Career counselors confront a critical crossroad: a vision of the future.
Vocational guidance counselors (Training)
Vocational guidance counselors (Evaluation)
Vocational guidance (Forecasts and trends)
Niles, Spencer G.
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Name: Career Development Quarterly Publisher: National Career Development Association Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Human resources and labor relations Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2003 National Career Development Association ISSN: 0889-4019
Date: Sept, 2003 Source Volume: 52 Source Issue: 1
Event Code: 280 Personnel administration; 010 Forecasts, trends, outlooks Computer Subject: Market trend/market analysis
Product Code: 8331000 Job Counseling Centers NAICS Code: 62431 Vocational Rehabilitation Services SIC Code: 8331 Job training and related services
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

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The current challenges confronting career counselors require increased discourse regarding career counseling models. Some authors have initiated this discourse, but more participants are needed. The need also exists to communicate more aggressively the special expertise that career counselors bring to their work. As career counselors construct contemporary intervention models, they will need to engage in action research to demonstrate accountability and to document that their services are effective. Career counselors can embrace these activities by building on past practices to construct a vision for the future.

Career counseling is the label used most frequently to describe how counselors and psychologists work to help individuals develop self-understanding and articulate a career direction that allow them to achieve their potential and find purpose in their daily activities. Career counseling is an honorable activity with a substantial history in the United States (Pope, 2000). For example, in his work with adolescents, Parsons (1909) described this activity as helping adolescents use true reasoning to "find a vocation rather than merely hunt for a job" (p. 25). Strong (1927) helped people connect their interests to occupations. Roe (1956) highlighted childhood influences that affect career development. Super, Savickas, and Super (1996) urged career counselors to help their clients "implement their self-concepts in satisfying occupational roles" (p. 139). Holland (1973) provided a structure for career counselors to help their clients express their personalities in congruent occupational environments. Vondracek, Lerner, and Schulenberg (1986) emphasized the need for career counseling to incorporate the client's context. Savickas (1989) incorporated early childhood experiences to help clients clarify their life projects. Gottfredson (1996) illustrated that children can benefit from developmentally appropriate career interventions but that these interventions are not being systematically provided. Krumboltz and Vosvick (1996) reminded career counselors that sometimes clients' beliefs about the world and about themselves impede their career development progress. Cochran (1997) helped clients find career meaning in their life stories. Amundson (1998) encouraged career counselors to actively engage their clients in the career counseling process. These are just a few examples of the rich resources that career counselors use to help their clients.

Challenges Confronting Career Counselors

Given the impressive contributions of so many career development theorists and practitioners, why the need for this special issue of The Career Development Quarterly? Although various responses could be offered, my sense is that career counseling is at a critical crossroad. Various challenges confront career counselors today. For example, career counselors must ask themselves whether career interventions devised in the middle of the last century are useful in the current context. Some observers of the current context reflect this uncertainty in the rifles of their books--Job Shift (Bridges, 1994) and The End of Work (Rifkin, 1995). Career counselors must be sensitive to rapid changes that are occurring regarding work and must respond with thoughtful and timely interventions. Today, many workers realize that blind loyalty to corporate employers is unwise. Substantial corporate downsizing has resulted in fewer career ladders to climb. In place of a loyal workforce, a contingent workforce emerges. Computers perform tasks once performed by people. Workers know that although they have a job today, they may be unemployed tomorrow--regardless of how competent they are or how hard they work. Many adults struggle to navigate the choppy waters that they experience in their careers. As they attempt to smooth the turbulence in their careers, they realize that old solutions for increasing job security (e.g., working harder and longer) are insufficient strategies for coping with current career challenges.

Many adults question the benefits of working harder and longer when the costs (e.g., sacrificing health and family time) are so substantial. Few people have role models that provide examples for coping with this situation. Many people, hoping to acquire insights about how they can reduce the anxiety and confusion they feel (Anderson & Niles, 1995; Niles & Anderson, 1993), turn to career counseling. Thus, career counselors must consider whether current career counseling models provide adequate strategies for helping clients cope with current career concerns.

As the current work context challenges career counselors to consider the relevance of career counseling models, other career practitioners (e.g., career coaches, career development facilitators) are emerging to provide services that often overlap with career counseling. For example, career development facilitators and career coaches offer career assistance. In many cases, these service providers do not have the extensive training and expertise that career counselors possess. The emergence of ancillary career practitioners raises several questions that career counselors must address: Can career counselors demonstrate their centrality to career services when others provide related services (often at a lower cost)? How effectively has the career counseling profession communicated what it has to offer to the public? Do consumers understand the distinctions between career counseling and other services, such as career coaching? Many recent models of career counseling, although conceptually intriguing, have little or no empirical validation. As demands for accountability increase, career counselors must respond by collecting empirical data and communicating their contributions to various stakeholders (e.g., school boards, university administrators, legislators) engaged in making funding decisions related to career counseling services. Theoretical advances must be accompanied by empirical evidence.

Building on the Profession's History

Although challenges exist, career counselors can turn to their history and tradition to build a vision for the future. Specifically, the training career counselors receive, the rich history of career theories and practices, and the influence of professional associations such as the National Career Development Association (NCDA) serve as resources on which career counselors can draw to respond to current challenges.

Career Counselor Training

The common bond between career counselors begins when students receive introductory career intervention training in graduate counselor education programs. Counselor training programs surround training in career development interventions with a common core of courses defined by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001). Career counselors possess individual and group counseling competencies that are grounded in multiculturally sensitive intervention strategies. The training that career counselors receive is unique among the helping professions and, thus, serves to distinguish career counseling from other counseling-related disciplines such as clinical psychology and social work. Specialized training in career development and in the CACREP core areas reflects an internal strength that career counselors bring to their work. One wonders, however, how well career counselors have communicated the importance of their specialized training to consumers. Marketing that is more aggressive and pervasive of this information seems warranted, both on the part of career counselors and on the part of the professional associations that represent them.

Career Theories and Practices

Career counselor training and career counseling practice are informed by a rich history of career theories; however, many theoretical perspectives provide better descriptions of how careers develop than how to intervene to help clients develop their careers. Thus, career counselors historically have worked to bridge the theory--practice gap, and theoretical descriptions have been supplemented by practical techniques such as those recommended by Bolles (2002), Amundson (1998), and others. To a large degree, career counselors have been successful in bridging this gap between theory and practice. Analyses of career intervention outcomes such as Whiston, Sexton, and Lasoff's (1998) indicate that career counselors do their work well. Similar effort is required to bridge the gap between past models of career theories and current career concerns.

Toward this end, Whiston et al. (1998) noted that more information was needed to understand which techniques were effective with which clients. Moreover, Whiston (1996) pointed out that career counseling researchers tended to use an excessive number of outcome measures that were selected unsystematically. Whiston et al. called for a greater reliance on control groups and experimental designs in career counseling research. Swanson (1995) noted the need for increased research of the career counseling process. Understanding what occurs within the process of career counseling obviously provides specific information about what career counselors can do to help their clients move forward (e.g., Anderson & Niles, 2000; Multon, Heppner, Gysbers, Zook, & Ellis-Kalton, 2001). Such practice-based research is needed to advance the sophistication and demonstrate the effectiveness of career counseling. Outcome-based research, in particular, will also help career counselors acquire the data they need to communicate their effectiveness to others.

Professional Associations

Professional associations, such as NCDA, also have a history of playing a lead role in advancing career counseling practice. Recently, NCDA has engaged in producing publications that provide career counselors with resources that are useful in their practice. Publications such as the Experiential Activities for Teaching Career Classes and Facilitating Career Groups (Pope & Minor, 2001), The Career Counseling Casebook (Niles, Goodman, & Pope, 2002), and A Counselor's Guide to Career Assessment Instruments (Kapes & Whitfield, 2002) represent resources that career counselors find helpful. Additional resources (e.g., theoretically based career counseling videotapes) related to best practices in career counseling are needed.

Career counselors have been fortunate to be a part of a professional association that has been at the forefront of counseling for 90 years. NCDA represents the first counseling association founded in the United States and, thus, has a long commitment to professionalism. Evidence of this is found in the development of career counseling competencies (NCDA, 1997a), ethical standards (NCDA, 1991), ethical standards for Internet career service (NCDA, 1997b), and the rich array of programs offered each year at the NCDA conference. Current efforts at enhancing career services can be found in NCDA's work in identifying career development facilitator competencies and career coaching competencies. These efforts should help clarify the distinction among the various career services providers.

Collectively, these strengths suggest that career counseling is a healthy profession. They provide a solid foundation on which career counselors can construct a vision for the future of career counseling.

A Vision of Career Counseling in the Future

Implied in the previous comments is the pressing need for career counselors to engage more actively in the dialogue about who they are and what they can provide to the public. Emerging career concerns indicate the need for career counselors to continue their historical tradition of responding to current concerns with current interventions. Precious little appears in the literature advocating for particular directions for career counseling. Savickas's (1993) article describing career counseling in the postmodern era stands as one of the few examples of contributions in the literature in which themes are identified and direction suggested. Richardson's (1993) important discussion of the location of work in people's lives also serves as a stellar example of the sort of discourse required for visions of career counseling that respond to the current zeitgeist. Because the discourse barely exists, the direction remains unclear. Thus, career counseling's identity status resembles that of a client who lacks vocational identity and clearly articulated career goals.

Savickas (1993) noted that in the twenty-first century, career counselors must move from supporting the twentieth-century notion of careerism to fostering self-affirmation in their clients. To achieve this goal, career counselors must respond creatively to help their clients manage their careers effectively. Moreover, career counselors must draw on their unique competency sets (e.g., training to help clients cope with developmental concerns, multicultural competencies, training in career development interventions) to crystallize, specify, and implement their evolving intervention models.

To this end, I offer three possibilities for making career counseling strategies relevant to the current context. These responses draw on the strengths inherent in the training career counselors receive and the tradition that has been established by career development scholars. Specifically, career counseling strategies seem warranted (a) that provide counseling-based career assistance to take advantage of the counseling skills career counselors bring to their work, (b) that incorporate objective and subjective assessment activities, and (c) that invite clients to engage in considering work-related decisions within the context of the other life roles they play.

Provide Counseling-Based Career Assistance

Evidence exists to indicate that clients benefit when career counselors pay special attention to the therapeutic relationship in career counseling (Anderson & Niles, 2000). Career practitioners who offer counseling-based career assistance do not view their clients as the problem and the counselor as the solution (Savickas, 1993); rather, they seek to empower clients to articulate their experiences and construct their own lives. Accordingly, multicultural competencies become central to competent career counseling (Leong, 1996). Specifically, career counselors must understand how gender, racial/ethnic identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status influence the client's worldview and the process of career identity. Interventions such as the "career-in-culture interview" developed by Ponterotto, Rivera, and Sueyoshi (2000) provide opportunities to integrate the client's context into career counseling.

Incorporate Objective and Subjective Assessment Activities

Given the uncertainty related to career paths today, it should be clear that providing clients with information about themselves and the world of work through objective, standardized assessments may be necessary, yet not be sufficient for empowering people to develop the level of self-identity required to manage their careers effectively. Moreover, many standardized career assessment instruments are not sensitive to the cultural context of persons from diverse groups (Fouad & Arbona, 1994). To be sure, having information about how one's interests compare with the interests of others and where one stands on the "normal curve" is helpful in the process of identifying viable career options. However, most people do not think of themselves as locations on a normal curve (Savickas, 1993); rather, people tend to focus on the process of trying to make meaning out of their life experiences.

Most likely, the experiences that capture the most attention are the ones that have been the most painful (Savickas, 1989). A painful or negative experience creates a yearning for its opposite, which becomes an ideal toward which to strive (Cochran, 1997). These experiences provide the crucial backdrop against which people sort through their values, interests, and skills and then try to connect to career options.

Career counseling interventions, such as Super's thematic extrapolation method (Jepsen, 1994) and Savickas's (1989) career-style assessment model help people achieve a level of self-understanding that incorporates the subjective aspects of career development into their subsequent career choices. Interventions that actively engage clients (Amundson, 1998) and help clients identify key personal constructs that they use to make meaning out of life experiences (Peavy, 1992) also achieve this goal. Using card sorts to identify values and guiding clients in the identification of personal constructs through the use of a laddering technique (Neimeyer, 1989) are additional examples of interventions that move beyond objective assessment to help clients clarify the meaning they seek to express in their career activities.

Invite Clients to Engage in Life Structure Counseling

Super, Savickas, and Super (1996) stated that "while making a living, people are living a life" (p. 128). The metaphor of the "boxes of life" does not reflect life as many people live it. Life roles influence each other and, thus, the same job will hold different meanings for two individuals because they live in different situations (Super, 1980).

Many career counseling models disregard the fact that life roles interact and that effective participation in multiple life roles allows for maximal opportunities for the expression of values. Perhaps rather than career counseling, current models of career interventions should be oriented toward life structure counseling, and career guidance models should be replaced with models oriented toward developing life-role readiness (i.e., the knowledge, skills, and awareness necessary for effective current and future participation in life's roles; Niles, 1998; Super et al., 1996).

Super et al. (1996) contended that many adult career counseling clients presented with concerns related to life structure issues rather than with work concerns. These authors referred to the life structure in the following way:

Life structure counseling focuses on life as people actually live it. Life structure counseling is holistic, comprehensive, and sensitive to the fact that each person has his or her own constellation of life roles that are salient and that each person seeks to express specific values in the life roles that he or she plays.

Career counselors can help their clients consider life structure issues by encouraging them to consider questions such as the following: How do I spend my time during a typical week? How important are the different roles of life to me? What activities do I engage in to learn more about the life roles that are important to me? What do I like about participating in each of the life roles? What life roles do I think will be important to me in the future? What do I hope to accomplish in each of the life roles that will be important to me in the future? What life roles do members of my family play? What do my family members expect me to accomplish in each of the life roles I play?

Once the answers to these questions are clarified and articulated, clients can then be encouraged to identify outlets for the expression of values in each of their salient life roles. In essence, life structure counselors help their clients paint two portraits--one of their current life structure and another of how they would like their life to be at some future point. Super's (1980) "life-career rainbow" provides a vehicle for helping clients construct a personally meaningful life structure plan. Such interventions move beyond helping clients make compartmentalized decisions about work to helping clients consider how they structure the basic roles of work, play, friendship, and family into a life.


The current challenges confronting career counselors require increased discourse regarding models of career counseling. Some (e.g., Richardson, 1993; Savickas, 1993) have initiated this discourse, but more participants are needed. The need also exists for communicating more aggressively the special expertise that career counselors bring to their work. As career counselors construct contemporary intervention models, they will need to engage in action research (Whiston, 1996) to demonstrate accountability and to document that their services are effective. Career counselors can embrace these activities by building on past practices to construct a vision for the future.


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Spencer G. Niles, Counselor Education Program, The Pennsylvania State University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Spencer G. Niles, 307 CEDAR Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802 (e-mail:
The life structure is comprised of the social elements that
   constitute a life which are arranged in a pattern of core and
   peripheral roles. This arrangement, or life structure, forms the
   basic configuration of a person's life; a design that organizes and
   channels the person's engagement in society, including occupational
   choice. Usually two or three core roles hold a central place and
   other roles are peripheral or absent. (p. 128)
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