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Analyzing the differences in career thoughts based on disability status. (Differences in Career Thoughts).

Cognition has been widely recognized as an important factor to consider when working with individuals regarding issues related to vocational development and career decision making (Lustig & Strauser, 2000). Research in this area has suggested that an individual's vocational behavior is influenced by the interaction between vocational cognitions, behaviors, and environments and is often cognitively mediated (Keller, Biggs, & Gysbers, 1982). Individuals who express and verbalize positive cognitions regarding the career decision-making process tend to make effective decisions. On the other hand, individuals who express and verbalize negative or dysfunctional cognitions regarding the career decision-making process tend to experience difficulty and avoidance (Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1996). With the potential of career cognitions affecting the career decision-making process, researchers have focused efforts on developing an understanding of career thoughts and their potential impact on career and vocational behavior. One cognitive process that has received attention and has been found to affect career decision-making and vocational behavior is the construct of career thoughts. This paper will explore the differences in career thoughts between individuals with disabilities and individuals without disabilities to examine any differences between the two groups in terms of how they conceptualize career thoughts.

Dysfunctional career thoughts have been conceptualized as dysfunctional career beliefs (Krumboltz, 1990), dysfunctional cognitions (Corbishley & Yost, 1989), self-beliefs (Borders & Archadel, 1987), self-defeating assumptions (Dryden, 1999), and faulty self-efficacy beliefs (Brown & Lent, 1996). Research has suggested that dysfunctional career thoughts are related to self-worth, perfectionism, and over-generalization, and have a tendency to decrease life-satisfaction (Sampson et al., 1996; Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1998). Other areas that have been found to be negatively affected by dysfunctional career thoughts include subjective well being, job satisfaction, job performance, significant relationships, job avoidance, and mood (Judge & Locke, 1993; Newman, Fuqua, & Seaworth, 1989; Saunders, Peterson, Sampson & Reardon, 2000; Serling & Betz, 1990). Research has indicated that dysfunctional career thoughts are often expressed through behavior (e.g., incomplete homework), emotions (e.g., depression, anger), and verbal expression (e.g., negative statements; Corbishley & Yost, 1989). Research has also found that dysfunctional career thoughts: a) often go unnoticed in counseling settings; b) lead to distorted, misinformed, and biased career beliefs; and c) finally result in self-defeating behavior and experiences. It has also been suggested that women may report higher levels of dysfunctional career thoughts due to higher reported levels of anxiety and lower reported levels of self-esteem (Betz & Hackett, 1981; Herr & Cramer, 1996).

Research in the area of career decision making has suggested that dysfunctional career thoughts can affect career behavior in four ways. First, an individual's career behaviors can be viewed as responses to the individual's cognitive conceptualization of specific career environments. Second, the individual's cognitive development and learning experiences can modify the individual's career representations. Third, the individual's contextual supports (i.e. family, religious institutions, friends), behaviors, and cognitions interact to influence vocational behavior. Finally, the individual's cognitions mediate and change an individual's career behavior (Keller et al., 1982; Lent, Hackett, & Brown, 2000; Peterson, Sampson & Reardon, 1991; Sampson et al., 1996). Individual factors, such as poor problem-solving skills (Peterson et al., 1991), lack of self-knowledge related to career interests, abilities, and values (Holland & Holland, 1977), maladaptive career beliefs and assumptions (Krumboltz, 1983; Nevo, 1987), personality disorders, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia (Fuqua, Blum, & Hartman, 1988; Gibb, 1991), and poor self-esteem (Crozat & Kloss, 1979) have also been implicated in the development of dysfunctional career thoughts.

With cognitive processes and career thoughts potentially playing a significant role in the career and vocational development process, it would appear to be important for individuals to have healthy and functional career thoughts to minimize the amount of dysfunctional career thoughts (Young & Chen, 1999). This may be especially true for individuals who have been traditionally underemployed and unemployed such as individuals from low socio-economic backgrounds, women, and individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities often experience problems obtaining and maintaining employment and, as a result, experience an extremely high rate of unemployment (Louis Harris and Associates, 1998; Kociuslek, 1998, 1999). One study found that two-thirds of individuals with disabilities of working age are not in the labor force (Stoddard, Jans, Ripple, & Kraus, 1998). Not only are individuals with disabilities less likely to be employed when compared to their non-disabled counterparts, but also those who are employed tend to earn significantly less. Moreover, the earning gap increases for those with more severe disabilities and for those from minority backgrounds (Kruse, 1998; Stoddard et al., 1998). These unemployment and underemployment issues affect individuals with severe mental illness in addition to those with physical disabilities (Ahrens, Frey, & Burke, 1999).

The career development of individuals with disabilities can be affected by limited employment experiences, lack of knowledge regarding skills, and negative employment experiences (Lustig & Strauser, 2000). Individuals with disabilities who have less work experience tend to have less information about occupations and have had limited opportunities to make career decisions (Farley, Schriner, & Roessler, 1988). Enright (1996) found that disability has a negative impact on the self-efficacy of career decision-making by limiting the individuals' opportunity to receive positive reinforcement regarding their abilities. Furthermore, Luzzo, Hitchings, Retish, and Shoemaker (1999) found that college students with disabilities reported lower levels of career decision-making self-efficacy and a more pessimistic career decision-making style than did college students without disabilities. Individuals with disabilities have also been found to have difficulty in understanding their vocational needs and interests and making employment decisions (Czerlinsky & Ryan, 1986).

With dysfunctional career thoughts implicated as a significant factor in career decision making, it is important to examine the career thoughts of individuals with disabilities. This study examines differences between individuals with disabilities and individuals without disabilities in terms of dysfunctional career thoughts. Because research has suggested that individuals with disabilities experience significant problems in career decision making (Czerlinsky & Ryan, 1986, Enright, 1996; Luzzo et al, 1999), it is hypothesized that individuals with disabilities will report higher levels of dysfunctional career thoughts when compared to individuals without disabilities.

Methodology

Participants

The study consisted of 212 individuals, of which 149 were college students enrolled in a southern urban university taking introductory courses in the College of Education. The remaining 63 participants were individuals with a disability who were found eligible for state vocational rehabilitation services. They were receiving job placement services from a community-based job placement program. Specifically, 23 individuals reported a psychiatric disorder (depression, anxiety, bi-polar, schizophrenia) as their primary disability, 14 reported a physical impairment, 5 a dual diagnosis of a physical and psychiatric impairment, 1 learning disability, 1 a sensory impairment, and 19 individuals chose not to report their primary disability. Of the 149 college students, no one reported having a disability or ever having received rehabilitation services. The age range for the participants was 18 to 61 with a mean age of 31 (SD = 11.43). Of the 212 participants, 46 were male and 165 were female, with 1 individual not reporting gender. Both groups were predominantly female. Of the participants, 47% reported to be Caucasian, 47% African American, 2% Asian, and 1% Native American (three percent of the participants did not provide information regarding their ethnicity). Of the 212 subjects, 32% reported not being married, 23% reported being involved in a relationship, 20% reported being married, 10% reported being divorced, 3% were separated, 3% were widowed, and 9% did not respond to the question. All of the subjects in the study reported having at least one semester of postsecondary education with no individuals reporting higher then a bachelor's degree. T-tests were completed to determine whether the groups were significantly different on any of the demographic variables. Results indicated that the groups were similar in make-up in every category except for age where the individuals with disabilities were found to be significantly older with a mean age of 41 compared to a mean age of 26 for the students (t=34.61, p<.000).

Instrument

Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI; Sampson et al, 1996). The CTI is based on the cognitive information process theory approach to career counseling (Peterson et al 1991; Peterson et al, 1996), and the cognitive therapy approach to mental health and mental health services (Beck, 1976; Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979). For the purposes of the instrument, career thoughts are defined as outcomes of one's thinking about assumptions, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, feelings, plans, and/or strategies related to career problem solving and decision making. The CTI consists of 48 items and produces a total score and the following 3 construct scales: Decision Making Confusion, Commitment Anxiety, and External Conflict. The Decision Making Confusion Scale measures the extent to which an individual's emotions or lack of decision-making skill knowledge interferes with his or her ability to make a career decision. The Commitment Anxiety scale examines the impact anxiety has on a person's ability to commit to a career decision. The External Conflict scale examines how well the person utilizes input from others and his or her self-perception in decision making. Respondents use a 4-point rating scale with responses ranging from 0 (Strongly Disagree) to 3 (Strongly Agree). Examples of items are: (a) no field of study or occupation interests me at this time (Decision Making Confusion); (b) the views of important people in my life interfere with choosing a field of study or occupation (External Conflict); (c) I'm afraid of overlooking an occupation (Commitment Anxiety). Internal consistency reliability coefficients have been reported between .93 and .97 for the CTI total, .90 and .94 for Decision Making Confusion, .79 and .91 for Commitment Anxiety, and .74 and .81 for External Conflict. Test-retest correlations over a 4-week interval were found to be .77 for the CTI Total, .77 for Decision Making Confusion, .75 for Commitment Anxiety, and .63 for External Conflict. In this study an internal consistency estimate of .98 was found for the CTI total, .95 for Decision Making Confusion, .91 for Commitment Anxiety, and .84 for External Conflict. Overall, the reliability estimates for the CTI were relatively high providing evidence that the CTI is a reliable measure of career thoughts.

Procedures

For the student sample, the faculty members were contacted and asked whether they would be willing to distribute research packets to their introductory classes. All of the faculty members who were contacted agreed to participate and to distribute packets. A total of 185 packets were distributed. Of the 185 distributed, 156 (84.3%) were completed and the remaining 29 (15.7%) were returned uncompleted. The research packets contained a demographic form, the CTI, and an informed consent form. All of the participants were informed that their participation was voluntary, that the data collected would be confidential, and that they were free to withdraw at any time without penalty. All of the participants completed the survey in class and returned it to the instructor. All of the completed and unused test packets were returned to the principle investigators for data entry. Upon reviewing the data it was determined that six respondents had incomplete questionnaire packets and were dropped from the sample reducing the total number participants without a disability from 156 to 149.

For the individuals with disabilities, job readiness counselors who were providing job readiness training in a community based job placement program distributed questionnaire packets to the participants in their classes. All of the participants met the eligibility criteria for the State Division of Rehabilitation Services and reported having completed at least some postsecondary education. The research packets contained a demographic form, the CTI, and an informed consent form. The participants were informed that their participation was voluntary, that the data collected would be confidential, and that they were free to withdraw at any time without compromising the job readiness services they were scheduled to receive. All of the participants completed the survey in class and returned it to the job readiness counselor. Upon reviewing the data, it was determined that all the questionnaire packets were complete.

Data Analysis

The CTI means and standard deviations are reported in Table 1. Independent sample t-tests were completed to examine the differences on the CTI Total score and the three subscales for the two groups of participants. Because multiple t-tests were conducted, it was necessary to adjust the alpha level using the Bonferoni technique in order to minimize the probability of a Type I error, therefore, alpha was set at .013. Effect sizes were also computed for the CTI Total and the three subscales.

Results

Levene's Test for Equity of Variances was computed with no significant differences being found. Therefore homogeneity of variance was assumed. Independent t-tests using a Bonferroni adjustment revealed no significant differences between groups for the mean scores on the CTI Total and the three CTI subscales. Because of the conservative nature of the Bonferroni, effect sizes were computed to determine whether lack of statistical significance was due to the conservative test or whether there were substantive differences since all effect sizes were small, the finding held that there were no significant or substantive differences. Effect sizes for the CTI Total and the three subscales were computed and are reported in Table 1.

Discussion

The data did not support the primary research hypothesis that there are differences in career thoughts based on disability status was not supported by the data. The results of the study were surprising given previous research suggesting that individuals with disabilities tend to have more dysfunctional cognitions for career related activities (Enright, 1996; Luzzo et al., 1999). In reviewing the results of previous studies, several noticeable variations in methods were identified that may have contributed to the differences in results between our study and previous research. First, all of the participants in the previous studies were college students currently enrolled in four-year institutions. In contrast, the individuals with disabilities in this sample were not currently enrolled in school and were actively involved in the job placement process. Second, the cognitive processes related to career decision making and career thoughts were operationalized differently in all of the studies. For example, one of the studies operationalized career decision making in terms of self-efficacy. Therefore, the comparison of results of this study to those of previous studies needs to be interpreted with caution due to the limitations in how the variables were operationalized. Finally, prior studies were able to examine the effect of disability type on career decision making. Due to limitations associated with data collection, we were unable examine the effect of disability type on career thoughts.

As noted above, due to the conservative nature of the Bonferonni adjustment, effect sizes were computed to examine whether there were substantive differences between groups. Previous research not only found statistical significance, but also found medium to large effect sizes that would indicate practical significance (Kirk, 2001). In this study, small effect sizes for the CTI Total and three subscales were found. Visual inspection of the groups' raw means on the CTI interpretation profile found that both groups raw mean scores were within one standard deviation of the mean on all four subscale scores. This suggests that both groups have low levels of dysfunctional career thoughts and appear to be able to address dysfunctional career thoughts independently or with minimal intervention.

In the examination of results, there are several explanations that may account for the findings in this study. First, all participants reported having graduated from high school and having some postsecondary education. It is hypothesized that an individual's educational level may have a mediating effect that reduces the level of dysfunctional career thoughts. Given that all participants in the study had at least some postsecondary education, it is possible their higher levels of education may have influenced their career thoughts and, thus, minimized differences between the two groups. It is hypothesized that their exposure to higher education has helped these individuals become better career problem solvers and decision makers (Reardon, Lenz, Sampson, & Peterson, 2000). Due to the restricted range of reported educational level the authors were not able to examine the specific effects education had on the CTI scores.

Second, the individuals with disabilities who participated in this study were involved in the state/federal vocational rehabilitation system and were receiving individualized job readiness services, expressed a desire to obtain employment, and were preparing to participate in a job placement program. The major goal of vocational rehabilitation services is to help individuals identify appropriate career options and then assist them in obtaining and maintaining employment (Brabham, Mandeville, & Koch, 1998). Therefore, by participating in the vocational rehabilitation individuals may have received services, such as vocational assessment, career counseling, and work adjustment services that helped them identify and reduce their dysfunctional career thoughts and increase their ability to make effective and meaningful career decisions. This is consistent with research that has suggested that participation in vocational and career related services tends to have a positive effect those who participate (Bolton & Akridge, 1995; Merz & Syzmanski, 1997)

Third, there may also be inherent problems using a college student sample as a comparison group given that the traditional college age years are often a time of career uncertainty (Super, 1990). According to Super's theory of career development, college students traditionally fall in the exploratory stage of career development that is characterized by the narrowing of career choices, but not making of a finalized career decision (Super, 1969). All of the individuals in the student sample were undergraduates and would theoretically fall into the exploratory category. This may have contributed to an elevation in their CTI score and therefore minimized the mean differences between the two groups. In addition to the comparison group of college students, the individuals with disabilities were found to be significantly olden Age is a factor that may have a confounding effect on CTI scores and may have minimized the mean differences between the groups. Previous studies examining differences in career thoughts did not have such a significant difference in age (15 years) between the two groups.

Limitations

There are several limitations that impact the overall generalizabiltiy of the results of the study. First, there are some significant sample limitations. A vast majority of the participants were female. Research suggests that females tend to have a greater likelihood of dysfunctional career cognitions and perceptions that may contribute to their failure to realize individualized career potential (Betz & Hackett, 1981; Herr & Cramer, 1996). Future research efforts should attempt to attain a more equal distribution of male and female participants. The skewed distribution of gender in this study limited the ability of researchers to examine the relationship between gender, disability and CTI scores. Second, this study was limited in the information obtained regarding disability type; therefore, the authors were unable to examine the effects that various disabilities have on career thoughts and vocational behavior. It is possible that an individual's type of disability may have affect on CTI scores and may contribute to higher levels of dysfunctional career thoughts. Examining the moderating effect of disability type should be a focus of future research. Third, there was a significant difference in age between the two groups. On the average, the college group was 15 years younger then the disability group. This difference in age could create significant differences in life circumstances that could impact the perception of career thoughts. Finally, all the information obtained in this study was self- report and, therefore, subject to effects of social desirability and response bias. Future research should control and minimize the effect of social desirability.

Conclusions

The purpose of this study was to examine the differences in career thoughts between individuals with disabilities and individuals who did not report having a disability. The results of the study were surprising and indicated that there were no significant differences between the groups. Examination of raw scores when compared to the CTI profile suggest that both groups were functioning within one standard deviation of the mean indicating that both groups reported relatively low levels of dysfunctional career thoughts. Future research is needed in this area to explore the impact of differences between disability type, gender, and education level on career thoughts. The results would also suggest that rehabilitation professionals working with individuals with disabilities should not assume that individuals with disabilities have a higher level of dysfunctional career thoughts. Instead, rehabilitation professionals should individually analyze an individual's career thoughts to determine implications for career development and rehabilitation planning.
Table 1

Means, standard deviations, t-scores and effect sizes for the CTI Total
and three subscales of the CTI.

Source SG

CTI Total 39.90 (SD = 26.16)
CTIDMC 9.28 (SD = 7.90)
CTICA 10.04 (SD = 6.47)
CTIEC 3.85 (SD = 2.94)

Source DG t-score d

CTI Total 47.03 (SD = 24.13) -1.85 .28 *
CTIDMC 10.60 (SD = 7.35) -1.35 .17 *
CTICA 11.63 (SD = 5.66) -1.66 .25 *
CTIEC 4.52 (SD = 2.91) -1.50 .22 *

Note: * = small effect size

SG = Student Group

DG = Individuals with Disability

CTIDMC = Decision Making Confusion

CTICA = Commitment Anxiety

CTIEC = External Conflict


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David R. Strauser, Ph.D., CRC, Center of Rehabilitation and Employment Research, The University of Memphis, 123 Patterson Hall, Memphis, TN 38152-6010. Email: dstrausr@memphis.edu
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Author:Malesky, Alvin
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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