The Case Method: An Applicable Learning Experience

Book Review by Jackie Piela-Shuster

[Editor's Note: This book review originally appeared in Career Convergence Web Magazine in August 2004.  It is being reprinted as part of our Special Book Review issue now.]


Reading The Career Counseling Casebook: A Resource for Practitioners, Students, and Counselor Educators (Niles, Goodman & Pope, 2002), proved to be an exceptional learning experience. The compiled case studies provided a wonderful examination of the diversity of career counseling and the clients served. The responses to the case studies revealed that the variety and richness of career counseling should not be discounted. By utilizing a case method approach, this book provided an interesting and applicable way to learn and grow as a career counselor.

The case studies were representative of much of the life span, with clientele ranging from 9 to 60 years of age. Approximately 43 percent were female and the remaining 57 percent were male. There was representation of persons from numerous ethnic and racial groups; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender cultures; persons with psychological, cognitive and physical disabilities; and individuals from upper, middle and lower socioeconomic classes. There were also clients from urban, suburban and rural areas. Some of the clientele were students in elementary, middle or high schools and others were in postsecondary education. There were individuals that were unemployed, for a variety of reasons, and others that were employed.

Each respondent was asked to provide his/her theoretical basis for the case. Most responses suggested the use of eclectic approaches. On occasion, the theories were interspersed throughout the response. At other times, respondents used certain theories for case conceptualization and others for intervention. Often, the respondents provided at least a brief explanation of the theory as well as how they would apply the theory to the case. Occasionally, the theorist him/herself was the respondent. Both of these approaches provided the reader with an opportunity to learn theory as well as application.

Despite the wide variety of approaches, there were some common themes among the case responses. One of these was that career counseling could not and should not be separated from personal counseling. Some respondents did choose to refer clients for further counseling, whereas others felt they had the competence to address many of the personal issues themselves. Nevertheless, no one attempted to stick to just "career" issues. This confirmed the need to address "mental health" issues in career counseling so as not to divide the individual into two parts and subsequently never facilitate his/her full potential (Anderson & Niles, 1995; Burlew, 1997). The cases in this book made it very obvious that "there is much more to the career counseling process than matching an individual's vocational self-concept to specific occupations" as Luzzo (2002) stated in his response to a case (p 81).

Another common theme was that each individual's experiences were unique. Thus, contextual and cultural factors, including, but not limited to, gender, race, ethnicity, family, disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and level of acculturation, were closely examined since these experiences obviously affect one's worldview.

To delve into an individual's life, the case respondents made it clear that the therapeutic relationship is crucial. Approaches to building this relationship may vary, but almost all included listening skills, empathy and positive regard of the client. There was also a general belief that it is essential to affirm individuals and give voice to their strengths.

As the respondents discussed building this distinctive relationship with each individual, it became obvious that a "cookie-cutter" or "test and tell" approach would be disadvantageous. Hence, creative techniques and methods were employed. Each one utilized was tailored to the individual. The variety of approaches and wealth of creativity in this book can provide a great deal of stimulus for students and practitioners.

Also providing for deeper thought and learning were the questions posed by the respondents. The information they sought to gain about the clients went far beyond that provided in the case description. It was very extensive and would clearly provide the practitioner with a deeper understanding of the client and his/her issues. This, in turn, would result in better outcomes for the client.

Overall, this casebook was a very informative tool in helping the reader to gain greater clarity about the career counseling profession, to learn about theory and to learn about practice. The book also makes it very evident that career counseling and personal counseling overlap and that often, career counseling may be the safer place to begin exploring a range of issues. This book is also about partnering with and empowering individuals to reach for their potential while still taking action in the here-and-now realities of life. It truly demonstrates the richness of career counseling and would be a constructive learning instrument not only for practitioners, but also for students in counselor education programs.

Anderson, W. P. & Niles, S. G., (1995). Career and personal concerns expressed by career counseling clients. Career Development Quarterly, 43, 240-245.

Burlew, L. D. (1997). Career counseling is not mental health counseling: More myth than fact. ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services, Greensboro, NC.

Luzzo, D. A. (2002). Response to Kathy: The case of the exploring environmentalist, expanding the context. In S. G. Niles, J. Goodman, & M. Pope (Eds.), The career counseling casebook: A resource for practitioners, students and counselor educators (pp. 80-83). Tulsa, OK: NCDA.

Niles, S. G., Goodman, J., & Pope, M. (Eds.). (2002). The career counseling casebook: A resource for practitioners, students and counselor educators. Tulsa, OK: NCDA.

The second edition of this book is available in the NCDA Career Resource Store.

Jackie Peila-Shuster has her Masters degree in Career Counseling and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies at Colorado State University, where she will also begin a graduate/doctoral assistantship at The Career Center. She formerly had a career as an Occupational Therapist where she worked with a variety of clientele. Jackie coauthored the Career Development Counselor Education Directory and can be reached at
Email: jpshu@holly.colostate.edu.

Printer-Friendly Version