We have all heard it before, “why do I have to take this class, I don’t want to be a career counselor!” It seems that the consensus for those taking this course is that it is an unnecessary addition to the curriculum. As most counselors in training do not come into our programs with knowledge of the field’s history and the significance of career counseling to its origins, a cultivated sense of respect, regard, and appreciation does not exist. Add that to some of the poor career practices our students report having experienced in various parts of their educational journey, and the result is a great recipe for the formation of these attitudes.
I am writing this with those new to teaching this course in mind (i.e., doctoral students and pre-tenured faculty). My approach is informed by my own learning experiences, pedagogy (i.e., learner-centered teaching), theoretical orientation (i.e., individual psychology), and teaching experiences. I make these suggestions as one of many ways to develop, revise, or enliven a career counseling course. I encourage you to experiment and do what makes the most sense for you.
Why Might Students Be Disinterested in this Content?
Master’s students in counselor training programs typically present as highly motivated toward learning techniques and skills, accompanied by personal life experiences that have contributed to their interest in becoming a practitioner. CACREP programs, by contrast, are often wrought with theoretically intense coursework taught by brilliant scholars who may or may not be clinically-active or clinically-motivated.
I see this as one example of a potential theory-to-practice rift that exists in our field. Those with the highest profile and greatest levels of notoriety are often the least incentivized to practice. For some counselors-in-training, this might serve to impede their interest in many aspects of the curriculum, career counseling in particular.
Another aspect of the disinterest is the idea that career counseling only exists as a siloed aspect of professional counseling, with images of secondary-level college readiness programs, testing, and college-level career development offices coming to mind. If students have not walked in the door with a steeped interest in this work, they do not come to class on the first day with any level of excitement. With this attitude, students may not perceive the salience of career concerns, whether they are a presenting concern or are part of how psychosocial distress affects all aspects of life.
A third trend I have seen is the fact that career theory, when presented in isolation, does not always translate easily into practice. What I mean by this is that the course, per CACREP standards, is filled to the brim with necessary curriculum, leaving little time to create connections for students. They need to see, for example, how Gottfredson’s work offers a perspective on the career concerns and gender socialization of women, particularly those identifying as cisgender. They need to see how Super’s definition of career and theoretical contribution fundamentally changed the landscape of how we view, understand the human lifespan and the role of career therein.
How Do We Bridge the Gap?
Students could benefit from a curriculum that links relevant sociocultural concepts. It is helpful for students to see the relationship between one’s theory for practice and the application of theories of career counseling. Students first need high levels of structure before accessing the ability to abstractly inform these beliefs (basic notions of human learning and development).
Reversing disinterest begins with course design. For my class, I integrate four rank-ordered elements in the structure or design of my class:
Each class begins with a review and integration of prior content, introduction of new theory and accompanying theorist(s), case exercise, and role-play. The review and integration consists of refreshing students’ knowledge of what has been learned previously in order to keep the information fresh. It additionally allows opportunities for them to engage in scaffolded comparative analysis, helping to illuminate points of delineation between theories. I then proceed to introduce a new theory/theorist(s). I use a PowerPoint to do so, for the intentionality it enables in my instructional approach (I created my own teaching materials).
Next, I introduce a case for analysis by the class participants. Cases were personally written (one case per theory), embracing an opportunity to integrate pertinent multicultural issues while offering students practice with case conceptualization and diagnosis (if relevant). The career counseling course is offered after diagnosis in our program’s curriculum. Case analyses and discussions are opportunities to reinforce the multidirectional relationships between pathology, psychosocial stressors, multicultural concerns, and career experiences. Lastly, drawing on the individuals presented in the cases, students are broken into triads where revolving role-plays of counselor, client, and observer are utilized in the clinical application of the given material.
Each class includes a special topic, an element of career counseling intended to strengthen student counselor skills and bolster their clinical tool kits. This includes the use of cards sorts, interview best practices, development of resumes/curriculum vitae/cover letters, and population-specific concerns such as working with clients who have neurodevelopmental disabilities.
I have found that found that focusing on the design of my course, as well as the inclusion of specific cultural considerations and skill development activities in every class meeting, has changed the level of interest in my students. I believe that they have been able to move from simply learning theories because they must within our program - to seeing their importance and being able to use them (with accompanying activities and techniques) in real-world counseling situations.
Osborn, D. (2016). Teaching career development: A primer for instructors and presenters (2nd Ed.). Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.
Courtney R. Boddie, LPC, NCC is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Counseling Program at Central Methodist University, where he is a faculty specialist in multicultural and career counseling. He is licensed and nationally certified in clinical mental health counseling. He has an extensive history of professional experience devoted to thriving and positive academic outcomes at the post-secondary level. As a clinically-active faculty member, he is also in private practice, where he specializes in neurodevelopmental disabilities, internalized oppression due to intersectional identities, and career development. His background includes work in academic counseling, peer tutoring, executive function coaching, and first-year programming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, check out his blog, Prof. C.’s Classroom https://www.profcsclassroom.com/