Career Counseling in the Postmodern Era

Askitopoulou, V., Kantoglou, E. (2011). "Career Counseling in the Postmodern Era",  In FEDORA Summer University “Modern Times: Counselling students in the 21st Century”, Ioannina, 16-18/6/2011

In the 21st century of great social and economic change, of challenge and subjectivity, of the abolition of traditional values ​​around the concept of employment, career counselors play a very special role. On the one hand the role of career counselor is to assist in adjusting to employment, vocational training, job placement, career information, to plan for retirement, provide academic advice, training for a position. And on the other hand as they help different clients in multiple environments, play a role in promoting multicultural social justice.
The career counseling promotes professional development and adaptation of people to work at every stage of their life. The person is actively involved in the planning of his life and career, at the aim of integrating psychosocial skills and interests. Career counseling is characterized by developmental and person-environmental adjustment models that help a person to do appropriate and viable options. Career counselors, with a range of training and credentials, are employed in settings as varied as schools, colleges, companies, community agencies, and government offices.
Students of the PESYP ASPAITE starting from different scientific and professional origins: are teachers who have made ​​a turn in their careers or professional psychologists who seek for specializing in the field of their work, travel a common path of education, and aim at obtaining a common identity, that of guidance counselors.
In order to meet the challenges of the next decade this symposium discusses the possibilities / opportunities and the difficulties of transition from the role of the teacher to the role of the student and from the role of the counselor to the clinical role of the psycho- educator. It also examines the similarities and differences between the parallel paths of the teacher to counselor- client: they are both on the threshold of professional Search / options and they are called to adopt a flexible work attitude that aims at discovering new professional roles in order to cope with the modern working reality.

At the turn of the twentieth century, vocational guidance emerged in response to societal needs. Throughout the century, various economic, political, and social events shaped the delivery of services for what has become known as career counseling.
As we embark on the twenty-first century, a postmodern perspective has taken shape. The recognition that development occurs across the life span, that context from a systemic perspective is a counseling factor, and that a collaborative dialogue between client and counselor can give meaning and develop action have been instrumental to the shaping of a postmodern perspective to career counseling.

The turn point
As careers are becoming increasingly turbulent, traditional career counseling services, which mainly focused on supporting clients and students with making a career decision, are considered to be no longer appropriate. Career theory and practice has been challenged to revise and reinvigorate itself in order to remain relevant in the post-modern world.
The move challenges traditional views of career and career development, necessitating new ways of thinking about and of practicing career counseling. Career counseling is no longer a singular process that is focused on making a job choice; it is instead, a range of interventions to deal with psychological issues that accompany the client's career concerns (Herr, 1997).
The context and multiple influences of an individual's career or work history are the main concerns of the postmodern approach. The assumptions underlying the postmodern career development model are that people cannot be separated from their environments, there are no absolutes, human behavior can only be understood in the context in which it occurs, and individuals define themselves and their environments (Brown & Brooks, 1996). So, the individual is viewed as a part of social and environmental- societal systems and is involved in lifelong career development (Patton & McMahon, 1999).
Also, Richardson (1993) is a proponent of changing the direction of career development to encompass a more postmodern or social constructionist epistemology. She proposed expanding career development theories and decision-making models to include the acknowledgment of multiple contextual influences and subjective meanings that clients give to their choices of work or career. The concept of work includes activities both inside and outside the occupational structure that contribute to human development. Richardson (1993) noted, "If inquiry is limited to work in jobs and occupations, what might be known about people in the multiple and interacting contexts or environments of their lives is severely truncated". The concept of work also moves away from a focus on middleclass individuals who are typically engaged in what are considered "careers" (Savickas, 1993).

The other / new view
The postmodern perspective accepts that the knowledge is relational and that theory can be situated in a social constructionist framework without giving way to complete relativism. From this point of view career counseling embraces contextual conditions from a systemic perspective in which individuals relate to, interact with, and find meaning through social experiences.
Career counseling has produced six notable innovations to mark its entry to the post-modern era. These are, first, a rejection of the notion that careers practitioners are experts: “instead of portraying themselves as masters of truth, counselors are creating a space where those involved can speak and act for themselves”. Second, the replacement of the concept of ‘fit’ with ‘enablement’ and affirmation of diversity. Third, recognition of the importance of context and culture, together with the broadening of focus beyond pre-occupation with work-role. Together, these signal a move toward life-design counseling and grand narratives. Fourth, a questioning of the legitimacy of separating career from the personal, with a move toward the greater integration of these two domains. Fifth, the realisation that career theory has provided objective guidance techniques which practitioners have increasingly had to combine with subjective techniques derived from counselling theory for their practice. Embryonic career theories are thus being developed which focus more on meaning, invention and construction, and move towards “co-construction or social construction of meaning”. Finally, a shift away from objectifying clients by measurement to a preference for autobiography and meaning-making.
Peavy (1995) summarizes the differences with a series of adjectives for traditional approaches, including "efficiency, effectiveness, accountability, objectivity, neutrality, expertness, behavioral reductionism, quantification, measurement" compared to these for postmodern approaches: "self-construction, self as narrative, life planning." He places self as narrative in opposition to self as traits. It is characterized by "a turn away from 'psychometric self' and toward 'storied self'".
As Campbell and Ungar (2004) said, "Careers are everything that people do with their lives rather than simply their occupation". Furthermore, he emphasizes "acceptance of chaos, a positive attitude toward instability, and openness toward changing one's preferred future as opportunities present themselves".

The clients
Savickas (1993) suggests that changes in career counseling re-define the practitioner as co-authors and editors of career narratives. Instead of diagnosing, assessing and matching, they authorize careers by narrating coherent stories; invest career with meaning by identifying themes and tensions in the story line; and help clients learn the skills necessary for the next episode in the story.
From this perspetive career counseling is a reflective process of assisting clients in creating self, through writing and revising biographical narratives taking place in a context of multiple choices from a diversity of options and constraints. The shift moves from emphasizing career choice to empowering self-affirmation and improving decision making.
If individuals actively participate in the creation of their own reality, then it follows that individuals create their own personal story in relation to their experiences. The use of language and dialogue is fundamental to the creation of meaning and knowledge for the personal story. The personal story is uncovered, and a new reality is constructed through dialogue between the client and the counselor; this process is referred to as co-construction.
In that way the counselor is involved with the client in a collaborative process that relies on linguistic dialogue between the client and the counselor. In the process of co-constructing one's story, lost experiences are remembered and other experiences are either amplified or muted. In practice, story lines and preferred futures shift to accommodate one another as past and present life events are experienced in new ways. The client's narration during the counseling process of past experiences, current meanings, and future actions is the story that reveals self-knowledge (e.g., interests, abilities, achievements, motivation and self-realization).

The counselor
As the counseling profession has adapted to the changing needs of society, it has developed approaches to theory and practice that give counselors the flexibility and depth necessary to work with people living in a multicultural society faced with a broad spectrum of concerns and conflicts. Counselors ought to develop a unique ability to help others, work through transitions in a changing, pluralistic world, whether there are age-related developmental transitions; family, career, or spiritual transitions; or transitions related to social-cultural-political factors.
At this turning point for career counseling two questions are raised. Firstly what skills should the new counselor have? And secondly, what are the professional paths the counselors come from? At the moment, career counseling is an unregulated field. Most career counselors have a degree in counseling or another mental health field counseling, psychological counseling, or community counseling. Some counselors come from social work or human resources management. Others come to career counseling from a discipline such as law, medicine or education and then use their industry expertise to counsel people in their former field. Many professionals embark on continuing education courses in counseling or psychology.
So how easy it is to have two roles in the same workplace? The postmodern training programs for counselors must include a wide variety of counseling approaches based on psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive, cognitive-behavioral, and postmodern constructivist and social constructionist theories. Programs attend to a person's holistic concerns—the need to nurture one's body, mind, spirit, land soul in a multicultural society.
Savickas defined four useful attitudes concern, curiosity, confidence, and control and suggested how a counselor might facilitate their development. Career concern means that an individual has a future orientation and feels invested in thinking about and planning for the future. Appropriate counselor interventions should encourage the client to look ahead to imminent vocational tasks and transitions. Career curiosity denotes an inquisitive and exploratory attitude with regard to understanding how one's self-identity fits into the world of work. Career interventions promoting client curiosity include discussions of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, practicing goal setting, and encouraging involvement in exploratory experiential activities. Career confidence refers to the individual's anticipation of successful outcomes related to her or his intentional efforts. Counselor interventions promoting confidence include encouragement, affirmation of client strengths, role modeling, and active problem solving. Career control means that individuals feel capable of and responsible for constructing their careers. Counselor responses that promote the career client's sense of control include encouragement, affirmation of client strengths, and modeling optimism regarding career development outcomes.
Finally counselor can use innovative, exciting and respectful way of being useful to clients who wish to find deeper meaning in their lives and help clients as they reflect on ways in which to negotiate transitions, write their life stories and design their lives

In the last decade changes in the career field again have been making new demands on counselors. Recent trends have challenged counselors to reexamine and clarify their role instead of helping clients see meaning in their careers, accept responsibility for their actions, and become able to adapt to new demands, find new holding environments, and design successful lives. As Savickas (2010) said the crucial element of 21st century is the importance of empowering clients to design lives that are experienced as satisfactory and that can be redesigned as needs, interests and life experiences change. Thus, clients should, after career counseling, be better equipped to start confronting the complexities of negotiating a career pathway and become motivated to realize specific goals that could stand them in good stead in their career and life development.
The social transformation of the work world prompted the analysts to identify constituent parts of the career counseling profession that show strain in coping with emerging needs as well as other parts of the profession that face threats from external groups and situations. As the employment for educational, vocational, and school counselors is expected to grow by 14 percent, which is faster than the average for all occupations (US Bureau of Labor Statistics), career counseling profession in order to continue its good work in the next decade, must intensify efforts to serve a diverse clientele in new settings, translate theory and research into knowledge about the career counseling process that can be used in practice, construct new tools that exploit the potential of informational technology, increase and improve the training offered by counselor education programs, infuse information and values into public policy debates, and assist counselors worldwide who seek to internationalize the profession of career counseling.

  • Brown, D., & Brooks, L. (1996). Career choice and development (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Herr, E. L. (1997). Career counselling: A process in process. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 25, 81-93. 
  • Patton, W., & McMahon, M. (1999). Career development and systems theory: A new relationship. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole. 
  • Peavy, V. R. (1995). Constructivist career counseling. Greensboro, NC: Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 401 504) 
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  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, Washington,