The Intersection of Career Development and Spirituality: Considerations for Career Professionals
By Amber Samuels
There is a growing body of evidence that spirituality plays a critical role in the career development of clients who self-identify as spiritual. Within the past decade, a considerable amount of literature has emerged around the themes of multiculturalism and social justice (Hays, 2020). Furthermore, the National Career Development Association’s Diversity Statement (2017) calls upon career professionals not only to honor diversity but to view it from an intersectional perspective, attending to all aspects of clients’ identities. Spiritual identities, however, are an “often-neglected” area of diversity (Mintert et al., 2020).
It is increasingly important to assess for and attend to spirituality in the realm of career-related work. While numerous career counseling theories and models exist to guide the work of independent career development professionals, few directly address the unique and potentially powerful role of spiritual identities in an individual’s career development. Therefore, considerations and practical tools to help practitioners take a client’s spiritual identity into account are presented in this article.
Spirituality can be defined as, “beliefs and practices that are both deeply personal and transcendent and can be experienced either within or outside formal religious institutions” (Walsh, 1999, p. 3). While various definitions of spirituality have been proposed over the years, this article uses the subjective, self-identification of “being spiritual” in an inclusive and broadly-defined sense.
Considerations for Career Practitioners
Vocational research suggests that spirituality and career intersect in a number of ways, including: as an influence on career interests and values; as a mechanism of support; and as an influence on career decisions through “callings” (Duffy et al., 2010). By attending to these intersections, career practitioners may develop a richer understanding of a client’s identity and discern the role that spirituality plays in their lives. Career professionals can assess the importance of spirituality by asking the following questions:
- Do you consider yourself spiritual?
- Would you like to tell me about your spiritual beliefs?
- How important is your spirituality to you?
After assessing salience, career practitioners can move on to exploring the influence of spirituality on interests and values, support, and decision-making.
Spirituality as an Influence on Interests and Values
Section E of the NCDA Code of Ethics (2015) calls for career professionals to take into account a client’s personal and cultural contexts, including any spiritual identities, when assessing for interests and values. Clients’ spiritual identities might peak their interest in certain types of work and push them away from other career paths (Duffy et al., 2010). The following questions may assist clients in identifying and utilizing their interests and values in a spiritual context:
- What values do you hold because of, or in alignment with, your spirituality?
- What are your spiritual interests and how do you like to practice, think about, or discuss them?
- Do you see your spiritual interests and values relating to your career interests and values?
While other aspects of clients’ personal and cultural contexts provide clues to interests and values and should be explored, the spiritual context may reveal interesting insights that add a layer of richness to the self-assessment and career exploration processes.
Spirituality as Source of Support
The NCDA Code of Ethics’ (2015) Section A.1.e., guides career professionals to recognize that support networks hold various meanings in the lives of clients, and that those networks may include spiritual communities. To identify and integrate the client’s sources of spiritual support into the career development process, career professionals can use the following questions:
- How has your spirituality supported you, in the past, during times of stress?
- What is available to you (e.g., spiritual community, spiritual leader, spiritual practices) to support you through career challenges and turning points?
- What could potentially get in the way of utilizing your spirituality throughout this process?
For clients whose spirituality is important to them in their career development, spiritual networks deserve a place alongside family, close friends, fellow alumni, mentors, mental health resources, and other common support networks.
Spirituality and Career Decision Making
Vocational research addressing spirituality has shown that individuals with various spiritual identities report “callings” having an influence on their career decisions (Colozzi & Colozzi, 2000; Wrzesniewski et al., 1997). Given the diversity and subjectivity of spirituality, “callings” can hold different meanings for clients with different spiritual identities (Duffy et al., 2010). Career professionals can use the following questions to better attend to the career decision-making process and the personal meanings clients associate with their spirituality:
- How important is it to feel called regarding your career choices?
- Have you felt called to do something work-related in the past and, if so, how did you respond to the calling?
- What messages does your spirituality give you about your purpose (i.e., calling)?
The questions provided in this article address identifying the importance of spirituality, the influence on interests and values, the sources of support, and connection to career decision making. They help practitioners take an active role in integrating clients’ spiritual identity with their career discovery, discernment, and development processes.
Colozzi, E. A., & Colozzi, L. C. (2000). College students' callings and careers: An integrated values-oriented perspective. In D. A. Luzzo (Ed.), Career counseling of college students: An empirical guide to strategies that work (pp. 63-91). American Psychological Association.
Duffy, R. D., Reid, L., & Dik, B. J. (2010). Spirituality, religion, and career development: Implications for the workplace. Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion, 7(3), 209-221.
Hays, D. G. (2020). Multicultural and social justice counseling competency research: Opportunities for innovation. Journal of Counseling & Development, 98(3), 331-344.
Mintert, J., Tran, A. G., & Kurpius, S. (2020). Religious and/or spiritual social justice advocacy: Guidance from the multicultural and social justice counseling competencies. Counseling and Values, 65(1), 2-14.
National Career Development Association. (2017). NCDA Diversity Statement. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sp/about
National Career Development Association. (2015). NCDA Code of Ethics. http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/asset_manager/get_file/3395?ver=738700
Walsh, F. (1999). Religion and spirituality: Wellsprings for healing and resilience. In F. Walsh (Ed.), Spiritual resources in family therapy (p. 3–27). Guilford Publications.
Wrzesniewski, A., McCauley, C., Rozin, P., & Schwanz, B. (1997). Jobs, careers, and callings: People's relations to their work. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 21-33.
Amber M. Samuels, MS, LGPC (DC), NCC, CCC, is committed to supporting, challenging, and empowering her clients. Amber is a doctoral candidate at The George Washington University working toward a PhD in Counseling (Counselor Education and Supervision) and is a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor (LGPC) in the District of Columbia. She is also a National Certified Counselor (NCC), a Certified Career Counselor™ (CCC), and an MBTI® Certified Practitioner. She can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/itsambersamuels/ or www.ambersamuels.com.