ERIC Identifier: ED404585
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Amundson, Norm
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., Canadian Guidance and Counselling Foundation Ottawa (Ontario).

Pattern Identification Exercise. ERIC Digest.

Career exploration typically involves investigating personal factors such as interests, aptitudes, values, and personal style, along with labor market considerations (Amundson, 1989). This investigation can require considerable time, particularly if each factor is investigated separately through qualitative or standardized measures. Given the time limitations of most counselling situations, and the desire to be efficient and comprehensive, there is a growing need for new methods of career assessment (Eckert, 1993, Amundson, in press). One such approach is the pattern identification exercise (PIE) which has been used effectively in both individual and group career counselling (Amundson & Cochran, 1984; Amundson & Stone, 1992). PIE starts with past experiences and through an in-depth questioning process seeks to identify personal patterns which are of relevance in establishing career pathways.


The guided inquiry procedure, developed in the field of rhetoric by Young, Becker, and Pike (1970), served as a starting point to develop the PIE method. They used a wide range of perspectives and questions to explore and understand new languages and situations. This was the stimulus for a structured questioning method (PIE) which could be utilized in career exploration.

A premise underlying PIE is that experiences which form the basis for career exploration can come from any aspect of life--the experiences of each person are unique and a detailed and careful examination of the experiences will reveal some common life patterns. To illustrate, a leisure activity such as playing tennis can be appreciated for its social elements, the physical activity, the opportunity for competition, or for some other reason. The way in which a person plays (the good times and the challenges) can reflect patterns about motivation, planning, attitude, and self-concept. Uncovering these patterns can reveal important personal insights which have direct relevance to career choice, job search, and job satisfaction.

The process of exploring experiences is undoubtedly as important as the questions used to stimulate discussion. The client is actively involved in the generation of information, the interpretation of meaning, and the application of new insights. A collaborative working relationship between counselor and client must be maintained throughout (Gelso & Carter, 1985). The client is respected as the final authority in the identification of patterns. The counselor has an opportunity to provide input, but this is always done in a tentative manner after the client has had a full opportunity to identify patterns.

The number of experiences to be analyzed varies depending on motivation level and the amount of time available. Typically, the analysis would not extend beyond two or three experiences. Each analysis has the potential to add new patterns, but there also will be considerable overlap. The counselor plays an important role in introducing the exercise, but the expectation is that the client will be able to work independently or with other people in a group to conduct further analyses. The client is learning a method of inquiry as well as identifying particular patterns.

Steps In Conducting PIE.

PIE involves client and counselor in a defined exploration sequence. A considerable amount of information is generated prior to identifying patterns. It is often helpful for the counselor to take notes. If note taking is used, it should be discussed with the client who should have full access to the information.

The steps of inquiry which characterize PIE are:

1. Ask the client to think about some activity from leisure, education, or work which is particularly enjoyable. Once the topic has been identified, ask the client to think about a specific time when it was very enjoyable and a time when it was less so.

2. Have the client sequentially describe in detail the positive and negative experiences. Some open-ended questions can be asked at this point to facilitate a full description. Some of the issues to explore include the people involved, feelings, thoughts, challenges, successes, and motivations. Also, what are the dynamics that differentiate the positive and negative dynamics? Depending on the situation, it may be helpful to question some of the contextual issues. Questions in this regard focus on how their interest developed over time and what they project for the future.

3. After a full discussion, have the client consider what types of patterns are suggested by the information. Give the client every opportunity to make connections and provide ongoing support and encouragement. Ask how each specific piece of information reflects something about the client, i.e., goals, values, aptitudes, personal style, interests.

4. At this point the counselor can provide some input. Counselor statements should be tentative and positively linked with client comments. While this can be an opportunity for reframing, it is important to not lose sight of the client's contribution.

5. Connecting the above information and analysis to specific career themes can now be addressed. As above, the client speaks first, followed by the counselor. The question here is how personal information relates to career choice and action planning.

The above sequence of inquiry can be repeated for several activities. The counselor serves as a guide for the analysis, but at some point clients should be encouraged to conduct their own independent inquiry (perhaps as a homework assignment).

In group counseling the counselor would start by demonstrating the inquiry process with a member of the group. Participants would be then paired off and instructed to follow the steps of analysis with one another. The counselor would serve as a consultant while the members discussed and analyzed their experiences. After a designated period of time the group would come together for debriefing.


PIE represents a comprehensive method for exploring career themes using experiences as the raw material for analysis. The process of exploration is client centered with the counselor assuming a facilitative rather than "expert" stance. Through this mode of inquiry the client identifies patterns of action which relate to goals, values, interests, aptitudes, and personal style.

There are several advantages to using the PIE approach. The most obvious is that rather than initiating separate inquiries for interests, values and so on, it is possible to use one procedure. The inquiry that is conducted has credibility since it is based on life experiences with interpretation that is client validated. Through this approach clients are engaged in an activity which not only provides insights, but also teaches a procedure for ongoing self-analysis.

Positive reports have been obtained from a wide range of clients. Comments often refer to the surprisingly potent nature of the activity, particularly when focusing on leisure activities which initially seemed of little consequence. When teaching the PIE method to counselors it has been important to illustrate the activity through experiential exercises. As with clients, the counselors have been impressed with the quality and quantity of information that can be generated through the intensive examination of relatively innocuous experiences.


Amundson, N. E. (1989). "A model for individual career counseling." Journal of Employment Counseling, 26,132-138.

Amundson, N. E. (In Press). "Perspectives on career assessment." Journal of Employment Counseling.

Amundson, N. E., & Cochran, L. (1984). "Analyzing experiences using an adaptation of an heuristic model." Canadian Counsellor, 18, 183-186.

Amundson, N. E., & Stone, D. (1992). "Vancity career development program." Vancouver, BC: Vancity Credit Union.

Eckert, P .A. (1993). "Acceleration of change: Catalysts in brief therapy." Clinical Psychology Review, 13, 241-253.

Gelso, C. J., & Carter, J. A. (1985). "The relationship in counseling and psychotherapy: Components, consequences and theoretical antecedents." The Counseling Psychologist, 13, 155-204.

Young, R. E., Becker, A. L., & Pike, K. L. (1970). "Rhetoric: Discovery and change." New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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