Depression and Career Development

By Roger Wilcoxen

As a Regional Career Advisor, who is also involved in the religious community, I have found congruence between counseling those in career development and the religious community concerning depression. Three key principles, Focus, Realization and Acceptance are creating a difference between feeling trapped and becoming successful. These principles lay a foundation toward career growth and most importantly, personal growth. Preparing clients for success can be challenging yet fulfilling, even if depression is a factor.


FOCUS: A person's ability to focus on strengths instead of weaknesses is crucial during career development, and more crucial for an individual with depression. For the depressed, it is easy to permit cognitive distortions, obscure thoughts, and even obstruct the ability to clarify strengths. Individuals who attend to positive attributes of their achievements and goals generate confidence and the ability to progress forward in career growth.

As professionals, extending a fresh outlook on employment processes and offering positive feedback regarding the client's abilities often provides the assurance clients need. Through the process of resume development, client's are able to highlight positive aspects of their abilities and create opportunity for personal growth and positive outlook. The use of tools indicating transferable, soft, and hard skills provides opportunity to examine the full spectrum of one's abilities. Individuals succumbed with depression generally are aware of their weaknesses; focusing on strengths challenges thinking and refocuses one's attention.

REALIZATION: There are some realizations individuals need to accept during the process of career development.

1. Rejection doesn't mean elimination. Numerous times I have witnessed individuals coming back from an interview feeling rejected. Applicants need to understand that the employment "pool" is large and unless there are obvious aspects of the interview process needing to be refined, what they are experiencing may be completely natural. In large pools of applicants, it is tough for employers to formulate hiring decisions. Feelings of rejection, especially continual rejection that can be experienced in the job search, can lead to depressive issues. Guiding individuals through this process may be difficult, yet very rewarding. Reassuring clients of their abilities and character strengths often times conveys further hope toward success.

2. Failing doesn't equal failure. Just because one has not successfully ascertained an interview, or has had character issues, does not mean they are a failure. People generally struggle with the interview process, and some even feel like failures after "bombing" an interview. I remember a colleague who has been in career development over 35 years once telling me, "Roger I have interviewed and been interviewed hundreds of times and I still get nervous and mess up. The important thing isn't that you have messed up or have flawed your character in the past. The crucial lesson is that we learn from those shortcomings by finding solutions and then moving forward."

Yet how do we guide clients dealing with failure? This is one of the hardest components of career development and a strong self-sabotaging tool people use. It is important that continual follow up, opportunity for mock interviews and educational interviews be utilized. Once a client appears to be self-sabotaging, immediate intervention is important to help the client refocus and be assured. Help the client see that they can be successful in their career and not doomed for failure.

ACCEPTANCE: Acceptance of abilities, accomplishments and employment availability are crucial in successful establishment of a career.. Generally this is done fairly easy for individuals seeking career transformations, yet, difficult for depressed individuals. Career Counselors guiding people toward realistic expectations need to focus on two main goals:

1. Acceptance of abilities and accomplishments; own them.

Clients wanting to discredit their abilities and overlook their accomplishments may find it complicated to develop a resume and accomplish successful interviewing skills. An important feature of career development is how to "own" abilities and accomplishments in a way that demonstrates self-confidence and professionalism. What may seem as a small accomplishment to one may be huge in the eyes of an employer who desires those abilities.

Professionals provide not only guidance in discovering abilities and accomplishments, but helping a client recognize personal attributes and how to reward oneself. Too many people discredit themselves and therefore cut themselves short. When counselors offer guidance in this area, it opens the door toward confidence and personal growth.

2. Acceptance of character; live it.

Character is critical in career development. Employers often ask for referrals and one question asked is, "Are they a person of character?" Character is the ability to be professional and to exhibit integrity and respect. I have had employers tell me: "Give me a person of character, and I can teach them anything. Give me a person with no character with tremendous abilities, and they will destroy my company."

Character has become known as "soft skills" throughout most industries. The development of these skills can be challenging and extremely frustrating for professionals who observe individuals self-sabotaging. There is a question of consideration for clients: Would I hire myself based on my character, and why? Once this question is examined, opportunity avails itself for professionals to direct individuals in accepting shortcomings and working toward positive solutions. This process develops not only career success, but allows people the opportunity to grow individually as well.

Depression can be overwhelming during career change, yet career change can be a very positive experience as well. Focus, Realization, and Acceptance are powerful attributes needed to develop a successful and positive experience during career change and also decrease the characteristics of depression.


Roger Wilcoxen holds a MA in Counseling Psychology, serves as a State Board Member for Kansas Association of Master's in Psychology, is a Regional Career Advisor for Johnson County Workforce Partnership, and serves in various ministry capacities. You may contact him at: roger.w.wilcoxen@hotmail.com.

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