I pose this question because I have noticed that even though career development and counseling is included in the CACREP accreditation standards as one of the eight essential areas for the preparation of counselors, I often find that students and counselors seem to lack interest and concern for including career theory in “mental health counseling sessions”. We stress the importance of multi-cultural and developmental considerations, counseling theory, assessment, and the other core areas required by CACREP. However, many times career theory is not used in case conceptualizations outside of “Career Counseling”. I often ask myself “How does career counseling differ from mental health counseling?" I am not sure I ever decide if I have an answer or not!
Could it be that career development is taught as a stand alone specialized area of counseling that is very different from mental health counseling? When teaching a career course I attempt to tie the theories and assessments used in career counseling to mental health issues and case conceptualizations. Actually, I am not sure how one separates these out as different from mental health counseling. One example is the Cognitive Information Processing theory developed by Peterson, Sampson, Reardon, and Lenz. These theorists attempt to identify client thinking that is directly related to career decision making. Yet, the application of this theory also relates to the client’s holistic approach to solving life problems. When I talk with students and counselors about this issue they agree, yet it continues to be overlooked in counseling sessions.
Another great example of integrating mental health and career theories in working with clients is the body of work by Savickas. He constructed a career interview process using narrative techniques that integrates personality types, developmental tasks, and life themes to help clients give voice to their individual life project, including career. He takes the stance that in the 21st century, family and relationships will replace career as the central theme in the life story. Career becomes a way to sustain the life project and continues to be one aspect of self-expression. But, it is the entire life project that is being addressed in this approach.
I too often run into comments from students and counselors that reference something like “yes, I worked with a client that could have used some career counseling”. I often respond by saying, well, why did you not address the issue? The usual response is that I don’t do career work or that it is secondary to the treatment. This puzzles me! How can we throw out or ignore approximately 1/3 of the client’s daily routine and social activity (work) by saying is not related to the focus of treatment?
Not being a total pessimist, I am encouraged by the new approaches to career and life planning. I guess I just want students and counselors to begin to see that career theory is applicable to the whole of the life project and that the divisions of career and mental health counseling are not clear cut and dichotomous. Perhaps I have been living under a rock and the world does not divide. Turn over my stone and convince me!!!
Kevin Stoltz is an assistant professor at The University of Mississippi specializing in career counseling and Adlerian Psychology, with a strong interest (no pun intended) in early recollections related to work life.