Career Development and Counseling
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Career Development and Counseling

Putting Theory and Research to Work

Steven D. Brown, Robert W. Lent, Steven D. Brown, Robert W. Lent

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eBook - ePub

Career Development and Counseling

Putting Theory and Research to Work

Steven D. Brown, Robert W. Lent, Steven D. Brown, Robert W. Lent

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Discover comprehensive coverage of leading research and theory in career psychology with the newest edition of a canonical work

The newly revised and thoroughly updated third edition of Career Development and Counseling retains many features of the celebrated second edition, including in-depth coverage of major theories of career development, interventions and assessment systems across the life span, and the roles of diversity, individual differences, and social factors in career development.

This new edition also covers essential new material on emerging topics like:

  • The future of work and preparing people for work in the new economy
  • The psychology of working theory
  • Working with older adults and retirees
  • Working with the unemployed and underemployed
  • Calling, work meaning, career adaptability, and volition

This book illuminates scientifically informed career practices from an interdisciplinary perspective, engaging readers with concrete strategies and practical tips for working with clients of all kinds. Drawing on vocational, industrial, organizational, and personality psychology, Career Development and Counseling is ideal for graduate students at the masters and doctoral levels in counseling, counseling psychology, counselor education, and educational psychology.

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Career Development and Counseling: An Introduction

1University of Maryland, College Park, MD
2Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL
It does not seem to be true that work necessarily needs to be unpleasant. It may always have to be hard, or at least harder than doing nothing at all. But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience)
Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?
Charlie McCarthy (as voiced by the ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen)
Why do people work? What role does it play in our lives? Why should counselors and psychologists focus on work behavior? What do they have to offer people who are in the process of preparing to enter the world of work, adjusting to the workplace, experiencing problems or challenges in their work lives, or preparing to leave the work role? How does involvement in paid work relate to other life roles, such as family member, caregiver, or volunteer? When might it conflict with, and when might it harmonize with, involvement in other life domains? Is counseling for work issues any different than counseling for personal, social, or other issues?
These are all questions that captivate and challenge those who study the psychology of work behavior or who assist students, workers, and retirees in the process of preparing for, entering, surviving or thriving within, or disengaging from the work world. Not surprisingly, such questions form the foundation for this book, which is aimed at introducing students (and reacquainting professionals) in the helping professions with the literature on career development and counseling. This literature includes foundational and evolving theories of work and career behavior, research on a host of work‐related topics, and efforts to translate theory and research into interventions for promoting optimally satisfying and successful work lives.
This chapter is designed to set the stage for the rest of the book by briefly considering the role of work in people's lives, sketching the conceptual and professional boundaries of career development and counseling, discussing some of the myths and realities that surround the field, and describing its historical context and contemporary challenges. Our primary goal is to convince the reader that work is one of the most important domains of life that counselors and psychologists can study—and that it is also one of the most meaningful targets of intervention in our roles as counselors, therapists, educators, and advocates. Freud was said to have equated mental health with the capacity to love and to work. Although these capacities may not be sufficient by themselves to define mental health, it is clear that work has a central location in many people's lives—one that frequently intersects with other life roles, is an integral part of one's life story, and can have an immense impact on one's overall quality of life.


It seems fitting to begin by pondering the reasons why people work and the various roles that work can play in their lives. At first glance, the question of why people work may hardly seem worth asking. People work because they have to, don't they? They need the money that work provides to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. True, work is certainly a means of survival. But this does not tell the whole story. As the old saying goes, people do not live by bread alone.


In this section, we briefly consider the why of work behavior, or the various sources of work motivation (also see Blustein & Duffy, Chapter 7, this volume).
Work as need fulfillment. One way to view the question of why people work is through the lens of Abraham Maslow's (1943) famous hierarchy, where human needs range from those that focus on basic survival (e.g., the need for food) all the way to self‐actualization (e.g., the need to realize one's inner potential). Maslow's hierarchy is often pictured as a pyramid, with more basic needs (e.g., food, safety, security) at the bottom. In this view, the satisfaction of basic needs provides a foundation for meeting higher‐order social and psychological needs, such as friendship, intimacy, self‐esteem, and personal growth.
One of the problems in applying such a needs hierarchy to work motivation is that it may be used to imply that some reasons to work are somehow nobler or loftier than others or that poor people work only because they have to (i.e., to survive), while those who are wealthier work because they want to (i.e., to satisfy higher‐order needs). To avoid such a bind, one can simply view Maslow's needs as reflecting a range of work motivators, without imposing the added assumptions that they are ordered in importance or merely reflect social class differences. Thus, in addition to meeting basic survival needs, work can provide the context for fulfilling (at least a portion of) one's needs for security (e.g., enhancing the material comfort of one's family), social belonging and intimacy, personal esteem (e.g., providing a sense of personal worth and accomplishment), purpose, and self‐actualization. People may be motivated to work for any combination of these reasons; they are not mutually exclusive or necessarily hierarchical, except to the extent that basic survival is obviously a prerequisite for fulfilling other needs. Swanson and Schneider (Chapter 2, this volume) and Rounds and Leuty (Chapter 16, this volume) provide a more complete consideration of work needs and values, including the roles they play in career choice and work adjustment.
Work as an individual's public identity. Moving beyond Maslow's hierarchy and the issue of need fulfillment per se, work may also serve other personally and culturally important roles in people's lives. For example, tied to the esteem and self‐actualization bases of work is the issue of identity, which can have both public and private significance. Perhaps particularly in individualistic or Western societies, work can be seen as an expression of one's public image. Note how often people in the United States ask each other, “What do you do?” (i.e., what form of work do you do?) when meeting a new acquaintance. One's occupation can be a shorthand way of announcing one's social address (e.g., education, social class, prestige). Fair or not, what one does for a living is often viewed as an essential part of who one is as a person.
Work as personal identity or self‐construction. Work as identity can also be an expression of self‐image, a means through which people “implement a self‐concept,” in the view of Donald Super (see Hartung, Chapter 4, this volume). This may be most obvious in artistic forms of work. For example, we typically think of artists as expressing themselves through their creations or performances. But self‐expression or, more broadly, using work to become the sort of person one imagines—to construct a self—can be a potent source of motivation for many persons and in virtually any form of work. Taking Super's thoughts about work motivation a step further, Edward Bordin, another influential career scholar, emphasized people's capacity to seek work that they find intrinsically interesting or from which they can derive pleasure. To illustrate his point, Bordin (1994, p. 54) asked, “Is a professional athlete working or playing?”
Such views of work motivation are sometimes criticized with the argument that many people are not free to choose work that expresses anything more than the need for a paycheck, or that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to do work that is pleasurable. One may ask whether those who work for a minimum wage, in unskilled jobs, in fast food restaurants, on assembly lines, or in coal mines, have the luxury of “playing” at, or implementing their self‐concepts through, work? There is little question that lack of economic resources can limit one's choice of work or that jobs may differ in their obvious outlets for self‐expression. At the same time, it is not hard to think of less‐affluent persons who find meaning, dignity, and enjoyment in their work. Thus, it seems unfair to equate the prestige or external trappings of a job with its personal significance to the individual without exploring his or her own perspective on their work and what they derive from doing it.
The notions of work as an opportunity to construct and tell one's life story (Savickas, Chapter 6, this volume), or to respond to a “calling” beyond oneself (e.g., a way to help others or to serve a higher power; Dik, Steger, & Autin, Chapter 8, this volume), capture the sense that work can play extremely valuable, self‐defining roles in people's lives, regardless of social class and even when performed under difficult or harsh conditions. It is possible to view someone else's life story as mundane, boring, or marked only by exploitation. However, that same story may be far more intriguing and meaningful to the person who is living it.
Work as normative expectation, group identity, and social contribution. Particularly in collectivist cultures, work may be seen as an expression of group as well as personal identity. For example, choice of work may be made less on a personal basis and more in collaboration with members of one's family, tribe, or community. Consideration may be given to the needs of the collective, to selecting work that serves (and reflects positively on) the group, and that preserves relational harmony. Such functions of work may be seen as extensions of Maslow's (1943) focus on security, social esteem, and actualization needs—but with the focus on benefits for the group rather than for the individual alone.
Of course, prevailing social norms in most societies maintain that one must work if one is able to do so. It is a strong expectation conveyed by social agents in the family, school, and other social institutions. This norm is well‐captured in the early rock n roll hit, Get a Job, in which the singer comically bemoans the social pressure to find work. Indeed, those who fail to find work are often derided with labels such as bum, shirker, lazy, good‐for‐nothing, or couch potato—especially if their failure to find work is attributed to their cha...