The Great Resignation, the Great “Rethink,” and What Happens Next

The last couple of years have been, from a mental health point of view, pretty much of a perfect storm: extremes of polarization and breakdown in our political process and even our understanding of reality, an increasing societal reckoning with racism and misogyny, an increasingly urgent climate crisis, and now, nearly two years of social distancing and isolation and fear of making each other sick. Needless to say, it’s been a busy time for people in the therapy field and has caused many people to more fully appreciate the importance of, and need for, mental health care.

In the shadow of these multiple crises, some interesting, almost paradoxical developments have occurred. For many people, their fast, busy lives came to a complete stop, and home life became their primary focus, along with learning the necessary skills to work or learn virtually, and to survive overwhelming togetherness, or overwhelming aloneness. For others, now known to be essential workers, work life became increasingly overwhelming, unsafe, lonely, and often faster and busier. And still others found that employment that they had perceived as steady and reliable, vanished, along with their financial stability. All three situations have led people to reflect deeply on what really matters to them, and how it makes sense to spend what they recognize as the precious time and energy that they have. 

We’ve probably all read or heard somewhere about “the great resignation,” the phenomenon in which 33 million (and counting) Americans have left their jobs in the past 21 months. Many of them expect to return to working, and most likely want to return to something that is more satisfying, or even meaningful, and maybe addressing some aspect of our global crises. A lot of people have determined that the pace of pre-pandemic life, and the focus on ever-increasing growth and productivity, did not lead to the good life that they had envisioned. In fact, a slower pace, less time spent commuting, and a greater focus on the quality of relationships and day-to-day life have turned out to be important and satisfying changes that many people want to sustain.

For people who are prioritizing finding work that is meaningful, this can mean making a career shift that allows different parts of themselves to surface, and that may require learning new skills. While changing careers has become more common than it was in the past, it can still be a complicated and fraught process. Logistic and economic considerations need to be weighed, fears of making a costly mistake abound, people struggle with uncertainty about whether what the new career offers will truly be a better fit than the one being left behind. Friends’, family, and partners’ opinions and concerns need to be considered and discussed, and hopefully some support system to help get through the career transition can be developed. This kind of change generally requires small steps as well as big leaps, increasing one’s risk tolerance and self-knowledge, and dealing with the uncomfortable parts of change and new beginnings as well as their joys.

In my work with career changers, all of these issues tend to be present. It takes courage, persistence, a tolerance for uncertainty, and a willingness to be a beginner again to make this kind of change. It makes a real difference to have support, which includes having someone able to serve as a sounding board, as well as having a way to unpack all of the decisions to be made and the feelings that the process evokes. A passionate interest in the new work certainly helps to fuel this process. People who change careers generally know themselves and understand their adult needs more fully than they did when they made their initial career decisions; these capacities tend to make for a better fit in a new role.

Some of my work is with therapy clients who are in the process of making these kinds of changes, and some of my work is with the students in Council for Relationships’ Post Graduate Certificate Program in Marriage and Family Therapy, many of whom are changing or re-shaping their careers to become family therapists. With the latter, I have a real bird’s eye view of the process that occurs when making this kind of change as an adult, and the dedication, challenges, and satisfactions that are entailed.

For any readers who may be considering a career change, therapy can serve as a valuable and supportive process. And for anyone considering becoming a licensed psychotherapist, who already has a graduate degree in social work, psychology, counseling, child development and family studies, medicine, nursing, pastoral counseling, ministry, theology, education, or sociology, licensure as a Marriage/Couple and Family Therapist may be within reach.

Council for Relationships’ Post Graduate Certificate Program Directors are hosting a Q&A on Thursday, March 17 from 12-1:30 PM ET and are happy to answer your questions. Click here to register.

Michele Southworth, JD, LMFT is the Director of the Post Graduate Certificate Program in Marriage and Family Therapy, in which she is also an instructor and AAMFT-approved supervisor. In addition, she serves as a member of Council for Relationships’ senior clinical staff. She has practiced as a marital and family therapist and an attorney.

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