Constructivist Approaches for Career Counselors.
by Hoskins, Marie
Constructivist theory offers alternative approaches to career development
and counseling. Based on holistic approach, constructivism emphasizes the
self-organizing principles underlying human experience. The decision to
use a constructivist framework for career counseling resulted from the
observation that youth often were not lacking career information; instead,
they did not feel empowered or motivated to put the information to use.
In a number of cases, feelings ranging from disempowerment to apathy were
due to a lack of knowledge about self in relation to the world of work.
Consequently, we concluded that a counseling approach, which empowers clients
to adopt proactive, mindful stances about their worklife, needed to be
developed. Therefore, we developed a focus that would assist clients in
understanding how their self-organizing principles shape their world view
and influence and direct the choices they make.
Within this proactive, constructivist framework several core counseling
approaches were identified as important for career counselors. The more
essential ones will be summarized below.
One of the basic tenets of a constructivist approach is that people
are meaning-makers. Terms such as "autopoesis," "sense-making," "self-organizing,"
and "meaning-making" have been researched and described by numerous constructivist
writers (Carlsen, 1988; Mahoney, 1991) and include specific references
to how people interpret the events of their lives in the pursuit of meaning.
A constructivist premise is that career information is enhanced significantly
when personal meanings become the central task of the counseling session.
These meaning-making processes take on a variety of forms that promote
client self-awareness of the processes underlying meaningful career decisions.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous meaning-making opportunity is that which
exists while clients are relating important events in their lives. Counselors
can significantly enhance their understanding of client self-organizing
processes by listening carefully to the words and phrases used when clients
relate an event or story. Although this appears to be rather obvious, professionals
often overlook the positive impact of using clients' own interpretations
as evidence of their meaning systems. Meaning-making occurs when counselors
assist clients in becoming aware of the latter's meaning structures connect
to create an overall life story and how the client interprets events in
order to author a story that has sense, cohesion, and viability. Furthermore,
collaborating with clients to create stories featuring possible, future
selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986) greatly increases the likelihood of
client growth and change. Counselors therefore need to be able to work
effectively with client narratives in the following ways:
1. Listening closely to unique phrases and words used by the client.
2. Recognizing that client interpretations are unique and can be viewed
as either viable or not viable rather than valid or not valid.
3. Assisting clients in moving beyond rational explanations of experiences
to deeper underlying beliefs, values, and assumptions. Metaphors.
Metaphorical language is a valuable meaning-making opportunity often
missed in counseling interactions. Although the benefit of working with
client metaphors is beginning to be more widely accepted, counselors often
overlook opportunities to use them effectively.
In everyday language, metaphors help transfer one idea or concept to
another. When simple verbal descriptions fall short of describing experiences,
metaphors provide a bridge towards deeper understandings (Hoskins &
Leseho, in press). Working with metaphors within the counseling session
is not an easy task. Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges facing
counselors is to refrain from imposing their own metaphors onto the clients'
Asking descriptive and contrast questions helps to elicit metaphors
from the client. For example, one client described her alienation from
her friends when she returned to the workforce as no longer being the "hub"
of a tight network of friends. She mourned this loss. After asking descriptive
questions which helped her articulate, and "connect with," her experience
of now being more like a "spoke of the wheel," the counselor was able to
help her re-define her role as a friend and the overall meaning of friendship.
Now perceiving herself as an integral part of the network, but not necessarily
the center, she felt more secure in knowing that she did not have to abandon
important relationships in order to pursue her career. Consequently, this
new version of her metaphor, explicated through effective questioning by
the counselor, provided a visual reminder of a newly defined aspect of
self which subsequently had a positive impact on her career goals. Critical
Helping clients become more cognizant of their beliefs, values, and
assumptions is a central component of meaning-making. Without a certain
degree of self-awareness, people tend to lead mindless, haphazard lives
where important decisions are often left to chance. A constructivist perspective
promotes an "examined life" and encourages the critical reflection of values,
beliefs, and assumptions.
Once beliefs, values, and assumptions have been explicated, clients
are more likely to: (a) deepen their understanding of their own world views
and how these views influence their worklives; (b) gain insight into the
origin of these world views; and (c) determine the viability of maintaining
or perhaps revising their views.
Enhancing self-knowledge enables a person to assess life positions;
in doing so, an individual can determine the extent to which these positions
may either constrain or support growth in various aspects of employment.
Counselors act as a mirror or a lens, enabling the client to gain more
knowledge of self and the world. Through the process of explication, leading
to either re-vision or re-affirmation, the final stage of empowerment occurs
when the client realizes that choices can be made from different vantage
points. Outdated, non-viable, beliefs and values can be modified and re-worked
into broader, more inclusive structures of meaning.
Counselors need to become aware of the ways in which they either empower
or disempower clients through their counseling approaches. A traditional
"test them and tell them" approach to counseling, for example, can disempower
the client when the counselor assumes an expert position regarding the
client's personhood. It is, therefore, important for career counselors
to begin by clarifying expectations, roles, and tasks of both the client
and the counselor. One client complained about a counselor who was not
helpful because she refused to tell him what he should be. This highlights
the importance of clarifying anticipated outcomes and processes as soon
as possible. By doing so, clients can assume a proactive stance during
the initial session.
Often counselors inadvertently disempower clients by asking questions
that fail to promote critical reflection. Instead, they begin dispersing
information that clients themselves could gather. While information is
a necessary part of career counseling, how it is shared and received directly
influences client motivation. Career counselors can significantly enhance
their practice by re-defining their roles as "empowerment promoters" rather
than information providers.
A constructivist framework can often appear vague and abstract to the
novice counselor. There are no step-by-step strategies to direct the counseling
process. Consequently, the abstract and nebulous realm of meaning-making
can be frustrating for a linear, task-oriented counselor. On the other
hand, working with clients as they become empowered through increased awareness
of self, particularly in worklife issues, can significantly enhance the
effectiveness of the traditional career counselor.
Carlsen, M. B. (1988). "Meaning-making: Therapeutic processes in adult
development." New York: W. W. Norton.
Hoskins, M., & Leseho, J. (In press). "Changing metaphors of the
self: Implications for counselling."
Mahoney, M. (1991). "Human change processes: The scientific foundations
of psychotherapy." New York: Basic.
Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). "Possible selves." American Psychologist,
Peavy, R. V. (1993). "Envisioning the future. Worklife and counselling."
Canadian Journal of Counselling, 2,123-139.