ACA Blog

Kevin Stoltz
Nov 05, 2009

Using the Holland Codes to Help Understand the Whole Client

By now, if you have been keeping up with my blogs, you realize that I focus much of my work into career counseling. But, as I have argued in the past, I advocate for no division between mental health and career counseling. Given this position, it would follow that I would write a blog about the usefulness of the Holland coding system in understanding clients from more than a strictly career perspective. My experiences as an employee assistance (EAP) counselor really helped me to understand that Holland (1992) intended these typologies to represent more than interests and a career personality. I have found that the types help me understand the persons’ approach to life.

In my EAP work, I spent a lot of time with police and fire personnel. These dedicated individuals had a very specific approach to their jobs and executed their responsibilities with valor and integrity. In addition, they took these same approaches to their personal lives and, at times, this created very predictable difficulties. As I worked with them, I began to see that these vocational groups of people had very different ways of understanding and being in the world. Learning more from these clients, I researched further into the Holland typologies and began to understand how the salient codes had very specific descriptions concerning more than skills and interests. The interpretive manual for the Self-Directed Search (SDS) includes values and how each code type approaches problem solving. The manual also gives descriptions of what specific approaches each type may avoid.

These more detailed explanations of the coding typologies are the gold of the Holland system. For example, knowing that Realistic (Holland, 1992) types are not focused on developing psychological insight is helpful when working with these individuals. Many times these individuals perceive a relationship to be some ”thing” that can be fixed with the correct technique or procedure. This is not to say that these clients are unable to develop insight or avoid being more oriented toward emotion, but the type helps to describe their perception about solving problems. I have found that Realistic clients respond well to more pragmatic approaches such as cognitive behavioral interventions that are more concrete concepts.

As a counselor, I have a high score in the Social (Holland, 1992) type. From my multicultural training, I realize how easy it is to place my values and perceptions on the client. Having a Social approach to life, I could look at the Realistic approach and develop goals and change needs for the Realistic client. It would be easy to perceive the Realistic type as needing to develop social skills. However, Holland (1992) helps me to understand that the Realistic person has specific approaches to life that serve them well in specific environments. I like to believe that my Social type is ubiquitous, but here I must be honest and realize that it works well in some environments, but not all. So using the Holland typologies to understand people from multiple perspectives is a way to broaden our understanding of what Holland was attempting to describe when he discussed people and environments. I would be interested in reading your reactions and comments concerning using the Holland codes to gain more insight into your clients.


Kevin Stoltz is an assistant professor at The University of Mississippi. He specializes in career counseling and Adlerian Psychology and has a strong interest (no pun intended) in early recollections related to work life.

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