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Introduction to Career Counseling: Theories and Application

Introduction to Career Counseling: Theories and Application


By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Compare and     contrast the changing features of work in the 20th century, in     relation to the 19th century.
  • Explain how the     changes between the 19th and 20th centuries impacted     the current state of career counseling.
  • Identify     contemporary approaches to career counseling.
  • Evaluate the     usefulness of the various theories discussed.
  • Describe     components of various career development theories.


Benjamin Franklin once said that people could only be sure of death and taxes, but unless they are independently wealthy, work must be added to the equation that is life. A difference definitely exists between having a job and having a career. Some people view work as a necessity – a part of life that helps pay the bills and sustain life for another week. However,  many people take ample pride in their work and approach it with a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Many people also often equate their identities or worth to their job or career. A person’s job or career status can and will affect their overall well-being, as career problems have been linked to depression, low self-efficacy, and lack of hope. Thus, knowledge of career counseling is imperative for a person to become a competent and complete counselor (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2002). This course will help the student develop the skills needed to provide adequate career counseling.

Historical and Contemporary Views of Work

People often identify who they are by what they do. In fact, a person who meets someone for the first time will often ask, “What do you do?” In addition, a person’s identity, and even worldview, is shaped by what they choose to do for a living. Whether or not this is healthy extends beyond the scope of this course and must be tabled for later discussion. Individual career choices will also contribute to shaping the ways a person is viewed by others.

Classical View of Work

In classical society, many viewed manual labor as a repulsive curse. The Greeks viewed work as a sorrowful activity, and this is noted through the meaning of their word for work (poinsis), which has the same root as the word “sorrow.” However, the early Christians viewed idleness as a form of sinfulness, a view that carried through the Middle Ages.

Work and the Reformation

Martin Luther proposed that work should be viewed as a task done for God, no matter what that task entailed. John Calvin furthered this view by saying that working benefited the spreading of the Gospel.

Work was integrated further into the Christian faith through Calvin’s teachings of predestination. If a person achieved a greater job, it was a sign that they were predestined for eternal life. Therefore, a person’s career affected how they were viewed in both a terrestrial and eternal sense. Thus, Protestants aimed to achieve the best possible positions,  resulting in a strong work ethic. This desire for achievement moved Savickas (1993) to coin the term vocational ethic. Over time, however, people’s views of occupations superseded the actual work in terms of determining their status and position.

Work in the 20th Century

Moving from the 19th century into the 20th century, people began to place a higher premium on climbing the corporate ladder. Maccoby and Terzi (1981) coined the term career ethic, a term that refers to a person’s ability to sustain a long tenure with vertical movement in the company.

Work in the 21st Century

The 21st century brought with it an entirely new view of work and career. As mentioned, a great deal of emphasis was previously placed on the ability to achieve a long tenure and climb the corporate ladder. In the 21st century, this emphasis changed, as companies restructured and created fewer rungs in the ladder. Now, a greater emphasis is placed on learning a specific technology or function, mastering it,  and then moving on to a new area. This more lateral movement has required employees to redefine success and led Maccoby and Terzi (1981) to coin another term, self-fulfillment ethic, which describes a person placing his or her own personal growth and fulfillment into his or her own hands. This concept can bring increased self-empowerment and personal freedom.

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