Putting the Career Counselor Hat On

By Natasha Barnes

The Many “Hats” that Students Wear

Graduate level counseling programs accept students from many walks of life. These students enter the program wearing many different “hats”, such as spouse, parent, child, employer/employee, etc. As they embark on the journey of counselors-in-training, they begin to wear hats that are more specific to the profession. The most common hats worn by counselors-in-training are clinical mental health counselor or school counselor. Coursework in a career counseling is often as little as one required class.

Because of the profession-specific “hats” that students wear into a career counseling course, it may be difficult for an educator to get them to change their primary area of interest. Students may have already taken courses specific to clinical mental health counseling, school counseling, and/or general counseling prior to taking a career counseling course. This can make their transition into career counseling a little difficult because their minds are set in other areas of specialization. Students do not understand why they should take off their clinical mental health or school counseling hat when they are in the career counseling course, because these are the hats that they have worn since the beginning of the program. Not only are these the hats that they have worn, but these are the only hats that they see as beneficial to them in their future endeavors.

Students may have a negative attitude regarding career counseling, (e.g., they may think career counseling is unrelated to their chosen specialty), and it can be difficult for educators to engage students in the subject matter. While engaging students in career counseling may present some challenges for an educator, it is not an impossible task and it is important. Educators should identify innovative ways to help students see the benefits and importance of using career counseling for themselves and their clients. Educators must assist counselors-in-training in trying on the career counseling “hat” by engaging the students through personal application in real-world ways.

Tips for Engaging Students

  • Students are engaged when they can relate personally to the course material. Administering career assessments in class helps students to have first-hand experiences with assessments versus simply reading about them in their textbooks. Assessments such as the Career Thoughts Inventory, the Strong Interest Inventory, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are useful in helping students understand trait and factor theories, cognitive information processing approaches, Holland’s theory, and the Myers Briggs type theory.
  • Students are engaged when they can practice what they learn. Reading and responding to case studies are a simple but detailed way of allowing students to practice what they learn relative to each career theory. Providing students with case narratives about children, adolescents, and adults helps students gain an understanding of how to use, for example, Super’s theory in real-world situations. Including questions regarding career outcomes, career interventions/activities, diversity issues, and ethical standards allows students to process the theories and conceptualize cases using the information that they have learned regarding each theoretical approach. Case conceptualization is an integral part of what the students will do in the counseling profession.
  • Students are engaged when they can relate the course material to the real-world. Using what students are most familiar with (such as social media, movies, and television) helps to gain their interest in the course material. Use LinkedIn to help align students with career-related interventions that can be used for themselves and prospective clients when job hunting. Use a movie such as “Pursuit of Happyness” to help students discuss career crisis and transition theories. Show YouTube clips of television shows that present characters facing various career-related issues to help students relate career course material to other people's daily lives. After several real-world applications, students may begin to watch movies and television shows from a career counseling lens (i.e., while wearing a different “hat”) due to being introduced to the process in class.

Personable, Applicable, and Relatable

While students may enter a career counseling course wearing different hats with many skepticisms, it is the responsibility of the career counseling educator to help students try on different hats. Effective ways of piquing students’ interests are making the course material personable, applicable, and relatable. A counselor educator’s main objective should be to open the minds of students while providing them with a broader view of the world of counseling. Students need to understand the different “hats” available to them professionally.



Natasha BarnesNatasha Barnes, Ed.D, is an Assistant Professor at Delta State University, where she teaches Career Development and Planning to masters-level counselor education students. Previously, she was an Adjunct Professor with Argosy University, where she taught Career Counseling to masters-level clinical mental health counseling students. In addition, Natasha is establishing a consultation practice with a focus on career development and planning. She can be contacted at natashabarnes1984@gmail.com.


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1 Comment

Sylvia Withers    on Thursday 08/15/2019 at 11:35 AM

Great article, really like the tips for engaging students in the classroom.

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