Working towards Effective Practices in Distance
Career Counseling. ERIC Digest.
by Malone, James F.
The environment surrounding current work with clients using Internet-related
and technology-assisted strategies has been likened to the pioneering experience
of those intrepid individuals who settled the "Wild West" (Bloom &
Walz, 2000). To carry the metaphor forward, some early settlements have
been established, and efforts are continuing towards creating communities
of counseling and teaching practice throughout this new terrain. While
the professional counseling literature continues to weigh the pros and
cons of online and other forms of distance counseling, delivery models
and specific practice techniques helpful to clients are being developed
(Harris-Bowlsbey, Riley Dikel & Sampson, 2002).
The time is ripe to focus on early field reports from practitioners
who are using distance methodologies in career counseling. It is important
to understand that we are talking about a communication process which goes
beyond Computer Assisted Guidance Systems (CAGS) or Computer Information
Dissemination Systems (CIDS), both of which have been useful counseling
support strategies for many years. Our focus here is the actual establishment
of a working alliance or counseling relationship through the use of technology
and then the continuation of the counseling work using technology-assisted
methodologies such as synchronous/asynchronous e-mail, telecounseling and
videoconferencing. These counseling communication strategies may certainly
be enhanced by Internet resources as well as by other more traditional
technology-assisted supports. This digest focuses on initial research as
well as reports from actual distance career counseling practitioners and
clients. It also examines counseling techniques and interventions that
work effectively. Brief commentary addresses the importance of training
and supervision for distance career counselors.
WHAT ARE SOME EFFECTIVE DISTANCE CAREER COUNSELING PRACTICES?
It makes sense for counselors to approach the issue of effective distance
career counseling interventions by taking a careful look at the research
that examines helpful face-to-face counseling practices. Sexton (1999)
makes an excellent case regarding the need for professional counselors
to embrace a commitment to evidence-based counseling practice. Research
and practice go hand-in-hand, and counselors who are designing or delivering
distance-based models of career counseling need to consider the meta-analytic
research results about face-to-face career choice process and outcomes
from Brown and Ryan Krane (2000). Their work identifies specific elements
which promise successful outcomes: comprehensive client assessment where
the results are interpreted to the client with the assistance of a trained
counselor; linking these results to related exploration of educational
and employment decisions; modeling of successful individuals engaged in
areas of similar career interest; written action plans with concrete goals
and timetables; and finally, the overall support system provided by an
ongoing counseling presence.
Distance career counselors in a variety of service settings are beginning
to take stock of their efforts and interventions. School and university
career services professionals as well as agency counselors and private
practitioners, who are engaged in delivering distance services to clients,
are seeking guidelines and standards from their professional organizations.
Based on positive, constructive, and useful feedback gained from clients
and drawing on their own insightful evaluations, professionals in the field
recommend the following specific distance career counseling practices (Malone,
Miller & Miller, in press):
* A Clear and Comprehensive Website, which fully informs potential clients
about the design and delivery of services, ethical and legal issues such
as privacy and confidentiality, fee structure, possible risks to confidentiality
due to the service delivery media, the professional counseling relationship
and other issues relevant to informed consent. This information helps clients
to develop realistic expectations as well as a level of comfort and confidence
about the counseling they will receive.
* A Comprehensive, Technology-Assisted Pre-Counseling In- Take Registration
and Assessment Protocol, which includes the use of validated Internet instruments
and open-ended questionnaires. These approaches allow clients to share
expressed interests, skills and values as well as additional qualitative
information, which is based on their actual employment experience. This
practice facilitates both the initial building of the counseling relationship
as well as exploring the issues and goals for the counseling. The counselor
is able to begin conceptualizing a pre-counseling plan, which may be confirmed
as the actual counseling begins.
* Personalized Selection and Assignment of A Well-Matched Counselor,
which helps to ensure the building of an effective working alliance. The
client may begin establishing a relationship with a counselor who is competent
in, familiar with and able to anticipate individualized, specific career
* Technology-Assisted Strategies, which facilitate efficient and personalized
communication between counselor and client. The use of e-mail/chat, telecounseling
or video-conferencing technologies allow for various types of welcome messages
and session planning contacts, which prepare both client and counselor
for the actual counseling sessions. It is important for distance career
counselors to orient their clients to certain communication characteristics
that are operative in the distance counseling relationship. In telecounseling,
for example, the counselor invites the client to share feelings more readily
or to anticipate clarifying inquiries from the counselor from time to time
due to the lack of visual cues. Additionally, the sessions may be a bit
more structured than face-to-face contacts. In order to maintain contact
between sessions, various asynchronous communication strategies may be
employed such as secure e-mail or private message posting.
*Structured Distance Career Counseling Interventions, which appear to
be quite effective for clients according to emerging research studies.
Counselors report that following a somewhat structured counseling interview
format, which certainly allows for individual client needs and spontaneity,
tends to work very well in distance models. The Distance Career Counselor
does well to use some sort of template, such as the recursive career development
both as a context for evaluating career planning needs and as a set of
service categories from which to draw specific counseling interventions.
This approach allows for the identification of, and working towards, specific
goals within the career development process such as relating assessment
results to appropriate exploration, making career or educational decisions
and acting on steps in the self-marketing process. It is also imperative
that the working alliance is continuously nurtured as counselor and client
mutually agree upon the issues and goals for each session with appropriate
follow-up activities for both the counselor and the client. While these
practices apply to face-to-face counseling scenarios, they are especially
important in distance work due to the logistical and communication challenges
* Maintaining Counselor-Client Contact Between Sessions, which continues
to support the counseling relationship. Using technology-assisted means
such as e-mail or personal page message posting, both counselor and client
may share information, clarify questions and make progress towards counseling
goals. These practices extend the counseling over time and space in an
efficient and convenient manner. Clients do not have to wait for office
hours or next week's appointment, if they need more timely assistance.
* Providing Clients with Thoughtful, Written Feedback from Their Counseling
Sessions, which provides a meaningful and insightful review of the counseling
experience with implications for follow-up action. The distance career
counselor prepares and forwards to the client a summary of the counseling
contacts, which may include stated goals, to what degree and how they were
met, barriers and challenges to these goals, specific action steps as part
of a plan with a timetable, and a synthesis of career assessment that is
appropriately related to resources and strategies for exploration, decision-making
and/or self-marketing. Additional research suggests that written communication
provides clients and counselors with deeper insights than initially expected
and enhances the career planning process in a profound way (Boer, 2001).
Such a document keeps the client on course and may continue to provide
motivation even after the counseling comes to a close. This documentation
may also suggest strategies for post-termination, follow-up communication,
which enable the client and counselor to stay in touch as needed via convenient,
technology-assisted distance counseling strategies.
* Evaluating Distance Career Counseling Practices, which gives clients
an opportunity to express what they feel were more or less effective counselor
interventions. Detailed questionnaire surveys about the counselor, the
counseling relationship, the distance delivery model, resources and the
overall experience provide valuable critical insights so counselors and
supervisors can measure effective outcomes for this new form of delivery.
This type of evaluation technique is especially valuable during this early
phase of development for distance career counseling.
Many counselors are clearly feeling their way towards engaging in the
practice of distance counseling. While distance career counseling may pose
fewer threats and complications to client confidentiality than more clinical
forms of distance counseling, it is nevertheless a relatively new and uncharted
professional venture, which calls for specialized training and supervision.
Identifying effective practices in face-to-face career counseling and then
adapting them for distance delivery is a sensible as well as exciting trail
to blaze. The integration of innovative counseling service delivery with
technology presents several accompanying challenges for counselor education,
training and ongoing supervision. The central goal of supervision in counseling
is to ensure the delivery of quality services and care to clients. Even
experienced career counselors need assistance in understanding the theoretical
bases and practical details of delivering distance services. A variety
of difficult situations may arise, ranging from questions about making
referrals to privacy issues and assistance with technology. Appropriate
training that includes demonstration of relevant competencies along with
a structured, reliable supervision model will be the cornerstones of a
solid distance career counseling structure. These issues need to be addressed
formally, perhaps in the form of a distance career counseling certification
process, if counselors hope to deliver effective interventions to their
Boer, P. M. (2001). Career counseling over the Internet: An emerging
model for Trusting and responding to online clients. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Bloom, J. W. & Walz, G. R. (Eds). (2000). Cybercounseling and cyberlearning:
Strategies for the millennium (p. 407). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling
Brown, S. D. & Krane, R. N. (2000). Four (or five) sessions and
a cloud of dust: Old assumptions and new observations about career counseling.
In S. D. Brown and R. W. Lent (Eds.), Handbook of Counseling Psychology
(pp.740-766). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Harris-Bowlsbey, J., Riley Dikel, M., & Sampson, J. P., Jr. (2002).
The Internet: A tool for career planning. Tulsa, OK: National Career Development
Malone, J. F., Miller, K. S., & Miller, R. M. (in press). The evolution
of the ReadyMinds model of distance career counseling: Implications for
training, practice and supervision of Cybercounselors. In J.W. Bloom &
G.R. Walz (Eds.), Cybercounseling and cyberlearning: Encore. Greensboro,
NC: ERIC Counseling and Student Services Clearinghouse.
Sexton, T. L. (1999). Evidence-based counseling: Implications for counseling
practice, preparation, and professionalism. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. ED 435948).