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March 2021 Newsletter

One year later: Reflection and resilience through the intersecting lens of career and personal life - The Career Counselor’s Responsibility

Angela Cutchineal, MSHE, PCM and Lauren Granese, M. Ed., NCC

Folks all over the United States will remember Friday, March 13, 2020. It marked the beginning of uncertainty, fear, and confusion, to which we all felt as a group, at once. We sat in our respective living rooms that evening, faced with decisions that needed to be made to problems with no immediate solutions; and the decisions needed to be made by Monday. Children were sent home from school, while parents were sent home from work. For many, that meant working remotely, but for others, there was no work at all.

In the beginning weeks, one thing was apparent, the expectation was that everyone was prepared for a major life “pause” with no anticipated end-date. It seemed to be expected that, on March 12th, all cupboards were already stocked with healthy and nutritious food, that all bank accounts had an emergency twelve months of savings, and that all members of each household were safe and free from domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental illness. This expectation was made abundantly clear when groceries were to be ordered with a smartphone or personal computer, that folks were expected to work and school from home using WiFi, and that everyone was to remain inside and only interact with the members of their immediate households, as businesses shuttered around them. It was expected that all had access to food, technology, safety, and security.

Absolutely, the greater need for our communities was to remain vigilant, protecting one another from the Coronavirus and not overwhelm our medical facilities. We had to and continue to have to do this through social distancing, masking, and hand washing. The solution to the greater problem was to send everyone home, to what is supposed to be a sanctuary of safety and security. This, unfortunately, is not the case for many households across the country. Those who typically struggle with housing and food insecurity, struggled harder. Some who historically don’t struggle with these hardships, learned quickly what it was like to. By October of 2020, an additional 8 million Americans tumbled into poverty, while 12.6 million people were out of work, many for the first time in their lives (DeParle, 2020; Fields, 2020). Not only this, but close to 80% of households already lived paycheck to paycheck, and 22 million children relied on the National School Lunch Program that provides free and reduced-price lunches, prior to the pandemic (Glink & Tamkin, 2020; Feeding America, 2021). When school let out, so did the children’s access to a healthy meal. Mass job loss led to fears of eviction, which would contribute to the amount of those homeless (Mervosh, 2020). These basic statistics underscore the premise of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; if physiological and safety needs are not taken care of, individuals cannot expect to rise to the next level of identifying meaning, purpose, and self-actualization within our leisure, career pathways, or lives in general (Maslow, 1970).

In times of hardship, we are especially reminded of the things we have control over versus the things we do not have control over. We cannot control disease, we cannot control the actions of others and we cannot control the past; we can only control how we react to these things. What is remarkable about the human race is that we are resilient creatures that overcome grief and obstacles. For some, with privilege, this has been abundantly taken for granted.

For decades, a healthy work/life balance was a goal to achieve, trying our best to separate our work life from our home life to bring about optimal mental health. This joined experience has taught us all just how much our mental health, multicultural identity, basic physiological and safety needs, are intertwined with career planning and development. These concepts have been segmented and siloed as if we live our lives in two distinct spaces - work and leisure. With the rise of the pandemic in our global society, it has become abundantly clear that these are not two clear-cut rooms that we can close doors to whenever we wish, rather they are intertwined and messy in a beautiful way that makes us whole human beings.

The siloing of our career and livelihoods has been put to the test with the onset of the pandemic last March, especially in the area of mental health. Mental health in the past year has been tested like never before. “In June, an estimated 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with some form of mental health or substance abuse issues, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published in August. There was a threefold increase in adults reporting anxiety and four times the reports of feelings of depression compared to the same time the year before, the CDC found” (Madani, 2020). What’s more is the ability to access mental health care. Prior to the pandemic, 38% of people reported that they were not able to access the mental health care they needed (Madani, 2020). This disproportionately affects communities of color, not only due to decreased access to treatment, but also a higher likelihood of terminating treatment prematurely, and receiving less culturally responsive care (SAMHSA, 2020).

As of February 2021, over 450,000 individuals in the United States have lost their lives to COVID-19 (CDC, 2021a). Many have lost family members and friends, and are struggling through grief. In addition to this, there is still a stigma surrounding getting help for mental health concerns (Pace & Quinn, 2000). Many continue to have a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, which is not only unrealistic during times outside of a pandemic, but downright impossible when most of the world is experiencing hardship. Not only do we have those experiencing grief and anger around those lost during the pandemic, but we also have a rise of domestic violence in the home, mothers having to choose between childcare and work, and an overall lack of trust of our government and healthcare system (Taub, 2020; Lawlor, 2020; CDC, 2021b).

The pandemic has also hit underrepresented populations, such as black and latinx communities, LGBTQIA+, and low socioeconomic status communities harder than others (CDC, 2021b; Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2020). This is multifaceted, and intersectional. There is a lack of trust in healthcare, but also lack of access to reliable healthcare (CDC, 2021b). Some may not have access to dependable WiFi that is needed to help their children succeed in schools, meet with doctors and therapists, or work remotely. Those facing unemployment and housing insecurity may have had to move back into a toxic home environment. Individuals in similar situations are faced with these concerns, but also a difficult job search that is compounded by lack of resources, lack of access, and lack of safety within their homes.

With this, as career practitioners, it is our responsibility, in our current landscape and beyond, that we lean into conversations around race and intersectional identity in the workplace. of how we, as career practitioners, can effectively assist our clients, students, and graduates. Aside from helping those without jobs locate employment, career coaching can serve as a gateway to counseling the whole person. In fact, a study by Pace & Quinn revealed that approximately 11% of college students who sought career counseling also received support for mental health issues, and of the students who sought out mental health counseling, 20% also received support for career concerns (2000). People may seek out career counseling with the intention of simply having their resume reviewed, or learning basic job search strategies, but if we as career coaches and counselors dig deeper and ask intentional questions, we can learn about the person behind the resume, and see them as whole human beings.

This shift in mindset is vital, because as we learn about the person on the other side of the zoom session, we can learn more about their values, beliefs, skills, and experiences. This can help tailor guidance toward empowerment in the job search and find greater understanding of what is in and outside of their control, which will lead them to their own definition of success.

As career practitioners, it is our responsibility, in our current landscape and beyond, that we lean into conversations around race and intersectional identity in the workplace. Our clients have the inherent right to be heard and their experiences validated. We need to check our biases and reflect on how they are shaping our responses to client concerns. We need to better understand and advocate for careers at organizations that hold congruent values with our clients. If clients find work that matches these values, they are more likely to thrive, and derive meaning from their work, ultimately leading to a successful career path (Loffredo, 2017). Not only this, but we need to be aware of resources that will help the whole person. Lists of mental health practitioners in the area, food banks, support groups, and more, will allow clients to meet those physiological and safety needs they require to build on successful career paths in a field of their choice.

The intersection of career and personal life is more than a quick topic for discussion. It is essential that as career practitioners, we look at the client sitting across from us in a holistic way, with unconditional positive regard, and a systematic focus. In doing so, we can help them achieve their definition of success and financial, physical, emotional, occupational, and environmental wellness. All of this will serve as a foundation to help our clients remain resilient and live their lives with purpose, meaning, connection, and belonging.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker. (2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health equity considerations and racial and ethnic minority groups. (2021, February 12). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html

DeParle, J. (2020, October 15). 8 million have slipped into poverty since May as federal aid has dried up. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/15/us/politics/federal-aid-poverty-levels.html

Feeding America. Children are more likely to experience summer hunger as families struggle to make up for lost school meals. (2021). Feeding America. https://www.feedingamerica.org/take-action/campaigns/summer-hunger#:~:text=During%20the%20school%20year%2C%2022,USDA%20Summer%20Food%20Service%20Program.

Fields, S. (2020, October 12). How many people are unemployed right now? Marketplace. https://www.marketplace.org/2020/10/12/how-many-people-are-unemployed-right-now/

Glink, I., & Tamkin, S. J. (2020, May 18). Despite financial hardships, there are signs of hope in the real estate market. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/05/18/despite-financial-hardships-there-are-signs-hope-real-estate-market/

Human Rights Campaign Foundation. (2020). The lives and livelihoods of many in the LGBTQ community are at risk amidst COVID-19 crisis. Human Rights Campaign. https://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/COVID19-IssueBrief-032020-FINAL.pdf?_ga=2.154430840.1382358215.1613329290-1454682359.1613329290

Lawlor, T. (2020, June 8). COVID-19's cost to working mothers. The World. https://www.pri.org/stories/2020-08-06/covid-19-s-cost-working-mothers

Loffredo, S. (2017, November 13). Do your career and work values align? Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2017/11/13/importance-aligning-your-career-your-core-values-essay

Madani, D. (2020, December). Mental health care has become even more crucial with the traumas of 2020 — but resources are stretched thin. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/mental-health-care-has-become-even-more-crucial-traumas-2020-n1251755

Maslow, A.H. (1970). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.

Mervosh, S. (2020, May 30). An 'avalanche of evictions' could be bearing down on America's renters.The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/27/us/coronavirus-evictions-renters.html

Pace, D., & Quinn, L. (2000). Empirical support of the overlap between career and mental health counseling of university students. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 14(3), 41-50.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. (2020). Double jeopardy: COVID-19 and behavioral health disparities for black and latino communities in the U.S. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/covid19-behavioral-health-disparities-black-latino-communities.pdf

Taub, A. (2020, April). A new Covid-19 crisis: Domestic abuse rises worldwide. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html

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