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Behavioral Career Counseling

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It is more accurate to refer to the model for this approach in the plural than the singular. Goodstein (1972) observes that, although they share common antecedents in the experimental psychology of learning, there are two distinct orientations in behavioral counseling: one which he terms the indirect, which focuses upon the linguistic mediational variables which precede and elicit overt responses, and the other the direct, which concentrates upon the consequences of responses-whether they are followed by a rewarding or punishing state of affairs. A further differentiation might also be made between two emphases within direct behavioral counseling, which might be labelled behavioral-theoretic and behavioral-pragmatic. As these designations connote, the former draws upon concepts and principles from learning theory to explain career behaviors and to deduce counseling methods for changing them, whereas the latter proceeds more inductively and empirically to identify those techniques which "work" in bringing about behavioral changes. The recognized spokesmen of the two viewpoints are Goodstein (1972) for the theoretic and Krumboltz and Thoresen (1969) for the pragmatic. These relative theoretical dispositions are juxtaposed to each other, when they differ pointedly, in the discussion of diagnosis, process, and outcome which follows as well as with indirect behavioral counseling:

1.    Diagnosis. Goodstein (1972) attributes a central role to anxiety in the etiology of behavioral problems in general, and career choice problems in particular. He makes a detailed analysis of the part which anxiety can play, both as an antecedent and a consequent, in career indecision. He distinguishes between what might be called simple indecision and pervasive indecisiveness (Tyler, 1961). The principal etiological factors in simple indecision, according to Goodstein, is lack of information about self and work due to a limitation of experience, much as is assumed in the classical trait-and-factor approach. The client cannot make a choice, or possibly makes an unrealistic one, and as a consequence feels anxious about not having mastered the career developmental task (often expressed socially as "What are you going to do when you grow up?") of declaring an appropriate vocation. Note that in this process the anxiety is a consequent, not an antecedent, of the indecision. In contrast, indecisiveness arises from long-standing anxiety associated with decision making which precedes the task of career choice. It is not infrequently attributed by clients to domineering or over-demanding parents. For this individual, who is often paralyzed in making any kind of choice, anxiety also follows failure to decide upon a career, i.e., it is both an antecedent and a consequent, thereby compounding the client's feelings of discomfort and inadequacy. Goodstein (1972) concludes that: "One of the goals of diagnosis in counseling and therapy with such cases is the identification of the cues that arouse this anxiety so that the anxiety can be eliminated or reduced, permitting the client to now learn appropriate skills".

Krumboltz and Thoresen (1969) and their associates seldom mention either anxiety or diagnosis in their pragmatically-oriented version of behavioral career counseling. Rather, they prefer the rubrics behavioral analysis or problem identification, and they closely relate these to the specification of goals for counseling. That is, the client's difficulties are complementary to the goals ("outcomes") which client and counselor strive to achieve through their interactions with each other. Thus, if the client's presenting problem is that he/she has "no career choice," then the goal of the career counseling is to make a career choice. Krumboltz and Thoresen (1969) enumerate seven general categories of problems ("difficulties in formulating goals") which may beset clients in counseling:


  1. The problem is someone else's behavior.

  2. The problem is expressed as a feeling.

  3. The problem is the absence of a goal.

  4. The problem is that the desired behavior is undesirable.

  5. The problem is that the client does not know his behavior is inappropriate.

  6. The problem is a choice conflict.

  7. The problem is a vested interest in not identifying any problem.
Of these problems, those which bear upon career counseling are indecision ("absence of a goal"), unrealism ("expressed feeling" about overly high aspirations), and multi-potentiality ("choice conflict" among equally desirable alternatives). Within each of these problem types, specific behaviors can be delineated as the goals of career counseling (see "Outcomes").

2.    Process. In the behavioral-theoret/c view of career counseling, if it is determined diagnostically that a client's decision-making problems are a function of antecedent anxiety, then it is assumed that this anxiety must be eliminated before effective cognitive consideration of career choice can be undertaken. In other words, the elimination of anxiety is a sine qua non for subsequent career decision making. In this case, then, the process of career counseling has two stages, much as Shoben (1949) has proposed for psychotherapy: during the first, the counselor attempts to eliminate the anxiety associated with decision making, whether career or otherwise, primarily through counter-conditioning it; and in the second, after the client has been freed of the interfering effects of anxiety, instrumental learning can occur, in which the client can acquire those responses, for example, information seeking, needed to choose a career. If the client's problem is one of simple indecision, however, with no evidence of debilitating previous anxiety, then career counseling would begin with stage two, instrumental learning. What this client needs to learn is how to make a career choice, which options are available to him/her, what the consequences of each are, etc.-in short, to be exposed to the experiences which have not been available in his/her prior career development. Thus, the process of career counseling, as deduced from behavior theory primarily by Goodstein (1972), varies with the etiology of the client's problem: if it involves antecedent anxiety there are the two stages of counter-conditioning and instrumental learning, but if it stems from limited decision-making experiences, it consists only of instrumental learning.

Juxtaposed to this model is that of Krumboltz, Thoresen and others, the most recent exposition of which has been summarized by Krumboltz and Baker (1973), who outline eight steps taken by the counselor and client in the course of career counseling:
  1. Defining the problem and the client's goals.

  2. Agreeing mutually to achieve counseling goals.

  3. Generating alternative problem solutions.

  4. Collecting information about the alternatives.

  5. Examining the consequences of the alternatives.

  6. Revaluing goals, alternatives and consequences.

  7. Making the decision or tentatively selecting an alternative contingent upon new developments and new opportunities.

  8. Generalizing the decision-making process to new problems.
This series of mutual actions on the part of the counselor and client generally follows informed opinion on how career decisions can best be made (Gelatt, 1962; Yabroff, 1969), but it is not necessarily invariant: "The sequence may vary, but the priorities remain" (Krumboltz and Baker, 1973). Conspicuous by its absence in this process is any mention of anxiety or its reduction. Rather, the focus is upon "the external environment" (Krumboltz and Baker, 1973). Behavioral-pragmatic career counseling, therefore, appears to be closely aligned with the view expressed by Eysenck (1960) and others that "anxiety elimination should not be the counselor's primary concern but rather that therapy should be directed at the elimination of non-adjustive behavior pattern (sic) and/or providing conditions for learning more adjustive responses" (Goodstein, 1972).

3.    Outcomes. The two hypothesized outcomes of behavioral-theoretic career counseling are (1) elimination or reduction of both antecedent and consequent anxiety, and/or (2) acquisition of decision-making skills. Whether both outcomes are expected depends upon the extent to which anxiety preceded the emergence of the client's problem, as mentioned previously. An experimental paradigm for evaluating the effectiveness of this variety of behavioral counseling has been designed (Crites, 1969) but not yet utilized in research. The goals of behavioral-pragmatic career counseling are akin to the general one of skill acquisition but are more idiosyncratic. Krumboltz (1966) states that any set of goals for counseling should satisfy three criteria:
  1. The goals of counseling should be capable of being stated differently for each individual client...

  2. The goals of counseling for each client should be compatible with, though not necessarily identical to, the values of the counselor...

  3. The degree to which the goals of counseling are attained by each client should be observable... (Italics in original).
Given these constraints, he then identifies three counseling goals which are consistent with them: (1) altering maladaptive behavior, (2) learning the decision-making process, and (3) preventing problems. Ultimately, however, Krumboltz (1966) contends that any "type of behavior change desired by a client and agreed to by his counselor" regardless of the above criteria, is an acceptable goal (outcome) of counseling, whether it deals with career or some other aspect of functioning.
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