How Psychology Can Help Your Career — Q&A on I/O vs. Clinical Psychology
By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
How Psychology Can Help Your Career — Q&A on I/O vs. Clinical Psychology
Q: On your website, business cards, and other places it says “More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®’ What do you mean by that?
A: The marketplace is full of people who use the title ‘Coach.’ Since there are no universal standards or regulations, the level of proficiency and expertise varies wildly. There are ‘credentials’ that can be bought online or earned over the span of a few days. It’s very difficult to know who to trust, especially when the stakes are high in your career.
For instance, a significant proportion of the workforce is precariously employed. Due to these structural changes in the economy, many educated people are working below their potential. This often means that their earnings are lower than they should be. This chronic underemployment and financial hardship can damage one’s self-esteem, and contribute to other emotional problems.
To make matters worse, there are plenty of overwhelmed leaders and managers who aren’t able to cope with this ‘perfect storm’ of high potential, underemployed employees or the other challenges facing many workplaces. So, particularly for ambitious professionals, their career-related struggles often require the nuanced, skilled approach of a ‘career psychologist.’ One, who understands how employees and leaders fit into the larger organizational context which goes far beyond the superficial or mechanical aspects of career development or coaching.
Q: Do you think society is more aware and acclimatized to psychology? And, has that attracted additional clients?
A: As a result of pop psychology seen on shows like Donahue, Oprah, and Dr. Phil, there’s more awareness of the positive impacts that psychology can have on a person’s life. With that said, Industrial/Organizational psychology is not as well known as clinical psychology. Most people hear about what I do through word-of-mouth from clients, or online via search, social media, or my blog.
Q: It seems to me you deal with two types of clientele: one that has organizational issues that can affect the entire company, and individuals with challenges that have negatively affected their work. Is that accurate?
A: I certainly deal with a wide range of clients. Companies and other organizations often use my HR services for testing/assessments to hire, promote, or develop leadership in employees. I love this work because when the right people are in the correct roles, everybody benefits. I’m also excited about my one-on-one career coaching. These are clients who really want to make the most of their skills and experience but they haven’t been able to fully succeed. The HR work that I do gives me unusual insights that make me more effective as a Career Coach. Likewise, when I’m working one-on-one with individuals I am more mindful of their perspectives and concerns in broader business/organizational situations.
Q: Let’s focus on the individual clients seeking your services. Do they feel less stigma coming to you for stress management, and/or anxiety and depression in regards to their work rather than a clinical psychologist?
A: If a client approaches me to help them with anxiety and/or depression, I always refer them to a clinical psychologist.
However, if their problems are mainly due to what’s happening to them in the workplace (e.g., bullying or sexual harassment) or as a business owner, then there are usually things that I can help them with that a clinical psychologist can’t address.
Q: Can you give me some examples?
A: A great example is dealing with harassment/toxic behaviour in the workplace. A clinical psychologist is primarily able to help someone develop and implement strategies to recover from those emotionally damaging circumstances. I help them navigate the organizational context, identify cues, and more importantly create a graceful exit and transition into a better work environment. In my experience, by the time someone reaches out to me, they’ve already exhausted the viable (gentle) options. When those interventions haven’t worked, it’s time to make a clean break and get into a new role that is free from the abusive behaviour that is common in the dysfunctional workplace. It’s highly unlikely that the bad environment is going to correct itself. In a perfect world, after my client is safely situated in their new role, with their permission, I would love to clarify things for the organization so that other employees don’t suffer the same fate.
Q: So, what are the most common issues you encounter from your clients?
A: I have seen countless clients who have told me that they feel like they are stuck in an intimidating schoolyard filled with bullies, even though it’s an office environment. Workplace bullying is a very real problem, and it seems to be occurring in a variety of professional workplaces. I also deal with clients who are unable to deal with their anxiety during large meetings or forums where they must speak publicly.
Other clients express dissatisfaction with their career path, and they are desperate for a change. There are also many professionals who feel they don’t belong or are not good enough for the position they have landed. This common misconception has been coined the “imposter syndrome.” I have met successful CEO’s, lawyers, doctors, accountants, and teachers who experience this, despite having the required skills for their role. In general, all my clients have one objective in common: they want to reinvent/ change their professional lives for the better.
Q: It sounds like those issues overlap with the same troubles that motivate people to seek help from a clinical psychologist. Have some of your clients been referred from a clinical psychologist or vice versa?
A: Yes, clinical psychologists who know about my services have told their clients about me. Similarly, when I have clients who would benefit from the support of a clinical psychologist, I give them the names and contact information of psychologists who they’re likely to work well with.
Q: Would you say that some clients might feel more hesitant about going to see a clinical psychologist, than an I/O psychologist?
A: I suspect that some are reluctant to see clinical psychologists because they are uncomfortable discussing very private and emotionally sensitive matters. Although our livelihoods and issues that threaten our career are also personal, the fact is that it’s usually easier to talk about “work” struggles than it is to reveal intimate feelings and experiences in other areas of our lives. I can assume that someone might be more comfortable telling a colleague that they are working with a career coach or I/O psychologist than they’ll be describing their sessions with a clinical psychologist. Time spent with me can be described more as professional strategy and less about mental health (unfortunately, there is still some unfair stigma around mental health). In my opinion, however, that wouldn’t be an informed conclusion, because most of my clients do have to work through emotional and psychological barriers in order to achieve their goals.
Q: Do you think it’s beneficial to break down these walls between I/O and clinical psychology so that more people can seek advice, help, and guidance from both domains of expertise?
A: Absolutely. But, I want to make it clear that what I do and what a clinical psychologist does are distinct and shouldn’t be bundled as one and the same. However, I am hopeful that my clients can seek further psychological help if needed beyond what I can do for them in their professional spheres.
Check back here next week to read the flip-side of this blog. Dr. James Brazeau, C.Psych. will discuss Clinical Psychology and how his approach supports his clients as they take steps toward securing a stable and fulfilling career.
More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.
I/O Advisory Services – Building Resilient Careers and Organizations.
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