What Kind of Career Counselling do Women Need?
by Sue Berlove
In 1976 I accidentally fell into the world of career development. All my career training and work experience to date had been geared to personal counselling, psychotherapy, and adolescent treatment. With no knowledge of the career planning field or skills, with only a graduate degree in Counselling and Human Relations, I was offered a career counselling position at limes Change Women's Employment Service.
Learning to be a career counsellor can be a trying experience, because there aren't many places that teach the necessary skills and theory. Like most newcomers to the field, I had to learn on the job, reading, talking to other counselors, listening to what my clients wanted, trying various techniques and evaluating their effectiveness.
Perhaps it was a function of my learning style (I prefer to learn through risking and doing) that it took me a few years to feel really comfortable and competent in my work. But I think more likely my professional development path reflects the underlying dilemma most career counsellors face: What is the career counsellor supposed to do when faced with a client who is asking "What should I do with my life?" The question always seems awesome and my response in the beginning felt inadequate.
In the early years at Times Change Women's Employment Service I felt anxious and overwhelmed at times. I would be thinking, "I don't know what you should do. Why don't you know what you want to do? It's a big task. Why are you asking me?" At other times I felt I should know. If only I could listen, put it all together and give them their answer on a silver platter! I wondered if testing was a better response than the self-assessment approach we were using; at least it gave answers.
Gradually I began to unravel the career counsellor's dilemma for myself and find answers to these difficult questions: What should I be doing for women at career crossroads? What role should I play? What expertise can I offer? What kind of career counselling will give women good solid answers to their important career/life planning questions?
What emerged was an approach which I believe addresses these questions and speaks to the needs of my women clients. My work is an adaptation of Richard Bolles' self-assessment materials and philosophy, modified by my knowledge of psychodynamics and feminism. As well, my work has been shaped by my personal learning and more specifically by my attempts to include mothering as part of my own life plan.