Tag Archives: Career & Employment Counseling

Career & Employment Counseling

Generational divisions in the workplace: Where counselors come in

By Bethany Bray October 29, 2018

More than 1 in 3 American workers are part of the millennial generation, according to the Pew Research Center. This growing contingent of young professionals works alongside supervisors and co-workers who came of age when workplace dynamics were very different. These differences encompass everything from demographics to overall level of reliance on technology.

If left unaddressed, these dynamics can be a recipe for conflict and division, assert Carolyn Greer and Kimberly Key, who have co-presented on the topic of bridging the divisions in the modern workplace at ACA’s annual conference.

“The baton is not passing very well,” says Key, a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Austin, Texas. “It’s so systemic and vast and complex, with multiple factors that influence this [issue]. … There’s not just one factor.”

Millennials are “digital natives,” accustomed to internet connectivity and the flexibility afforded by the ability to video chat and send email at any time and to anywhere. The need for a 9-to-5 workday in which someone is physically in the office and at a desk can often seem needless or archaic to these younger professionals. Their older co-workers – baby boomers and members of Generation X – however, grew up in a world where the term “work-life balance” was nonexistent and many people stuck with one company or one career for their entire adult life.

“Not only was working from home not feasible a generation ago, it wouldn’t have been allowed. Expectations were very, very different,” says Greer, a retired licensed professional counselor, a longtime member of the American Counseling Association and a past president of the Texas Counseling Association. “That older worker, they set aside family and said, ‘It’s all about work.’ While millennials say, ‘It’s all about family, and work comes second.’ They opt to work from home and take personal time more often. There may be resentment from older co-workers, [who feel] ‘somebody has to hold down the fort!’ There are differences in expectations: What does it mean to go to work?”

Technology aside, modern workplaces look very different than they did a generation ago, in everything from dress code to the benchmarks used for promotion and advancement, notes Greer. At the same time, more and more women are attending college and joining the workforce, and the role of stay-at-home dad is not as unheard of as in decades past.

The Pew Research Center reports that the U.S. labor force is currently a varied mix of generations that even includes a small percentage of post-millennials, or those born after 1996. Baby boomers are slowly retiring, but a healthy share of the American workforce (25 percent in 2017) is still composed of those born during the post-World War II years (1946 to 1964). Roughly one-third of the labor force hails from Generation X, or those born after the baby boom but before the 1980s. Millennials, or those born between 1981 and 1997, have surpassed both generations in recent years to make up the largest percentage of American workers, according to Pew.

The divisions that can arise when generations with different expectations are working side by side is an issue that needs more attention and further discussion within the counseling profession, Key and Greer assert. The duo met through the National Employment Counseling Association, an ACA division in which they are both active. Key also offers training and consulting work on bridging family and work issues.

Key and Greer encourage counselor practitioners to seek professional development in this area, consult with colleagues and get involved in professional counseling organizations such as ACA and NECA. “This is a call to action: Take it to your local professionals, bring it up, talk about it, do research,” Key says.


Counselors as bridge builders

Counselors of all specialties – not just career counselors – should be aware of and sensitive to the generational divisions that can arise in today’s workplaces, say Key and Greer. Practitioners may see clients who present with anxiety and other issues related to generational breakdowns such as feeling overlooked, alienated or misunderstood.

There is potential for resentment to form when younger generations don’t follow “the old-school method of working hard and waiting to earn your promotion” that older workers may expect, Key explains. However, career planning and goal setting for younger generations is unlikely to follow the steady, stable and gradual trajectory toward retirement that older generations came to expect. Instead, they may change jobs and careers several times to fit their family and life choices.

“We’re not a one-career society anymore. Making room for other things is OK,” Key says. “It’s essential for counselors to know about these aspects to identify and treat the issue. … Meet [clients] where they are. Understand what is happening. Be open and tell them that this is a very far-reaching thing, a pervasive issue that can affect people both at work and at home. It’s a very real issue, and we have to work with them to find what our clients need.”

“This is all so complex and vast that people may not even realize they’re affected by it. Let them know that they’re not alone and that many people are going through this,” Key adds. “Address it, and recognize that we [counselors] have the tools to be peacemakers.”

Greer, an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University-Central Texas, says she talks about workplace issues in her introduction to family counseling classes. Just as there’s no one definition of “family” anymore, she tells her students, there’s also no one definition of “work.”

“There’s no more going to work and punching a clock for 40 hours. Now, maybe you work from home or do Skype meetings late at night with other time zones. The world has become so different,” Greer says. “We’re in this whole uncharted place. It’s not so simple anymore.”




Related reading

On helping clients with workplace stress and conflict, from the Counseling Today archives:


ACA Divisions

  • The National Career Development Association (ncda.org)




Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org.


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.




Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.


Could toxic workplaces be killing your clients?

By Laurie Meyers September 27, 2018

Many American workers are overworked, exhausted and underpaid. Defying their biological clocks with shift work. Putting in 50-plus-hour workweeks and often juggling the work of two or more people — all under the eye of sometimes capricious management. Employees huddle together like Survivor contestants, hoping not to be voted off the island through layoffs, outsourcing or random termination. Employees also struggle to achieve work-life balance, hoping to leave work early enough to spend time with a spouse or partner, help their children with homework or take the dog for a walk. “Self-care” may consist of slumping on the couch, shades drawn, a six-pack or jumbo glass of wine at the ready, binging on Netflix. All while living paycheck to paycheck. And some experts say that it’s killing us.

The idea of work as a mortality risk may sound like an exaggeration, but research, particularly the work of Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, suggests that the danger is all too real. His recently published book, Dying for a Paycheck, details his research on health effects often specific to work-related stressors such as unemployment and layoffs, the absence of health insurance, shift work, long working hours, job insecurity, work-family conflict, low job control, high job demands, low social support at work and low organizational fairness. Pfeffer’s conclusion: Stress caused by modern workplace conditions is sickening employees mentally and physically. Although the problem is global, Pfeffer’s research indicates that work is particularly toxic in the United States, where job stress costs employers more than $300 billion annually and may cause 120,000 deaths each year.

Pfeffer’s work is not the only research that reflects the unhealthiness of the American workplace. Mental Health America’s 2017 report “Mind the Workplace” detailed the results of the nonprofit’s Workplace Health Survey given to more than 17,000 employees across 19 industries in the United States. The survey showed that only 36 percent of employees felt that they could rely on supervisor support and only 34 percent felt supported by their colleagues. Respondents also felt underappreciated: 79 percent thought they were underpaid, and 44 percent reported that skilled employees were not given enough recognition. Survey participants cited this lack of support and appreciation for causing increased levels of employee disengagement and high rates of absenteeism (33 percent), work-family conflict (63 percent) and increased mental health and behavioral problems (63 percent).

The reality of the research is evident in the offices of many career and mental health counselors, where clients report struggling with heavy workloads, conflicts with managers and co-workers, poor work-life balance and general disengagement. Making the workplace less toxic will take systemic change, but in the meantime, counselors are helping their clients cope either by finding more compatible work environments or by better managing — or changing — their current positions. In addition, some counselors are helping employers build better, healthier workplaces.

Always working overtime

Over the course of her career, licensed professional counselor (LPC) Alicia Philipp, a former human resources professional who now specializes in career counseling, has seen a significant escalation in workplace stress. Overwork is one of the most common client complaints, she says. Not only are workplaces demanding more work from fewer staff, but many employees also are expected to respond to voicemail and email during off hours and on the weekend, says Philipp, whose practice is located in Atlanta.

“I think many consider the idea of using a time clock as confining, but sometimes I think we would all be better off if we could clock out from work daily and truly enjoy our free time,” she says.

In some workplaces, defining specific work hours — such as 9 to 6 — and not being available outside of those parameters is feasible, says Katie Playfair, an Oregon LPC who specializes in anxiety and career counseling. A set schedule works best if management and team members have similar schedules, she says. However, in an increasingly globalized marketplace, team members and contacts may be working on significantly different timelines.

Playfair, who also offers workplace consultations to employers, urges clients to set clear boundaries and to “talk process” with their employers. For example, an employee who was up until 1 a.m. working remotely with team members in Vietnam justifiably will not want to come into the office bright and early, but the employee cannot simply assume that it is OK to show up at noon without an explanation, she says.

“I would encourage them to email their boss at 1:15 a.m.: ‘The team in Hanoi was stuck on problem X until just now. I will be coming in around noon tomorrow. Also, I’ve asked them to communicate with me earlier on issues like this so that I’m not missing our 10 a.m. team meeting regularly,’” she says. “This message communicates: 1) I am not going to stay up until 1 a.m. working and come into the office at a regular time. 2) I understand I’m going to miss a meeting because of this decision. 3) I’ve attempted to prevent a situation like this from happening in the future.”

Playfair also encourages clients to set boundaries by letting their bosses and colleagues know how best to reach them after hours. For example, employees can let everyone know that after 6 p.m., they will be with their family and unavailable via email but will respond to a text or phone call in an emergency. A similar method can be used for weekends and vacations, she says. If employees intend to truly be unreachable, in addition to informing their colleagues, they should indicate their “away” status on voicemail and via email auto-respond messages.

In some cases, the pressure to overwork is indirect. Employees might overwork because that is how they achieved career advancement in the past, Philipp says. In other cases, bosses overwork, creating the perception (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that not staying late is a sign of slacking off or not doing a sufficient job, says American Counseling Association member Susan Grosoff-Feinblatt, an LPC who specializes in career counseling.

Overworking can also be a coping mechanism, she notes. By staying busy at work, clients can sufficiently distract themselves from job dissatisfaction or personal issues.

Restless and disengaged

Another common complaint from clients is a sense of disengagement. A variety of factors contribute to workplace dissatisfaction, but Philipp thinks that loss of control is the most significant cause. “Having a say in what and how things get done for the greater good of whatever purpose their work serves helps to make one’s work meaningful,” she says.

This lack of meaning and sense of powerlessness is happening in many professions, but over the past five years, a number of school teachers in particular have come to Philipp seeking help with feeling disengaged. “They want to teach, and many of them who have taught for years have seen huge changes in what is expected of them. It has taken them away from what they see as their role — engaging young minds in learning,” she says.

Some of the discouraged educators have left teaching altogether, whereas others found that changing schools allowed them to regain their sense of purpose. A few of the clients moved from teaching to administrative roles in hopes of making changes on a larger scale, Philipp says.

Grosoff-Feinblatt also works with clients whose jobs have undergone an uncomfortable change. For these employees, a promotion or shifting role responsibilities have left them feeling that they lack the skills and knowledge needed to perform their duties.

This skill misalignment can sometimes be solved by seeking another position, but technology is increasingly changing how specific jobs are performed. Employees who want to remain competitive in the workplace have to seek additional training, which is a daunting prospect for many. Grosoff-Feinblatt says that clients sometimes see any new technology as part of some vast, unknowable, futuristic landscape. Helping clients let go of that notion and instead focus on what they actually need to learn for their position can greatly reduce their anxiety, she says.

Seeking new opportunities

Personal conflict is another frequent cause of work dissatisfaction. Negative workplaces abound and, sometimes, changing jobs is the only answer, but Philipp believes that counselors should also help clients identify what exactly went wrong. Not only does this examination help clients process how the experience affected them, but it also helps them consider their response to the situation — and hopefully avoid replicating it.

“In changing jobs, they may be getting away from a bad situation, but it could be something they see again at a new employer, and recognizing the earlier problems and getting a grasp on a solution earlier can be helpful,” Philipp says.

Philipp teaches clients to use the interview process to better determine whether a different prospective work environment might be a good fit. “So many people go into an interview anxious about how to answer the interviewer’s questions, but to be really prepared for the interview, a candidate should have some of their own questions to ask to help them assess if the company is a good fit,” she says.

For example, if a counseling client left a previous job because co-workers were uncooperative or even engaged in workplace bullying, the person should ask the prospective employer about the team and work environment there. Is the work done in a collaborative environment or more independently? What is the turnover rate for the department? What is the team’s biggest challenge?

As clients examine what they didn’t like about a former workplace, they may also find that they could have reacted to the conflict more effectively, Philipp says. Counselors can help these clients work on developing better resolution skills so that they can respond differently in the future.

Philipp also uses career assessments for clients who are fleeing negative workplaces. The assessments can help determine whether their interests, personalities, values and abilities are in line with the type of work they have been doing. In some cases, the client might want to consider a different career. Career assessments can also help determine what kind of work environment is best for the client. 

Whether her clients are searching for a new career or just a new position, Philipp encourages them to become more involved with other people working in the field by expanding their networks through professional associations and LinkedIn. This enables clients to learn more about what is going on within their industry, including the kinds of workplace environments that different employers offer.

Building a better workplace

Playfair says that creating a healthy workplace is complicated and involves multiple factors. However, she has some definite ideas about how employers should start the process.

“It includes paying people enough so that they can meet their basic needs and not have to worry about food or shelter, minimally,” she says. “Offering benefits is wonderful, but know the limitations of your benefits packages. Having an EAP [employee assistance program] doesn’t mean it’s usable. Having ‘good’ health insurance on the medical side doesn’t mean your employees have access to a good network of mental health providers.”

Human resource professionals have to fully understand the benefits that a company offers and be proactive about helping employees take full advantage of those benefits, she continues. Ideally, employers should also allow flexible work schedules so that employees can access services that are available only during business hours.

“Above all, organizations need to be less conflict averse,” Playfair emphasizes. “They need to address abusive behavior, implement good, evidence-based management practices, broadcast compelling and cohesive visions for employees to rally around, and have real dialogues with their employees about how to achieve those visions. This means making it safe for employees to communicate their needs and for them to receive honest feedback from the employer about the feasibility of implementing their ideas and where their idea ranks [among] company priorities.”

Philipp is less convinced that better benefits are the answer, but she agrees that enfranchising employees is critical. “Many employers have made some great improvements to provide benefits to employees to help deal with stress by way of health and wellness programs,” she says. “While there are known benefits to employees participating in those, the better approach, I think, is for employers to make sure their employees’ work environment is optimal to avoiding stress to begin with. Open and regular communication, allowing employees to have a voice and see that their efforts are helping in some fashion, is essential to a healthy workplace. Some employers talk of doing this but don’t really follow through with that idea. Being given lots of free benefits may be nice, but at the heart of why we work [is that] we want our efforts to matter.”




Additional resources

To learn more about the topics discussed in this article, take advantage of the following select resources offered by the American Counseling Association:

Counseling Today (ct.counseling.org)

Books (counseling.org/publications/bookstore)

  • A Counselors Guide to Career Assessment Instruments, sixth edition, edited by Chris Wood and Danica G. Hays
  • Postmodern Career Counseling: A Handbook of Culture, Context and Cases, edited by Louis A. Busacca and Mark C. Rehfuss
  • Career Counseling: Holism, Diversity and Strengths, fourth edition, by Norman C. Gysbers, Mary J. Heppner and Joseph A. Johnston

Podcasts and webinars

  • “Career Errors” presented by Frank Burtnett (ACA261)

ACA Divisions

  • National Career Development Association (ncda.org)

NCDA provides professional development, publications, standards and advocacy to practitioners and educators who inspire and empower individuals to achieve their career and life goals.

NECA was founded in 1966 to implement solid and practical interventions to enhance employability and long-term employment.




Laurie Meyers is the senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at lmeyers@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org




Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Forty years later, counselors are still asking, ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’

Compiled by Bethany Bray August 21, 2017

If there ever was a job seeker’s bible, it would be What Color Is Your Parachute?

Four decades after Richard “Dick” Bolles’ seminal title was published, the book continues to influence job seekers and the counselors who support them.

American Counseling Association member Rich Feller worked with Bolles and counts him as a mentor. Feller, a professor at Colorado State University and a past president of the National Career Development Association (NCDA), a division of ACA, wrote a section of Parachute titled “What the Parachute Flower Has Meant to Me.”

Years later, Feller says he gets at least one email per week from people around the world who tell him how influential the book has been in their lives.

Parachute is just as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1972, according to Feller. “Even more so, considering how clients face an augmented workforce within a skills-based gig economy,” he says. “More than ever, clients must manage their career while navigating a lifetime of transitions.”

Bolles, an Episcopal minister and career counselor who studied chemical engineering at MIT and physics at Harvard University before his winding career path led him to write Parachute, passed away this year at age 90 in California.

Counseling Today asked career counselors from across ACA for their thoughts on Bolles’ legacy and how they have used What Color Is Your Parachute? in their work with clients – and their own personal journeys.




Dick Bolles and What Color Is Your Parachute? did more for counselors than any contemporary career development thought leader, bar none. Parachute popularized self-inventory, taught solid job-hunting skills, put color and fun into lifework planning and moved counselors from trait-factor to life-design practices.

Parachute nudged the field to stay current every year, not only about job searching but [about] how career development was a personal responsibility to stay fully alive. [Bolles] provided the framework for counselors to help people transfer skills into possibilities.

Without Parachute, we’d still be focused on “test and tell.” With it, counselors soon embraced positive psychology, life design, field research and job search as a body of knowledge.

I was lucky to have David Tiedeman send me to one of Dick’s first two-week retreats. Probably his first student to be a counseling professor, I later wrote the “What the Parachute Flower Has Meant to Me” section of the book telling how the book changed my life. A lifework planning champion since then, 90 percent of my “Flower,” published in Parachute, still holds true. Having taught the Parachute process to Colorado State University graduate students for 30 years, it has created counseling champions for career development.

Each principle found within Parachute can be seen in how I serve as witness to [clients’] own storytelling and meaning-making from formal or informal feedback. Self-inventory and clarification best precede intentional exploration, or clients end up chasing external motivation, interests shaped by an exposure bias and a hollowness and disengagement at work.

Self-disclosing my “Flower” to 11 million-plus readers has led to hundreds of letters received, suggesting it helped others gain clarity about their desires, assets and possibilities not identified through traditional sources. Each large-scale counseling project I’ve helped to create (lifereimagined.orgcdminternet.comyouscience.com or our Who You Are Matters! board game) are laced with sentences found within Parachute.

  • Rich Feller





It’s a fair assumption that most professionals who practice counseling and psychotherapy have heard of, and many will have recommended to their clients, the best-selling job search book of all time, What Color Is Your Parachute? (10 million sold!). Richard Bolles, the author who first published the self-help book in 1972, refreshed or updated the book every year until the last time in 2017. He died at age 90 earlier this year.

For counselors like me who specialize in career, the passing of Richard Bolles might be more personally felt, like the loss of a dedicated mentor. Here was a man whose brilliant mind for several decades gave us an accessible how-to guide subtitled, “A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers,” who knew from his own hard knocks of being laid off the importance of hope and humor and sprinkled that liberally in the book, and who as a one-time minister, always addressed the further reaches of human beings in the last chapter, [titled] “Finding Your Mission in Life.”

For these reasons and more, my first recommendation to every client, no matter what age or stage of career, is to send them to the source: Obtain a recent edition of Parachute, read it and do the exercises. The core of the book contains a self-inventory to help readers figure out what they really liked doing so that they could find the job that would let them do it.

This assignment did not make my job as a counselor redundant. Rather, it helped me do it at a more advanced level, with better-informed clients who understood the hidden job market, that heart is more important than intellect in choosing your best skills, and how and why to do informational interviews. Bolles, who also co-wrote a guide for counselors, forever transformed the career field, and his words will continue to guide many readers and counselors alike.

  • Dave Gallison, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with a practice in Portland, Oregon, specializes in career and personal development. He collaborates with a guild of career counselors in Portland that also publishes a biweekly blog, Career Transition: The Inside Job.





I bought my first copy of Parachute in 1990 shortly after graduation from college. Having spent several months in a job that was less than meaningful on good days and completely disheartening on most days, I plunged into what became my first career guidance experience. I have clear memories of working through the prioritization grid and the flower exercise. I remember the realization that there were so many more possibilities for my career than I had previously considered.

Through Parachute, I gained so much awareness about the world of work, myself and the

Images via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/8JTPuu and https://flic.kr/p/M7zARJ

mysterious job search process, and yet I still felt a vagueness regarding what I wanted to do with my life. My clients now share this familiar feeling with me. Indeed, Parachute was my first encounter with career counseling and guidance.

I recently co-taught a senior seminar – a course designed to facilitate healthy transitions from college to the “real world.” My co-instructors and I chose Parachute as one of the required texts. As I flipped through the book, I was flooded with memories. The blue pages in the back of the book, the résumé with the picture of the heavy equipment salesman and the picture letters pouring out of the mailman’s bag each reminded me of working through a pivotal and frustrating period of my life.

I was disappointed at the end of the semester when my students reported that Parachute wasn’t a favorite for them. A bit dated and “kind of blah” is how they reported their experience with the book. Ouch! I tried to disregard the glaring metaphor. I took my copy to my counseling office. Two weeks later, one of my clients asked to borrow the book. When he returned the next week, he raved about Parachute, insisting that it was just what he needed. It may still hold some relevance.

  • Chris Pisarik, associate professor in the Division of Academic Enhancement at the University of Georgia and LPC with a private practice in Athens, Georgia




What Color Is Your Parachute has provided hope, insight and guidance to job seekers and career-changers for over four decades. I always valued the relevant and practical suggestions that came with each new edition. This was especially true for my clients and students after the Great Recession of 2008, when it seemed the rules of the job seeking game had changed. Richard Bolles consistently modified his book to reflect the current economic landscape and addressed how to thrive within this “whole new world for job hunters.”

In What Color Is Your Parachute, Bolles gave people permission and direction to reflect on what was most important in their lives. This reflection allowed them to discover how to leverage their skills, knowledge and networks to reach their career goals. I often directed my clients and students to the pink pages at the end of the book, which included resources [such as] how to discover your life mission and how to cope with your feelings while out of work.

Professionally, I appreciated that Bolles included a guide to choosing a career coach or counselor in his pink pages. Often, individuals who are unemployed or underemployed aren’t sure what steps they can take to improve their situation. I wonder how many people over the past 47 years have picked up this book, read through the pink pages and decided then and there to connect with a career counselor? This book will continue to have a lasting impact on our clients, our profession and ourselves.

  • Rebecca E. Michel, assistant professor at DePaul University, licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) in Chicago and Gallup Certified Strengths Based Coach





Richard (Dick) Nelson Bolles brought career planning and job search assistance to everyone. He did so in a folksy, step-by-step manner that put people at ease and demystified a process that seemed, to many, to be unwieldy and unmanageable. Dick was very charming, both one-on-one and in his presentations. When he spoke, he had a charisma that drew you in and made you feel important. His seminal work, What Color Is Your Parachute? set the stage for numerous other self-help career and job search books.

He made interpersonal networking the key to professional success. The myriad of activities he developed have been so often used, modified and replicated that they have nearly become public domain. They are so frequently a part of career development and job search courses that most people who train them to others don’t realize from where they originated.

Dick Bolles not only made a lasting impact upon the field of career development but upon millions of job seekers throughout the world. While he will be missed personally, his legacy lives on.

  • David M. Reile, NCDA president (2016-2017), licensed psychologist, National Certified Career Counselor and Master Career Counselor





Dick Bolles devoted his life to empowering people to find work that connects with who they are and who they hope to become. He was a formidable figure in the career development field and the impact he has made on the lives of countless people around the world is truly remarkable.

Personally, I recall when I contacted Dick to invite him to serve as a keynote speaker at the 2004 NCDA conference. Fully aware of his elite status in our field and also aware of what keynote speakers at this level tend to require for speaking engagements, I was bracing myself for an amount that was likely out of our compensation range. Instead, Dick simply replied, “please compensate me at the same level you do others, no more no less.” Moreover, he made every effort to make himself available to our members, providing crucial support and encouragement to beginning and advanced career practitioners.

Dick thought “outside the box” long before this was fashionable. His creativity, imagination, insights and commitment will be sorely missed.

  • Spencer Niles, NCDA past president (2003-2004) and president-elect-elect (2018-2019) and a dean and professor in the School of Education at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia






See a tribute video Rich Feller made about Bolles and Parachute for the recent NCDA conference at youtu.be/qZhEzRl0er8






How has What Color Is Your Parachute? influenced your own career path and work with clients? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.





Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.





Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.



Behind the book: Postmodern Career Counseling: A Handbook of Culture, Context and Cases

Compiled by Bethany Bray August 14, 2017

In a postmodern world, supporting clients through career ups and downs demands consideration of the person’s cultural context and background.

“Career counseling becomes not so much a procedure but a philosophical framework for guiding the work of counselor and client,” explain Louis A. Busacca and Mark C. Rehfuss in their book Postmodern Career Counseling: A Handbook of Culture, Context and Cases.

“Cultural context becomes essential as the labor force in the United States becomes more diverse, with marked increases in the number of women, non-White, immigrant and older workers,” they write in the book’s introduction. “… In the uncertainty of today’s workplace, career counselors are increasingly called upon to help clients navigate work and life situations, which are typically in a state of flux. Every client’s experience is embedded in a cultural context, which is a factor that makes each client’s experience unique.”

Postmodern Career Counseling: A Handbook of Culture, Context and Cases was published this year by the American Counseling Association. Busacca is an adjunct assistant professor of counseling and human services at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia and adjunct professor of psychology at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio; Rehfuss is an associate professor and director of the human services distance program in the Department of Counseling and Human Services at Old Dominion University.


Q+A: Postmodern career counseling

Counseling Today sent co-authors Louis A. Busacca and Mark C. Rehfuss some questions to learn more:


In the preface, you write “cultural context becomes essential as the labor force in the United States becomes more diverse, with marked increases in the number of women, non-White, immigrant and older workers.” Can you elaborate on this – what would you want counselors to know?

Why is this (a focus on client context) important – and important enough to write a book focused on it?

Traditionally, multiculturalism in career counseling and development has shown us how clients from diverse backgrounds fit into existing theories and interventions, but it does not fully explain how to process the unique experiences and interpretations of clients. Lacking was how people think of themselves in relation to their culture and social context – social constructionist call this narrative identity. As such, culture in postmodern career counseling (PCC) focuses on the personal meaning and interpretations individuals ascribe to elements such as race, ethnicity, age, sex and sexual orientation, and context involves a focus on individuals interacting with and within their social and environmental contexts.

As career planning becomes more precarious and employment more contingent, clients who come to us feel anxious primarily because their identity no longer holds and comforts them. Social philosopher Anthony Giddens stressed that the demand on the individual to construct her- or himself has become a major social fact of our societies. So, when a client has trouble reconstructing their story, they may feel anxious, discouraged or frustrated. In a postmodern sense, the job of career counselors is to first locate their interaction and experiences within the contextual environment that shaped their story, and then help the client use their own culturally-embedded stories to revise their identity.

Given today’s precarious work environment, we believe it is important to help students and practitioners understand that identity is formed by and expressed in client narratives, and these narratives are culturally and contextually embedded. As we help clients meet demands imposed by career tasks, occupational transition or a work trauma, counselors go beyond the experiences of clients fixed on group membership to the meaning and interpretations that clients ascribe to their culture within a sociohistorical context. Career interventions such as narrative, autobiography, life design, card sorts and possible selves mapping – all discussed in our book – help clients reconstruct their identity through self-reflection, provide a sense of coherence and infuse work lives with meaning.


What is postmodernism and why is it important for career counseling today?

The way the term postmodern is used has become so convoluted that confusion may exist regarding its meaning. In general, postmodernists believe that individuals construct meaning or perceive their own reality or truth. This contrasts with the modernist assumption that an external and objective meaning can be discovered. The goal of postmodernity in counseling and psychology can be summarized as an attempt to be more inclusive and to avoid marginalizing the many voices and viewpoints that modernity has overlooked. So, our critique of modernism does not challenge its validity, but the omission of the process. Somehow, modernist career theories and interventions left out the mapmaker (the subject) who may bring something to the picture.

The new social arrangements of work in the United States during the last few decades have made career progression for many people more difficult. Adults increasingly find themselves in frequent transitions among jobs, occupations and organizations. We believe that the turn to postmodern career counseling keeps up with the pace of this transformation and the needs of clients. Since the 1980s, career counseling has increasingly infused its theories and practices with psychological constructivism and social constructionism. When reading our book, it may be useful to think of them as windows or perspectives for how counselors view and approach a client’s experience and reality. These perspectives emphasize subjectivity or meaning making, appreciate multiple perspectives, acknowledge multiple truths, value interpretive or qualitative research and emphasize context. Much of this is taught in counselor education programs today in areas such as marriage and family counseling. Nevertheless, it has slowly emerged in the career field.

As a response to the modernist tradition, the postmodern conceptualization of career represents a unique interaction of self, identity and social experience. In our changing world of work, we encourage counselors to acknowledge this new paradigm for career services that comprehends the diversity in people’s lives for the 21st century.



What would you want professional counselors who do not specialize in career counseling to know about this topic?

In our experience providing both clinical counseling and career counseling services, we have found that the models and methods of postmodern career counseling are applicable to counselors who work in various counseling modalities and specialties. To understand how this is possible, it is important to understand how career paradigms have changed over time, and how these changes have aligned with counselor education today. Career theories and interventions have evolved to keep pace with the changing needs of society. Thus, four career-service areas emerged during the 20th century: career guidance, career development, career education and career adjustment. Yet, as counselors attempted to apply these practices with clients, career interventions increasingly proved insufficient as social, technological and global changes affected people’s working lives. In fact, during the mid-1990s, vocational and career scholars began to reflect on an anticipated question posed by one astute scholar, “Where is the counseling in career counseling?” Given the changes in work, as we discuss more fully in the book, career and vocational scholars proposed a redefinition of the word career to fit the postmodern economy. Let’s look at vocational guidance as an example and the evolution of career counseling as a distinct paradigm and career service area.

A popular paradigm for career interventions starting in the early to mid-20th century was vocational guidance. Guidance met a societal need because of the changes in work organization. Although guidance interventions were successful solutions to the pressing social needs of their times, it remains the most popular model students learn about in counseling programs. John Holland’s congruence theory of vocational personality types and work environments is a popular example. The overriding goal of vocational guidance was, and still is, to promote the adjustment outcomes of success, satisfaction and stability. Vocational guidance, however, does not teach counselors how to counsel clients who experience career-related concerns, but helps clients enhance self-knowledge, increase occupational information and secure occupational fit.

The move from vocational guidance to an emphasis on more subjective aspects of career became known as career counseling. Career counseling began to distinguish itself primarily through the integration of a process-oriented, subjective and emotional domain. Career counseling began to possess characteristics used in personal counseling. For example, it focuses more on the characteristics of a quality counseling relationship. Although interest inventories are useful, they have an average hit rate of 40 percent. But they are convenient to use. If you can sit with a person, it is better just to ask them their interests and explore from there. Also, because emotions are embedded in all aspects of the client’s experiences, the subjective nature of emotion was particularly suited to career theory and to the emphasis on intervention rooted in psychological constructivism and social constructionism, which informs our book. Today, career counseling models and methods such as narrative career counseling, use of early recollections, career construction counseling, areas of life designing and others focus on emotions in motivational processes. Thus, career interventions have moved from individual differences and resemblance of types to individuality, uniqueness and context.

We would like students and counselors to know, regardless of specialty or modality, that clients who present with distressing symptoms embedded in various contexts often interweave concerns about their work life, coping with transitions, finding purpose and meaning and securing a sense of identity. Regardless if you work with marriage and family, addictions, secondary students or provide clinical counseling, there are parallels in how we help clients cope. For example, narrative methods in career counseling provide patterns of practice similar to family therapy traditions of contextualizing clients’ stressors and exploring how client’s identities and stories are constructed through family relations, attachment patterns and interactions.

Mark Savickas stated during a recent interview in the Family Journal that “individuals who know more about their family, know more of their family’s story, find it easier to tell their story and know their own story to be more resilient.” Assessing family influence in career counseling includes using the genogram, life-design genogram and assessing family constellation (all discussed in our book). As you see, this is similar to what we do in marriage and family counseling. So, as the narrative paradigm becomes more prominent in career counseling, it should resonate with more students, educators and practitioners.


Besides your book, what resources would you recommend to counselors who want to bring themselves up to speed in this area (focusing on client context in career/vocational counseling)?

Much of the career counseling literature that examines culture and context from a postmodern career perspective is highly academic and found scattered in counseling and psychology journal articles and various books. We recommend that counselors interested in postmodern career counseling first ground themselves though reading about the similarities and differences in constructivism and social constructionism in the journal article by Richard Young and Audrey Collin titled, Introduction: Constructivism and Social Constructionism in the Career Field in the Journal of Vocational Behavior. This will provide the serious student of PCC with an understanding of the epistemology that frames career counseling.

Next, because narrative is infused in many postmodern models and methods, the chapter by Paul Hartung [titled] “Career as Story: Making the Narrative Turn” in The Handbook of Vocational Psychology introduces the reader to the history of the narrative paradigm in the career field. For a good reflection on client context, Graham Stead’s article Culture and Career Psychology: A Social Constructionist Perspective in the Journal of Vocational Behavior is recommended.

In addition, several books provide a good presentation of practice in postmodern career counseling such as Mark Savickas’ Career Counseling; Larry Cochran’s classic book on Narrative Career Counseling, and Mary McMahon’s Career Counselling: Constructivist Approaches. Also, Peter McIlveen and Donna Schultheiss’ Social Constructionism in Vocational Psychology and Career Development discusses postmodern career counseling from a theoretical background.


Preparing for and working through transitions is a big part of a career advancement. From your perspective, what are some ways practitioners can support clients through work/career transitions – and the anxiety that may come with it?

In Mary Anderson’s and colleagues book titled Counseling Adults in Transition, I [Louis] came across a profound sentence that resonated with me, “Today, continuity is the exception, and adjusting to discontinuity has become the norm of our era.” It reflects that the nature of work and the meaning of career have been restructured over the last three decades, and is now characterized by uncertain, unpredictable and risky employment. Work insecurity can stem from the loss of a job or fear of losing a job, lack of alternative employment and diminished freedom to obtain and maintain specialized skills and advance in a position.

In our work, we have seen the effects of insecurity in clients include a sense of oppression and exploitation, demoralization, demotivation and even feelings of anxiety and depression. From a narrative perspective, identity is found in one’s stories. So, when unwelcomed transitions occur, a client’s life story becomes so challenged that identity no longer provides her or him with a sense of security and continuity, resulting in anxiety. Today, counselors are increasingly seeing clients who require help coping with and adapting to work-related transitions.

We believe that clients experiencing a transition benefit from counselors who are trained in the application of five fundamental features of postmodern career counseling: a) help clients create personal meaning and revise their identity through dialogue and relationship with a counselor; b) apply a strategic use of language which goes from reflecting reality to producing reality and meaning; c) adopt a universalistic stance, which assumes that every client has a unique cultural background embedded in and influenced by the context they live in; d) help clients shift their focus from society’s story for how they should live and work in the United States to the their individual story; and e) encourage the importance of turning to others for support rather than relying solely on self-reliance and independence expected from society’s new metanarrative.

Encouraging relational support is particularly relevant for the anxiety, confusion and grief that may accompany work-related transitions. To a certain extent, employees depend on colleagues or supervisors to provide rules, goals, clear promotional ladders or protection. These holding environments help individuals cope with situations that produce anxiety − but they are eroding. Today, if individuals can’t adapt by scripting their own stories to feel more secure, then career counseling using the narrative-based interventions discussed in our book can be useful. So, when clients find that their story concerning who they are and where they fit in loses continuity, postmodern career counseling helps them revise their identity to integrate new narratives into their ongoing life story.





Postmodern Career Counseling: A Handbook of Culture, Context and Cases is available both in print and as an e-book from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/publications/bookstore or by calling 800-347-6647 x222




Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.





Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.


Vocational counseling in HIV/AIDS communities

By Michael B. Drew July 6, 2017

Following a career-ending injury as a firefighter captain, I embarked on a new adventure as a doctoral student, attending the University of Georgia’s counselor education and student personnel services program. In a leap of faith, my wife and our three small children moved from Rochester, New York, to Suwanee, Georgia, where we quite literally knew no one. I remember thinking at the time that trying to make a career change like this made running into a burning building look easy. Fortunately, I was assigned to a rural HIV/AIDS clinic. The people I was about to meet there would welcome me and ultimately change my life.

As I stepped nervously through the clinic door and my eyes adjusted to the small, dimly lit room, I was greeted by a friendly man seated behind a makeshift desk. During the months that followed, I came to know him — and the important role that work played in his life while living with HIV/AIDS — well. For him, I think that returning to work by answering phones and greeting new visitors to the clinic represented a way to contribute to his community. His bright smile and warm sense of humor made him perfect for the job.

As we shook hands, he jokingly pointed to a piece of tape that stretched across the back of an office chair. On the piece of tape, his name was proudly displayed in handwritten marker. “This is my chair. … They let me work here!” he exclaimed.

Reflecting on that first day, I’ve come to realize that this was more than just an office chair — it symbolized his success in reclaiming a professional identity. What I learned from this inspiring man has since helped me reclaim my own sense of professional identity as I shifted from being a firefighter to a mental health counselor. This article is dedicated to his memory.


Professional identity

Each of us possesses many intersecting identities. Some of these identities are obvious, and others not so much. For example, if I didn’t share with someone my disabled status, it is unlikely that they would be able to tell because my injuries are internal, and I go about my day doing everything possible to keep it this way. But when I do share my story, people usually thank me for my service because for many, firefighters are like heroes.

I think everyone should enjoy this type of validation because we are all living courageously with different challenges. Some of these challenges include health problems or sudden loss of employment. In managing the complexities of HIV/AIDS, both of these factors are compounded, and the very real threat of social stigma can discourage a return to work, compromising personal and professional identity.

In all honesty, I can tell you that I’m still affected by a passing fire engine because firefighting is such a deeply internalized identity for me. Similarly, during initial intake and screening, vocational counselors may explore the meaning of work in the lives of their clients with HIV/AIDS, paying special attention to differences before and after infection, and any existential questioning in the wake of serious illness.

For some of these clients, HIV/AIDS was the impetus for them leaving work in the first place, resulting in changes to personal and professional identity. This means that counselors should help these clients explore feelings of loss in social and financial capital associated with their former work environments, as well as strategies for establishing new supports. Other important concerns include management of strict medication routines, side effects resulting from medications, fatigue, exposure to work-related stressors and the risk of contracting outside infections occurring in the workplace. By carefully exploring a range of vocational challenges with these clients, and the role of work in their lives, counselors can facilitate the process of forming new professional identities.


Situating vocational needs

Re-entering the workforce is increasingly possible for clients with HIV/AIDS, thanks in large part to continued advances in highly active antiretroviral therapy. These medications are used in combination to reduce the progression of HIV by preventing the virus from making copies of itself.

Thanks in part to such promising medical advances, vocational counselors can begin work with these clients by exploring myriad career opportunities and matching them with each client’s unique skills, interests and health needs. I should note that although returning to work may reflect a significant victory for people living with HIV/AIDS, counselors still need to understand the potential challenges facing these clients related to workplace discrimination, insurance denial and managing health care while working and caring for loved ones. Overlooking these realities risks setting up your clients for possible failure and, even worse, interruptions in health-sustaining insurance coverage.

A vocational model for the HIV/AIDS community (graphic designed by Michael B. Drew)


Meeting basic needs

President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy (2010) explicitly called for increasing career development for people living with HIV/AIDS and using innovative employment strategies to expand potential career options. However, most AIDS service organizations and their clients depend on federal funding provided under the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, including for life-sustaining medications. This leaves many clients feeling threatened under the current Trump administration and the possibility of budget cuts.

A possible consequence of this fear of lost benefits is that many people living with HIV/AIDS may feel pressure to find work that provides private health coverage. At present, federal funding is allocated for housing, medication and legal assistance, leaving very few clinics with the resources or vocational expertise to address the challenges associated with returning to work. For outside agencies that do offer career or vocational counseling services, most are not familiar or equipped to serve the unique needs of the HIV/AIDS community. This leaves many clients afraid to access these services when having to negotiate work accommodations, maintaining a strict medication schedule and coping with episodic symptoms that require frequent and unexpected leaves of absence.

For these reasons, vocational counseling in the HIV/AIDS setting is inherently complicated. This reflects the need to include such specialized services in the familiar and trusted space of AIDS service organizations, where professional networks and community partnerships are already in place.


The role of legal services

In addition to these formidable challenges, HIV criminalization laws currently exist in roughly half of the 50 U.S. states, leaving clients at risk for further marginalization in the workplace following intimate partner complaints and subsequent arrests and convictions. In some cases, these arrests have even resulted in prison sentences and mandated sex offender status, making a return to work exceedingly difficult.

This unfortunate reality is even more problematic for women, who are often diagnosed with HIV/AIDS before a male partner due in large part to having regular gynecological exams. This means that women are at additional risk for legal prosecution for “knowingly infecting their partners” despite the possibility that the virus originated from an accuser. This perpetuates a veil of secrecy, adding to the complexity of HIV/AIDS treatment options, particularly among infected mothers who may face persecution for passing the virus on to their children. Not surprisingly, such discriminatory practices become disincentives for HIV screening and follow-up care. Furthermore, surveillance reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014) reflect that African American women represent a disproportionate number of newly infected cases.

Given that more women than men are responsible for the care of children and elderly family members, vocational counselors should explore flexible work opportunities that align with individual needs. This should include legal counsel from the local community that is available for clients who wish to make informed decisions about returning to work.


Exploring career interests and abilities

In the wake of my firefighting injury, and facing a lifelong disability, I can attest to the significance of vocational counseling as an integral part of the healing process. This is a familiar narrative among people living with HIV/AIDS, who sometimes struggle to explain why they have not returned to work given their outward appearance of health. Counselors can help these clients respond to any concerns involving gaps in employment history, the need to update work skills, résumé writing, professional attire and preparation for job interviews.

This need for personalized vocational counseling remains largely unmet, however. The counseling profession can respond to this increasing demand for career-related services by attending HIV/AIDS conferences and workshops to learn more about living and working with the virus. Community-based partnerships are also invaluable. Many AIDS service organizations provide internship opportunities in which counseling students can gain field experience and insights into the process of cultivating new personal and professional identities.


Flexible career opportunities

Many individuals must manage episodic symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS. In response, vocational counselors can expand these clients’ career opportunities by helping them connect with employers that offer flexible scheduling or the possibility of working from home.

In dealing with HIV/AIDS, episodic symptoms may remain dormant for years, only to reappear and become disruptive to work scheduling and the person’s ability to perform routine tasks. Many clients are fearful that under such circumstances, employers will expect them to share personal information when they are absent from work. Managing personal privacy surrounding any chronic illness is challenging, and in the case of HIV/AIDS, an added threat of stigma remains.

It is important for counselors to share information with their clients concerning extended Medicare and Trial Work Period programs, which are designed with flexibility for people who have disabilities. This may help to alleviate concerns about losing Social Security disability benefits, which is a common theme among people living with HIV/AIDS when contemplating a return to work.





Michael B. Drew is a retired firefighter captain from upstate New York. Following a career-ending injury, he completed a bachelor’s degree in advanced fire administration and a master’s degree in mental health counseling and is currently a doctoral candidate in counselor education and student personnel services at the University of Georgia. Contact him at mbd01283@uga.edu.




Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.