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Psychodynamic theories

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

Contribution from Jenny Bimrose Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick

The term ‘psychodynamic’ refers to systems that use motives, drives, and related covert variables to explain behaviour. Psychodynamic career counseling refers to counseling approaches that are guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to facilitate career exploration. (Watkins & Savickas, 1990, p.79)

Compared with other psychological schools of thought, there has been little progress on developing psychodynamic approaches to career choice, change and development. However, ideas and concepts from this theoretical perspective have certainly influenced thinking in the area of careers. For example, Anne Roe (1956, 1957), who trained as a clinical psychologist as an extension of occupational psychology, undertook research that was heavily influenced by psychodynamic theory. More recently, other researchers (for example, Bordin, 1990; Savickas, 1989; Watkins and Savickas, 1990) have begun developing and applying ideas fundamental to this theoretical perspective.

None emerge as particularly significant in the UK context, though since Roe was identified by practitioners in the research carried out by Kidd et al. (1993), a brief outline of her ideas, and some originating from Mark Savickas, follow.

Anne Roe

Roe had no experience of careers counselling, and was originally interested in personality theory and occupational classification (Roe, 1956, 1957). Much of her early research focused on the possible relationship between occupational behaviour (that is, not just choice) and personality (Roe and Lunneborg, 1990). She found Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs (1954) a useful framework, as it offered the most effective way of discussing the relevance of occupational behaviour to the satisfaction of basic needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in order of their potency (from the most to the least potent) comprised eight categories: first, physiological needs; second, safety needs; third, needs for belongingness and love; fourth, the need for importance, respect, self-esteem, independence; fifth, the need for information; sixth, the need for understanding; seventh, the need for beauty; and eighth, the need for self-actualisation. Maslow considered these needs to be innate and instinctive but (apart from physiological needs) modifiable, and proposed that the lower the potency of need in the hierarchy, the more it is suppressible (Maslow, 1954).

Roe (1956) accepted Maslow’s hierarchy as originally proposed, though exchanged the need for importance, respect, self-esteem, independence (number four in Maslow’s original hierarchy) with the need for self-actualisation (the eighth need in the original version). Two of her key propositions were that, first, occupation is potentially the most powerful source of individual satisfaction at all levels of need; and second, that social and economic status depend more on the occupation of an individual than upon anything else (Roe, 1957, p.213).

She also constructed a new system of occupational classification, since she considered that none of the systems available followed any logical system (Roe, 1957). She saw that occupations could be arranged along a continuum based on the intensity and nature of the interpersonal relationships involved in the occupational activities and in an order that would have contiguous groups more alike than non-contiguous ones. The eight occupational groups she posited were service, business contact, organisation, technology, outdoor, science, general culture, and arts and entertainment (Roe, 1957, p.217). The levels of difficulty and responsibility involved in each occupation were then considered, and six occupational levels based on degree of responsibility, capacity and skill were identified. These were: professional and managerial (independent responsibility); professional and managerial; semi-professional and small business; skilled; semiskilled and unskilled (Roe, 1956 & 1957).

The original theory contains various propositions on the origin of interest and needs, though subsequent research concentrated on the proposition that since early experience is usually dominated by the family situation and particularly by relations with the parents, some description of parental behaviours was necessary (Roe and Lunneborg, 1990). These are conceptualised as emotional concentration on the child, which could be either overprotective or over-demanding; avoidance of the child, expressed either as emotional rejection or neglect, or acceptance of the child, either casually or lovingly. It was also argued that there are two basic orientations, either toward or not toward persons, that these are related to early childhood experiences and that they can be related in turn to occupational choice.

A central weakness in Roe’s (1957) original ideas are identified by Roe and Lunneborg (1990) who suggest that it has become clear that there is no direct link between parent-child relations and occupational choice. Brown (1990) identifies other weaknesses including the lack of any longitudinal research necessary to test key propositions; its failure to provide an adequate explanation of how socio-demographic variables interact with career choice; lack of insight into the career-decision making process itself; and Roe’s lack of interest in the practical application of her theory. Brown (1990) predicts that unless the research necessary to validate Roe’s theory is undertaken, it will ‘fall into disuse’, even though some ideas and concepts may continue in practice (p.352).

Mark Savickas

Other psychodynamic approaches include Adlerian approaches, and it is within this academic tradition that Mark Savickas developed his career-style assessment (1989). His approach to careers counselling makes use of Adlerian concepts such as lifestyle and career style, encouragement and the use of private logic that emanates from childhood experience (Scharf, 1997, p.290). Savickas’s structured approach consists of two phases - assessment and counselling. The assessment phase consists of a careers interview which focuses on gathering information about lifestyle issues. Each question is focused and provides particular clues about the client’s life goals. They include role models, books, magazines, leisure activities, school subjects, mottoes, ambitions and decisions. After the initial assessment interview, three more sessions are required. The first is to discuss career style and path, decision-making difficulties and interests; the second focuses on developing a list of occupations for further exploration and the third focuses on any difficulties that the individual may be having in making a choice. Throughout the process, there is an emphasis on presenting observations that the practitioner has made about the client (Scharf, 1997, p.290).

Full details of Savickas's publication are available from this link.

Conclusion

Watkins and Savickas (1990) argue that psychodynamic theories represent a subjective approach to careers guidance. ‘The real value of psychodynamic career counseling is to complement the objective perspective with the subjective perspective’ (p.101). Bordin (1994) considers that a real strength of this approach is to provide the perspective of the family as a system which provides a framework for understanding the transmission of social influences (p.60). However, psychodynamic approaches to careers have almost totally ignored the importance of social variables (Brown, 1990, p.353), and remain inaccessible to most practitioners. These approaches have not been incorporated generally into careers guidance in the UK, though certain ideas and concepts have been used to enhance and inform our approaches to guidance, such as the influence of role models. Brown (1990) considers that the 'present status of psychoanalytical thinking is that it has relatively few supporters' (p.354).

Bordin 1994

Bordin, E.S. (1994) ‘Intrinsic motivation and the active self: convergence from a psychodynamic perspective, in Savickas, M.L. & Lent, R.L. (Eds) Convergence in Career Development Theories, Palo Alto, California, CPP Books, pp53-61.

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

Brown 1990

Brown, D. (1990) ‘Summary, comparison & critique of the major theories’, in Brown, D., Brooks, L. & Associates (Eds), Career Choice & Development, San Francisco, Jossey Bass, pp338-363.

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

Kidd et al 1994

Kidd, J.M., Killeen, J., Jarvis, J. & Offer, M. (1994) ‘Is guidance an applied science?: the role of theory in the careers guidance interview’, British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, Vol.22, No.3. pp373-384.

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

Maslow 1954

Maslow, A.H. (1954) Motivation and Personality, New York, Harper and Row.

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

Roe 1956

Roe, A. (1956) The Psychology of Occupations, New York, Wiley.

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

Roe 1957

Roe, A. (1957) ‘Early determinants of vocational choice’, Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol.4, No.3. pp212-217.

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

Roe et al 1990

Roe, A. & Lunneborg, P.W. (1990) ‘Personality, development and career choice’, in Brown, D., Brooks, L. & Associates, (Eds) Career Choice and Development, (2nd Edn), San Francisco, California, Jossey-Bass, pp68-101.

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

Sharf 1997

Sharf, R.S. (1997) Applying Career Development Theory to Counseling, Pacific Grove, California, Brooks/Cole.

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

Watkins et al 1990

Watkins, C.E. & Savickas, M.L. (1990) ‘Psychodynamic career counselling’, in Walsh, W.B. and Osipow, S.H. (Eds) Career Counseling: contemporay topics in vocational psychology, Hillsdale, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp79-116.

These theories guided by attempts to understand, make meaning of, and utilise individual motives, purposes and drives to support career development.

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