Bringing Theories to Life in the Classroom: Starting with the Psychology of Working Theory

By Galaxina Wright and Chaiqua A. Harris

Counseling students may find the process of learning career counseling theories to be lengthy and taxing, regardless of the experience of the educator. From its humble beginnings with Frank Parsons to the vastly expanding theories related to intersecting identities in the 21st Century, the career counseling profession provides a number of lenses for how career counselors can conceptualize diverse clients and their unique issues. Though a challenging task, comprehension and application of models within career development are especially important for counseling students, serving as a critical competency for CACREP accreditation standards, the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE), and the National Counselor Exam (NCE). Therefore, within this series of articles to be published in Career Convergence, members of the 2023 Counselor Educator Academy (CEA) of the National Career Development Association aim to provide practical and useful strategies for counselor educators to (a) maintain student engagement, (b) assess students’ comprehension of theories, and (c) cover a diverse range of theories within a limited time frame. In this first article, we explore strategies for teaching the psychology of working theory (PWT).

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Defining PWT

PWT asserts individuals need to access decent and stable work to survive, recognizing the nature of an individual's cultural background, family context, and social identities in influencing their work environment (Blustein et al., 2019). David Blustein, a seminal figure in the conceptualization of PWT, and his colleagues (2019) theorized that individuals who have access to decent work also experience general well-being in terms of survival, social connection, and self-determination. Decent work includes:

The assumption with PWT is that when individuals find decent work, they gain work fulfillment (i.e., purpose, job satisfaction) and general well-being which can improve other areas of wellness, such as social and financial (Blustein et al., 2019).

PWT has many benefits, including its ability to consider and evaluate the career needs of diverse populations, such as individuals belonging to minimal resource communities and working-class communities (Wright et al., 2021). In addition, PWT differs from other theories that emphasize the act of choice within career decision making, with the assumption that choice is a privilege that not all individuals carry. Therefore, counselor educators are encouraged to explore PWT within their course(s) in ways that students can understand the complexities of this theory and how it can apply to diverse clients.

Activities for Exploring PWT

One way to showcase the importance of this theory is by implementing it during the live interactive game, Spent. Spent is an online game that centers around poverty and the difficulties it encompasses (Games 4 Sustainability, 2018). During the game, there are a series of questions and decisions that impact income. These are linked to various problems that are tied to health, the level of education, and a family’s basic needs. The learning objectives of the game explore similar contextual and psychological factors as the PWT’s focus on decent work, work volition, and career adaptability. The objectives of the game are to:

  1. gain an understanding of problems with managing a home budget that has challenges of meeting basic medical assistance;
  2. learn the detrimental impact changes in employment, housing, medical costs and other expenses have on life; and
  3. gain access to an experiential platform for helping those who live in poverty (Games 4 Sustainability, 2018). 

Counselor educators can generate the game on-screen and have discussions with students as they navigate each question and make decisions. The counselor educator may have the students explore the contextual and psychological factors that are benefiting or hindering their attaining decent work. Decent work is conceptualized as having five characteristics: safe work environments, access to health care, suitable compensation, work hours that allow adequate rest and free time, and organizational values that fit family and social values (Duffy et al., 2016). Also, the class discussion could explore work volition and how career counselors can assist clients with career and mental health interventions that are directed at promoting individuals’ perceived ability to make career choices and career adaptability (Kim et al., 2022).

Another way that counselor educators can reinforce concepts of PWT is by encouraging their students to explore US legislation that creates barriers to accessing decent work. Legislation plays a pivotal role in shaping the careers and overall well-being of the working class. It can either create opportunities for career growth, protect workers' rights, and provide a safety net, or hinder progress if it lacks adequate provisions for needs and protection.

Counselor educators can divide their classes into groups and assign each to varying categories of legislation, such as: minimum wage laws, labor rights and protections, unemployment benefits, healthcare legislation, education funding, family and medical laws, and taxation and welfare policies. The groups can be tasked with finding two to three areas of legislation within the categories that influence working individuals, particularly as it relates to the constructs of PWT (i.e., work fulfillment and general well-being).

For the safety and well-being of the class, counselor educators are recommended to brief students on the severity of some legislation and to be mindful of respecting differing opinions. The objective of the assignment is to critically analyze legislation and its implications among diverse populations. This should not be a space for students to debate politically or to criticize others for their beliefs. In addition, from a professional development perspective, this is also a good space for students to practice cultural humility, a skill they will need to implement with future clients.

Educating for Holistic Assistance

The United States population is made up of millions of persons who are marginalized and experiencing poverty (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). The counseling field is charged with servicing and advocating for all persons. Also, acting as gatekeepers, counselor educators are to provide counselors in training with the knowledge and skills that are needed to holistically assist all persons. As they aim to remain abreast in teaching approaches, theory and interventions, it is pivotal that they develop innovative ways to teach career theory while ensuring inclusive pertinent knowledge is being imparted. Not only do counselor educators aim to meet counselors-in-training where they are, but also provide training that allows counselees to meet their clients where they are. Psychology of working theory is a career theory tool that aims to assist with meeting these goals. 



Blustein, D. L., Kenny, M. E., Autin, K., & Duffy, R. (2019). The psychology of working in practice: A theory of change for a new era. The Career Development Quarterly, 67(3), 236-254. https://doi.org/10.1002/cdq.12193

Duffy, R. D., Blustein, D. L., Diemer, M. A. & Autin, K. L. (2016). The psychology of working theory. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63(2), 127-148. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000140

Games 4 Sustainability. (2018). Spent. Centre for Systems Solutions. http://games4sustainability.org/

Kim, H. J., McNeil-Young, V. A., Wang, D., Duffy, R. D., & Underill, B. D. (2022). Women of color and decent work: An examination of psychology of working theory. The Career Development Quarterly, 70, 125-137. http://doi.org/10.1002/cdq.12291

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). A profile of the working poor, 2018. https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/working-poor/2018/pdf/home.pdf


The NCDA 2023 Career Educator Academy (CEA) is developing a series of articles for Career Convergence focused on teaching career counseling. This article is the first in the series and focuses on innovative and practical strategies for teaching specific career counseling theories in an effective and engaging manner.


Galaxina Wright 2023Dr. Galaxina G. Wright, PhD, NCC, is an Assistant Professor at Nova Southeastern University in the College of Psychology. Dr. Wright’s primary research focus is exploring career development barriers among historically marginalized populations (e.g., BIPOC populations, low socioeconomic status communities, individuals living with disabilities, LGTBQ+ populations, etc.). Dr. Wright has clinical counseling experience in a variety of settings including college career counseling centers, non-profit career counseling, private practice, and after-school programs. She has been published in the Career Development Quarterly, the Professional School Counselor, the Journal of Employment Counseling, and the Journal of Technology in Counselor Education and Supervision. In 2022, she received the National Career Development Association Graduate Student Spotlight Award and is now serving as president of the Florida Career Development Association. She can be reached at gwright2@nova.edu



Chaiqua HarrisDr. Chaiqua A. Harris, PhD, is currently a Core Teaching Faculty member at Northwestern University and Course Lead for the Career Counseling course.  Dr. Harris was selected to be a member of the National Career Development Association 2023 Counselor Educator Academy Cohort.  She has 10 years of experience as a professor. Dr. Harris has worked as a middle school counselor, high school counselor, private behavior interventionist, and adolescent offender therapist. She obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education from Mississippi State University. Her research interests include academic self-efficacy, ethnic identity, African American women who hold the doctorate, African American hair, sexual orientations, gender differences, socioeconomic status, academic performance, children/adolescents, and the impact of nutrition on mental health, career issues and oppressed populations.  She is an AAAA licensed professional school counselor for the state of Mississippi and is also a National Certified Counselor. She has presented at several local, regional, and national counseling conferences as well as published multiple peer reviewed journal articles. She can be reached at charris@family-institute.org


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Ellen Weaver Paquette    on Thursday 11/02/2023 at 09:29 AM

An excellent contribution

Emily Bullock Yowell   on Friday 11/03/2023 at 11:50 AM

I have been exploring different ways to help PWT come to life in my class. I love the suggestion of the game! I will use it in the spring.

Dominique Dove   on Tuesday 11/28/2023 at 11:45 AM

While I'm not currently a counselor educator, this article helped bring PWT to life just by reading it. Super helpful and I love the idea of this series as a whole.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.