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Childhood Trauma Affects Career Choices

Nowadays, high school students have classes similar to career courses, and even at university, there are advisors to help students find the right career and employment path. This is one of the challenges students need to address, as high school and university students often do not know how to choose their career paths. Due to the many confusions students have, they are scared about life after university. What can be done to help high school and college students choose a career? From a psychological perspective, many factors help students choose a job they like.

Each individual’s background, experience, and personality can influence career choices. Is there any particular experience that can significantly impact a student’s career path? This question can be answered from the perspective of experience. Special experiences are also referred to as significant events that people have experienced during childhood, like childhood trauma. Special experiences are roughly divided into three categories: family, study, and accidents/others. These three can be very influential factors and directly affect students’ judgments and choices.

Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory

The family can be a good example. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory highlights that the mesosystem is the most influential child-centered group that can directly influence children’s development, including behavior and thoughts. (Santa Clara University, 2022) If we take the family as an example, then a particular experience could be a very traumatic family experience the child had, perhaps physical abuse or moving abroad. Based on the mesosystem, these experiences can cause the most immediate long-term damage to the child. Children will be facing their painful memories; there is a high possibility that children will choose to overcome or avoid these memories. Both situations can contribute to a child’s choice of future career goals.

Percentage of E.R. visits from injuries by age group

As well as including family or school, painful memories can also be accidental. Although accidents in special experiences are not explicitly reflected in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system, accidents are one of the factors that cannot be ignored. The proportion of children under 12 entering E.R in 2022 is already 43%, and this does not include other reasons for witnessing a significant accident. (Gabriele, 2022) The database on the graphic would suggest that some children will witness or experience accidents before they reach high school. These situations can also lead to children avoiding or overcoming such painful memories. These can be the basis of subconscious decisions for students to choose a career and try to avoid a particular occupation or relate to specific content.

Average Weekly Earnings for Full-Time Workers

The above descriptions only include experience, but the job market also shows that background can influence job choices, especially in the region. In addition to a willingness to work, salary is also an essential consideration for students. Students will choose their preferences based on experience, and salary is essentially a filter. The Job Market provides information on salaries in different regions. The data is more toward whites. (Sheikh, 2017) This can make it more difficult for people from different backgrounds to choose a career that pays well. This can also significantly impact students’ choices due to cultural restrictions. This is also a factor that cannot be ignored. However, the students’ wishes will be the primary reference for their desired goals. If students are more inclined to be realistic, more background factors and other social rules limit their choices.

Regardless of any factors, this will be the basis for people to choose. The reference will not have 100% belief in a particular factor. The ideal ratio would be 50/50 between reality and ideals. It also depends on each individual’s conceptual understanding of the two, but particular experiences do not fall squarely into either of the two concepts. An exceptional experience is a concept that encompasses both. Because special experiences give people subconscious escape or overcome, these are ideal concepts in many cases. This is because this factor does not combine with other conditions to make a choice more biased toward reality. It will be realistic if the particular experience is combined with a condition. For example, by combining a particular experience with one’s abilities, the particular experience becomes a supporting factor.

According to (Bryce et al., 2021), individuals who have experienced trauma are more likely to choose careers that involve helping others in need; that is, they will choose careers that help resolve the abuse that they went through as children. Doing this makes most individuals feel at peace, validated, and in control of their lives. These authors noted that most people would go after careers that fill the gap they felt in their childhood. Growing up, I had a friend who experienced abuse from her guardians. Her parents were addicts, and she experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. This continued until social services intervened after a teacher noticed that she was not doing well and her performance had started dropping. She moved through many foster homes over the years and never had any absolute stability in her home life. These experiences and what she saw other kids going through in these group homes led her to be very dedicated and determined to have a better life for herself, which would eventually lead to her helping kids that have gone through what she did. She attended therapy sessions to help her overcome her trauma, giving her a chance at a normal life. When we got to high school, my friend chose subjects that would contribute to a career in social work or careers in psychology. She was motivated by the social worker who handled her case and kept in touch for years to ensure she was doing well. Eventually, she chose to major in psychology so that she could help abused and neglected children find standing in this world. She also influenced some of us to engage in social work and charity events aimed at helping disadvantaged children in our community. She is almost graduating, and I can confidently say she will be a force to reckon with in her field. Her experiences pushed her and motivated her to become one of the best professionals out there. Studies have shown that more than half of certified therapists and over 30% of mental health practitioners have experienced abuse in their early years. A study on 558 subjects working as therapists and law enforcement officers found that over 29% of therapists and 19% of officers reported having experienced childhood abuse (chart below). It also noted that more women working in the helping profession experienced childhood adversity than women in other fields.

Experiencing a challenging upbringing may make an individual be biased, project, or have less objectivity in their work. However, it may also be a strength; in their quest to find meaning and healing from their trauma, they may become a valuable professional in their fields (Bryce et al., 2021). They may be valuable because they are more likely to have a higher level of empathy and a stronger desire to help others who have experienced similar trauma.

Childhood abuse experiences among law enforcement officers and mental health professionals

Childhood sexual abuse may lead to women feeling invisible, silenced, and not having a place in the world. In my friend’s case, she insists that she will only work in departments or organizations mostly run or led by women, as that is where she will feel safe. This further proves that abuse has long-term effects on the victim and the choices they make in their careers. All victims of this kind of abuse will always look for careers that will offer them the safety that they never had growing up (Reilly & D’Amico, 2008). Another aspect that may have led to my friend choosing the careers she did is the need to right the wrongs done to her in the past. This is a significant motivator for individuals who have experienced adversities in their early years; they mostly want to be involved in fields that ensure they help vulnerable women, children, and families; this gives them a purpose in life.

Childhood adversity impacts individuals’ career choices after high school and university. People want to have meaning and an understanding of their life experiences; therefore, most will choose careers that align with these needs. Childhood trauma lasts a lifetime hence the need to protect children hence reducing these incidences to have well-balanced adults in the future. Children may be undergoing trauma without those around them realizing it; this further shows the importance of education on the forms of trauma and how to prevent it, as it may cause adverse effects on children (Meyers, 2014). There is also a need for child protective services to keep up with what is going on behind closed doors to reduce these instances.

In conclusion, childhood abuse can significantly impact an individual’s future career choices. Thus, it is essential to deal with childhood trauma in order to make better career choices. Dealing with trauma can make individuals more aware of their goals and make better career choices. It is also essential for parents and guardians to educate themselves on the various forms of trauma that can happen to their kids so that they can prevent it and also identify it early on to help their kids get professional help early on. It is essential for adults who have not yet dealt with their trauma to attend therapy sessions to deal with these issues. Every experience and trauma is valid and should not be dismissed; mental health is a real issue affecting our society today, and all the relevant authorities should invest resources in tackling it.


Bryce, I., Pye, D., Beccaria, G., McIlveen, P., & Du Preez, J. (2021). A Systematic Literature Review of the Career Choice of Helping Professionals Who Have Experienced Cumulative Harm as a Result of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 152483802110160.

Gabriele, R. (2022, July 26). 2022 Summer Safety Guide.

Meyers, L. (2014, June 23). The toll of childhood trauma. Counseling Today.

Reilly, R. C., & D’Amico, M. (2008). The Impact of Childhood Abuse on University Women’s Career Choice. The Journal about Women in Higher Education1(1), 143–163.

Santa Clara University. “Theoretical Framework – Office for Multicultural Learning – Santa Clara University.”, 2022,

Sheikh, Muneeza. “The Job Market: Careers by Culture Representation.” Her Culture, Accessed October 25, 2022.


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