Applying Counseling Theory to Pedagogy

By Payton J. Jones

Advisors, career counselors, and other career professionals are often called on to teach. Many of these professionals feel confident in applying career theories to individuals in a counseling setting, but applying these same theories in a classroom with 30 students may prove a daunting task. Making some small adaptations can deliver a significant difference in the success of their students.

Facilitate Personal Applications
A large part of the job of a career counselor is to assist clients to develop a vocational self-concept. Studies (Meijers, Kuijper, & Gundy, 2013) show that career identity positively contributes to career outcomes, with career identity dialogue as the most effective single intervention. In an educational setting, it is unlikely that teachers will have significant time to work on career identity with each student individually. Thus, it is helpful when students engage in this dialogue with one another. Students can be instructed to take on the role of the client themselves and the role of career counselor for one another. A personal application of career counseling principles may be best achieved not just through a general lecture, but through dialogue between peers.

The focus in many career development courses is to teach students about theories of career development, rather than help students to develop and apply the foundation of their own careers. In most secondary and undergraduate courses, career development instructors can both teach the theory to the students and help them apply that theory in their lives. Students in these courses generally want to improve their own careers and are not necessarily interested in becoming career development professionals. Students may be most interested in how to apply these theories directly to themselves. When a teacher is applying career theories in pedagogy, it may be most effective if the casual and personal nature of a career counseling setting can be applied in the classroom.

Explore the Spectrum of Career Awareness
Career development is dependent both on self-exploration and real world experience. It is useful to view career development as a dual model which emphasizes both the dimension of self-exploration and the dimension of experience within the world of work (Worthen, 1999). Since it can be difficult to give students real world experience in a classroom, this dimension may be overlooked. However, the world-of-work dimension is important to student success and every effort should be made to include it in the course.

Teachers may assume that their students are well aware of the career world, but the opposite may be true. Many students have never had a “real” job, internship, or volunteer experience outside of school. This means that their career knowledge may be limited to their parents’ professions, perhaps those of some close relatives, and a handful of stereotypical careers such as doctors and lawyers. Students are in essence deciding among a handful of career options, instead of the endless spectrum of career opportunities which are actually available to them. A student in this situation may have a well developed self-image—but this self-image will not be helpful if the student is not aware of the many other available options (Savickas, 2002).

Instructors may have to reach outside the realm of counseling theories to help their students develop a realistic view of their opportunities in the world of work. Real world experiences such as informational interviews, job shadowing, and volunteering provide valuable support to the counseling and education they receive in class. Students should be taught how to research the multifaceted aspects of different careers and the specific elements they might explore. This career awareness component often makes up a large portion of any career development course and demonstrates that reality testing is a powerful tool for students’ career development.

Empower Students
Clearly students are not only experiencing the anxiety of their own indecision, but are subject to many external pressures. Parental pressure, financial pressure, and academic pressure are just a few of the possible conflicts that affect students. Many students stray from their ideal career direction not because they don’t recognize its idealness, but because they feel constrained to satisfy these demands of outside pressure.

Increasing the role of student responsibility for learning in the class helps foster empowerment. Students can be given opportunities to debate with one another and discuss critical issues. Rather than being analyzed by their instructor, they can be allowed to define and give meaning to their own experiences in career progress. An effective career development course will give students powerful tools and then allow them to construct their own careers.

Provisions for Success
In conclusion, the classroom provides a challenging environment in which career counseling theories can be applied, but when effective adaptations are made, students will find success in this exploration. Teachers may find more success as they increase personal interaction between students, facilitate real world experience, and foster individuality and empowerment. When an effort is made to combine career theory with pedagogy in the classroom, career experts will find that their students achieve true success.



Meijers, F., Kuijpers, M., & Gundy, C. (2013). The relationship between career competencies, career identity, motivation and quality of choice. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 13(1), 47-66.

Savickas, M. L. (2002). Career construction. Career Choice and Development, 149-205.

Worthen, V. E. (1999). The Diamond Model: Career Decision Making Tasks and Sequences. Presented at NACADA Region 10 Conference, Ogden, Utah.




Payton JonesPayton Jones is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, studying Psychology. He is applying this fall to pursue graduate education in Counseling Psychology. For the last year and a half he has worked as a Research and Teaching Assistant under Alberto Puertas, a Career Advisor and Instructor of several career development courses at BYU. As his undergraduate capstone experience and the highlight of his work with Alberto, they have developed a curriculum for a Career Construction course in collaboration with Dr. Mark L. Savickas. The suggestions in this article are based largely on Payton’s experience with this new curriculum. He may be contacted at paytonjjones@gmail.com.



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