ERIC Identifier: ED347481
Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: Krumboltz, John D.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Challenging Troublesome Career Beliefs. ERIC Digest.
We all have career beliefs--assumptions about ourselves and what we must do
to succeed in the world of work. Some of those beliefs can cause difficulties.
For example, do you believe that success is due to hard work or to being in the
right place at the right time? Your answer could influence your future actions.
Burns (1980) has pointed out, you feel the way you think: "Every bad feeling
you have is the result of your distorted negative thinking" (p. 28). People act
in a way consistent with their beliefs and feelings.
Consider the belief: "I'll never be able to find a job." Why is that a
troubling belief? If you really believe you can't find a job, there is no point
looking. And if you don't look, you certainly won't find a job. So the belief
becomes a self-fulfilling--and self-defeating--prophesy.
Clients generally come to counseling because they are unhappy, frustrated,
distressed, and/or engaged in some self-defeating pattern of behavior. They want
to feel better. Despite the years of work by Ellis, Beck, Burns, Dorn and
others, many clients are surprised to learn that to feel better they will have
to change the way they think. So counselors will frequently need to provide a
rationale to explain how positive thinking can lead to happier emotions and more
There are three steps to challenging troublesome career beliefs: (1)
Identifying the troublesome belief, (2) Considering alternative ways of viewing
the underlying problem, and (3) Taking action incompatible with the troublesome
belief. Each step includes some specific techniques. All of these techniques
empower clients by providing them with information or enabling them to make
their own discoveries.
IDENTIFYING THE TROUBLESOME BELIEF
A skilled counselor can
listen carefully to a client's tale of woe and pick up many assumptions,
presuppositions and beliefs that may be getting in the way. The process may be
facilitated with the use of the Career Beliefs Inventory (CBI) (Krumboltz,
1991). The CBI is an instrument which, when used sensitively by a qualified
professional, can help people identify the beliefs that might be blocking them.
The CBI will be most useful when administered at the beginning of the counseling
process. The resulting scores will help the counselor more quickly hone in on
the beliefs and assumptions most likely in need of examination.
This instrument allows counselors to open up important areas that are
typically ignored in traditional forms of career counseling, e.g., ways of
responding to the possibility of failure. The CBI makes career counseling more
complete; it legitimizes the exploration of important attitudes and assumptions.
ALTERNATIVE WAYS OF VIEWING THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM
counseling may be particularly helpful because clients can contribute a variety
of perspectives to each others' problems. Some specific counseling techniques
can also help.
REFRAMING THE PROBLEM
Reframing involves seeing a problem
from another viewpoint. Suppose we have a client with a low score on CBI Scale
23, Negotiating/Searching. She has been employed in a small retail store for
five years when the position of buyer opens up. She would like the promotion but
feels she can't ask for it because she does not want to appear "pushy" or
"selfish." The counselor might say, "Let's look at the problem from your boss'
viewpoint. What kind of a person would he like to be a buyer?"
If the client can see that she has the desired qualities and that taking some
initiative would be good for the store and for her boss, she might overcome her
reluctance. The counselor could reframe the problem in terms of the client's
fundamental goals, helping others, not self-aggrandizement.
COUNTERING A TROUBLESOME BELIEF
Some troublesome beliefs
are simple misunderstandings or faulty facts. They can be countered with a
statement of fact. Suppose Chip who is 5' 7" wants to be a police officer but
believes that to qualify he must be at least 5' 8". A statement that not all
police departments have a height requirement may open up a whole world of
opportunities for Chip. Nevo (1987) has published an article describing counters
to ten major beliefs.
Countering a deeply ingrained belief requires more than logic. It requires
consistent repetition. Many people have grown up in environments where negative
To counter negative beliefs the counselor can use positive supporting words.
"You are strong." "You can do it." "You are making progress." The message must
be genuine, and it needs reiteration. Some clients use a tape recorder to play
back their positive messages.
DEFINING A MANAGEABLE PROBLEM
Some people define their own
problems in ways that make it impossible to solve them. This is the "I should
have decided yesterday how I'm going to spend the rest of my life" problem. This
problem is apparent on the CBI in a pattern of scores on Scales 2, 3 and 16.
Clients can be reinforced for not having foreclosed options so that they can
now explore several possibilities. The counselor can also point out that it is
not necessary to plan the rest of one's life, that it may be quite sufficient to
decide what to try next. The client needs to be given permission to take the
time necessary to plan the next step. The initially massive problem can be
broken down into a series of manageable mini-steps.
USING HUMOR FOR PERSPECTIVE
Nevo (1986) has advocated that
career counselors use a sense of humor in dealing with the serious problems they
confront. While most uses of humor need to be spontaneous recognitions of the
absurdities of life, some advance planning can be useful.
Nevo mentioned the work of Katz who used cartoons to clarify career issues.
She also pointed out associations between love and work. Those with a low score
on CBI Scale 23 who despair of finding the one right job are like those who hope
to find Mr. Right or Ms. Right, the perfect predestined mate. Pointing out
similarities like this may lead to a rueful insight.
DISCOVERING DISCONFIRMING EVIDENCE
The counselor cannot
know whether a given belief is accurate or not, but the counselor can encourage
some exploration if the client's belief appears to be impeding progress. In the
CBI Manual (Krumboltz, 1991) a six-step procedure is suggested for helping
clients investigate their assumptions. Each step is illustrated with possible
counselor and client statements. The essence of the idea is that clients be
helped to ask questions of people or consult references to find out whether
their assumptions are accurate.
TAKING ACTIONS INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE TROUBLESOME BELIEF ROLEPLAYING
We tend to adopt beliefs that are consistent with our own
behavior. If you want someone to adopt a different belief, you may wish to get
that person to act in a way consistent with the new belief. Roleplaying is an
ideal way to get people to try out new behaviors in a safe environment.
Research in social psychology demonstrates rather convincingly that
improvisational roleplaying of behavior inconsistent with one's previous
behavior is an effective mechanism for change (McGuire, cited in Zimbardo and
Clients can be taught to rehearse
positive verbal statements about themselves to begin replacing the negative
verbal statements that were drilled into their heads from earlier experiences.
They can be taught to label their behavior, not themselves; they can practice
saying, "I goofed" but not "I'm goofy."
Behavioral practice is trying out a
new behavior in the real world just like roleplaying is trying out a new
behavior in the safety of a counseling session. The key is for the clients to
experiment by acting in a way opposite to what they believe.
Burns (1980) tells about an artist in the throes of a major depression who
became convinced that he could not even draw a straight line anymore and as a
result didn't do any art work at all. "When his therapist suggested he test his
conviction by actually attempting to draw a line, it came out so straight he
began drawing again and soon was symptom-free!" (p. 76). No amount of persuasion
by the therapist would have worked. The artist had to observe his own behavior.
If you want to help clients whose own beliefs are
causing distress or inhibiting them from taking necessary action, you can lead
them through three steps: (1) Find out specifically the belief that is causing
the trouble, (2) Help them see the problem from another viewpoint or discover
for themselves that the belief is false, and (3) Encourage them to try out
behaviors that challenge their troublesome belief.
Burns, D. D. (1980). Feeling good: The new mood
therapy. New York: Signet.
Krumboltz, J. D. (1991). Manual for the Career Beliefs Inventory. Palo Alto,
CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Nevo, O. (1986). Uses of humor in career counseling. The Career Development
Quarterly, 34, 188-196.
Nevo, O. (1987). Irrational expectations in career counseling and their
confronting arguments. The Career Development Quarterly, 35, 239-251.
Zimbardo, P. G., and Leippe, M. R. (1991). The psychology of attitude change
and social influence. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.