Career Counseling in Recovery: Promoting Purpose and Meaning

Recovery is a process of change from the inside that leads to a self-driven and purposeful life. Purpose is one of the four major dimensions of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Career counseling during treatment can help you find purpose in the workplace1.

Career counseling, formally known as vocational psychology, is a specialized field of counseling psychology that pertains to work-related issues, including human behavior surrounding employment, workplace environments and employer-employee relationships. It helps people in recovery find employment that promotes feelings of purpose and adds another layer of meaning to their lives.

The Importance of Employment in Recovery

Employment benefits recovery in a number of ways, according to an article published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs2. A job helps you:

  • Job Benefits and RecoveryFill your time with productive pursuits
  • Develop healthy relationships with others
  • Stave off boredom and feelings of isolation
  • Maintain a healthy routine
  • Improve your finances and reduce financial stress
  • Increase your confidence and sense of self-worth
  • Find purpose and meaning in life

While any job will offer a paycheck, finding a job you enjoy and that you’re good at contributes to your sense of life purpose and meaning. However, those in recovery may have challenges that make finding a job difficult.

Common Barriers Addressed During Career Counselling

People in recovery may face a number of barriers to employment, according to the Association for Addiction Professionals3. These may include:

  • A spotty work history due to the addiction
  • A lack of education or training
  • A criminal record
  • A lack of transportation
  • A lack of childcare

In addition to these practical barriers, people in recovery often lack information about how to find a job, and they may be missing essential workplace skills. Low self-esteem, feelings of incompetence and limiting beliefs about one’s ability to find and keep a job can also get in the way of successful employment. A lack of self-awareness surrounding interests, personality type and strengths makes it difficult to find a job that can give you purpose and make you happy.

Career counseling during addiction recovery helps people identify and address these and other issues that can make finding employment a challenge. Once the issues are resolved, finding the right job becomes the focus of career counseling.

Origins of Career Counselling: Holland’s Theory of Vocational Personalities and Work Environments

John L. Holland wrote his famous article, “A Theory of Vocational Choice,” in 1959, and this groundbreaking work is still relevant today in the field of career counseling.  According to Holland’s theory, people influence their work environment and vice versa. Identifying your vocational personality -realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising or conventional- can help you find a job with the ideal environment that matches your skills, abilities and interests.

Holland’s theory underscores the importance of finding a suitable position that fits your personality, interests and preferences. According to an article published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, the degree of fit between your personality type and the type of work environment you choose plays a key role in job satisfaction, job stability, and workplace performance4.

Career counseling takes a holistic approach to helping you find a job environment that fits your vocational personality and gives you a sense of fulfillment.

Components of Career Counseling

A career counselor will do more than just help you find any old job, although employment is the ultimate goal. Career counseling involves several tools the counselor will use to help you find the right job and addresses a broad range of issues surrounding employment.

Identify Your Strengths, Interest, Values and Personality Type

During career counseling, you’ll take a range of tests that will tell you and your counselor a lot about yourself. These include:

Interest inventories

An interest inventory identifies your interests, likes and dislikes. The Strong Interest Inventory (SII) is the most commonly used tool to accomplish this. The SII determines your interests, work activities, potential skills and personal values in six areas. It reveals your preferences related to learning, risk-taking, team work, work style and leadership. The results will include a list of occupations that may interest you.

Skills tests

A variety of assessments are used to measure your aptitude for a wide range of skills, including basic skills like reading comprehension and speaking; complex problem-solving skills; resource management skills; social skills; technical skills; and systems skills. The results of these tests help you determine the careers in which your skills could be put to use.

Personality inventories

A personality inventory identifies your personality type, which can help determine your suitability for certain jobs and identify jobs that are likely to give you satisfaction. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the most commonly used personality assessment. The MBTI categorizes your preferences and personality characteristics in four areas:

  • What gives you energy
  • How you take in information
  • Your decision-making process
  • How your life is organized

This test offers insight into a variety of life domains, including the career paths that are ideal for your personality.

 

Values assessments

A values assessment will tell you about your underlying work needs -such as the need for a diversity of tasks- and what motivates you. Knowing your values, and embracing them, helps you identify career paths and work environments that will accommodate and even nurture them.

Evaluate Educational and Work Backgrounds

Your educational and work backgrounds are important considerations when looking for a job or choosing a career path. Different jobs have different education and work experience requirements, and it will be necessary to narrow down your choices to the jobs you’re qualified for. Evaluating your work and educational background can also be helpful for deciding what type of continuing education to pursue or what type of volunteer or entry-level position to look for in order to set yourself up for a dream job.

Set Goals

During counseling, you will become fully and consciously aware of your strengths, skills, talents, values, work attitudes, hopes, dreams and ideals. You’ll have a better idea of the kind of job or career that could potentially bring with it a great deal of life satisfaction. But simply knowing this information isn’t enough. It’s what you do with it that counts.

During career counseling, you’ll learn about setting SMART goals, or those that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. You’ll set work and educational goals based on what kind of career you’re interested in pursuing. You’ll start working on your goals right away, whether that involves applying for financial aid to return to school or volunteering your time to gain essential job skills.

Develop Job-Search Skills

Armed with information about the type of job you want to pursue, you’ll need to know how to find the one you want. Career counseling includes teaching skills related to the job search. This will typically start with building a resume and learning how and where to distribute it. You’ll learn the art of writing effective cover letters and thank-you notes. If you lack the computer skills you need to search and apply for jobs online, you’ll have the opportunity to improve these skills.

The right interview skills go a long way toward getting you in the door for any job. During career counseling, you’ll learn the ins and outs of a successful job interview, including dressing appropriately and mastering the handshake. You’ll engage in mock interviews to help you prepare for the real thing.

Other essential job-search skills you’ll learn in career counseling include networking skills and job-search etiquette.

Develop Workplace Skills

It’s common for people in recovery to have a spotty work record and lack the practical workplace skills needed to find a job and stay employed. Common missing skills include:

  • Interpersonal skills, such as interacting with co-workers and bosses in an appropriate way
  • Phone skills, including telephone etiquette and how to use an office phone system
  • Customer service skills, including appropriate interactions with the public
  • Computer skills, including software training, using the Internet and email instruction
  • Workplace cultural awareness, such as dressing appropriately, arriving on time and following the rules

Workplace skills education is often integrated with career counseling in a treatment setting, although it may be offered as a separate intervention.

Recovery in the Workplace

While recovery in the workplace isn’t always a topic of career counseling, a high-quality treatment program will provide education and advice for navigating the workplace in early recovery.

People in recovery will have to decide at some point about whether to tell their co-workers or boss that they’re recovering from an addiction, and especially in early recovery, people may face a range of issues at work that can put them at risk for relapse, such as interpersonal problems, negative emotions or boredom. A career counselor experienced with addiction can help you understand your triggers in the workplace, become aware of potential employment issues, and prepare to deal with them in a healthy, productive way if and when they occur.

Career counseling doesn’t guarantee you’ll find the job of your dreams, but it dramatically increases your chances of finding and keeping employment that gives you a sense of purpose in your life. It can prepare you for the workforce and start you on a career path that’s meaningful and fulfilling, which is a major boon to your ongoing recovery.