Today, self-realization and the source of life-meaningfulness for individuals depend on a professional career. Due to this tendency, it is important to understand what a professional identity is. It is crucial to know the role it plays in people’s lives, its characteristics, and the process of its formation in order to understand oneself better and be able to define life goals clearly. Overall, professional identity is a construct that influences people’s thinking and behavior drastically.

A Definition of Professional Identity

Professional identity is an image people use to describe themselves as professionals. The image includes many different psychological aspects that affect professional activity: motives, values, beliefs, and personal experience. This construct identifies the type of work, skills, and knowledge individuals use in pursuing their career as well. In other words, professional identity is a set of knowledge and beliefs that concentrate on an individual’s professional capacity. It shows what a person did, does, and can do in the context of professionalism. One person can have multiple professional identities. As an example of professional identity and as proof of its presence within an individual, the following words can be used: ‘I am a professional manager, who studied for 6 years at university. I have 4 years of work experience in the field, and I plan to…’. Therefore, the construct shows how people see themselves as professionals.

Professional identity is a construct that impacts many important aspects of individuals’ lives. The career path chosen by a person and one’s image of himself/herself as a professional play a big part in a person’s psychic. Among the impacted aspects of it are:

  • confidence in advocating for professional opinion;
  • source of meaningfulness;
  • a sense of self-worth;
  • determination of one’s moral decision-making and behavior;
  • psychological well-being.

Overall, professional identity’s influence on understanding oneself and life, seeing one’s place in it, and one’s behavior cannot be overstated.

Professional Identity Formation

It is important to note that professional identity cannot exist in the absence of social formed through social interactions. In the process, individuals learn about different social roles and expectations of those roles, including professions. One’s professional identity is based on personal experience, beliefs, and values, as well as on social interactions. By seeing one’s professional activities through the eyes of others, people learn about themselves as professionals and representatives of a certain social group. Therefore, professional identity is formed within a social context.

The development of professional identity is a life-long process. Its formation usually begins in university, when a person begins to recognize themselves as a representative of a particular profession.Professional identity continues to develop, adding new practice and professional socialization experience. Thus, it can be said, that professional identity stops developing only once a person decides to stop one’s professional realization.

There are three categories of factors that affect the process of professional identity formation and development. These are personal, educational, and social aspects. All of those categories include developing and barrier factors that affect the professional identity of an individual. Personal factors that develop a personal identity include:

  • personal values realization,
  • high motivation,
  • professional responsibility,
  • goal-reaching capacity,
  • dynasty of a chosen profession.

Personal barrier factors that stop the formation and development of professional identity are:

  • lack of motivation,
  • low level of professional responsibility,
  • emotional burnout.

Productivity of educational factors depends on systematic and practice-orientation levels of education. Developing social factors are:

  • formed professional and professional culture;
  • the demand for specialists of the chosen profile in the labor market;
  • correspondence of training to professional real practice;
  • a high level of the profession’s prestige in society, stable working conditions, a sufficient level of wages for a future specialist, and high social guarantees.

Barrier social factors are:

  • non-core employment;
  • low level of the professional community and professional culture formation;
  • the choice of a profession that does not meet the needs of the modern labor market;
  • inconsistency of professional training with real practice;
  • Low status of the profession, insecure working conditions, low wages for future specialists, and a lack of social guarantees

All of the listed factors influence the formation and development of professional identities. Some of them (developing) help the personality to form and adjust a stable professional identity, while others (barrier) stand in the way of creating and sustaining one. Overall, the personal, educational, and social aspects of an individual’s and society’s lives are three main categories that play a role in forming and developing one’s professional identity.

Professional Identity in Counseling

A counseling psychologist can use a client’s professional identity in their work. With all of the impact it has on individuals’ lives, a counselor can use the theoretical and practical knowledge about professional identity to help clients. By referring to it, any competent counseling psychologist can help with solving problems with:

  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • low self-esteem,
  • feeling of life’s meaninglessness,
  • behavior,
  • other related subjects.

Professional identity is a construct individuals use to describe themselves as professionals. It affects many aspects of life, including professional activity, sense of self-value and meaningfulness of life, self-esteem, psychological well-being, and behavior. The construct is highly connected to a social context and forms and develops within it. Personal and educational factors impact development as well. Overall, professional identity is an important part of one’s life and in counseling, psychologists can use its theoretical and practical background to help their clients.

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