Vocational and Career Counseling in the Time of COVID-19

by Jen L’Insalata

Vocational and career counseling has always had direct ties to historical events and cultural trends. The notion that people dedicate large swaths of time to work is a testament to the socio-cultural importance of work. Parsons recognized this in during the second industrial revolution in the early 1900s; a period known for extreme economic inequality and intense labor disputes. His ideas emphasized an occupational fit during a time of increased urbanization, need for factory labor (Stebnicki, 2015), and a culture consisting of extremes.

During the mid-1900s, the rise of fascism and Nazi occupation in Europe saw many noteworthy psychiatrists and psychologists seek refuge from persecution in America. Concepts such as behaviorism, Gestalt philosophy, cognitive, and personality theory mixed with existing emphasis on scientific measurement and correlative outcome (Hunt, 2007). Interests in gender roles, social values, and childhood upbringing paved the way for career theorists to recognize the evolution of occupational interest over the course on one life. The 1950s saw an integration of work and leisure into the construct of the self and the cold war era saw the increased demand science and technology industries (Stebnicki, 2015, & Sperdakos, 2002).

Economic factors influence career and vocational trajectories. The Socio-cognitive model highlights levels of commitment and anxiety related to career decision making. Contextual societal supports provide means to self-efficacy and comfortability in career exploration while barriers inhibit exploration, goal setting, and potential outcome (Lent, Wang, Morris, Ireland, & Penn, 2019). This is true on a more intimate familial level as well as a larger social level. In economic recessions or depressions, barriers to employment are high leaving those with limited means in a more vulnerable position to secure career fulfillment. Emphasis is placed on survival and securing monetary income. During times of economic expansion, there is often a reduction in societal barriers that afford more people the latitude to engage in career exploration.

We are presently living through an event which will certainly leave its mark and shape our future. The COVID-19 crisis has fundamentally altered the concept of economy and work. Quarantine and social distancing measures have limited commerce in most industries deemed non-essential. This has resulted in a rapid increase of unemployment as companies and freelancers are unable to maintain operation.

Viruses and pandemics are nothing new. Humans have existed alongside of deadly viruses and bacteria since the beginning of time. Each rise of deadly illness has had effects on the civilizations and economies effected. Anxiety surrounding the illness itself is compounded by the economic response of the governments of the time. The preparedness or unpreparedness of a society has a lasting effect on the greater social psyche. Such notions have effects that echo through the public and private sectors of work (Wolf, 2020).

While we may not yet understand the extent of COVID-19’s impact on work, we do understand that there will likely be fundamental shifts in its aftermath. Many companies have set up opportunities for employees to continue to sustain employment via remote work (Wolf, 2020) through various digital platforms. This shift is likely to highlight the value of remote work for many industries. Career and vocational counselors will be part of the adaptation assisting both employers and employees navigate the challenges and benefits of a more remote workforce.

The greater psychological community has widely accepted the idea that isolation has negative consequences. At present we are seeing polarized responses to social distancing and quarantine measures which is both health and financially oriented. This becomes rather apparent if one follows activity on any social media platform. The commonality between polarized responses appears to be the complex combination of fear and anxiety caused by unknown health outcomes, financial means, and the break down in daily schedules or structure.

Children are impacted as education remains halted. Parents struggle to balance work, continued remote education, and daily childrearing obligations in households with a moderate income. Children of low-income household loose access to the benefits provided by public schools such as student food programs and afterschool care (Wilkinson, & Pickett, 2007). Many low-income households may be unable to provide optimum alternatives for continued education.

Income inequality and extreme class striations impact overall health and psychological outcomes. Those existing in neglected or impoverished communities face hardships that those in higher income and socio-economic classes do not. As income disparity and stratification increases, trust, corporation, and reciprocity decrease between class divisions (Wilkinson, & Pickett, 2007). This breakdown increases the potential for criminality and exploitation as a form of to make ends meet (Wolf, 2020). We have begun to witness reports of larger employers engaging in exploitive practices of both customers and employees as well as reports of increased petty crimes in COVID-19 affected communities.

As career and Vocational counselors, we will need to consider these effects on the concept of work and society as we engage in recovery efforts. Counselors can use their advocacy platforms to aid in increased pay and benefits for low wage essential workers and consult with companies surrounding recruitment strategies for hard to fill positions. This may include shifts in compensation benefits, in the notion of work life balance, and the flexibility to increase remote work options.

Work offers social connection, inclusion, and friendships for many people (Brown & Lent, 2013). In the absence of work, many communities are coming together to offer support. Digital groups are forming to increase social activity, and many are finding meaning in volunteer activities to help aid those most effected. It may be safe to suggest that we are beginning to see a shift in the relationship between purpose and social contract within vocational spheres that reflect a more corporative society.

In the upcoming months and throughout the duration of the pandemic crisis, career and vocational counselors will play a significant role in helping many who are employer and unemployed. Counselors can help emphasize, create, and develop a new sense of route and structure to combat social isolation, loneliness, and loss of purpose due to the lack of work. Counselors will also help people connect to and learn new digital networking platforms in order to access work. Most important, career and vocational counselors can help society shift the emphasis away from being ‘the best’ and our obsession with hyper productivity to one in which we embrace radical acceptance and become comfortable in our personal limitations.


Brown, S. D., & Lent, R. W. (Eds.). (2013). Career development and counseling : Putting theory and research to work. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.library.capella.edu

Hunt, M. (2007). The story of psychology. New York, NY: Anchor Books. ISBN 9780307278074

Lent, R. W., Wang, R. J., Morris, T. R., Ireland, G. W., & Penn, L. T. (2019). Viewing the Career Indecision Profile within a theoretical context: Application of the social cognitive career self-management model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 66(6), 690–700. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1037/cou0000367

Sperdakos, H. A. (2002). The practice of dharmic livelihood: A heuristic study of the transformative experience of integrating work on the self (inner work) and work in the world (outer work) (Order No. NQ74807). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (305489867). Retrieved from http://library.capella.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fsearch.proquest.com%2Fdocview%2F305489867%3Faccou

Stebnicki, M. A. (2015). The professional counselor’s desk reference, second edition. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.library.capella.edu

Wilkinson, R.G., & Pickett, K.E. (2007). The enemy between us: The psychological and social costs of inequality. European Journal of Social Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2275

Wolf. R.D. (2020, April 13). Economic Update: The Psychological Aspects of Today’s Crises featuring Tess Fraad Wolf. Democracy at Work. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ZA02qZndDSA


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