Career counseling: 90 years old yet still healthy and vital. (National Career Development Association).
The 90th anniversary of the National Career Development Association provides a unique opportunity to reflect on the literature and practice of career counseling. Furthermore, the analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT) of career counseling provides a useful framework for this reflection and analysis. In this article, I also articulate a vision or a strategic plan for career counseling. This daunting task became even more difficult when I considered that it is the 90th anniversary and that there are only 10 more years until the field celebrates its 100th anniversary. Analogous to a looming birthday and making unrealistic goals (e.g., lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks), I know my tendency to be idealistic so I attempted to keep at least one foot planted in reality.
Before making suggestions about the next decade, I reflected on the strengths related to career counseling. One of career counseling's strengths is its rich history and substantial body of literature. The roots of career counseling can be traced to Frank Parsons (Hartung & Blustein, 2002), and his three-step model still influences many practitioners' approach to career counseling. Often in career counseling, there are elements of assisting the client in knowing himself or herself, gaining knowledge of the world of work, and integrating the information about self and occupations. Although some individuals (even in the counseling field) still believe that career counseling is this simple approach, there have been other significant theoretical contributions related to vocational psychology that have influenced the practice of career counseling. For example, Super, Savickas, and Super (1996) and Holland (1997) developed important theories with extensive research that provide significant insight into individuals' career development and the intersection between personality and career direction. There are also some notable theories, such as social cognitive career theory (Brown & Lent, 1996; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994), that have emerged more recently. In considering the strengths of the field, the preeminent theories and the research that has emanated from these theories are truly assets. It should be noted, however, that these theories are related more to career development or career choice than they are to theories that guide career counseling (Osipow, 1996; Walsh & Savickas, 1996).
In addition, since the first meeting of the National Vocational Guidance Association, career counselors have begun to understand the career counseling process and how to structure the process to assist clients. There are consistent findings that career counseling is moderately to highly effective and that some interventions are more effective than others (Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston, Sexton, & Lasoff, 1998). There is also some evidence that individual and career classes are the most effective methods for delivering career counseling (Whiston, 2002). Furthermore, there is compelling evidence that career interventions that do not involve counseling (e.g., reading occupational information) are not as effective as career interventions that have a counseling component (Whiston, Brecheisen, & Stephens, 2003). In addition, more recent research has provided some insights into the critical components of effective career counseling. Particularly when helping clients make a career decision or choice, Brown and Ryan Krane (2000) found that career counseling was most effective when it contained (a) individualized interpretation and feedback, (b) occupational information, (c) modeling opportunities, (d) attention to building support of choices within one's social network, and (e) written exercises. Brown and Ryan Krane reported a positive relationship between the effectiveness of career counseling and the number of critical ingredients included in the process.
In the last 90 years, researchers have also developed a number of psychometrically sound and useful career assessments. Furthermore, there has been substantial research related to the constructs (e.g., interests) that provide the foundation for future assessment. For example, Rounds and Day (1999) as well as Tracey and Rounds (1996) have provided insight into the structure of interests and the multicultural applicability to those structures. The fact that researchers continue to develop sound measures, evaluate existing instruments, and investigate constructs, such as interests, is a testament to the strength of the field.
A final strength of career counseling is that practitioners have an expanding knowledge base related to the career needs and issues of diverse groups of individuals. Fitzgerald, Fassinger, and Betz (1995) have argued that recently the study of women's career development has been a vibrant and productive area of research. In providing career counseling, there is a wealth of information related to the career development needs of women on which clinicians can draw. In the last few decades, there also has been a growing body of literature related to the effects of race and social class on career development (Fouad & Brown, 2000). Moreover, there are models for culturally sensitive career counseling, such as Fouad and Bingham's (1995) model, that can also be helpful to practitioners.
Although there are many assets on which clinicians can draw while providing career counseling, there are also some limitations. In my opinion, the fundamental weakness related to the practice of career counseling is that career counselors do not know what works with which clients under what conditions (Swanson, 1995; Whiston, 2002). Moreover, some would argue that there is little sound research to indicate what works in career counseling. In counseling and psychotherapy research, there are numerous examples of treatment package strategies (Heppner, Kivlighan, & Wampold, 1999), during which researchers investigate the effectiveness of a treatment or treatment package and closely monitor the type of treatment provided in a study either through the use of manuals or supervision of the counseling. In these studies, researchers can claim that, for example, a cognitive approach is effective with a certain population because they have ensured that a cognitive approach was provided to clients. In career counseling research, there are few examples of treatment protocols, and often the descriptions of the treatment in the studies are vague. Hence, practitioners may read that individual career counseling is an effective treatment approach but have very little information on what should be included in that career counseling.
Another limitation concerns career theories, for as Savickas (1996) indicated, current career theories do not comprehensively address all the problems that clients present in career counseling. Although there are a few models of career counseling (e.g., Spokane, 1991; Yost & Corbishley, 1987), I have found little evidence that these models are significantly affecting either practice or research. In my experience, career counseling is often based on a loosely defined set of common practices (e.g., explore the client's interest) and the use of certain assessment instruments, without a theoretical foundation.
An additional limitation concerns the lack of research that is related to career counseling with various populations. Although there has been significant speculation about how to structure career counseling to meet the needs of women and specific ethnic groups, there has not been research related to whether these approaches are more effective than traditional approaches. Furthermore, in the last 25 years, there has been substantial research related to women's career development, but much of the research related to men is 50 years old. Thus, practitioners have very little current information to inform their practice with approximately 50% of the population.
Only sleep takes more of people's time than work; hence, if practitioners are interested in helping people, they need to be knowledgeable about work issues and career counseling. The choices that individuals make about their career influence whether or not they have paid employment, their standard of living, and their mental health. Career counselors have the opportunity to assist clients in making substantial and sustainable changes in their lives. Yet, as a profession, we have been comparatively quiet when it comes to promoting the benefits of career counseling.
I also believe that career counselors can assist in addressing both national and international social problems by providing work-related counseling to more individuals. Blustein (2001) has cogently argued that the field has developed an elegant science about the work lives of a small proportion of individuals who live relatively affluently and has neglected the work lives of the rest of humanity who work primarily to fulfill their basic needs. This same argument applies to the people who have traditionally participated in career counseling--who are typically not the poor or disenfranchised individuals in Western culture. Although there have been major contributions related to providing career counseling to different ethnic groups (Fouad & Bingham, 1995), there has been little written lately about the needs of individuals who live below the poverty level. In addition, there has been an increase in the number of studies published involving international populations, but career counseling is not commonly provided to individuals in many parts of the world, particularly in third world countries. There are immense human needs, and career counseling could play an active role in assisting people; however, career counseling professionals first need to know more about how to assist people who are not college educated and who do not have the luxury of selecting a career.
Many of the technologies developed in the last 25 years also provide opportunities to deliver career interventions in novel ways and to reach a wider variety of clients. In a recent perusal of the Internet, I found interest inventories, assistance in developing a resume, occupational information, and sites that provide career counseling. I believe that the changes in technology offer many opportunities and possibilities for providing career counseling using new and nontraditional methods. The amount and characteristics of career-related resources available to individuals expand daily. As an example, the technology exists that allows clients to access over the Internet short and engaging videos depicting the typical work activities of individuals in various occupations. In my experience, many clients would find this type of occupational information more appealing than reading brief occupational descriptions.
Many of the strengths and opportunities that I have identified could also be considered threats. For example, although technology may make career services more easily accessible for many people, it may also increase the possibility that individuals can be harmed. In the past, most career assessments were not readily available to individuals, and career counselors had the responsibility for evaluating the psychometric characteristics of an instrument before giving it to a client. Now clients have access to many career assessments that may look legitimate but that, in actuality, have poor psychometric properties. Hence, individuals may be making career decisions that are based on invalid instruments. There can also be financial costs because some of these sites appear to charge hefty fees for what may be negligible services.
Career assessment provided over the Internet is just one example of interventions that can be problematic because they do include the help of a counselor (i.e., counselor-free). In some high schools, career development activities consist solely of computer-assisted career guidance programs. As indicated earlier, Whiston et al. (2003) found that counselor-free interventions were not as effective as were other interventions that involved a counselor (e.g., individual counseling, workshops, classes). They also found that individuals who used a career computer system supplemented by counseling had better outcomes than individuals who just used a computer system. The proliferation of counselor-free interventions, both through the Internet and in other settings, is a threat to the career counseling field and a disservice to clients. Unless career counselors are more active in informing others of the efficacy of career counseling, administrators and organizational decision makers may see counselor-free services as a less expensive alternative to career counseling.
A somewhat related threat to career counseling concerns individuals who are ill prepared to provide career services. The popularity of job coaches who charge sizeable fees for finding individuals' dream jobs poses a direct threat to those who are well trained and knowledgeable about effective interventions (Fouad, 2001). The popularity of job coaches, however, indicates that there are individuals who need career counseling; yet, career counseling professionals have failed to attract those individuals to career counseling venues, I believe that career counselors have done an inadequate job of publicizing and informing the public about the benefits of career counseling.
Another threat to career counseling, which is well documented, is the gap between practice and research (Heppner et al., 1999). Often practitioners have little involvement in research and are unable to keep abreast of current trends and important studies. This problem in the career counseling field is exacerbated because vocational psychologists conduct much of the research and publish in journals that career counselors may not typically read. Savickas (2001) noted the growing schism between vocational psychologists and career counselors and the need to improve communication between these groups. Particularly in these times of accountability, career counselors need to be aware of the research that supports their activities and be knowledgeable of the most effective methods for helping their clients. Researchers, for their part, must also be aware that research findings that are read only by other researchers and not by the larger audience of practitioners have little effect.
Vision for the Field
1. A Period of Reinvigoration
When using the SWOT analysis, the writer is to conclude with a vision for the future, which is certainly an arduous task. In my view, the time is right for a renaissance in career counseling theory and practice. The early 1900s was a time of inspiring growth, when our forefathers and foremothers were committed to helping people escape poverty by assisting them in finding a vocation. This was the time of Frank Parsons and the first Vocational Guidance conference, which made clear the relationship between career counseling theory and practice. Another important period, in my opinion, was approximately 50 years later, when once again there was a surge in theory development (e.g., Holland and Super) and significant research studies (e.g., Career Pattern Study). I argue that the years around 1950 were a time of vitality and professional advancement and that now, another 50 years later, the profession is due for another period of theory development and empirical advancements. My vision is that new theoreticians will provide innovative insights into career development and construct a theoretical foundation for career counseling. This desire for theoretical advancement should not be interpreted as indicating that there has been a void of theoretical contributions in the last 50 years, because there have been significant contributions (e.g., Lent et al., 1994). My desire, however, is for a renaissance, a period when there are significant professional advancements and a synergy in theoretical developments and applications.
2. Theoretically and Empirically Supported Career Counseling
As indicated earlier, there have been significant theories related to career choice and development; however, these important theories cannot be directly translated into an approach to career counseling. Furthermore, there is not an established method or model for conducting career counseling that is consistently used in the field and evaluated by researchers. Hence, career counseling professionals do not have a clear understanding of precisely what is effective, nor has the field made great strides in comparing different approaches with different populations. Contrary to other counseling fields, the theoretical models in career counseling have not evolved to the point where it is possible to say Theory A is better than Theory B with a specific group. My vision for the future is that in 10 years, career counselors will know which career treatments are most effective under what conditions for a number of different client groups. To achieve this goal, there will need to be a surge in research that focuses on the process and outcome of career counseling.
Also, in my vision of the tasks to be accomplished by the time of the 100th anniversary of the National Career Development Association is the collection of data that will allow career counselors to show the cost-benefits of career counseling. In these days of increasing accountability and the movement toward empirically supported treatment or interventions, researchers must not only show that career counseling is effective, but also that it is cost effective. Although it is difficult to determine the economic benefits of career counseling, researchers need to investigate the cost of career counseling and compare it with variables such as welfare and unemployment costs, college student retention/recruitment costs, and differential health care costs. I believe the need for this type of research is critical and that more efforts should be invested in these types of studies. My vision that significant gains can be made in 10 years may be overly optimistic; however, I think substantial gains can be made if researchers and practitioners bridge the gap between them and work collaboratively.
3. More Unity and Collaboration
In my vision for the future, not only would researchers and practitioners collaborate, but there would be more unity and alliance among professionals involved in career counseling. In my opinion, there is little contact among the vocational psychologists, career counselors, and school counselors whose responsibilities also include career development. In many instances, these groups are quite insular and tend to attend different conferences and draw from different professional publications. Thus, advancements in one area are not known in other areas, and individuals receive less than optimum career counseling and assistance. This fragmentation also hinders the advancements that could occur if there was more unity. For example, very few grant dollars have been directed toward providing career counseling to needy individuals. Furthermore, when funds have been directed in this area (e.g., Welfare-to-Work, Schools-to-Work), leaders in the career counseling fields have not been particularly influential, I believe that further advancement could be made if there was more unity among the professionals interested in career counseling and if these professionals would exchange information and work together with the shared goal of advancing career counseling. In fact, maybe it is time to have another meeting like the first one of the National Vocational Guidance Association, a meeting where individuals from a variety of disciplines come together because of a shared belief that career counseling is not only a means for addressing individual quality of life issues but is, also, an avenue for addressing social issues and problems.
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Susan C. Whiston, Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, Indiana University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Susan C. Whiston, Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, Indiana University, 201 N. Rose Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405-1006 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).