Using Career Values to Help Counseling Students Determine Their Best Fit

By Heidi L. Henry and Naomi Timm-Davis

As counselor educators, we have an ethical obligation to provide career advisement to our students, including educating them about professional counseling opportunities (ACA, 2014, F.8.b.). This includes helping prepare them for what comes after graduate school, specifically, their jobs as professional counselors; however, during their academic training and pre-licensure work, new counselors receive little information on the work environments that they will be entering (Rønnestad & Skovholt, 2013). King (2007) reported that students graduating from counselor training programs conveyed that they were equipped to do the work as a counselor but were unaware of certain career values (e.g., low earnings, contract-type work, competitiveness, self-employment) and duties (e.g., marketing) that different occupational environments required.

It is important to help counseling students increase their awareness of their own career values and their knowledge about work environments so that they can choose professional counseling settings that are congruent with these values. Counselor job dissatisfaction has been linked with burnout and turnover (Lawson, 2007). Rehfuss et al. (2012) found that congruence between an employee’s values and the organization’s culture was positively correlated to career satisfaction among counselors. Therefore, helping counseling students explore their values and choose settings where those values are expressed would hopefully lead to greater job satisfaction, which in turn might decrease burnout and turnover that could interrupt continuity of care for clients. The purpose of this article is to provide counselor educators with the tools to help counseling students explore their career values and make preliminary career choices post-graduation that might best fit with their values.

Photo By Markus Winkler On Unsplash3

Defining and Exploring Values

Savickas (2014) defined career values as general goals or qualities of a workplace that help employees achieve satisfaction from work whenever their individual career values match those expressed in their workplace. In other words, career values are characteristics that an individual wants and finds important in a job and work environment. Although personal values can influence one’s career decision making and satisfaction, personal values and career values are not the same thing. Personal values are related to one’s moral ideals and worldview and are expressed in all areas of life; whereas, career values are aspirations that arise out of unfulfilled needs or wants in past jobs, and these values exemplify how people want to fulfill their needs in their current or future workplace. Examples of career values include financial stability, job security, creativity, and flexible working arrangements.

To help counseling students explore their career values, there are a variety of assessments and tools available. There are countless values and no one resource covers all of them; however, included below are some assessments and activities that counselor educators could use with students to help explore their values:

  • Knowdell (2005) Career Values Card Sort (assesses 54 values)
  • Values Scale (assesses 21 values; Nevill & Super, 1986)
  • O*NET Work Importance Locator (assesses 6 values; https://www.onetcenter.org/WIL.html 
  • Create your own card sort to include traditional and emerging career values, such as telecommuting

Matching Values to Work Environments

After students increase their knowledge of their own career values, it is important that counselor educators share occupational information regarding the potential work environments that professional counselors often occupy. These include but are not limited to agencies, hospitals, residential treatment centers, schools, and private practice. Below is a chart (see Table 1) of common job duties composed by the authors that are required in four of the main professional counseling work settings and the common career values expressed in each. The duties were compiled based on the personal knowledge and work experience of the authors and fellow professional counselors.

Table 1

Common Job Duties and Values in Counseling Work Settings




Private Practice

  • Collect information about clients through interviews, observation, or tests.

  • Counsel clients or patients, individually or in group sessions.

  • Develop and implement treatment plans based on clinical experience and knowledge.

  • Marketing, branding, and advertising to build practice.

  • Prestige

  • Independence

  • Time freedom

  • Working alone

  • High earnings anticipated

  • Work-life balance

  • Creativity

  • Telecommuting

  • Helping people


  • Assess and collect information according to agency’s guidelines.

  • Counsel individuals, groups, and families.

  • Maintain documentation according to agency and insurance regulations.

  • Perform crisis interventions with clients.

  • Helping people

  • Justice

  • Diversity

  • Working with people

Hospital / Residential

  • Collaborate with other staff members to perform clinical assessments or develop treatment plans.

  • Counsel family members to assist them in understanding, dealing with, or supporting clients.

  • Monitor clients’ use of medications.

  • Plan, organize, or lead structured counseling programs or social activities for clients.

  • Refer patients, clients, or family members to community resources or to specialists as necessary.

  • Advancement

  • Competition

  • Power and authority

  • Working with others

  • Helping people

K-12 Schools

  • Counsel students in personal, social, academic, and behavioral areas.

  • Provide crisis intervention.

  • Consult with parents, teachers, etc.

  • Arrange programming.

  • Working with others

  • Change and variety

  • Job security

  • Creativity

  • Helping people


This chart is only meant as a starting point for conversation between students and educators to help explore potential settings that might be a good fit. Ways to extend this activity include having students take action early in their counseling program through such activities as shadowing counselors (with client confidentiality protections in place) and interviewing professional counselors about career values. This could help start the conversation regarding career values and increase occupational information prior to the start of practicum experiences. Further, it could help counselors-in-training determine potential practice settings where they might find value alignment and work satisfaction and seek out those opportunities for their practicum and internship experiences.

Aiming for Best Fit

Gambrell et al. (2011) stated that “counseling is a diverse and exciting field, but by no means it is a one size fits all” (p. 34). By helping counseling students examine their career values and the occupational environments of professional counselors, counselor educators can help students determine if counseling is the best fit for them and what work environment might lead to the most job satisfaction. This could ultimately prevent burnout and turnover among professional counselors, which would improve the continuity of care for clients.



American Counseling Association. (2014). 2014 ACA code of ethics. Author. https://www.counseling.org/resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf

Gambrell, C., Rehfuss, M., Suarez, E., & Meyer, D. (2011). Counselors job satisfaction across education level and specialties. Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision, 3(1), 34-49.

King, G. (2007). Career development of counsellors. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 35(4), 391-407. https://doi.org/10.1080/03069880701593532

Knowdell, R. (2005). Career values. Career Research & Testing. https://www.knowdellcardsorts.com/Career-Values.cfm

Lawson, G. (2007). Counselor wellness and impairment: A national survey. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, 46(1), 20-34. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1939.2007.tb00023.x

Nevill, D. D., & Super, D. E. (1986). The values scale: Theory, application and research manual. Consulting Psychologists Press.

Rehfuss, M., Gambrell, C., & Meyer, D. (2012). Perceived person-environment fit and career satisfaction. The Career Development Quarterly, 60(2), 145-151.

Rønnestad, M. H., & Skovholt, T. M. (2013). The developing practitioner: Growth and stagnation of therapists and counselors. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Savickas, M. L. (2014). Work values: A career construction elaboration. In M. Pope, L. Flores, & P. Rottinghaus (Eds.), Values in vocational psychology (pp. 3-19). Information Age Publishing.


Heidi HenryDr. Heidi Henry is an Assistant Professor at St. Bonaventure University. She teaches in their fully online CACREP accredited school and CMH counseling programs. She earned her PhD in Counselor Education from Sam Houston State University and her Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Louisiana State University. She has been a counselor educator since January 2018, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in both Texas and Pennsylvania, and has professional counseling experience in both school and clinical settings. Her research pursuits include presenting and publishing information that address mental health and educational disparities among diverse and historically marginalized populations, as well as research to advance counselor education pedagogy. She can be reached at hhenry@sbu.edu


Naomi Timm DavisNaomi Timm-Davis, PhD, LMFT, is a lecturer and counselor educator at South Dakota State University. Dr. Timm-Davis has 10 years of experience working in higher education, community mental health and private practice settings. She has presented at state, regional, national, and international conferences on a variety of topics including online counselor education, career development, best practices in clinical supervision, counselor wellness, counselor continuing education models, sandtray therapy, and play therapy. Naomi is currently a member of the American Counseling Association, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, Association for Counselor Educators and Supervisors, and International Association for Marriage and Family Counselors. She has also served on a variety of state professional counseling association boards and professional development committees. She can be reached at naomi.timm-davis@sdstate.edu

Printer-Friendly Version