Beyond the Resume:
An interview about mental health and jobsearching with Victoria LaBerge, Counsellor, CCC, MACP, BA
Blogpost by OSP Staff
January 23, 2024
OSP and Momentum Counselling are collaborating to support OSP jobseekers with counselling sessions offered at OSP's Leduc and Edmonton offices.
We are pleased to introduce Victoria LaBerge, Counsellor, CCC, MACP, BA, who has been contracted to conduct counselling sessions with OSP clients.
Understanding the toll that a job search can have on a jobseeker's mental health, we are grateful to Momentum Counselling and Victoria that we are able to help support our Clients to this valuable resource. We chatted with Victoria to learn how she sees mental health counselling in the context of jobsearching, and ask for some words of advice for keeping on going when it feels disheartening and discouraging in the moment:
So let's start with a good general first question! Why do you think mental health counseling important?
Well, I could give million different reasons for mental health counselling, but to try to focus on a few? The ultimate benefits of mental health counselling really depend on what kind of issues or topics you're coming to me for support. But I would say that the ultimate reasons are decreased stress, decreased, suffering, decreased emotional pain, ways to increase well-being, mood feelings and experiences, and allowing yourself to be more open to connection and joy and all those positive experiences that ultimately contribute to positive mental health.
A good analogy for me is that mental health counselling is like the two of us in a canoe, each with a paddle. As we go, we're collaborating and creating together; we're trusting and we're learning and growing. And sometimes I might put down the paddle and give the client an opportunity to learn how to row on their own, but I'll still be there. And sometimes I might pick up the paddle to support them and help them kind of pick up some steam. And so, I think that experience is another reason why mental health counseling is so important is because it's not just managing your weaknesses, but also teaching you to recognize your strengths and resilience and all the things that you already have within you to solve their own problems.
I'm just going to step back just a little bit because I just realized that we haven't really delved into your own organization and its mandate. You come to OSP from Momentum Counselling to support our clients who are job searching. Can you tell me a little bit about Momentum Counselling and what it does?
Momentum Counselling provides accessible therapy options for everyone, but with a focus on those who have trouble getting access to therapy otherwise, due to financial constraints or other barriers. They work hard to be accessible and approachable to as many clients as possible. Sometimes we have clients who come in who can't afford to pay the usual price and we're able to offer them much more affordable discounted rates and sliding scale payments. They also offer some free online group sessions and workshops as well.
They operate from solution focused brief therapy (SFBT) model which involves goal oriented, future focused methods and interventions. We're always looking towards hope that there's always something to keep us going to build that momentum, so to say, and it's also very championing and empowering to the client. So SFBT really posits itself on the idea that the client is already coming with their lived experiences, but also their own strengths and values and resources that are going to support them in solving these problems and issues and recovering and healing. Our job as the counsellor is to kind of shine a spotlight on that and to bring forth all those strengths that they have and highlight them and emphasize them and encourage them. It really is an empowering place to work from.
What are you seeing as some of the biggest challenges your clients are facing mental health wise these days just in general?
I would say that the most common issues that I see are anxiety and depression as well as self-esteem, relationship issues or conflicts. It's becoming much more common knowledge that it is much more of a common experience for everyone to experience anxiety and depression on some level.
We all experience anxious thoughts because ultimately the root of modern-day anxiety developed from a survival mechanism. Our ancestors, thousands and thousands of years ago, experienced anxiety to keep us alive and alert, and know when a threat is nearby, which would help us fight, flight, or flee. Whereas now in the 21st century anxiety looks a lot like feeling overwhelmed, worried, very stressed, and not knowing how to handle overwhelming amounts of thoughts and rumination and a focus on the uncertainty and what we can't control.
And then with depression, it's kind of the opposite. Whereas anxiety is characterized by a fixation on the future, depression is characterized by a fixation on the past. And so, with that, there's a lot of regret, or remorse or anger, frustration, loss, things that we wished had happened that didn't. I am also seeing people dealing with their self-esteem, and their own relationships with themselves. So, I see a lot of negative self-talk, and lack of self-compassion.
Besides these common ones, what are some mental health challenges that you are specifically seeing in job seekers?
So, for the Clients that I'm seeing at OSP, I would say that the main reason that they're seeking mental health supports comes from all the pressures from not having a job and looking for one. They are dealing with the types of insecurities and concerns and worries that results from unemployment like financial insecurity, food insecurity, not being able to buy the clothes that they need. Basically, all the stress and worry when we don't have enough money in our lives to afford even the basics. But also, their self-esteem really takes a hit too during this time. It’s unfortunate, but in a Western North American society, productivity and our career trajectory are very much synonymous with our self-worth. And I think that's one thing that my clients really struggle with feelings of “you know, I don't have a job right now, so I must be worthless. I must be useless, or I must not be good enough. I'm missing something.” And that can really take a toll on your ability to stay positive and balanced and keep going with the job searching.
One thing that I reference a lot for my clients is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs which prioritizes our needs in order of urgency. I refer to it all the time because Clients are often trying to achieve love, belonging, esteem and self-actualization during times where they are often not able to meet their basic needs of food, getting a good night's sleep, being able to wake up on time and not experience overwhelming amounts of stress and insecurity. But I always want Client to recognize that when our basic needs aren't being met, it's nearly impossible to reach the other levels of the hierarchy of needs, because those are more pressing in the moment. They're always wondering why they're feeling disconnected to friends and family, or why they're getting in arguments all the time, or why they're yelling at their kids and feel so out of control. So, my approach is to slow it down a lot and support the clients to clarify their understanding of what their current needs are, and that, yes, while they may not have a job right now, there are things that they can control, and that's where we'll really bring a lot of our focus.
When you think about it, 99% of job searching is setting yourself up for rejection. I was reading some statistics that the average job gets about 250 applicants and of those, only 2% get selected for an interview. That is a lot of no’s for a jobseeker to hear on a regular basis, and if they are actively looking for work, there is no way to avoid it. Are there some tools or strategies that you can think of for processing that level of continual rejection?
Yeah. Well, first of all, I like to validate that what the clients are going through is stressful. It is stressful to be told “no”, to be rejected. It is not a positive experience for anybody. Nobody likes being rejected. So first and foremost, we like to normalize the experiences.
As I mentioned earlier, I also think it's very helpful to work on not focusing on what the client can't control because our anxiety grows and really flourishes in uncertainty. When someone is constantly focused on what might go wrong, what they wanted to have happen, that's where the anxiety is going to kick in. That's also where the low self-esteem and the negative self-talk is going to kick in. So that’s first. But we can also start to bring in self-care. We can work on our positive self-talk, dig into our attitude and perspectives, and use anxiety management strategies. We stop focusing on at all the things that you can control and practice embracing acceptance on what we can't control.
If you especially think about the more personal rejection of an unsuccessful interview. We can't control if somebody doesn't like our most natural authentic self. If we accept that, then we have to accept that that's OK and we're not everyone's cup of tea. Again, going back to a focus on what you can control, and your stress management and how you handle rejection. We understand that we’re all going to fail regularly as part of the process, but it's also how we develop our resilience. Resilience is your ability to rely on and use your own internal resources to help you persevere, and so by going through these experiences and by developing our resilience and developing our own anxiety and stress management, that positive self-talk, being able to look at situations objectively. Like in the case of the interview, being able to look at the interaction and think “OK, well, I can see how the way I answered that question maybe wasn't what they were looking for” or understanding that maybe you’re not the right fit. Being able to kind of take in that objective or subjective viewpoint and kind of contribute to that resilience and help us learn from those experiences and become more self-aware.
The other thing I thought was really important to add is that a good twist to think about is that an interview goes both ways. So, consider approaching it as if you are also interviewing them, and you are also trying to figure out if that company is a good fit for you, much like they're trying to do with you. But what's also so important is recognizing your motivations. Do I just want this job because I would take any job just because I'm panicked and stressed and need the money? Ultimately, that kind of job probably isn't going to have longevity. It's probably not going to last very long because as soon as we kind of get what we need, we might look to something else because we realize this job isn't actually a good fit for us because we're the ones that have to go there every day and work there. So, I I do like to reframe it and see if that helps to take the pressure off.
I can see that really changes that sort of power dynamic from one where you feel like they have all the balls in their court. Are there other ways you can think of for managing interview anxiety?
First, I fully believe that you can never be too prepared for something. If you have the advantage of a virtual interview, which is very common these days, you can even have a set of notes next to you that you can review. Beforehand, look over their website and plan phrases and statements that you think that might be answers to questions they might ask you. I really love preparing as much as possible because when you prepare, it also naturally reduces your anxiety because you feel naturally more confident going in.
Also, in the actual interview, I'm very big on using breathing exercises for anything that is stressful or anxiety inducing or nerve racking. And again, most of my clients would probably roll their eyes at me because I'm always referring back to breathing exercises, but they are widely researched, they are proven to reduce our anxiety almost immediately. When we mindfully breath in through our nose we're bringing more oxygen and blood cells into our brain, so we're more alert and can think more clearly. And then when we exhale out our mouth, we are releasing carbon dioxide which lowers our blood pressure and connect us to our body. These processes let our brains know that being uncomfortable doesn't always mean unsafe, right? Anxiety is fear response, with an increase in heart rate, and adrenaline, the cortisol stress hormone being released. When we can learn to control our body, we can remind ourselves I'm uncomfortable, but I'm safe and I'm calm and it will have a huge influence in our responses.
And then also my last thing is confidence. But not in such a way that you must somehow magically have confidence going in. I'm a big believer in “fake it till you make it.’ And I would say this: If you convince yourself that you can believe in yourself for a 20-minute interview, and pretty much trick yourself into believing in yourself, that's actually what a lot of what confidence is. You go into it a mindset of “I'm going to be calm. I'm going to be cool. I'm going to answer everything,” or whatever it is you have to say to yourself, and you go look in the mirror before that interview and you pump your own tires up, that goes a long way towards actually developing self-confidence. And ultimately, we want to portray that to other people and the more that we practice that, the more that it's eventually going to feel real for us as well too.
One thing I like to remind my clients in moments where maybe they're being really hard on themselves. “What would you say if you had a friend that was going through this same situation?” and almost without thinking, they'd say “Oh, well, you know, I'd probably tell them it was going to be OK. I'd probably tell them how great they are. That they have support. That I'll be there for them”.
We're so quick and great at supporting our loved ones and giving them that unconditional positive regard and just pumping up their tires and just immediately consoling and comforting them. But we're so much more resistant to doing that for ourselves. And so sometimes even in those moments too, you know, before those interviews when you're feeling those insecurities and those anxieties, sometimes it is like, OK, what would I tell a friend that's going through this right now? And it would probably be something along the lines of, “it's going to be. OK. And even if it isn't OK, the world hasn’t ended. You'll be able to do another one, or you'll figure something else out”, or any of those kind of calm, comforting statements that we would tell other people. Even if we don't believe it in the moment, there is that habit and that practice and you can eventually internalize and project that outwards
So how do you manage your feelings if you feel like you bombed an interview? What if you walk away and instead of thinking. “That was my best authentic self”, you are kicking yourself because you feel like you did not show who you are, and what you are capable of. How do you move on after that?
To that, I can only say: self-compassion, love, and acceptance. I know that sounds so difficult and it IS, in the moment, but again think about what you would say to a friend that bombed the interview. It would be “How can you learn from this? How can you grow from this?” Because there are going to be interviews that just don't go well, or a sense that the personalities are off and didn’t mesh with yours. Or it just didn’t feel right, or you felt like you were stumbling and bumbling over your words. Focus on the things you can change, which is now no longer the interview. Think from there, what can you learn from that? How can you grow from it? That's our resilience of accepting that, OK. Yes, we all make mistakes. OK, maybe that interview didn't go well. But it's what we do after it. What we're going to do about it and that's where our ability to learn from our experiences and grow is so crucial.
I'm wondering too if maybe sitting down and journaling or doing something with those thoughts that are going on in your head so that you can put it away. Do you think that that would be a useful strategy for some people?
Oh, absolutely. There's so much power in seeing your thoughts physically represented on a page. And you know, if you have a series of interviews take note of like what went well, what didn't go well. What are you having trouble articulating? What areas do you feel that you're weak in? What kind of experiences are you noticing that employers want to have in potential candidates? Could you change that? Would you do anything that would increase your experience so that maybe you wait a little bit to apply for the next job? And so I think being able to track your own progress is important. Notice what's going well. Notice what themes you want to work on. I think journaling is absolutely valuable for people who like to write and get satisfaction, or closure, or joy from that process.
You mentioned earlier the word “self care”. We keep hearing about self-care for supporting your mental health and I am curious about what is your take on that strategy and how do we effectively take care of ourselves? So often it’s framed as glib advice to have a bubble bath or get a mani-pedi and a lot of time doesn’t feel like it’s at all helpful against the onslaught of things that we are dealing with?
Yeah, absolutely! Self-care has become such a buzzword now that they I think people just throw it out left, right, and center. “Just do self-care”, people say and like you said, just have a bubble bath, or just do yoga. And a lot of the stereotypical forms of self-care that we see advertised or in social media is not actually realistic or always accessible to everybody because not everybody can afford $120.00 a month membership just for yoga classes or a $60.00 pedicure. And I think the barriers that that this creates is the idea that self-care is expensive and that you must have a certain amount of privilege to do self-care.
The actual essence of self-care is literally the act of anything big or small that ultimately decreases your stress and increases positive mood and feelings and experiences, and overall well-being. And that is where I like to really have personalized conversations with clients because self-care is meant to be individual and unique to each person.
So yes, of course. The bubble baths, the meditation, the pedicures, those can all be part of self-care if they feel positive to you, but they don't have to be the requirements. It's ultimately any activity that decreases your stress. I really like to ask clients. “What do you like to do just for you?” And usually, it's not anything major. Usually they'll say, “Well, I really enjoy reading or I really enjoy just spending time with my kids without distractions. Or I really love watching movies”. But then it's not just doing that out of habit, it's bringing that mindfulness to it. I'm going to apply intention. And I'm going to watch my favorite movie tonight, and I'm going to get that popcorn that I really like, and we will allow ourselves to enjoy it and connect with ourselves. Slow down, whatever that looks like for you. And I think it's that intention behind self-care, too, that can really make the difference. We are not doing self-care because we feel like we should, but doing self-care because we want to, and we know that it will bring some kind of joy or creativity or passion or relief into our lives.
So, this is a tricky question for you: A lot of job seekers with chronic or recurring mental health conditions are often unsure about whether or not they should disclose their conditions to employers. I know you are not a career advisor, but as a mental health professional, what insight might you give them?
This is one I had to think about, and you know, ultimately, just like physical health concerns, it is something that's personal to you. And I don't think that there should be an obligatory sense that you should share it. It’s where I think we need to think about our intent behind why we want to share it. What I mean by that is: Are we sharing it because we're scared that somebody will find out and “out” us and that will look weak and so we want to get ahead of the curve and share it? Or are we simply sharing it because we just feel like they should know everything about us, when in reality an employer doesn't actually have to know everything about us, nor are we obligated to? Or are we sharing it because we are looking for some workplace supports that can maybe help us do our job better, or so we can advocate more for our needs? And so, I think looking at why you think that you would want to disclose it and really kind of taking stock of what impacts might this have if I do share it? And the other thing is if you do decide to share it, it is also an opportunity to assess the company and their stance on mental health and their desire or willingness to provide accommodations.
I would say, though, that a lot of companies are projecting a positive stance in support of mental health but sometimes the projection versus reality is not always the same. So, for example, rather than disclosing your own mental health diagnosis or issues or concerns, you could start by asking the company what their stance is on mental health. Ask the company what they provide to their employees in terms of mental health stress leaves just as you would if you were interested in any other types of benefits, like their insurance policies or their coverage or their time off. This can be an opportunity to think about it like we were talking about earlier that yes, the company is interviewing you, but you can also interview them. And you're giving them an opportunity to tell you, “Well, we think mental health is really important and this is the list of things that we offer our employees” or sometimes you learn the opposite, where you understand that they won’t be supportive to you going on. That could potentially open the door to have a positive, beneficial dialogue about your own mental health, kind of in that process, if that makes sense. In an ideal world, nobody would ever have to have hesitation or concern about disclosing their mental health diagnosis. But I'm also realistic that that is not the case for a lot of companies, especially in North America.
Well, thank you for this! One last thing: if you can distill your advice down to an “elevator pitch”, what would be one key mental health take away you would like job seekers to remember while they're engaged in their job search?
I am going to give two main takeaways!
Number one, remember to focus on what you can control. We talked about this a lot already, but when your situation feels difficult, do the achievable things that are within your reach right now.
And Number two: having or not having a job does not equate to your self-worth or sum up who you are. Think about who you are as a person away from jobs, away from family and away from everything else in your life. You, as an individual, are valuable and worthy and absolutely deserving of love and compassion and understanding and getting that job does not increase your self-worth or value. It might increase your confidence and feelings of self-esteem, but it ultimately does not mean that you are a more worthy person. So be kind to yourself!
All right, I think that's a good place to end. I appreciate your time! Thank you for your insights today!
Thank you! It was my pleasure.
If you are interested in mental health counselling and you are a client of OSP, you can access this service by simply by contacting your career counsellor and expressing your interest. However, non-clients are not out of luck! You can contact Victoria LaBerge through her contact page on the Psychology Today website. Or you can connect with Victoria, other counsellors and multiple mental health services through Momentum Counselling's website or call their main line at (780) 757-0900.