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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org).
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)