Cultivating Career Counseling Excitement through Interactive Arts-Based Methods

By Barbara Parker-Bell

Counselors in Training (CIT) have sometimes questioned the relevance of career counseling content within their training programs (Lara et al., 2011). Such lack of career learning excitement may relate to CITs underestimation of  career and lifestyle choices’ influence on well-being experiences. Importantly, career development scholars such as Redekopp and Huston (2019) have identified the interrelationships between work, career, and well-being. Indeed, aims and interventions of career counselors and more broadly focused counselors frequently overlap, and educators must diligently address this gap in understanding.  To accomplish this, creative methods for teaching career development concepts and interventions are recommended (Parker-Bell & Osborn, 2023). Interactive art-based methods spark CIT interest, foster depth-oriented engagement, encourage reflective processes, and support CIT self-efficacy. In this article, creative and  interactive methods  for career counseling instruction are offered for educator consideration.

Effective Teaching Strategies

While educators may be comfortable with teaching in traditional ways, evidence shows that interactive methods are effective in supporting desired CIT learning outcomes. Mason et al. (2022) examined the efficacy of interactive approaches to counselor education by comparing CIT responses to teacher-centered lecture-based class formats with responses to flipped classroom formats that emphasize active and collaborative student-centered learning experiences. Mason et al. discovered that CITs involved in active learning tasks endorsed significantly greater career counseling skill self-efficacy than CITs enrolled in traditionally oriented classrooms.  In other words, students engaged in interactive and collaborative learning experiences reported greater confidence in their abilities to apply their knowledge and skills to their practice situations.

Sacco and Amende (2021) also advocated for active and creative methods for promoting CIT development.  Centered on enhancing CIT awareness of personal biases, values, and experiences that may interfere with attuned counseling responses, instructors offered structured methods to facilitate contemplation of important counseling education topics through engagement with music, photography, and videography expressions and written reflections. For example, students took photographs to represent their associations with presented counseling theories. Using their photographs as stimuli, CITs wrote narratives which connected their worldviews to their understanding of each theory and how these views might influence their future counseling relationships. When considering such assignments, Sacco and Amende recommended focusing on students’ ability to demonstrate conceptualization and awareness of theory premises as opposed to rote descriptions of theory concepts.

Sparking Instructor Preparation

Incorporating art-based educational processes requires an assessment of one’s competencies and gaining familiarity with creative education strategies and their purposes. To prepare, an educator could:

  1. Study relevant articles such as those by Mason et al. (2022) and Sacco and Amende (2021) to develop research informed classroom actions.
  2. Assess and cultivate understanding of art materials’ expressive potential and your own abilities to support reflective processes that may unfold (Hinz, 2020).
  3. Complete the suggested assignment prior to offering to it to students to “work out the kinks” and to fully understand what is being asked of students.
  4. Finally, seek supervisor feedback regarding any concerns of competency and consult professional ethics guidelines (National Career Development Association, 2015) regarding responsibilities to practice within one’s scope of training and skills.

Creative Strategy Implementation

With training and practice in art therapy and career counseling education, Parker-Bell and Osborn (2023) collaboratively designed a career development course infused with art therapy and career counseling principles. After establishing rapport and defining confidentiality expectations, they quickly invited students to interact and create. For example, within a group mural structure, students represented career decision-making journeys using a singular line that moved from the edge of the paper towards a central circle that symbolized career destinations (see Figure 1). Lines varied. Some lines were straight, some meandered, others had sections that appeared tangled or lost before straightening out and aiming towards the career goal. Based on the qualities of lines, students observed how career pathways can vary based on personal and systemic influences despite similar career choices. Consequently, students examined where they may have benefited from career support, setting the groundwork for interest and investigation of career counseling interventions.

Figure 1

Career Decision Making Journeys

Parker Bell Your Career Journey Diagram

Sparking Creative Assessment Exploration

When fostering learning about career assessment, instructors filled students’ class time with creative career counseling activities aimed at examining how self-knowledge may reveal career interests (Parker-Bell & Osborn, 2023). Students transformed values card sort results into mixed media career values “portraits,” and created vision boards to reflect career goals. Additionally, students experimented with various career genogram structures including traditional diagrams, art-based genograms, and inclusive genograms, to examine how these career influence exploration structures activate various responses and shift qualitative assessment data available for career counseling and art therapy discussions.

Giving Theories “The Creative Treatment”

In the case of chaos theory of careers, (Pryor & Bright, 2011, 2014) Parker-Bell and Osborn (2023) stimulated theory understanding through found object “career transition” sculptural explorations. Accordingly, students hunted for objects, discovered items of interest, and combined objects with art materials to create a final product. Subsequent review of students’ sculptures and creative processes elicited discussion regarding chance discoveries and career change.

Parker-Bell and Osborn (2023) applied different creative methods to instruction of Super’s (1980) life-span life space approach to career development. First, Parker-Bell and Osborn invited students to interview an older family member or friend regarding their career roles and values over time. Next, students created handmade books, each page decorated to reflect a decade of the selected person’s career life story. As students designed the pages and reflected on interviewees experiences, they identified career stages and roles described by Super’s theory and acknowledged greater appreciation of the evolving process of career roles over a lifespan.

Summary Sparks

Based on this author’s collaborative experiences, art-based educational processes can be exciting and motivating for both instructors and students when learning processes are interactive and educational objectives are addressed. Creative methods may seem daunting at first, but the joys of offering creative career instructive processes are worth the investment of effort.



Hinz, L. D. (2020). Expressive therapies continuum: A framework for using art in therapy. (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Lara, T. M., Kline, W. B., & Paulson, D. (2011). Attitudes regarding career counseling: Perceptions and experiences of counselors-in-training. Career Development Quarterly, 59(5), 428-440.

Mason, E. C. M., Dispenza, F., Placeres, V., Grad, R., Ray, M., Robertson, A., Dosal-Terminel,D., & Metzler, M. (2022). Student engagement and counseling skill self-efficacy: Comparing two course formats. Counselor Education and Supervision, 61, 206-216. https://doi.org/10.1002/ceas.12243

National Career Development Association. (2015). NCDA code of ethics. www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/asset_manager/get_file/3395?ver=738702

Parker-Bell, B., & Osborn, D. (2023). Art therapy and career counseling: Creative strategies for career development over the lifespan. Routledge.

Pryor, R. G. L., & Bright, J. E. H. (2011). The chaos theory of careers: A new perspective on working in the twenty-first century. Routledge.

Pryor, R. G. L., & Bright, J. E. H. (2014). The chaos theory of careers (CTC): Ten years on and    only just begun. Australian Journal of Career Development, 23(1), 4-12.

Redekopp, D. E., & Huston, M. (2019). The broader aims of career development: Mental health, well-being and work. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 47(2), 245-257. https://doi.org/10.1080/03069885.2018.1513451

Sacco, K. K., & Amende, K. E. (2021).  Use of creative means for expressive self-reflections among counselors-in-training. Journal of Creativity and Mental Health, 16(3), 360-363. https://doi.org/10.1080/15401383.2020.1776185

Super, D. E. (1980). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 16(3). 282-298.



Barbara Parker BellDr. Barbara Parker-Bell, PsyD, ATR-BC, is a Registered and Board-Certified Art Therapist, Professor, and Director of Art Therapy Programs at Florida State University where she teaches a career development course for art therapists and counselors in training. She has recently coauthored the book, Art Therapy and Career Counseling: Creative Strategies for Career Development Across the Lifespan, published by Routledge with Dr. Debra Osborn, also from Florida State University.  Dr. Parker-Bell is currently collaborating with Dr. Osborn on the development and research of the Design Your Career guide which combines Cognitive Information Processing Theory and art therapy approaches in an accessible creative guide for exploring career decision-making processes for adolescents. She can be reached at bparkerbell@fsu.edu

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