Constructivist Career Counseling. ERIC Digest.
by Peavy, R. Vance
Counseling as a profession has developed in a social context. The advance
of science and technology, the rise of mass consumerism, the deterioration
of families, neighborhoods, and small communities, and the increasing irrelevance
of traditional authority, all create problems for people trying to cope
with everyday living. At the same time the modernist ideas of progress,
productivity, and perfectibility, buttressed by the belief that objective
rationality would eventually "cure all," carry people into more complex
and disturbing life circumstances. In this modernist context, counseling
took on the trappings of Technical Rationality (Schon, 1983) (e.g., objectivity,
neutrality, expertness, behavioral reductionism, quantification, measurement)
and aspects of instrumental reason (Taylor, 1991) (e.g., efficiency, effectiveness,
and accountability)--all of which belong more to economists than to counselors.
These social transformations have enormous implications for career counseling.
Client lives are increasingly characterized by ambiguity, uncertainty,
and conflict. Globalization and the undercutting of traditional customs
radically alters the nature of day-to-day social life and affects most
personal experience. In certain ways the 1990s are better than previous
decades (for some) and in other ways the 90s are simply awful (for many).
To quote Dorothy, "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto." In order to help
individuals navigate these changing contexts, counseling is in need of
revision and re-formation. Counselors must comprehend both the scope and
the effect of these transformations and how they intertwine with each individual
and therefore with the self. In general, this means that issues such as
"self-construction" instead of "self-presentation," "self-as-narrative"
instead of "self-as-traits," and "life-planning" instead of "career choice,"
become of paramount importance to career counselors.
The author has begun to outline a constructivist career counseling perspective
which is designed to be appropriate to the post-industrial/post-modern
context (Peavy, 1992, 1993, 1993a, 1994). The main concepts and practical
career-counseling procedures from this perspective are outlined below.
Constructivist thought has its roots in philosophy, psychology, science,
and cultural studies. Some constructivist concepts which can be applied
to counseling include the following:
1. There is no single "God's eye" view of reality--rather, there are
multiple realities. Although there is no "one right way" to think, feel,
or do, some ways are better than others. One of the challenges for constructivists
is to devise ways of ascertaining better and worse ways of thinking, acting,
and being, usually by considering more vigorously the consequences of our
thinking and acting; examining the assumptions and beliefs underlying our
alternatives; and taking individual choice more seriously.
2. Humans are "self-organizing" entities, not a set of traits or repertory
of behaviors. Each person's life is a story, or set of stories-an evolving
biographical narrative under continuous revision.
3. Individuals "construct" their own selves through the interpretations
they make and the actions they take. Increasingly, societal conditions
call for individuals to be active and reflective selves, aware of the contexts
in which they live, and capable of becoming agentic--at times resistive--and
creative in relationships and work.
4. A self is "polyphonic"; it has several voices. Four important voices
are voice of health and well-being: voice of intimacy: voice of work life
and learning ; and voice of spirituality.
5. People are "meaning-makers" and word-munchers. They use language
and action to make meaning out of daily activities. The most important
personal meanings are relational. They are constructed through interactions
with others and with aspects of the surrounding world.
6. To exist as an empowered person requires reflection and examination
of the assumptions underlying daily decisions and actions. Critical reflection
enables the building of a world-view which includes the following elements:
--A wholistic rather than reductive psychology of people.
--The moral idea that self-fulfillment is "good"-one should strive to
become what one is capable of being.
--A tripartite concept of personal freedom. First, one is responsible
for one's own thinking and actions. Second, personal freedom is dependent
on the quality of relationships which one builds and maintains. Third,
personal freedom is influenced by the kind and quality of one's engagement
in meaning beyond one's own ego (transcendent meaning) in such phenomena
as nature, society, art, hobbies, God, compassionate action on behalf of
others, and work.
PRACTICAL COUNSELING CONSIDERATIONS
Constructivist career counseling is a general method of life planning.
It is a philosophical and psychological framework from which to work, rather
than a set of techniques. However, certain counseling interventions are
The counselor and client are allies, with each making significant contributions
to counseling. The counselor is an expert on the counseling process and
the client is an expert on his or her own life experience.
The counselor promotes inquiry into the client's life-world within a
context where the client feels simultaneously safe and challenged. Receptive
inquiry tools include meaning-generating questions, metaphorical transformations,
the use of artwork and objects to create meaning, autobiographical writing,
visualization, and dialogical discussion.
The counselor and client try to identify "patterns of influence" which
are shaping the client's thinking and acting, especially influential relationships.
Relationships, informal relations with peers and family, and mediated relationships
such as those generated by media, often are more influential in career
development and job-getting than traditional psychometrically-oriented
career counseling activities.
Primacy of Life Experience.
The counselor and client work directly with the client's life experience
(i.e., with perceptions and personal meanings as revealed through narrative,
journaling, interview dialogue, concept-mapping, artwork, and other self-revelatory
activities). Counseling is not so much a matter of "initiating" change
as it is a matter of influencing change already underway--influencing the
direction of an "evolving self.) Client resistance or reluctance is a concept
not used by constructivist counselors. The constructivist assumption is
that whatever a client is doing or thinking is necessary for the client's
coping or survival, given the client's immediate frame of reference.
The constructivist career counselor regards mindfulness as a desirable
goal for both clients and counselors. The essential elements of mindfulness
are: a) the creation of new categories of constructs to help interpret
experience, b) expanding openness and receptivity to new information, both
internal and external, and c) the awareness of more than one perspective
on any aspect of one's life-world, including career. Critical reflection
is a key tool in developing mindfulness (Peavy, 1994).
Creating Meaning Through Activity.
It is involvement in activities such as work experience, cooperative
education placement, job shadowing, volunteering, work-site visitation,
and work simulation, which can provide the basis for personal meaning.
The usefulness of such activities to clients is greatly enhanced through
"reflection-on-activity" and "discussion and dialogue" with a counselor.
Activity provides the raw materials (experiences), but it is reflection
and counseling activities such as interview dialogue, group discussion,
journaling, concept-mapping, dependable strengths analysis, and metaphorizing
of experience and self, which influence both the evolving self and career
Constructivist career counseling represents a "turn" in the history
of counseling. It is a turn away from a reductionist and partialed view
of personality and social life-and the accompanying view of counseling
as driven by a need to correct human deficit-and toward a view of the person
as wholistic, self-organizing, and maker of meaning. It is a turn away
from "psychometric self" and toward "storied self." The constructivist
approach offers counselors and clients a method of collaboration and co-participation
in meaning-making counseling activities. This method enables clients to
construct self and to make sense of worklife in the 21st century.
Peavy, R. V. (1992). "A constructivist model of training for career
counselors." Journal of Career Development, 18, 215-228.
Peavy, R. V. (1993). "Envisioning the future: Worklife and counselling."
Canadian Journal of Counselling, 27, 123-139.
Peavy, R. V. (1993a). "Constructivist counselling: A prospectus." Guidance
and Counselling, 9, 3-12.
Peavy, R. V. (1994). "A constructivist perspective for counselling."
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