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The Activation Phase and Completion Phase of a Career Intervention Process

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Activation Phase

As Hill and O'Grady (1985) demonstrated in case studies with short-term psychotherapy clients, as therapeutic interventions proceed, there are decreases in counselor intentions to set limits, get information, support, clarify, activate hope, and cathart. In contrast, later sessions are characterized by increases in counselor intentions to promote insight and change and to reinforce change. Hill and O'Grady's work supported a two-phase model of therapeutic intervention in which the first phase is characterized by support and structure, and the second by change, which in psychotherapy is typically called the working phase. In our preliminary model, however, it is known as the activation phase, which contains three sub-phases: assessment, inquiry, and commitment.

In the activation phase, several important therapeutic processes should occur. The counselor who in the beginning phase was primarily engaged in structuring techniques to establish the therapeutic context and encourage the client to start aspiring to new career goals and dreams becomes more active and cognitive intellectually to help the client to see any incongruencies between interests, abilities, and personality and the requirements of specific jobs. Support levels must stay high and even increase in the beginning of the activation stage, since a client's increased anxiety in reaction to a loosening of deeply held beliefs about self and career can result in high levels of dropout or crippling immobility if not addressed directly. Typically, just as client anxiety is rising during the activation phase, most prepackaged career interventions are reducing structure, which is seen as less necessary in later phases. The high dropout rates in group interventions, typically in excess of 50 percent (O'Neil, Ohlde, Barke, Gelwick, 8c Garfield, 1980; Robbins, Mullison, Boggs, Riedesel, & Jacobson, 1985; Zager, 1982), generally result from this increased client anxiety, which is accompanied by diminished hope that a reasonable outcome can be found and implemented.

Assessment Subphase

During the assessment subphase, the client receives feedback from inventories employed during the counseling process and very rapidly begins to generate hypotheses about what occupations might be reasonably fitting and accessible. The principal therapeutic task during the assessment subphase is to assist the client in acquiring a cognitive structure (i.e., a set of operational rules) for use in evaluating occupations that are explored later in the intervention process. It is during this assessment subphase that the client begins to feel a sense of progress concerning the resolution of the concerns that motivated the client to enter counseling.

Anxiety And Activation

Anxiety is considered by some theorists to be an irrelevant drive that interferes with the hypothesis-testing process (Pepinsky & Pepinsky, 1954) and that accounts for clients' recurring irrational or nonconstructive actions. Several studies have accordingly demonstrated that treatments to reduce anxiety, although rarely effective in reducing trait anxiety, seem to improve clients' functioning level and ability to make effective career decisions (Mendonca & Siess, 1976; Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1987).

Commitment Subphase. Substantial reductions in state anxiety are necessary for the successful completion of the commitment subphase, in which the client may have to compromise unrealistic aspirations and prepare for the execution of an interim career choice. During the commitment sub-phase, anxiety that is generated from exploring options and from the inquiry subphase must be managed so that the client can successfully engage in compromise where necessary, and so that the client can make a preliminary commitment to an option.

Other research, however, has found that moderate levels of anxiety enhance performance and can lead to productive planning and behavior in career situations (Barlow, 1988). As Barlow noted, "the capacity to experience anxiety and the capacity to plan are two sides of the same coin" (p. 12). If the anxiety about career possibilities reaches crippling levels, Barlow argued that the most effective clinical reduction strategy is systematic exposure to a fear inducing stimulus. Even panic states can be reduced or eliminated through psychological or pharmacological interventions. If undiagnosed, anxiety can abruptly halt the progress in career intervention in a sort of stalemate between the counselor's attempts to mobilize the client to constructive action and the client's heightened anxiety about the career choice process.

The Feasibility Inquisition

As conflicts are unearthed and environmental barriers become apparent, most career counseling clients fear that they will be unable to execute a reasonably fitting option, even if one can be identified. This fear is so powerful that in most cases the client believes that it cannot be overcome by any means. The fear intensifies when the client appreciates the reality of the predicament and constraints acting in a career decision, which usually occurs midway in the counseling process. At this point anxiety increases dramatically, and the client will attempt to persuade or at least to cross-examine the counselor concerning the potency of these barriers. This intense challenge from the fearful client is called the feasibility inquisition.

Completion Phase

The completion phase, the final and very critical part of a career intervention, begins when the client has resolved presenting conflicts sufficiently to engage in persistently constructive attitudes, emotions, and behaviors that will lead to a satisfactory career choice. The therapeutic task in this phase, which consists of two subphases (execution and follow-through), is the reinforcement of these changes.

The completion phase, typically called termination in psychotherapy, was described well by Janis (1983), who argued that hope of future contact and extension of the counselor's social support beyond the therapy sessions is crucial for effective client change. Simply stated, it is human nature to resist difficult treatment regimens, whether medical, educational, or psychotherapeutic. This resistance occurs in all phases of career intervention-in groups, in workshops, and especially in long-term classes. Janis held that the counselor is able to move the client toward beneficial outcomes by bolstering the client's self-esteem by maintaining uninterrupted positive regard for the client. The socially supportive aspects of the therapeutic relationship, then, are crucial to the client's sustained improvement beyond the confines of the counseling setting (Janis, 1983; Meichen-baum & Turk, 1987). Janis (1983) listed twelve variables that determine the degree of a counselor's influence, or referent power, over a client. Even after the client has successfully mobilized for implementation of a career option, there is no guarantee that the client will be able to maintain a constructive search after counseling ends. In medicine, this problem is called compliance, and usually relates to patients following a prescribed regimen at home (e.g., taking medicine or caring for a wound). In psychology, compliance problems usually arise in programs oriented to changing undesirable behaviors (e.g., overeating or smoking). For example, while it may be possible to lose large amounts of weight, it appears to be much more difficult to keep the weight off than to lose it. Psychology is just beginning to understand how to encourage compliance. Meichenbaum and Turk (1987) offered counselors guidelines for dealing with adherence problems, which are presented here with some rewording to make them appropriate to career situations:

Guideline 1: Anticipate Nonadherence. Life circumstances, particularly a lack of financial resources, can work against constructive behavior during career decisions, as can any educational or learning limitations, feelings of helplessness, or misconceptions about how to mobilize for a career decision. Anticipating nonadherence that might stem from such factors will permit some customizing of interventions to overcome the problems and facilitate gain.

Guideline 2: Consider the Intervention Regimen from the Client's Perspective. Clients begin career interventions with diverse fears, beliefs, and attitudes, which Krumboltz (1983) has called private rules, that may affect their ability to make an effective career decision. For example, in spite of a clear desire for a change, a client may be reluctant to leave a highly prestigious job for fear of losing the esteem of others.

Guideline 3: Foster a Collaborative Relationship Based on Negotiation. Exacting the commitments in time and energy required to make a career change or decision may be difficult, and if not confronted directly, may result in a lack of progress, frustration, or dropout.

Guideline 4: Be Client Oriented. The client's attempts to make strides toward a personally relevant goal should be reinforced, even if they are not perfect from a therapeutic point of view.

Guideline 5: Customize Treatment. Departures from standard interventions are sometimes necessary with a particularly difficult client. The counselor may need to institute anxiety management training if the client exhibits excessive anxiety during the course of the intervention.

Guideline 6: Enlist Family Support. This familial support is especially important during the beginning phase, when the client is rehearsing aspirations, and in the latter stages of an intervention, when the client is attempting to mobilize constructive behavior to implement a plan of action.

Guideline 7: Provide a System of Continuity and Accessibility. One reason for the unusual success of Azrin's Job Club approach (Azrin & Besalel, 1980) to career intervention is that it offers the client easy and frequent access to telephone banks and daily counselor contact in support of the job search.

Guideline 8: Use Other Career Personnel and Community Resources. This tactic increases the number and sources of social support.

Guideline 9: Repeat Everything. Motivation levels lag over time, on even the most important matters.

Guideline 10: Don't Give Up! Clients will frequently test you by presenting a hopeless scenario and expect-but not really want-you to agree that the situation they face is intractable. Don't write off such clients. Try to analyze their problems and adjust your intervention to produce the desired gain.
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