[Recognition Award Winner] Using Adlerian Counseling Strategies to Help Career Clients Design Their Futures

By Mariagrazia Buttitta and Marion Cavallaro


As clients choose among different career paths, the word career may begin to frighten many. While new beginnings are exciting for some, for others, the idea of finding the perfect career may have a client feeling anxious, distressed, or worried. Consequently, clients may begin to form negative assumptions about themselves, feel doubtful about their choices, and uncertain about their futures. Adlerian counseling strategies such as (a) the strength-based interview, (b) early recollections, and (c) “acting as if” can help clients recognize their strengths, identify constructive beliefs and develop new behaviors for many career situations.

Adlerian Strength-Based Interview

The strength-based interview focuses on the internal and external strengths and resources individuals use to meet challenges in their lives (Carlson & Englar-Carlson, 2013). This strategy may be used during the initial stage of counseling, specifically when focusing on building the therapeutic relationship or during the final stage while encouraging clients to make changes based on their strengths. In addition, the strength-based interview can be used to help clients make: (1) initial career choices, (2) formulate résumés; and (3) prepare for job interviews. 

How the Strength-Based Interview Works

The step-by-step process, as well as sample questions reveal how the interview works:

1. Begin by asking the client questions that will help them explore five or six strengths they see in themselves or that others may have seen in them.

  • What is something that you enjoy doing?
  • Can you think of a time when someone said something nice about you? What did they say?
  • Can you think of a past situation where you think you may have utilized some strengths to accomplish a goal? What strengths did you use?

2. Invite the client to walk you through a time(s) when they applied those strengths.

  • Can you give me specific examples of a time(s) you utilized those strengths?
  • Tell me about a recent problem that you solved. What strengths did you use to solve these problems?

3. Assist the client in observing patterns among the various examples and strengths they provided.

  • What patterns or common themes did you notice about your strengths?

4. Lastly, help the client understand how they can use these strengths in their current career situation.

  • Are there any strengths you can include in your résumé?
  • What strengths could you include in your next job interview?

Focusing on strengths enables clients to gain confidence in anxiety-provoking situations such as networking events and job interviews, while motivating them to face challenging situations.

Adlerian Early Recollections

The purpose of this strategy is to help clients explore feelings and meanings of early memories to gain insight and foster an understanding of current core views of self, others and the world (Clark, 2012; Mosak & DiPietro, 2006). Savickas (2011) suggests using this strategy to assist career clients in reconstructing their internal messages in ways that will help them with their career decision-making.

How Adlerian Early Recollections Works

Ask the client to think of three memories that occurred early in their lives, preferably before the age of seven or eight. For each memory ask the client to describe specific visual details of what happened along with associated feelings and thoughts. The following prompts can be used to help the client link their early memories with their current career situation:

  • Think back, as early as you can, and walk me through a memory you recall — be sure to be as specific as possible with your details.
  • If you were to paint a picture of this early memory, what would you include in your picture?
  • What common themes and feelings came up for you during all three memories?
  • What does this pattern suggest about how you currently view yourself, others and the world?
  • How do you think those beliefs about yourself play out in your career choices?

For instance, clients may have negative views of self, such as, “I never succeed or nothing ever seems to work out for me.” Consequently, this may negatively impact their performance during a job interview. Therefore, as counselors, we can help them identify their negative patterns, see how these patterns may impact them, and learn how to develop alternate views. This can be accomplished by helping the client focus on a time when they were successful and notice strengths they used to accomplish their positive outcome.

Adlerian “Acting as If” Technique

The "acting as if" technique is a non-threatening strategy that can be used to help clients “try on” new behaviors for a limited period of time (Savikas, 2011; Carlson & Johnson, 2016). By selecting a short period of time, clients will be able to reduce their resistance toward change and be more likely to try a new behavior.

How “Acting as If” Works

  1. Identify a situation in which the client would like to make a “change.” For example, “If you could imagine your ideal job interview, what would that look like for you?”
  2. Ask the client to imagine being in the “pretend ideal” situation and brainstorm specific behaviors they could engage in that would be helpful for them. For example, “What would you be saying or doing positively in a job interview that would feel successful?”
  3. Reflect on what the client did well in the “pretend ideal” situation that they can also do in real life.
  4. Encourage your client to “try on” the “pretend” behavior for a one-time situation and for a short period of time. For example, find someone who can play the role of a prospective employer for a simulated job interview and practice these new behaviors.

By exploring the “pretend” positive outcomes, clients may begin to foster a sense of growth and confidence as they prepare to approach new situations.

Three Creative Strategies

Adlerian counseling offers creative strategies to help clients design their career paths. As counselors, we may not possess a crystal ball to predict our client’s futures but we do have tools to help them overcome challenges or obstacles they may encounter along the way. As Alfred Adler puts it, “Overcoming difficulties leads to courage, self-respect, and knowing yourself” (Adler, n.d.)


Alfred Adler. (n.d.). AZQuotes. Retrieved from https://www.azquotes.com/quote/855311

Carlson, J., & Englar-Carlson S. (2013). Adlerian therapy. In J. Frew & M. Spiegler (Eds.), Contemporary Psychotherapies for a diverse world (pp.87-130). New York: Routledge (Taylor and Francis Group).

Carlson, J. & Johnson, J. (2016). Adlerian therapy. In I. Marini & M. Al Stebnick (Eds.), The professional counselor’s desk reference (2nd ed. pp 225-228). New York: Springer.

Clark, A. (2012). Significance of early recollections. In J. Carlson & M. P. Maniacci (Eds.), Alfred Adler revisited (pp. 303-306). New York: Routledge (Tayler & Francis).

Mosak, H. H., & DiPietro, R. (2006). Early recollections: Interpretative method and application. New York: Routledge.

Savickas, M. L. (2011). Career counseling. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


This article was recognized by NCDA in 2020 for the authors' contribution to the web magazine.  Career Convergence is re-running the article in July 2020 in honor of all award winners typically recognized at the annual NCDA Global Career Development Conference.

Click here for the complete list of Career Convergence Recognition Award Winners.


Mariagrazia ButtittaMariagrazia Buttitta is an author, a motivational speaker, a mental health and disability advocate, and a master’s level counseling intern student at Rutgers University’s Career Services. Mariagrazia may be reached at buttitm1@tcnj.edu and/or through her website at www.embracingyourdifferences.com.





Marion CavallaroMarion Cavallaro, Ph.D., LPC, is an Associate Professor Emeritus in Counselor Education at The College of New Jersey and has taught graduate level career counseling and counseling theory courses for over 35 years. Marion has experience providing career and personal counseling using Adlerian counseling strategies in college and community counseling centers. Marion can be reached at cavallar@tcnj.edu.


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1 Comment

Jim Peacock   on Thursday 07/02/2020 at 03:34 PM

I love the strengths-based approach and the focus on "story" here. So many clients have a hard time talking about their strengths but by doing a strengths-based interview and getting them to tell stories, they will hear the strengths coming out of their own mouth. Great job on this article, thanks

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