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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Career Counseling: A Holistic Approach

Introduction: This article will emphasize a multicultural and holistic approach to Career Counseling. Included are the topics of: Career Counseling Theory, Relational Strategies when working with clients, Diversity Issues, Legal and Ethical Issues, Career Counseling Models, Assessment Tools, and the impact of crisis and emergencies on clients. My hope is this will assist counselors-in-training, or the general mental health clinician to integrate these concepts into their work with clients who are seeking career guidance.
    The Holistic Approach: I see career development as one class, or type of human development. After all, regardless of our gender, socio-economic status, age, educational level or culture, work gives us meaning and purpose. In some cases, work can even allow us to achieve success, and significance, or self-actualization (Maslow, 1943). So while psychological developmental theorists may not have included career development as a separate goal of human development, perhaps they should have.
    Career researchers have begun to press for a more balanced and comprehensive approach towards career counseling, one which focuses on a blend of vocational and personal counseling. "The overwhelming rationale is that career and personal issues are inseparable and intertwined" (Zunker, V.G., 2012). Applying a biopsychosocial approach to career counseling seems to be the most holistic approach. The question remains, "How to effectively integrate an individual's career and personal concerns" (Zunker, V.G., 2012).

    According to the history of vocational counseling, trait-and-factor theory was exclusively used. It employed the “scientific method” by utilizing psychometrics, and has been a respectable form of vocational counseling since its inception. "Super initially relied heavily on trait-and-factor theory as he counseled clients. Eventually, he loosely coalesced these perspectives into the life-span, life-space approach to careers" (Savickas, 1997). His "Career Developmental Theory" added the human developmental perspective to the vocational. By calling attention to the client's developmental stage, ecological situation, and the role of self-concept, Super established a more holistic approach to career counseling. Super defined career maturity as, "The readiness to make educational and vocational choices" (Super, 1955). He factored in such variables as: self-esteem and self-efficacy. In his own words, "The life-space, life-span model does not assume that work is the central role in a person's life; instead, it highlights the importance of the work role in relation to other roles" (Super, 1984). 
    The Case of Naomi: In the case of Naomi, a single, biracial mother of three young children who is employed but looking for another job, one of my first questions in assessing her overall ability to make a career transition would be to inquire how much support she has in caring for three children. If she has no support, it might be difficult for Naomi to even attend career counseling appointments. She states her mother and sister watch her children on occasion. With this in mind, I would want to understand Naomi's reasons for her current job dissatisfaction. She states she is making over 30K annually and has been with the company long-term. Although she complains she is "living paycheck to paycheck," for a person with only a GED and low-to-average intelligence, this doesn't seem to be an untoward situation. Therefore, I would do some preliminary investigating with Naomi to discover: is she experiencing alienation at work? Are there problems with peers or supervisors? Does she feel overloaded or stressed? Is she “burned out” and bored with her work? Before launching into job-search mode, I would be very careful to ask searching questions to uncover the true problems with her current position. With some inter-personal communications coaching, Naomi may be able to improve her current position at work. If Naomi has solid reasons for making a job change and it seems modification of her current position is not an option, then I would blend two Career Counseling models: the Happenstance Approach Theory (Mitchell, Levin, and Krumboltz, 1999) and CIP. First I will explain application of the Happenstance Approach.

    The Happenstance Model: I choose this theory because Naomi is a woman, biracial, and a single mother of three who is obese and has diabetes. These factors could cause Naomi to feel there is not much hope for her to get ahead in life. The Happenstance Approach "Suggests that counselors are to help clients respond to conditions and events in a positive manner" (Zunker, 2012, p. 36). This model stresses development of the following qualities: Curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism, and risk-taking. Of the practical steps involved in this model, the following seem most important for Naomi:
1. Use of interest inventories to establish her capabilities and interests.
2. Skills Training.
3. Addressing procrastination or uncertainty about decision-making.
4. Addressing personal barriers to attaining goals. For example in Naomi's case, she may need to find suitable childcare if she is to return to school or be occupationally re-trained for a different line of work.
5. Job clubs for vocational social support should be offered as a resource.
6. Cognitive Restructuring-Discussing negative statements about self and the future with the client.
7. Behavioral Counseling Techniques-Role playing with the client, or desensitization to aversive stimulus.
    In Naomi's case, conveying my belief in her can deepen her own sense of self-efficacy. To be her "collaborator" means I should remind Naomi that although she is faced with challenging life circumstances, she has also succeeded in the work world in the past, and has the inner resources to move to her next level of potentiality.

    Diversity and Disability in the Workplace: Naomi is biracial, which means she is a client of diversity, a client of color. She is also a woman, which is a sexual minority. Though she is not disabled, her lower education level and her diabetes are factors in finding a “right fit” for Naomi in the workplace. Given these factors: diversity, legal and ethical issues should be integrated into the counseling approach with Naomi. "To meet minimum standards of practice, therefore, counselors will be required to become proficient in disability issues" (Hayes, 2001; Hulnick & Hulnick, 1989). Today’s counselors are working with a many-cultured client base. "As populations change from homogenous groups to a mosaic of people with diverse cultures and customs, career counselors must shift their perspectives from monoculturalism to multiculturalism" (Hartung, 2002; Leong & Hartung, 2000).

     Historically in rehabilitation counseling there have been prominent models (Smart & Smart, 2006) that counselors have used when working with the disabled:
1. Biomedical Model-Still the most prevalent perspective today. This model defines disability with the language of medicine. This model assumes pathology is present. "Objectification" of the client can open the door for treating the client in a dehumanized way. This model views the disability as a defect, abnormality and medical problem. Because of this view, it can stigmatize the client.
2. Environmental Model-Poverty, lack of education, ethnic identification, gender, sexual orientation, and age are some sociological factors which define this model. “Partial responsibility for the response to the disability rests upon "society" to provide a physically accessible and non-prejudiced environment" (Smart, & Smart, 2006).
3. Sociopolitical Model-Also referred to as the "Minority Model of Disability" (Hahn, 1997; Kleinfield, 1979) is the most recent model. In this model, the disabled refuse to accept the inferior, dependent, and stigmatizing definition of a disability. If society has constructed these artificially limiting constructs, they can culturally de-construct them. This model refuses to allow society to define disability as being: handicapped, inferior, or the object of discrimination or prejudice. "Many scholars and researchers state that the prejudice and discrimination directed towards people with disabilities have been more pervasive than any other group of people, and further, much of this has been due to the Biomedical Model" (Smart & Smart, 2006).

     To best serve the disabled or minority client, counselors should take the following steps (Smart & Smart, 2006): 
1. Counselors should discuss the client’s feelings and experiences about the disability or minority status.
2. Counselors should know that most disabled clients do not embrace the Biomedical model, and prefer to view their disability as a valued part of themselves, and see the "positive aspects." Clients prefer not to believe in focusing solely on their limitations.
3. Counselors should realize the disability is but a part of the client's existence; it does not determine it.
4. Counselors should seek to empower the client: "As professionals, our goal is to promote our client's full participation and integration into their communities" (Tate, 2001, p. 133).
5. Counselors should not impose their values on the client. Counselors should refrain from coaching the client to, "Try harder,” or its opposite, tell the client they are in "denial" of their disability, these clients may terminate counseling prematurely because they have felt misjudged.
6. Be mindful of the power differential between client and counselor. Be sensitive and aware that it increases when the client is disabled.

    Ethical Considerations When Working With Clients: In regards to ethical consideration for Naomi, the National Career Development Association (NCDA) Code of Ethics (2007) distinguishes two types of counseling: career planning vs. career counseling (A.1.b.). Because Naomi has environmental factors such as her single parent status and her health problem, it would benefit Naomi if her counselor took a holistic approach to counseling her, such as described in the NCDA's description of "career counseling."
An understandable and accomplish-able Service Plan should be developed with Naomi's assistance, to guide her career exploration, especially since she has borderline intelligence and only a GED (A.1.d.). Since Naomi is a single parent but has family and a church for support, the counselor should, with Naomi's permission, enlist the assistance of any support network that could assist her in professional upward mobility (A.1.e.). Cultural sensitivity should be shown since Naomi is biracial (A.2.c.). In Naomi's case this may mean the counselor should not assume which culture Naomi feels most "part of," but to allow Naomi to disclose her feelings on her community and ethnicity. In addition, gender is an important factor in career counseling, because there are some professions that are typically "male," and can be resistant to females. I do not, however, subscribe to the idea that females should tailor their career choices to the opinions of that career's norming group. Example: If a woman wants to be a construction worker, and she has the initiative to learn the trade's necessary skills, there is no reason she cannot become a construction worker. I would not only review "traditionally" female-held professional roles with Naomi, but offer those which she may not have considered before due to her gender.
     Cognitive Information Processing Model: In addition to the Happenstance Approach outlined above, another favorite model is the Cognitive Information Processing (CIP) Model (Peterson, Sampson, and Reardon, 1991) due to its Individualized Learning Plan (ILP), and attention to client metacognition. This 7-step process includes the following activities: (1) Interview (2) Assessment (3) Defining Problems/Analyzing Causes (4) Formulate goals-Individualized Learning Plan (5) Develop ILP-Steps to accomplish ILP (6) Execution of ILP (7) Summative Review-Determine Effectiveness (Zunker, 2012, p. 103).  
    I would apply the CIP Model in the following ways with Naomi: (1) Interview-Establish rapport and clarify Naomi’s career problems. (2) Assessment-Because Naomi has borderline intelligence, administer the Career Thoughts Inventory (Sampson et al., 1996a) to measure her ability to problem-solve and make decisions (3) Define Problems/Analyze Causes-Counselor/Client agreement on existential career problem (4) Individualized Learning Plan (ILP)-Naomi’s goals are developed and put in writing (5) Develop ILP-Prioritize goals and activities to achieve goals (6) Execute ILP-Counselor assists Naomi in identifying and overcoming sources of anxiety and challenges in implementing ILP, including analyzing metacognition and defeating self-talk (7) Summative Review-Review all steps of the CIP Model with Naomi, so she can apply them in the future. The Cognitive Processing Model asks the counselor to check the client’s metacogntions for any limiting, negative self-assessments or beliefs, and it allows the counselor to unearth any mental health or substance abuse issues. In fulfilling this dual-role of vocational coach and counselor, a true collaboration takes place, and a stronger relationship is formed. When we see the client multi-contextually, as the Cognitive Model suggests, we view the whole person, and not just a part. We come to understand a multi-faceted person, one whose life involves her career aspirations, but which is also influenced by her finances, family, education and culture. When we see “the whole picture,” the client may too.
     Career Search Systems and Assessments:  In regards to career search systems and resources, the O*Net Online is helpful in outlining vocational trends. I also find the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (4th Rev. Ed.), (Department of Immigration, 1991) aids in defining occupational titles and responsibilities. Standardized tests and self-assessments can psychometrically evaluate the client’s career beliefs, identify skills, proficiencies and abilities, identify academic achievement, confirm interest levels, and determine values (Zunker, 201, p. 149). In addition, computerized state and city career search systems can research the local labor markets.
    Clients In Crisis: It is important to mention that clients like Naomi may present while in a state of crisis or because of an emergency. For example, let’s say that Naomi was laid off without any notice due to downsizing. As the sole bread-winner for her three children, this may constitute a financial emergency for her. Naomi is suddenly a displaced worker, and fears she may not be able to re-enter production work due to the physical limitations that her weight and diabetes have caused her. She is looking for direction, and possibly to make a change in careers. My plan of action with Naomi would be to:
1. Assess the severity of her physical problems. I would refer her to a physician for a physical. Based on the results of that examination, we would know her limitations and capabilities.
2. After identification of her employment history and skills, discussion of her values, and writing of an autobiographical sketch (Zunker, 2012, p. 289), Naomi can decide on the type of career she would like, and research the qualifications for those positions.
4. Individualized Learning Plan-A detailed plan of action to achieve her new career goals is the final step in assisting Naomi to respond positively to the career emergency she finds herself in. Naomi's challenge is going to be implementing a self-directed academic and/or career plan without changing course mid-stream because of her financial worries. She will be challenged to "stay with her life plan.” For her, being self-directed and avoiding becoming discouraged will be a necessary achievement for her continued career growth and development.
    How The Client Benefited: Naomi benefited from a combination of the above-described Career Models in the following ways:
(a)  She explored and clarified her current job dissatisfaction.
(b)   She utilized Interest Inventories and Psychometric Assessments to uncover her capabilities and interests
(c)    She enlisted the support of her existing social support system
(d)   She addressed procrastination, uncertainty, and problems in decision-making
(e)    She addressed any personal issues that might be barriers to attaining her goals
(f)    She addressed negative thinking patterns about herself and her future
(g)   She participated in Skills Training, and role-playing with the Counselor. This might include: Skills of building an effective resume, appointment setting for the interview, the interview process, overcoming objections that the employer might have, and how to follow-up with an employer
(h)   Lastly, the client scheduled a followed up appointment with the Counselor to report her progress, and to ask any questions she might have.
Conclusion: Modern Career Counselors have a multitude of functions to perform, most important of which is to assess the client to understand her holistically; how both her personal and professional life impacts her career-making decisions. The Counselor must be multiculturally trained and apply methods which have been empirically proven to meet the specific cultural needs of the client. In utilizing a Career Counseling model, the Counselor works to improve the client’s self-awareness, identifications of skills, and prioritization of action steps.
    Assessment tools can be used to psychometrically assess and test the client’s abilities and areas for improvement. In the event of a client crisis or emergency, the Career Counselor plays the role of triage “nurse,” referring the client to community resources she might need immediately, while also providing career and psychological intervention. Career Counselors have an arsenal of techniques and assessments with which to meet the following demands: “Work problems, stress reduction, mental health concerns, and develop programs that enhance work skills, interpersonal relationships, adaptability, flexibility, and other interventions that lead to self-efficacy” (Zunker, 2012, p. 7). These counseling activities are associated with career choice over the life span. Truly, a Career Counselor’s work is never done.


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