Printer Friendly

Coincidence, happenstance, serendipity, fate, or the hand of god: Case studies in synchronicity. (Article).

Many counselors are aware that synchronicity--unpredictable instances of meaningful coincidence--can play a significant role in career opportunities, yet the phenomenon of synchronicity in the career literature is underrepresented. The purpose of this article is to discuss the occurrence of synchronicity in the career development process. A philosophical context is presented and provides a framework for understanding synchroniciey. Through the presentation of 3 case studies, synchronistic themes are explored. Using various career counseling processes, each client developed an authentic identity and found meaningful work through an experience with synchroniciey. Implications for counselors are discussed.


Historically, professional counseling, and specifically career counseling, has its roots in the work of Parsons (1909). His trait-factor, three-step approach to making vocational choices assumed that knowledge of self and knowledge about the world of work lead to a wise vocational choice through the process of "true reasoning." Influences on his work and on subsequent career development theory in the United States were formed out of the western European worldview of the last century, which was grounded in scientific reasoning. This modernist tradition emphasized fixed reality, universal truths, and linear causality (Rosen, 1996).

One tenet that shaped the direction of career counseling is the view that career development is linear, progressive, and rational (Gysbers, Heppner, & Johnston, 1998). The trait-factor approach developed in a deterministic system that assumed all factors were measurable and knowable. However, many counselors are aware that unknowable instances of coincidence, happenstance, and chance factors can play a significant role in career opportunities (Betsxvorth & Hansen, 1996). We propose that these factors point to the nonlinear and acausal phenomenon of synchronicity.

The purpose of this article is to explore the phenomenon of synchronicity in career counseling through the presentation of synchronistic themes in three field-based case studies. Each case presents an example of a client who ignored his or her own need for personal meaning in life and who had been stuck in a career unsuited to him or her. Various career counseling processes assisted these clients toward an understanding of their authentic interests, abilities, and values. When each client embraced his or her authentic self, each found meaningful life's work through an unexpected experience with synchronicity. Although synchronicity manifested differently in each case, each client attributed the effortless finding of his or her true life's work to the significance of its presence. Implications for career counselors are drawn from these examples.

A Philosophical Context for Career Counseling

Postmodern theorists have argued that humanistic, holistic, nonlinear realities are viable worldviews and are appropriate within the counseling context. The postmodern era emphasizes multiple realities, subjective experience, and recursive causality (Gergen, 1990; Thomas, 1996).

Humanists speak to themes of transcendence and connectedness. For example, Frankl (1959) addressed issues of meaning in life, Maslow (1971) discussed transcendent self-actualization as connected to spirituality, and Rogers (1973) considered the spiritual dimension. Transpersonal theorists proposed a combination of Eastern and Western integration of spirituality (e.g., Claxton, 1986). As the practice of career development as a worldwide phenomenon continues to grow, career theories and interventions that are created and implemented to meet cultural needs worldwide will increase (see Herr, 2001). These needs are very likely to include worldviews that are compatible with a holistic approach.

Despite a growing interest in the holistic approach within the counseling profession, many career counselors continue to rely solely on traditional, deterministic trait-factor approaches in assisting their clients to find meaningful life's work. The key to what career counselors do lies in the fact that whatever specific techniques they may use, they assist clients to make therapeutic change in order to find a fuller meaning in life. By integrating the more objective indicators of interests, skills, values, needs, and personality with the subjective, transcendent, and spiritual dimension, career counselors can practice from a holistic framework. When the career counselor can envision work as a quest for self (Savickas, 1997), assessments and practical techniques form a foundation from which counselors can facilitate lasting therapeutic change.

In the existentialist view, meaning in life is critical to well-being. Career development across the life span is no less than a search for meaning. Many clients come into career counseling blocked, engulfed in their own self-imposed set of limitations. Because they have not attended to their needs for life's meaning, they may have ignored their own spiritual yearnings. Jung (1933) considered that such blockages indicate a need for individuation. For Jung, individuation, synchronicity, and life's meaning are closely related. Individuation is the process through which we risk becoming who we really are. The aim of individuation is to remove from the self the false wrappings of the persona. Through processes such as the clarification of interests, values, skills, and personality traits and the examination of life roles, clients begin to individuate, to discover their authentic selves, and to identify their own sense of meaning. They redefine who they considered themselves to be and transcend their own previous ly accepted limitations. This is a process extending beyond linear, first-order change. Through the process of discovering authentic selves, second-order change can be achieved.

Second-order change is a profound restructuring of the self, of one's way of being, or of one's way of viewing or perceiving the world (Lyddon, 1990). It is transcendental. Among its characteristics, the phenomenon of transcendence manifests in overarching insight (the "aha" experience) and directs psychological acts or metacognitive acts, or both, toward awareness, thought, and affect. Through transcendence, these psychological acts deal with "becoming aware of the awareness which alters, designs, forms, constructs, and directs thoughts, images, and affects" (Hanna, Giordano, Dupuy, & Puhakka, 1995, p. 150). It may be at the point of transcendence--when clients gain insight, have come to trust their authentic selves, and decide to seek congruent life's work--that meaningful coincidences tend to occur. Whether perceived as pure chance, happenstance, fate, or divine intervention, formerly "unopened and undiscerned" opportunities are somehow "mysteriously" available.


Jung defined synchronicity as the "occurrence of a meaningful coincidence in time" (de Laszlo, 1958, P. 282). Synchronicity accounts for striking and apparently inexplicable occurrences that link two or more events, usually an inner thought or feeling and an outer event. It manifests in significantly related patterns of chance that are connected through the sharing of a common meaning, not because one event caused the other. Synchronicity can take three forms:

1. The coincidence of a subjective psychic content with a correspondingly objective process that is perceived to take place simultaneously

2. The coincidence of a subjective psychic state with a dream or vision, "which later turns out to be a more or less faithful reflection of a 'synchronistic' objective event that took place more or less simultaneously, but at a distance" (de Laszlo, 1958, p. 282)

3. The coincidence of a subjective psychic state with a dream or vision in which the "synchronistic" objective event perceived takes place in the future and is represented in the present by the dream or vision that corresponds to it

Examples of each of these three forms are offered in the case studies presented here. In each form, there seems to be "an acausal connecting principle" (Jung, 1931/1969). Each implies the existence of patterns that embrace both mental and physical worlds.

Jung (1931/1969) saw synchronistic events as acausal exceptions to the statistical truth of causality. Because statistics by definition hold good only on the average, the "reality" of causality thus leaves room for exceptions that are "experienceable" and real. Jung (1931/1969) explained this as a universal principle found in Greek philosophy and in many world religions. It involves thinking in terms of the whole. In any organism or system, the whole and each of its parts work in conjunction for the same purpose; the smallest particle corresponds to the whole. "Just as in a living body the different parts work in harmony and are meaningfully adjusted to one another, so events in the world stand in meaningful relationship which cannot not be derived from... causality" (de Laszlo, 1958, p. 252).

Buddhism (Rahula, 1978) provides a framework for understanding synchronicity. One of the central tenets of Buddhism is the identification of a phenomenon often translated as dependent origination (patticasamuppada). This is the idea that all persons, places, objects, and events are interconnected, interdependent, and profoundly interrelated. There are no separate phenomena from this viewpoint. Mind and matter, thought and objects, are not seen as essentially different, and a change in any one aspect of the world affects all the other aspects. This is systems theory taken to a universal level.

From a Hindu perspective, we find another framework that supports and accounts for the phenomenon of synchronicity. Philosopher Shankaracharya (Prabhavanda & Isherwood, 1970), chief exponent of the Vedanta school of Indian thought, noted that self, world, and consciousness are merely aspects of the same ultimate reality, or Brahman. In this conception, mental and physical events are, once again, not separate. This concept has been overlooked in Western thinking due to the Cartesian dualism originated by Descartes. In addition, Vedanta and many Buddhist schools offer not only a philosophy but a methodology for attaining states of awareness that bring about phenomena such as synchronicity. Jung (1963) freely admitted to being heavily influenced by Asian philosophy, especially Buddhism and Hinduism. In all likelihood, his idea of synchronicity may have largely been a result of the study of those disciplines (see Jung, 1931/1969).

Synchronicity is a phenomenon that is primarily associated with the processes of the unconscious, the contents of which are nonspatial and in which time and causality are psychically relative. Meaningful coincidence has no causal relationship and indicates the equivalence of a psychic and physical state in an "acausal orderedness" (Jung, 1931/1969). In other words, events seem associated in a noncausal way but also in a nonrandom way. Synchronicity is the consequence of the existence of an underlying unity in which time and space are absent. In the absence of time, no event precedes any other and there can be no causality; all events of the past, present, or future coexist. Through his work with physicist Wofgang Pauli, Jung (1931/1969) asserted that synchronicity could thus be added as a fourth principle to the triad of space, time, and causality.

The field of modern physical science, specifically quantum physics, offers still another framework supporting the principle of synchronicity. As a result of Einstein's work on relativity, and building on Bohm's study of the problem of how to measure subatomic events, Bell, a physicist, set out to prove that reality cannot be local (i.e., linear; Herbert, 1988). Bell produced a pair of twin photons, sent them in different directions, and conducted experiments on each of them independently. Although separated by distance, an event that affected one of the photons also affected the other. Bell named the phenomenon "nonlocal influences" and stated that these influences act instantaneously and do not diminish with distance. They link one location with another without crossing time or space, thus indicating a nonlinear, acausal relationship between them. These nonlocal connections are pervasive and ubiquitous because reality itself is nonlocal (Herbert, 1988). In quantum theory, therefore, acausal reality exists, a nd a place for acausality exists beside the predictable cause/effect scientific view. Consequently, it seems that synchronicity as a manifestation of what Jung termed the acausal connecting principle may be a viable phenomenon.

Synchronicity as a Phenomenon in Counseling

Synchronicity has appeared in the psychotherapeutic literature beginning with Jung's presentation of his ideas in the 1930s. Jungian thought has generated its own subdiscipline within psychoanalysis. The analysis of synchronistic events is an integral part of Jungian analysis (Brenneis & Boersma, 1993; Hopcke, 1988; Kelly, 1993) and uses such techniques as meditation, guided imagery, active imagination, and dream analysis. Examples of synchronistic applications have also appeared across the disciplines of counseling and psychotherapy (Hanson & Klimo, 1998; Haule, 2000; Marlo & Kline, 1998; Roehlke, 1988; Satori, 1997). However, the phenomenon is underrepresented in the career literature, although synchronistic events seem to be factors in career opportunities and decisions and can manifest during the career counseling process. The closely related phenomena of happenstance (Miller, 1983; Mitchell, Levin, & Krumboltz, 1999), serendipity (Betsworth & Hansen, 1996; Krumboltz, 1998; Watts, 1996; Williams et al., 1 998), and chance events (Bandura, 1982; Cabral & Salomone, 1990; Scott & Hatalla, 1990) in career patterns have been well documented and discussed. We contend that these may well be manifestations of synchronicity. Each of the following case studies can be attributed to any of these phenomena, yet each closely meets the descriptions of synchronistic forms described by Jung.

Case Studies in Synchronicity

Form 1: Dan's Case

Dan, a 42-year-old White man, came to a major university career center in a medium-sized town in the Southeast the week he resigned his position as the managing editor of the town's newspaper. After having held the job for 3 years, he believed he could no longer uphold the political positions demanded by the owner. Because the salary from his wife's job as a nurse practitioner, along with their savings, was sufficient to cover their needs for several months, he was determined to find work that fit his interests and lifestyle. Dan and his wife had been married for 14 years and were the parents of one child, a 9-year-old daughter who was severely mentally disabled. Dan had taken the job as managing editor and had moved his family from Chicago so that their child could attend a university-run residential school specializing in children with their daughter's disorder. Their time away from their jobs was exclusively devoted to supporting the school. Their only social life centered on school activities, and they we re especially friendly with an attorney and his wife who also had a child in the school.

Dan had attended a state university in the Northeast and was considered intelligent but had had a lackluster academic career. Nevertheless, he did well in English and journalism and became editor of the school newspaper. He stated that he knew from that point on he wanted a career in journalism. Upon graduation, he took his first job as a reporter and embarked on a traditional career trajectory. Over the years, he held jobs at several newspapers in various cities, working his way up until he became a senior editor of a major newspaper in Chicago, a position he held for 6 years. He reported being satisfied with and energized by his work.

After the birth of his daughter, Dan began to consider leaving his job in order to find the best possible treatment for her. When the opening as managing editor came to his attention, he jumped at the opportunity. Although he considered the position a step back and the pay was substantially less than he had previously commanded, he decided the trade-off was well worth it. However, he grew increasingly unhappy in his job because he was unable to exercise his considerable talent and expertise. On the contrary, he was continually told how to run the newspaper. When it became intolerable, he resigned.

Dan's personality, skills, abilities, and interests closely matched his career field. For example, his Holland code score (Holland, Powell, & Fritzche, 1994) was consistent, well differentiated, and congruent with his chosen career. In fact, Dan was not particularly interested in pursuing any other career field. His dilemma was that he was absolutely committed to staying in the area for his daughter's sake, and there were no other newspapers nearby. He felt completely stuck.

Because Dan had not previously experienced a setback in his career, he had never considered any other options for himself. Through several sessions devoted to values clarification work and career fantasy exercises, Dan learned he could use his expertise and skills in other ways. The counselor helped Dan to see that he had previously foreclosed on his possible career. Dan then remembered a long-buried desire: He had always wanted to own a small-town press. This had seemed an impossible dream to him, now more than ever, because he did not have the financial resources to buy such a business nor was he willing to leave the area to seek out such an opportunity. Initially, he dismissed the possibility entirely. In fact, he strongly considered commuting to a major city about 2 hours away to take the only job open at that time as a reporter, although the pay would not support the family's needs and the work would no longer satisfy him.

Dan continued to come back to his desire to own a press and clearly felt a strong yearning for this as a life's mission. Through the counselor's support, he decided to find a way to accomplish his goal, although it seemed beyond his reach. Dan reported that his decision was based on a transcendent sense of rightness about what he should be doing with his life.

In the week he made this commitment, he attended a school event and struck up a conversation with his attorney friend who told Dan that in a settlement case a few days earlier, he had acquired a now-defunct press in a small town about 15 miles away. The attorney had no interest in the press himself but was willing to be a silent partner in the enterprise if he could find the right person to take over its operation. This "coincidence" allowed Dan to acquire the press for the price of his expertise and changed the direction of his life. He realized his life's dream and met his commitment to his family.

Dan's case is an example of the first form of synchronistic event: a coincidence of subjective psychic content (i.e., Dan's decision to fulfill his life's dream of becoming the owner of a small-town printing press) with a corresponding objective process (i.e., the acquisition of a printing press by his attorney friend). Both events took place simultaneously, not only in the same week but within a day or two of each other. Dan attributed this "unbelievable coincidence" to his "fate," a consequence of his decision, and to his sense of spirituality.

Form 2: Sarah's Case

Sarah, a 34-year-old African American woman, came to a career counselor in private practice as a result of her participation in a women's self-esteem group. She reported having feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem that had plagued her much her adult life. She was the director of a youth enrichment program in a medium-sized, inner city in the Northeast. She was committed to the mission of the organization but was uncomfortable with the considerable public speaking and fund-raising required of her. She had been hired as an art teacher 7 years previously and had been appointed director the year before seeking counseling. Although she had successfully performed her job, she stated that some of her projects had not been completed in a timely manner. She believed she might be in jeopardy of losing her job, although there was no realistic evidence to support this fear. Her evaluations had been outstanding.

Sarah was one of three daughters reared in an affluent suburb of a major northeastern city. The family had a strong belief in God, was active in the local parish, and was well-known in their community. Sarah reported that she and her sisters had led protected lives and were not exposed to the kinds of problems she now saw in her work. She felt a strong commitment to helping African American inner-city youth who did not have the opportunities afforded to her. Sarah had attended a private all-women's college nearby where she had majored in art history. At graduation, she married a middle-class man whom she admired for his motivation and commitment to "getting ahead in life." Within a year she had their first of two children and was a full-time homemaker for 6 years while her husband pursued a career as a tax accountant in a large corporation.

At the time she came for career counseling, her husband had lost his job because of a corporate takeover and downsizing. He had not pursued a new job. He told her it was her turn to support the family and that he would stay home to attempt to build his own business on the Internet. This partially motivated her to accept her present position, but the job only marginally covered their expenses. Sarah reported that her husband continued to spend money through the use of credit cards "as if we still had all the money in the world." She stated she was ashamed to let her sisters or parents know their situation and would not turn to them for assistance. As sole support of her family, Sarah knew she could not leave her job, feared she might lose it, and felt completely stuck. This put a considerable strain on her.

Assessments chosen by the counselor (Super's Career Development, Assessment, and Counseling [Osborne, Brown, Niles, & Milner, 1997], the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator [Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer, 1998], and the Strong Interest Inventory [Harmon, Hanson, Borgen, & Hammer, 1994]) confirmed Sarah's mismatch with her current position. Nevertheless, she believed she could never leave this job because of her financial situation and because no one else would ever hire her. The counselor suggested that Sarah could keep her present job while seeking a career more suitable to her personality, values, and temperament. Sarah identified several related careers that more closely fit her values, interests, personality, and skills. Along with instituting self-esteem interventions, the counselor taught Sarah job search skills and world-of-work resources. As a result, Sarah began to get in touch with her authentic self and her legitimate needs. She slowly began to recognize and accept her own competencies. Because Sarah was under considerable pressure at work and at home, the counselor also taught her stress management and relaxation skills.

During this period of time, Sarah reported praying for a resolution to her problem. She did this daily while she practiced relaxation techniques. During the weeks she came to counseling, Sarah stated she had a recurrent dream that often manifested as a vision directly after she prayed. She dreamed of a man dressed in black chasing her with a 2 x 4 board. She could not see his face, but nevertheless she "knew who he was." He chased her into a dark building, where she ran through a series of "unfinished" rooms splashed with color. At this point, she woke up. She stated that the dream initially terrified her but that she felt strangely comforted when she awoke.

During this same period of time, Sarah began to put her newly learned job search skills into practice. Through her counselor's weekly coaching, she gained confidence in her own abilities and began networking and informational interviewing. It was through her networking efforts that Sarah found out about an opportunity at a church-affiliated school in a poor, ethnically diverse area of the large metropolitan area nearby. Only a few weeks earlier the school had received a large endowment to provide cultural enrichment programs and needed someone to develop the programs. The job suited her perfectly because it involved all her transferable skills and none of the public relations work she had dreaded. Because of the endowment, the salary was considerably higher, allowing her to meet her family's financial needs.

When she arrived for her interview, Sarah found herself in front of an enormous old gray stone building. She entered into a dark hallway and noticed that the interior of the building was being renovated. When she met her interviewer, she knew him instantly. He had been her parish priest when she was a child. He, indeed, was a man in black. As he showed her around, she went with him through a number of rooms in various stages of renovation. Some had 2 x 4 boards stacked in them; others contained paint cans of various bright colors. Sarah received and accepted the job offer immediately.

Sarah's case is an example of the second form of a synchronistic event: the coincidence of a subjective state and a dream or vision (i.e., Sarah's acceptance of her own competency and the recurrent dream and vision that she experienced after praying), which then turned out to be a more or less faithful reflection of a "synchronistic," objective event that took place more or less simultaneously but in a different place (i.e., the renovation of an old church due to an endowment overseen by her former parish priest). Sarah's dream and the church renovation project occurred during the same period of time. In Sarah's case, she believed that God had answered her prayers through the coaching of the career counselor.

Form 3: Billie's Case

Billie, a 29-year-old 'White woman, came to the placement center of a small state college in the South for assistance. She worked full-time as a teller in the college's credit union and was a waitress part-time while she pursued a master's degree in student affairs. A single mother of a 13-year-old son, she was tentative and unsure that she could find a position in the field for which she was preparing and questioned why she had chosen this field at all. She had envisioned herself in a college residence life position, but as a result of her internship experience, she realized that she did not like the work. She had also come to believe that she would not be able to take a position if it required her to live in a residence hall because she needed to provide a home for her son. She believed that she had made a mistake in choosing this field.

The oldest of four children, Billie was reared in a rural area. She had been an outstanding student throughout school but, at age 15, dropped out to take care of her 10-year-old twin brothers after her parents and other brother died in a car accident. She married a farmer 19 years older than she when she was 16 years old because he could provide a stable home for them. She soon had her own child to care for as well. She went to work as a bank teller when she turned 18 years old. She earned a general equivalency diploma and began community college at age 23, after her brothers had left home to join the military. Soon thereafter, her husband contracted cancer and died within a year. She stated that money had always been tight and that there was never enough money to go around. She sold the farm and had little left over after debts were paid. She and her son settled into an apartment near the college where she transferred her credits and got a job in the credit union, hoping to secure a better future for them. S he attained a bachelor's degree in sociology and continued into graduate work.

Through career counseling, Billie gained insight that the area of student affairs appealed to her because it put her in close contact with "college kids." She stated that she was cheated out of her teen and college years and believed that a residence life position could allow her to live the experience vicariously. However, she also realized that a residence life job would replicate many of her previous caretaking responsibilities, something she did not wish to repeat. In addition, she was determined that her son would have a normal high school experience, and she wanted to remain in the area. She also wanted to be able to send her son to college. However, with a lack of resources of her own and a low-paying job, she could not see how this could be possible. She had considerable student loan debt, felt stuck, and was despondent over her choices.

Billie was "career immature" and lacked knowledge of herself and of the world of work. Through the career/life planning process, Billie began to match her own interests with her skills and training. She discovered that she loved the college atmosphere and began to investigate other positions in the academic setting. She developed a repertoire of transferable skills and decided a career in financial aid would meet her needs well. She did not, however, see how she could find such a position when there were no openings in her college, the only one in the region. As she became enthusiastic about her new career direction, Billie was energized and hopeful. She reported that for the first time in her life she knew who she was and what she wanted to do. She, too, reported a transcendent sense of rightness about the direction of her life.

During the career counseling process, Billie described a dream she had before her husband died. The dream had a profound effect and had stayed with her over the years. Recently, she had experienced the dream again in a slightly different form. In the first dream, she sat on the banks of a river. A man dressed in a formal military uniform rode by on a white horse. He was dressed in white, and his horse's saddle was blue. He seemed to know her but stopped only long enough to tip his hat to her and ride on. She felt some sadness toward him, but she was mainly puzzled because he did not stop. In the dream, across the river a black horse with a red saddle was standing alone. She had the dream several times. The new version was identical, except for its ending. Again, the rider tipped his hat but this time galloped quickly by. Across the river, the black horse seemed to be beckoning her. She crossed the river, mounted the horse, and rode away.

Billie planned to attend a college career fair that attracted college personnel recruiters in the region. She and her counselor developed a resume targeted toward a position as a college financial aid officer. She now understood that in any location, her son could have the high school experience that she had never had and, in fact, when she discussed it with him, he was willing and excited at the prospect. Her biggest concern, however, was that a salary in financial aid would not allow her to save enough to send him to college in just 41/2 years.

As a result of the fair, she interviewed at a college on the other side of the region's main river and was made an offer that included a benefit that would pay her son's college tuition at that institution. She was delighted with the job and relieved and grateful for this benefit. At the last meeting with the career counselor, she said her dream had come true. The colors of her current college were blue and white; the mascot was a knight on a horse. When she interviewed for her new position, she could not help but notice that the mascot was a black stallion and the school's colors were red and black. She said her dream had been pointing her in the right direction all along. She knew now that she was never meant to stay at this college--with the man on the white horse--that they would have only "a nodding acquaintance." She knew she was meant to take the job at the new college--to "ride the black stallion."

In Billie's case, each of her dreams is an example of the third form of synchronistic event: a coincidence of a subjective psychic state about a dream or vision (i.e., her belief that each version of the dream was profoundly significant) with a dream or vision in which the "synchronistic," objective event takes place in the future and is represented in the present by the corresponding dream or vision. In the first dream, Billie believed that the white horse and mascot colors symbolized her future college experience; in the second and altered dream, Billie believed that the black horse and mascot colors symbolized a future change in direction corresponding to the actual offer of a position "across the river." Billie attributed this to more than coincidence. She believed the direction for her life had always been there in these dreams; she only needed to learn to be true to herself to discover it. She attributed this to her destiny and fate and to a belief in a god that watched over her.

Common Themes

Although synchronicity manifested slightly differently in each of these cases, there were some commonalties. These clients presented with self-imposed limitations, had spent part of their work lives in jobs unsuited to them, felt a sense of meaninglessness in their lives, and saw themselves as blocked in their efforts to find meaningful careers. They felt strongly connected to significant others in their lives and faced the dilemma of a dichotomy between their own needs and the needs of these others. To varying extents, they had not fully individuated, as evidenced by their inability to recognize and act on an authentic sense of self. Although the career counseling process differed, each one was able to clarify interests, skills, values, and personality traits, leading to a stronger sense of authentic identity. They all reported a sense of transcendence over their previously self-imposed limitations. Each then made a decision to seek meaningful life's work, although they could not see how that might happen wi thout severely disrupting family obligations. At this point, each seemed to manifest a leap of faith, and second-order change occurred. It was then that an unexpected, synchronistic event transpired. Formerly unopened and undiscerned opportunities matching their desires were somehow "mysteriously" opened to them. Whereas finding meaningful work previously had seemed insurmountable, prospects beyond each client's expectations presented themselves. Each attributed the seemingly effortless, coincidental finding of suitable life's work to some aspect of a spiritual, although not necessarily religious, belief. Elements common to Jungian analysis, specifically used to elicit synchronistic events, operated in each of these cases. The use of fantasy exercises, meditation, and dreams assisted these clients in reaching the transcendental "aha" experience, after which meaningful coincidences occurred.

Implications for Career Counseling

Although limited case studies do not justify any sweeping conclusions, nevertheless some implications for career counselors are provided by these cases. Certainly, the career counseling process served as a catalyst to self-examination and led to second-order change from which a transcendent sense of self emerged. Career decisions led to meaningful life's work as a result of a synchronistic event.

Career counselors may need to broaden their view about their function in facilitating their clients' career decisions. If career counselors conceptualize finding meaningful life's work as a vehicle for personal agency and transcendence, they will approach the counseling process holistically. Unfortunately, one of the foibles of the career counseling field is its tendency to rely overmuch on mechanistic, trait-factor assessments and formula career counseling techniques. This does not imply that the use of assessments and well-established techniques are unimportant. On the contrary, their use in a holistic framework allows the client to discover and accept an authentic self-identity. It does imply, however, that the job does not end there. Traditional career counseling approaches alone may not be sufficient in assisting an individual to find meaningful life's work (see Bloch, 1997). Goal setting and decision making are not a midpoint or an end point in the process but the beginning of what may well be the most significant function of the career counselor--that of supportive coach.

A number of specific interventions seem to be relevant for working with blocked individuals such as those described here. Self-exploration beyond interests and abilities is required for these individuals to drop a false persona and develop congruent, authentic identities. Values-based interventions seem to be especially warranted. Of course, support and guidance in a nonjudgmental, open-ended environment can provide the atmosphere in which to consider more authentic, suitable career options.

There is a role for career counselors in a counseling model that recognizes chance influences in career decision making (Cabral & Salamone, 1990). Rather than seeing chance events as random and meaningless, synchronicity provides a framework for understanding and working with such phenomena when they occur. Krumboltz (1998) and Mitchell et al. (1999) called for teaching clients that unplanned events (i.e., synchronistic occurrences) are normal and expected components in the career development process and discussed ways in which clients can generate such unplanned events. Integrating and using synchronicity in career counseling then concerns itself with expecting the unexpected. Synchronicity can be seen as goal-directed, although not under the conscious control of the client. Counselors themselves need to make a leap of faith: Remarkable coincidences are not necessarily accidental. Psyche and matter are in meaningful contact, the kind of contact that can produce significant revelations or personal transcenden ce.

The career counselor can enhance his or her ability to think synchronistically, thus supporting this kind of thinking with clients. Four elements lead to synchronistic thinking: (a) understanding the existence and universality of synchronistic phenomena as realities grounded in religion, non-Western worldviews, and scientific inquiry; (b) a willingness to investigate one's own sense of spirituality in its broadest context; (c) a willingness to be unconventional in the face of what is often a conventional, deterministic discipline within the counseling profession; and (d) the ability to use nontraditional techniques as part of the career development process.

Certainly, spiritually oriented clients seen by spiritually oriented counselors who accept the possibility of synchronicity (albeit labeled as coincidence, happenstance, serendipity, fate, or the hand of God) would be open to synchronistic thinking. However, career counselors without any particularly spiritual orientation can also benefit from synchronistic thinking as a component of working from a more holistic framework. Holistically oriented career counselors have the ability to integrate traditional and nontraditional interventions in supporting clients in their quest for personal meaning through the vehicle of authentic careers. Therapeutic techniques common to Jungian analysis, such as meditation, guided imagery, active imagination, and dream analysis, can provide a rich environment that may stimulate recognition of "coincidences" as indicators of significant career directions.

We have experienced other cases of synchronistic events in practice and have talked with other career and mental health counselors who report the same in their own work. Generally, these are life-altering events that appear out of nowhere and make implementation of decisions effortless. This may be the key. The first author tells clients who are stuck and feel blocked in their attempt to find meaningful work that when they are fully congruent and true to

themselves, the right job will be there and that if they are knocking their heads against a wall, it is time to move to the open door. It may be that synchronicity marks the way to that door.


Bandura, A. (1982). The psychology of chance encounters and life paths. American Psychologist, 37, 747-755.

Betsworth, D. G., & Hansen, J. C. (1996). The categorization of serendipitous career development events. Journal of Career Assessment, 4, 91-98.

Bloch, D. P. (1997). Spirituality, intentionality and career success: The quest for meaning. In D. P. Bloch & L. J. Richmond (Eds.), Connections between spirit and work in career development: New approaches and practical perspectives (pp. 185-208). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Brenneis, S., & Boersma, F. (1993). Typology and trance: Developing synchronicity in hypnotic induction. Medical Hypnoanalysis Journal, 8, 45-56.

Cabral, A. C., & Salomone, P. R. (1990). Chance and careers: Normative versus contextual development. The Career Development Quarterly, 39, 5-17.

Claxton, G. (Ed.). (1986). Beyond therapy: The impact of Eastern religious on psychological theory and practice. London: Wisdom.

De Laszlo, V. S. (1958). Psyche & symbol: A selection of writings of C. G. Jung. Garden City, NY: Anchor Original.

Frankl, V. (1959). Man's search for meaning. New York: Washington Square.

Gergen, K. J. (1990). Toward a postmodern psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist, 18, 23-34.

Gysbers, N. C., Heppner, M. J., & Johnston, J. (1998). Career counseling: Process, issues, and techniques. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Hanna, F. J., Giordano, F., Dupuy, P., & Puhakka, K. (1995). Agency and transcendence: The experience of therapeutic change. The Humanistic Psychologist, 23, 139-160.

Hanson, D., & Klimo, J. (1998). Toward a phenomenology of synchronicity. In R. Valle (Ed.), Phenomenological inquiry in psychology: Existential and transpersonal dimensions (pp. 281-307). New York: Plenum Press.

Harmon, J. L., Hanson, J. C., Borgen, F. H., & Hammer, A. L. (1994). Strong Interest Inventory applications and technical guide. Stanford, CA: Stanford University.

Haule, J. R. (2000). Jung's practice of analysis: A Euro-American parallel to Ch'an Buddhism. Journal of Individual Psychology, 56, 353-365.

Herbert, N. (1988). How Bell proved reality cannot be local, Psychological Perspectives, 19, 313-319.

Herr, E. L. (2001). Career development and its practice: A historical perspective. The Career Development Quarterly, 49, 196-211.

Holland, J. L., Powell, A. B., & Fritzche, B. A. (1994). Self-Directed Search professional user's guide. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessments Resources.

Hopcke, R. H. (1988). Synchronicity in analysis: Various types and their various roles for patient and analyst. Quandrant, 21, 55-64.

Jung, C. G. (1933). Modern man in search of a soul (W. S. Dell & F. Baynes, Trans.). Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace.

Jung, C. G. (1963). Memories, dreams, reflections (R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.). New York: Random House.

Jung, C. G. (1969). Synchronicicy: An acausal connecting principle. In The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 8). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (Bollingen Series). (Original work published in 1931)

Kelly, S. (1993). A trip through Lower Town: Reflections on a case of double synchronicity. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 38, 191-198.

Krumblotz, J. R. (1998). Serendipity is not serendipitous. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45, 390-392.

Lyddon, W. J. (1990). First- and second-order change: Implications for rationalist and constructivist cognitive therapies. Journal of Counseling & Development, 69, 122-127.

Marlo, H., & Kline, J. S. (1998). Synchronicity and psychotherapy: Unconscious communication in the psychotherapeutic relationship. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, and Training, 35, 13-22.

Maslow, A. H. (1971). Farther reaches of human nature. New York: Viking.

Miller, M. J. (1983). The role of happenstance in career choice. The Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 32, 16-20.

Mitchell, K. E., Levin, A. S., & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of Counseling & Development, 77, 115-124.

Myers, I. B., McCaulley, M. H., Quenk, N. L., & Hammer, A. L. (1998). MBTI manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Osborne, W. L., Brown, S., Niles, S., & Miner, C. U. (1997). Career development, assessment, and counseling: Applications of the Donald E. Super C-DAC approach. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Parsons, F. (1909). Choosing a vocation. Garrett Park, MD: Garrett Park Press.

Prabhavanda, S., & Isherwood, C. (1970). Shankara's crest jewel of discrimination. New York: New American Library.

Rahula, W. (1978). What the Buddha taught. London: Gordon Fraser.

Roehlke, H. J. (1988). Critical incidents in counselor development: Examples of Jung's concept of synchronicity. Journal of Counseling and Development, 67, 133-134.

Rogers, C. R. (1973). Some new challenges. American Psychologist, 28, 379-387.

Rosen, H. (1996). Meaning-making narratives. In H. Rosen & K. T. Kuehlwein (Eds.), Constructing realities (pp. 307-335). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Satori, J. A. (1997). Synchronistic experiences of entrepreneurs in the creation of a socially responsible business venture: A Delphi study. (Doctoral dissertation, Seattle University, 1997). Dissertations Abstracts International, 57 (12-A), 5209.

Savickas, M. L. (1997). The spirit of career counseling: Fostering self-completion through work. In D. P Bloch & L. J. Richmond (Eds.), Connections between spirit and work in career development: New approaches and practical perspectives (pp. 3-25). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Scott, J., & Hatalla, J. (1990). The influence of chance and contingency factors on career patterns of college-educated women. The Career Development Quarterly, 39, 18-30.

Thomas, S. C. (1996). A sociological perspective on contextualism. Journal of Counseling & Development, 74, 529-536.

Watts, A. G. (1996). Toward a policy for lifelong career development: A transatlantic perspective. The Career Development Quarterly, 45, 41-53.

Williams, E. N., Soeprapto, E., Like, K., Touradji, P., Hess, S., & Hill, C. E. (1998). Perceptions of serendipity: Career paths of prominent academic women in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45, 379-389.

Mary H. Guindon is an assistant professor and department chair, and Fred J. Hanna is a professor, both in the Department of Counseling and Human Services at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland. Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to Mary H. Guindon, Department of Counseling and Human Services, Johns Hopkins University, 9601 Medical Center Drive, Rockville, MD 20850 (
COPYRIGHT 2002 National Career Development Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hanna, Fred J.
Publication:Career Development Quarterly
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Previous Article:An Investigation of Holland Types and the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire--Fifth Edition.
Next Article:Special section: Challenges for Career Counseling in Asia.

Related Articles
Planned Happenstance.
Work in progress.
Doctors explore life-end options.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |