By: Susan Pye Brokaw, Adlerian Network Founder

Alfred Adler suggested that there are primarily three tasks that all people must undertake to be successful in life.  They are the task of work, the task of community and the task of intimacy.  

Work is important for many reasons.  Work provides financial security.  Those who work are independent and provide for the community as well as themselves and the family.  When people work, they increase their self-esteem because they are successfully contributing to the family and the community due to their efforts.  It also helps to sustain their sense of value and worth.

When people aren’t working it impacts both their self-esteem and their sense of worth.  They have become dependent on others for their financial security.  When they are given assistance or a handout, it automatically creates feelings of being less than those who are able to work successfully.

As therapists we often are working with people who are not working.  Over time they become more and more discouraged and begin to feel that they are a failure and not capable of successfully maintaining a job, so they must depend on others to take care of them.  Therapists must believe in their clients BEFORE their clients believe in themselves.  Education, training, internships or even volunteer work should be encouraged and promoted to build confidence that they can be successful. 

For those with profound discouragement, getting them into a volunteer position can be an excellent first step.  They won’t get fired if they show up and help out, their work is greatly appreciated and they learn the basics of getting to work on time, doing the job required and getting along with fellow workers and their boss.   If this is seen as a first step toward employment it lowers their fear, increases their confidence, builds their self-esteem and can provide a recommendation when they find a paying job.  During the time that they are doing the volunteer work, they can get some additional training to develop their job skills.  

Their first paid work might be part-time or temporary work.  This can be seen as the second step toward getting the job that they want.  During this time the therapist can be helping their clients identify their strengths, attributes and skills that would be useful in the best job fit for them.  They need to know what they need to be successful in a job. For example, some people can’t work in a room where there are a lot of distractions.  They can also be made aware of the jobs that they should avoid as it demands abilities not in the client’s skill set.

Work is also an issue for society.  Which is better, a handout or a hand up?  Too often, getting a handout is emphasized and encouraged.  But this only creates dependency, as well as low self-esteem and self-worth.  If the handout is greater than what a job would pay, it discourages clients from getting a job.  They need to understand that it is just a starting pay and if they do their job well, they will get a pay raise after a probation period and every year after that.  It will also be a work reference for a better paying job.  The community should offer only temporary financial help that is tied to moving in the direction of full employment and a living wage.

If the community does not do this, it leads to people living in poverty, often for generations. Self-esteem and self-worth can be destroyed.  All those in the community must be vocal and insist that those who are out of work must be given a help up to get a job and manage it successfully, not just given a handout.