interested way. He was able to begin looking at work in a different way. He saw that he could apply his skill and talent in other contexts. He became very interested in law and politics, but eventually decided to pursue a sales and marketing career.
This case demonstrates the unconscious aspects of lifestyle and fictional goals. Because they are unconscious to the client these goals can be manifested in destructive or constructive ways. Helping the client understand the goals and learn that there are positive aspects for applying the lifestyle in work is an important aspect of Adlerian counseling.
I hope this blog helps to bring out the use of Adlerian theory within the process of career counseling. Let me know what you think!
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.