• Brief introduction to positive psychology

The topic of positive psychology has recently aroused a wide interest in many different research fields in terms of its applications` positive impacts on individuals` better occupational performance and well-being. The importance of strengths approach emphasizes building a fulfilling career life and work by identifying individual strengths of character and fostering to use of strengths in variety of context (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi 2000; Peterson and Seligman 2004). 

In this article, the aim will be to outline the significance of strengths use in individuals career development, which was included as part of the thesis study in the master’s degree of digital health at Savonia University of Applied Sciences. Johanna Viheräkoski researched in her thesis the usefulness of strength exercises as a career counseling working method. At first, the definition of strengths is presented and then there will be a brief overview of strength-based interventions in career counseling field. In addition, to readers will be presented some practical tools, for applying positive exercises with clients in working on to identify their strengths. At the end, there will be a description of the positive changes that clients experienced when using the positive exercises in a self-directed career management.

The good character is what is looked for in todays` work communities. Equally, individuals long for opportunity for meaningful work and to be able to use their unique self, skills, and the strong points of their career identity. However, there is no unifying theory of the use of strengths in career development or consensus on how a career counseling psychology should proceed in working with a client’s character strengths. The pivotal focus of strength approach is to foster positive human functioning and the major topics in research deal with human flourishing through such as strengths, hope, positive emotions, flow and meaning. The key point in the strength approach is encouraging clients` thinking process by paying more attention to their positive resources despite facing challenging career situations and work life transitions. The important objective is to help people to recognize their own strengths from past and present experiences which elicits positive discourse on the personal thoughts, feelings, and actions. More precisely, clients learn to use positive language meanwhile narrating about their personal achievements, career resilience and social resources to thrive in their desired career goals (Bimrose and Hearne 2012; Littman-Ovadia et al. 2014; Savickas 2012, 2016).

The significant theoretical paradigms within vocational psychology share similar outcomes with positive psychology. Career counseling aim to help people to reflect on what matters most for them to develop their working lives. More precisely, it emphasizes that fostering humans` strengths is part of career counseling mission. This balanced perspective addresses to focus on clients` positive functioning, strengths and does not ignore negative aspects in the vocational life. In fact, character strengths act as buffer against the negative effect of stress and helps to cope with work life challenges and daily hazels. This process is done by help people to build hopeful thoughts about future career and to use their unique strengths for making meaningful career choices. Moreover, to cope with uncertainties in career changes by learning to use psychological resources to solve problems and with positive thinking to reduce distress with career difficulties and traumas. Career counseling discussion assists the clients to broaden to see occupational options and educational opportunities in the environment that enable individuals to use unique and innate positive qualities. Identifying and enhancing human strengths in the vocational domain help people face challenges in daily life. Identifying what we do well and what activities we are naturally interested of doing. This is in the key elements of strengths-based model and lead to sources of human motivation.

Character Strengths and narrative career identity

The VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues is an empirically evidenced digital tool by which to assess on individuals’ good character (see www.viacharacter.org).  The Values in Action (VIA) survey identifies human positive features and briefly defines what is right about people (Peterson and Seligman 2004.) Character strengths are described as `psychological ingredients´ what is best in people, and individual’s character is understood as a profile of strengths. The VIA survey includes the 24-character strengths, positive traits and recognition promotes individual`s self-understanding and wellbeing. Strengths are the psychological ingredients, which can be developed in supportive context by understanding the promotive factors and personally valued priorities. The applicability value of strength approach is to support individuals to reform successfully their career plans by rebuilding a positive self-concept in career development. In career counseling client is helped to becoming a conscious aware of their potential, signature strengths. By reflection on clients` positive activities where to use strengths and with discussion what makes good life possible. The survey is online at no cost, has been translated into Finnish and the feedback on test results is quickly available. Asking clients about what they enjoy doing and what activities they think they are good at, opens their positive traits that expressed authenticity of themselves. Typically, career narratives disclose inspiring activities where fast learning is embodied while one is using their strengths.  People describe usually three to seven strengths; strengths use is intrinsically motivating and invigoration in itself.

Character strengths are part of an individual’s identity and are seen as developable skills, may change through conscious actions. The aim of individual discussions is to encourage individuals to become aware of their top five signature strengths, personal qualities, and positive experiences by using them in career life and personal standards. This self-reflection and in-depth thinking process of ones` own thoughts help to make psychologically informed career choice based on narrating positive career identity. According to the life-design paradigm of career counseling, narrative approach assists clients in constructing their career stories by rethinking and retelling their career potential (Savickas et al. 2009, Savickas 2012.) Narrative career interventions can offer the opportunity to approach career self-management in an iterative and creative manner. The key objective is to help clients take responsibility for authoring career life stories and to develop effective coping skills they can use with career tasks challenges they confront.  

This postmodern career theory, the `known narrative approach´ was used in the thesis, and the approach differs from traditional advisory methods by its use of reflexivity (Savickas et al. 2009.) Thus, a constructivist approach recognizes that an individual’s knowledge and identity are the product of social interaction and that meaning is co-constructed through discourse (Savickas et al. 2009, 239). Individuals seek answers to questions: What matters most to me? Who am I going to be, and how am I going to make my career life?   The narrative approach is included as assumptions in this research because it emphasizes people’s capacity for reflection and their need to derive meaning from subjective experiences. The emphasis is laid on clients’ readiness to bring out their competence and strengths by constructing stories and to negotiate transitions successfully. For career construction theory, stories constitute a critical element for building a client`s sense of self. Narrative career stories focus on meaning, identity, adaptability, and the future (Savickas, 2012; Stoltz, Apodaca and Mazahreh 2018). A narrative approach allows clients to tell their own career stories and experiences through the use of their language in narrative of storytelling and story writing.  Together, these counseling approaches complement career counseling work methods. The use of individuals` strengths and career narratives support to review their past and current experiences holistically as well to clarify indicators of unique behavior in good character. 

Research and Practice

Different positive activities promote to use what is best of us and these interventions has been showed to improve psychological well-being (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson 2005; Rashid 2015). Littman-Ovadia with his colleagues (2014) presented the four-step strength-based career counseling intervention, which was partly applied to the strength-model of this thesis. In this thesis study, the strength process progresses by exploring clients` career narratives and becoming aware of personal strengths and how clients have coped with possible difficulties in career life. The career counselor psychologist`s role was to help the clients become more aware of their existing character strengths. This deeper self-reflection means to address when clients have previously used strengths at their best as well as worst. These insights are united to reconstructed stories how clients might tap into strengths to create a best possible future self. The second step was to explore new and unique ways to use strengths in career exploration activities and to apply strengths to personally meaningful career goals. The third step was cultivating positive emotions through noticing in the evening three good things that happened during the day.  As well, adaptively dealing with possible negative thoughts related to career change is managed by forethoughts so that one is using strengths to make necessary career change. The fourth step was to write future career vision recognizing in active-constructive career opportunities and own personal agency to accomplish career goals in steps. The whole counseling based on positive communication and acknowledge with feedback client`s personal actions to changes.

The usefulness of strengths to career planning

The present study examined the usefulness of strength-based career counseling combined with the positive psychology` exercises in work practices of career planning. The results showed that the VIA survey and individual discussions of the strengths use were perceived as meaningful by the participants. The main results showed that the identification of strengths enhanced participants to a more positive self-understanding and broadened the occupational alternatives. The central finding was that participants reflected an increased positive mindset. The study conclusion as an interpretative proposal was that narratives of unique strengths promote adaptation driven by an individual’s sense of personal growth. This narrative writing method provided means for career clientele to proactively reform their career identity by utilizing reflexivity skill.  Imaginative thinking about one’s future work as a meaningful career plan and by writing about their thoughts and feelings related to goal was a metacognitive task. This insightfulness led to in-dept reflection and increased the sense of self-efficacy. In other word, encouraged the participants to believe in themselves in a way that they were in control of their future career actions and choices.

These findings are interesting to consider in the light of well-being and are in agreement with several researches that have confirmed strengths positive impacts on well-being, like on self-esteem (Littman-Ovadia et al. 2014). In contrast to the task performance, the writing task was evaluated to need more effort, and thus it needs future development. The VIA survey provides one tool for self-exploration of strengths. The assessments need to include personal discussions about a person’s awareness cognitions, and values that impact on career decision making, as well as about the personal standards underlying the work satisfaction. These findings have important implications for career counseling work practices. Strengths people possess enable them to use their positive qualities in new and creative ways and moreover, to adapt to the unpredictable challenging career situations. The study showed that the process of narrative inquiry combined with a practice of career story writing provided means for deeper reflection for personal meaning making to understand of their own career life. 

To summarize, the strength approach as a creative process, encourages individuals to learn about one’s own career identity and reform possible selves in positive manner. In addition, they learn how to use their own psychological skills to develop their career decision`s self-efficacy.


Johanna Viheräkoski, Digital Health YAMK –opiskelija, Savonia-ammattikorkeakoulu

Kirjoittajan opinnäytetyö on myöhemmin luettavissa Theseuksessa.



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Character strengths in career development


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