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


Socioeconomic Stratification, Class Structure, and Inequality on Self-Concept and Imposter Phenomenon

By Jen L’Insalata

Socioeconomic status includes aspects of ownership, wealth, and class identity. Gradients between rich and poor highlight the variation of outcome linked to mental and physical health outcomes, access to resources, opportunity, and education. Socioeconomic status provides a pathway to power through access and acceptance in a status-driven western economy. As socioeconomic differences increase, so does the subjective emphasis on the importance of status and income (Wilkinson, & Pickett, 2017).

Dominance hierarchies form a social organizational structure through which individuals are stratified into a class system. Stratifications encompass more than financial status, further dividing individuals based on cultural drivers and social values. Stratified societies maintain a ranking system used to evaluate and maximize perceived value within the hierarchy. Social ranking is based on access to valuable or scarce resources and the accumulation of resources provides a pathway to power (Wilkinson, & Pickett, 2017). 

Egalitarian framework counterbalances resource-based social ranking systems to a small degree through the value of generosity and selflessness. Cultural aspects associated with selflessness and community provide an avenue through egalitarian endeavors provide recognition and prestige. However societal inequality increases internal status-driven anxiety as socioeconomic based access becomes a valuable attribute (Wilkinson, & Pickett, 2017). 

According to an intrapersonal perspective, global self-esteem is based on an individual’s perception of performance in domains deemed important. American societal constructs emphasize a high degree of value and prestige associated with socioeconomic status and occupations. High education, income, and status-based occupations are valued in American society and serve as a basis of assessing an individual’s worthiness (von Soest, Wagner, Hansen, & Gerstorf, 2018). This in turn serves as a validation for self-esteem in adults. 

Interpersonal framework emphasizes the role of social interaction and social symbolism on self-esteem. Individuals who maintain healthy social interactions experience higher self-esteem outcomes. On the contrary, individuals with poor social connections experience low self-esteem outcomes. The internalization of the perceptions of others establishes a framework for self-evaluation. Individuals with low socioeconomic status are often marginalized and alienated in professional roles. Threats of social exclusion negatively influence self-perception (von Soest, Wagner, Hansen, & Gerstorf, 2018) leading many individuals to increase socioeconomic standing as a form of social inclusion.

Social mobility becomes restricted by socioeconomic class origins as cultural worldviews are influenced by economics and access to resources. The expectations and demands that culture places on the individual limits the ability to transcend socioeconomic stratifications. Awareness of the degree in which socioeconomic stratification impacts self-esteem drives many high achieving individuals to pursue avenues to socioeconomic advancement (Sánchez, Liu, Leathers, Goins, & Vilain, 2011).

Individuals experience class mobility in three directions, their class or origin, their current class, and their class as others ascribe them. Throughout life, individuals move between classes shifting their sense of self and belonging. Individuals of lower or working classes find themselves straddling class divisions and developing the need to operate between two distinct class identities. Lower income classes are often faced with the choice to be loyal to their class of origin, while striving to achieve career goals. In order to achieve career goals, individuals are often forced to assimilate into cultural norms and expectations of a higher socioeconomic class. This frequently results in the individual feeling alienated from both class environments (Ardoin, 2018). 

Imposter Phenomenon relates to one’s desire to appear in a particular manner within a peer group (Langford, & Clance, 1993). Individuals shift between social classes throughout educational and career progression. Transitioning socioeconomic class is a source of anxiety for many individuals. Individuals in working classes find themselves to be out of place when working toward financial and occupational advancement. There is a lack of comfortability and belonging to both the aspirational social class and the social class of origin (Ardoin, 2018). Straddling socioeconomic classes results in behavioral adaptations of separate personas when interacting in each class.  

American mythology maintains the belief that higher education is a pathway to upward mobility despite the socioeconomic stratifications of one’s origin (Sánchez, Liu, Leathers, Goins, & Vilain, 2011). Socioeconomic position encompasses aspects of education and the prestige associated with institutions of higher education. Higher education continues to be an avenue for socio-economic mobility by serving as a training ground for the labor market. Human capital theory connects educational qualifications to employee productivity and thus increased earning potential. Employers often select employees based on educational credentials (Delaney, & Farren, 2016). 

Institutions of higher education have a longstanding history of inequality and exclusionary practices based on socioeconomic status. The increasing cost of education, ranked and selective admissions, and tuition assistance contribute to contribute to illusion of education as a privilege. Students are often expected to conform and assimilate in order to “catch up” to more well-off peers (Ardoin, 2018). 

Many individuals from lower socioeconomic classes choose avenues of distance learning or pursue lower level higher educational qualifications in order to balance financial and academic responsibilities (Delaney, & Farren, 2016). Those who do gain entrance to prestigious institutions or purse high level educations experience a marginalization and find difficulty connecting to peers in higher socioeconomic positioning (Ardoin, 2018). As higher education is a prerequisite for many forms of employment, individuals from lower socioeconomic standing are forced to assimilate with a new socioeconomic culture while mitigating the dissonance of class identity. 

Aspects of social expression through dress, dialect, and manners contribute to the perception of a particular social standing sending a message that is then affirmed by society (Ardoin, 2018, & Wilkinson, & Pickett, 2017). Individuals with low self-esteem rely on the validation of others and are often compelled to adopt the behavioral patterns and appearance of the aspirational social class. Straddling socioeconomic class divisions contribute to additional dissonance surrounding one’s identity. The feeling of fraudulence may be increased due to conforming with social class expectations of two groups in varying environments. The desire to be validated within the aspirational in-group is compounded by intense fear and anxiety that that group will recognize an individual’s fraudulence (Gibson & Schwartz, 2008) which ultimately increase the occurrence of Imposter Phenomenon at the socioeconomic level. 


Ardoin, S. (2018). Helping Poor‐ and Working‐Class Students Create Their Own Sense of Belonging. New Directions for Student Services, 2018(162), 75–86. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1002/ss.20263

Delaney, L., & Farren, M. (2016). No ‘self’ left behind? Part-time distance learning university graduates: social class, graduate identity and employability. Open Learning, 31(3), 194–208. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1080/02680513.2016.1208553

Gibson-Beverly, G., & Schwartz, J. R. (2008). Attachment, Entitlement, and the Impostor Phenomenon in Female Graduate Students. Journal of College Counseling, 11(2), 119–132. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1882.2008.tb00029.x

Langford, J., & Clance, P. R. (1993). The imposter phenomenon: Recent research findings regarding dynamics, personality and family patterns and their implications for treatment. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 30(3), 495–501. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1037/0033-3204.30.3.495

Sánchez, F. J., Liu, W. M., Leathers, L., Goins, J., & Vilain, E. (2011). The subjective experience of social class and upward mobility among African American men in graduate school. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 12(4), 368–382. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1037/a0024057

von Soest, T., Wagner, J., Hansen, T., & Gerstorf, D. (2018). Self-esteem across the second half of life: The role of socioeconomic status, physical health, social relationships, and personality factors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(6), 945–958. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1037/pspp0000123

Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. E. (2017). The enemy between us: The psychological and social costs of inequality. European Journal of Social Psychology, 47(1), 11–24. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1002/ejsp.2275