norm amundson talks about being and doing

this is a live blog of the talk given by norm amundson from the department of educational and counselling psychology and special education at the university of british columbia at the career management association’s annual conference here in vancouver.  the topic is

active engagement – the being and doing of career counselling.

norm amundson was the first psychologist i ever researched for an academic paper, so he has a special place in my counsellor’s heart.


active engagement is also the title of one of his books.

right now he is working on a book on metaphor and career counselling.

how are WE as counsellors showing up?  – one of the main topics he’ll talk about.


how to talk about active engagement? he really wants to stress the “being” element, in addition to the “doing” element.

he spends a lot of time in counselling not having a clue what he’s doing, he’s confused. natural reaction is to jump in and do something, “let’s do another activity”. but how about moving into stillness and listening to the small voice?

how do counsellor and counsellee relate to each other? also important in counselling.

the importance of the RELATIONSHIP in career counselling, just like in other types of counselling. research: it’s the relationship that drives the process.

flexibility, imagination and creativity are so important.

ok, now we’re going to do an exercise – switching hand positions – something that was easy to start with but became more and more difficult as the speed of switching increased. the trick is to find the RHYTHM of change/switch.


at some point, he realized that he was doing career counselling the same way it was done in the 1960s. “what am i doing, why am i doing it that way?” really important to do.

so – don’t come to these conferences and love the sessions and then don’t change your practice!

why do we do everything with talk? why nothing visual?

after a while, he started using flipcharts, right in the office. and it changes the dynamic, just with that flipchart in the office.

equip your office so that you can do more than just talk!

and make sure people get a feeling they MATTER!

confidence is also a huge piece in the field. if you lose a job, the confidence starts to wane. underneath the resume, no matter how impressive it is, there is often a feeling of doubting and insecurity.

“let’s action plan!” works really well when you have confidence – but the other way round? doesn’t work so well.

he focuses a lot of time talking about positive moments and joy with his clients.

embedded in joyful moments are lots of information about what makes us tick.

physical movement is also important.  don’t just sit and talk!


readiness, recruitment, retention

there is so much more to life than problems.

STORIES are so important!  invite emotional and cognitive engagement.  helps remember and integrate information.   also, stories have the power to move us to action.

so sad how often people don’t want to hear stories.  in counselling, we can have space for stories.  [oh, how i LOVE hearing this!]

stories give us such rich information.

backswing stories: to move anything forward, you have to go backwards (imagine a swing, or throwing a baseball).  that doesn’t mean you have to go back and back and back.  a good backswing is short, full of energy, and then you release.

take time to HEAR the stories so that you can shoot forward again, but in a new way, feeling good about yourself.

then there is the dog ball thrower.  a tool, leverage that helps you throw the ball further with less energy.  that’s what networking is all about.


who is the person behind the story?  stop looking at labels.

he’s doing a little demo session now. he calls it a career conversation.

starts out by asking her what she does for fun. she’s a career development advisor doing post-program support after a one-week intensive career.

“what should we do next?” he asks. “her work history!” someone from the audience shouts. “naw,” norm says. “when’s the last time your heart lit up?” someone else says – that’s a question he likes. she talks about a seminar she took about moving from renting to owning.

so now he asks her about what she likes about living in vancouver. this moves easily into a conversation about how she came to vancouver, and the career change that was involved with that. norm listens a lot, just asks the odd question, makes a comment or two here and there.

he asks the audience what they found out about her as she was telling the story. all kinds of skills and personal attributes come out. he writes it down on a flipchart around her name as a center. when he’s done, he calls the skills and attributes her circle of strength.

it’s powerful to have other people reflect these strengths back to us. plus, now we think of her in terms of these positive terms.

people who get jobs are good storytellers.

using stories is also “mindboggling” how powerful it is in groups.


now he’s going to talk about metaphors

william james quote: “most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they have a second.  give your dreams all that you have and you will be amazed at the energy that comes out of you!”

(so – when you think you’re at the end – you’re probably not really!)

metaphors: use famliar imagery.  it brings out structure, pulls things together, exapnds possibilities and perspectives.

psychologists are not usually trained on metaphors and how to hear them.  [amazing, isn’t it?]

“can you come up with an image that describes this situation?” – invite people to paint their own metaphors.

need to be aware of cultural aspects of metaphors.  (he practices “career craft” he says – translates into “career knitting” in swedish).  but through conversation, you can find out the cultural background.

have clients draw the metaphors – one of the things that the flipchart is good for.

exploring and extending career metaphors: move clients into different metaphors.  metaphors, of course, can also be ruts!

exercise: client and counsellor create lists of metaphors together.

magnetic attraction as a metphor for workplace attachment. we are attracted to work places through different values.  security is one of them, for example.   don’t ignore location as an important attractor!

interesting values exercise: what values (e.g. recognition, flexibility, lifelong learning) would you give up?

values/attractors change over time.  he’s really starting to talk in terms of chaos theory now.  yay!

butterfly effect: small things can make big differences.  e.g. when something small bugs you and bugs you and bugs you and all of a sudden you explode.

when the attractors/values don’t match, all of a sudden it seems like there is lack of motivation, work ethic, ambition, commitment, maturity, stability, depth, self esteem, warmth decision making, creativity.

[so far i am using every single one of the tools he is talking about, and definitely not just in career/employment counselling!  well, except for the ball thrower.]

activity: life/career as a book.  fold a paper in half, two times.  now it’s like a little book.

what’s the book title?  what are the chapter headings?  what would be the topics included in a chapter?  what are the chapters still to be written?  (his title would be “take it to the limit one more time”)

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