Career Counseling – Purposes for Initial Interview

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Essentially, there are three major purposes for the initial interview with the client who needs career counseling. These include: (a) establishing a relationship so that counseling can continue, (b) developing the client's psychological realities so that the goals of counseling can be conceptualized, and (c) agreeing on the structure and plan for further counseling and related activities. As Tyler has suggested, the first of these is absolutely essential, for without this foundation further activity will not occur. The sequence of the remaining steps may vary in specific situations; however, it is logical to assume that ordinarily some exploration of the client's concerns and needs would certainly precede any development of plans to deal with those needs.

One should keep in mind that we are not necessarily proposing that the first interview will break into three sequential sections that correspond to these three purposes. One can usually expect that client statements, questions, concerns, and needs may easily lead appropriately to some jumping about from topic to topic. More often than not, attention will be given to establishing a relationship throughout the first interview(s) and the other two purposes alternately provide the vehicle by which this is accomplished. Starting at a rather superficial level, one would expect more depth and detail to develop later as client trust in the relationship expands.

Beginning the Session

Counselors need to reflect regularly on the difference between counselor and client as the first contact approaches. All of the cards have been stacked in the counselor's favor: the counselor knows that he or she is kind, gentle, concerned, and eager to help; is familiar with the office and setting in which one meets with clients; has a fairly good idea of what will happen in the interviews; and expects to be able to do whatever the situation calls for-- after all, the rules and procedures were established by the counselor. The client, on the other hand, believes he or she has a problem or concern that can be resolved best by seeking help from someone else. Beyond that, the client has little information of substance about the counselor or the counseling relationship. Except for the trifling information that is obtained "through the grapevine," sketchy comments by other clients, modest efforts to advertise counseling services, or an occasional well-informed referrer, the client knows little about the counselor or the counseling relationship--a situation that inevitably must increase client anxiety and uncertainty.

Some school and college counselors are successful in minimizing client uncertainty by establishing personal contact before the need for counseling arises, usually in situations where the pool of potential clients is limited or perhaps individually assigned. Further, some clients, as a result of an earlier positive experience with a counselor, arrive without the overlay of anxiety described above. In addition, some counselors and some counseling centers have been so effective in informing potential clients of the nature of available services that the clients arrive almost "preconditioned" and ready to go to work on their problem. However, this is not true for most clients.

Thus, as we face the question of how to begin our first session, the only sensible global answer is the one on which the military has long relied: "It depends on the situation and the terrain." Our assumption will be that both client and counselor are starting essentially from scratch. Prior personal contact, familiarity with setting and services, or similar pluses may shorten the first interview somewhat but are not likely to change the basic structure and purposes.

Establishing Rapport

The common social courtesies that accompany any first encounter with another individual apply to the first counseling interview. The immediate preliminary matters, mundane but essential, include a warm greeting and self-introduction, indication of where the client may put any books, wraps, or similar paraphernalia, and an indication of where the client might sit.

Providing the client with comfortable privacy; demonstrating interest, concern, and regard for the client, as well as knowledgeable competency; and establishing an atmosphere of ease and a sense of rapport are essential ingredients of the opening minutes of the initial interview. To some extent, the personality of the counselor will determine precisely how he or she accomplishes each of these. This first contact between counselor and client is of extreme importance. During this brief period the client decides whether this counselor can be trusted, if he or she is likely to be of assistance and the counselor can build a relationship worthy of the client's time.

Beginning counselors often ask about what should be done once introductions are completed. The counselor's immediate concern is to help the client feel accepted and comfortable, so actions must be taken to promoting that feeling in the client. This will sometimes suggest that a few moments of "small talk" may be appropriate. One might hypothesize that counselor oriented topics are least desirable, neutral topics are only slightly satisfactory, client-oriented topics are much more useful, and, if they can be identified readily, topics of mutual interest are most advantageous. Since the counselor has only a very few moments to read the clues, it will often be necessary to settle for a client-oriented topic, for which suggestions are always more abundant. A move of this type is most appropriate if the client displays signs of hesitancy or nervousness and seems to need a little time to settle in and feel comfortable.

Once the client is seated, some counselors pause briefly, thus allowing the client to open the interview if he or she is ready to talk. While this allows the client maximum freedom to begin discussing any desired topic, it also can produce some discomfort if the client is uncertain or hesitant. A counselor who uses this technique should be ready to pick up, perhaps using some opening lead like one of those listed below, if the client fails to respond to the silent invitation.

If the client appears to be relatively at ease or is obviously problem-oriented, preliminary chit-chat is not only unnecessary but probably impedes the development of the client's feeling of acceptance. The counselor's gambit in this circumstance is to provide an easy, nonthreatening opening that allows the client to start wherever he or she wishes. Typical counselor statements might be:

"Would you like to tell me why you asked for a counseling appointment?" "How can I help you?" "What brings you to the counseling center?" "Tell me what you'd like to discuss." "What would you like to talk about this period/today/now?" "Where would you like to start?"

Counselors must learn to recognize and read the signs that are present during those first moments in order to select an approach that helps the client feel at ease as soon as possible. This requires adjusting the opening to fit the counselor's estimate of client attitude, mental status, concern, and self-control almost instantly. Obviously, a set approach for all clients is likely to be inappropriate most of the time.

There are real advantages in an opening that permits the client maximum flexibility. First, the client is reassured about any doubts or concerns elative to seeking counseling because it can be seen at once that some control of the situation has been retained. The client can start at the level and in the area where he or she wishes and where he or she feels most comfortable. Further, the counselor makes no assumption prematurely, thus reducing the possibility of a false start.

The client who is momentarily more concerned about procedural matters will ask questions in that area first. Counselor answers should be sufficient to reduce the concern or anxiety and they should be focused only on this interview. If preliminary consideration of structure seems necessary, it would ordinarily include a statement by the counselor of his or her view of counseling, the confidentiality of the relationship, the limits imposed on counseling and a request for client permission to tape or otherwise record the session if the counselor uses such devices. At this point in the session the concern with structure is only to meet the questions of the client or to establish necessary procedures such as taping. More discussion of structure will occur later when more is known about the client's concerns. The important point is that the counselor should communicate, by both language and behavior, that he or she is primarily concerned with substance--the client and the client's problem--and less concerned about form--the structure of the interview. Too much attention to structure early in the first interview may suggest to the client that the reverse is true. Often the receptionist (or whoever schedules the appointment) can easily indicate the amount of time assigned to the interview so that this question is already answered.

Client Openings

When the client opens with some statement that is problem-oriented, he or she should be encouraged to talk further. One must recognize and accept that most clients will be conservative and cautious in their opening remarks. After all, there has not yet been sufficient time to build very much confidence and trust. It is much easier for the counselor, in familiar circumstances and knowledgeable about procedures, to accept the client than vice versa. So, at best, the client's statement is likely to be somewhat vague and superficial, but it is enough for a starting point. The counselor can respond appropriately to encourage the client to express feelings about the topic presented with a variety of techniques such as reflection of feelings, restatement, and request for clarification, using language suitable to the client. Focusing upon client feeling, accepting the client warmly and non-judgmentally, and encouraging the client to select and direct early discussion helps to establish the rapport that permits the client to proceed. Gradually, as the relationship is established, the client can move freely to a broader consideration of the problem at a more significant level.

Tyler (1969) has stated that building this relationship can be assisted by finding out what the client wants, takes pride in, and is really concerned about. This suggests that establishing a counseling relationship and opening the psychological realities in the client's world are closely related. In other words, what we as counselors are trying to accomplish is to help the client feel sufficiently at ease to invite us into his or her world so that we may see "reality" from the perspective of his or her viewpoint. This is most likely to occur in the easy, comfortable conditions described above. Client's opening statements may provide considerable insight into the client's concern, be it largely innocuous, or even serve as an intentional or unintentional smokescreen. The counselor accepts whatever is said in a manner that helps the client expand and elaborate on that starting point. The counselor becomes able to evaluate the opening remarks only after the interview has continued for a time.

Classifying client presenting statements is difficult because each client is unique and comes to us with a unique set of previous experiences. For our purposes here we will consider three broad categories of such opening remarks. A few examples of each type are included in the following list:

The first purpose or objective--that of establishing a relationship so that counseling can continue--is ongoing and extends not only through the first interview but actually continues throughout all of the sessions. As the relationship develops, the counselor devotes less time and attention to this purpose, but it is safe to say that the point is never reached where this goal can be disregarded. Thus, even though little further discussion is devoted to this topic, keep in mind that, along with whatever other activities are concerned as the interview(s) continue, the counselor is constantly striving to maintain and enhance that relationship of trust and confidence.

With a viable relationship developing, the counselor can focus attention on the other primary purposes of the initial interview: to open up the client's psychological realities and agree on the structure and plan for further action. Often, some aspects of both of these already may have entered the picture. Any questions by the client or statements by the counselor regarding structure of the first interview touch to some extent on future plans. Similarly, as suggested above, the counselor really establishes a working relationship only as he or she begins to see and understand the client's world. Thus, to a lesser degree, the second and third purposes are also ongoing in nature. In other words, enough of a relationship should be established to encourage the client to give a glimpse of that personal world so that: enough structure can be provided to help the client open the door further; the relationship can deepen; and a plan can be proposed that aids the client in reaching his or her goals in counseling. If the relationship is progressing effectively, one can expect client statements to be spiraling in nature, providing both additional breadth and depth to earlier statements. A photographic analogy is bringing a fuzzy picture into sharper focus.

Answering Ethical Questions

At some point, the client will have provided enough information to permit the counselor to answer two questions: "Can I help this client?" and "How can I help this client?" While the counselor may choose to discuss both questions at some point where attention is being given to structure at future sessions, they must be considered and answered as early as possible. Unless the first question has a positive answer, the second question can only be answered with an appropriate referral. In some settings-for example high schools--the counselor may have prior access to client information from cumulative school records or from statements of referral sources, such as teachers or parents, to answer the basic question before contact with the client. Ordinarily, that is not the case when the client is self-referred.

In considering whether the counselor can help the client, the major but not exclusive, question is the professional competence of the counselor relative to his or her best estimate of the client's problem. If, for example, it appears that the client's need is for intensive psychotherapy at a level beyond the counselor's skill, the only ethically proper behavior for the counselor is to refer the client to a person or agency competent to provide that service.

Even when the counselor concludes that the client's need lies within the counselor's range of competency, there are several secondary factors that may lead the counselor to conclude that he or she cannot continue with the client. Examples of this type of question for the counselor are "Do I have the time in my schedule for this client?" "Do I have access to the facilities, materials, or equipment that will be needed to help this client?" "Does this client show sufficient interest and motivation to expect he or she will carry through the counseling process?"

A third factor must also be considered before the counselor can answer affirmatively that he or she can help the client. This factor relates to personal characteristics of the counselor and the interpersonal relationship with the client. Stewart et al. (1978) suggest that the counselor must ask "Do I have any personal inadequacies that would make it impossible to work effectively with this client?" Tyler (1969) expresses concern for the situation where the counselor feels a dislike for the client. She states that it is not unusual for a counselor to feel negatively toward a client at the beginning of the interview because of the client's mannerisms, language, attitudes, personal appearance, or similar reason; but if this feeling persists to the end of the first interview, the counselor should terminate involvement in the case.

Classifying Clients and Problems

Consideration of the two questions by the career counselor requires him or her to reach some tentative decisions about the client. Trait and factor theorists would refer to this decision as diagnosis, and developmentalists would likely use the term appraisal. Essentially, we are concerned with developing the best possible estimate of what is the problem, concern, need, care, worry, or difficulty on which the client is presently focusing. Obviously, the counselor's identification of this factor underlies the answer to our two questions, since attention to professional competence, case load, facilities, and the like, and any determination of future actions can only be considered in terms of the client's problem.

The counselor often feels some pressure to reach the point where these decisions can be made, and a sense of proper timing is essential. If the counselor decides too soon, the danger of error is greatly enhanced; on the other hand, delaying the decision results in inefficiency, loss of client time, perhaps even the development in the client of a feeling that the counselor is unsure or incompetent. Again, there is no easy answer to this dilemma. In some cases things fit together so neatly and so rapidly that the counselor feels completely confident to decide within a very few minutes. In other cases, a second or third session may still leave enough fuzziness, loose ends, incongruities, and uncertainties that the counselor feels the need for extreme caution. Recognizing that one may always be wrong and that later information may require revision of plans, the counselor should face this basic issue just as soon as sufficient data are on hand to make a reasonably good judgment. In most cases this will likely occur considerably before the closing moments of the first interview.

There are at least three factors that will help the counselor to identify a career counseling case. The first, and most obvious, of these clues is the client's presenting statement. If the client's opening remarks involve either direct or indirect reference to educational program, occupational choice or adjustment, or any aspect of career, one must consider the likelihood that the client is a career counseling case. Vague and indefinite opening statements simply require further information and clarification before any decision can be made. Remember that clients will sometimes invent some reasons for seeing the counselor, in order to determine if they can trust him or her sufficiently to discuss some other matter that they consider more personal, sensitive, or difficult to talk about. The counselor is not justified in discarding the client's presenting statement prematurely, because this subterfuge is sometimes used. If we are to be honest, forthright, and accepting with clients we must proceed with what they tell us. There is sufficient time to revise plans if or when the client tells us he or she is more concerned about something else.

Secondly, the counselor should listen carefully to what the client is saying in at least two senses. The words and statements used by the client are important. Equally important, or more so, are the feelings, needs, pressures, and uncertainties that those words reflect. If there is conflict between statements and feelings, primary attention should be given to the feelings expressed by the client. Helping the client to elaborate on these feelings ma; well lead to a better understanding of the words and language being used b; the client and thus increase the congruence between words and feelings.

The third clue is probably the most important and certainly is the most comprehensive. It consists of the counselor's overall evaluation of what this client has said so far, plus an evaluation of nonverbal factors observed since the interview started. The counselor uses all available data relative to client characteristics including physical status, behavior, functioning level, cultural and educational background, learning style and ability, stress patterns and self-descriptive statements. In those settings where prior data such as school records or pre-interview information forms are routinely used, the material from these sources is also filtered into the evaluation.

If all three clues suggest a career counseling case, the counselor has reached the point where he or she can begin to consider the second question of how the client can be helped. On the other hand, as long as the counselor believes there is conflict or incongruity among these three factors, the client should be encouraged to continue discussing the concerns and feelings that led to the request for counseling.

Until the counselor is quite certain that the client is presenting a career counseling case, he or she proceeds as any counselor would. The counselor actions described up to this point closely parallel the procedures discussed in most books on counseling techniques. This is exactly as it should be, since no planning can occur until the counselor has a clear picture of the client's concerns.

Having reached the decision that he or she is working with a career counseling case, the counselor ordinarily next considers what type of career counseling case is being presented. This step is necessary before plans can be developed for counselor-client action in resolving the difficulty. One must assume that such action is related to the nature of the client's problem, and this inevitably requires some type of classification system. Even though recognizing that each client presents a unique problem arising from the interaction between a unique individual and a personal environment, rather clear-cut clusters of these unique problems still can be seen. Thus, a classification, or diagnostic, system is used to suggest a basic procedure that is constantly adjusted to fit the uniqueness of the individual client.

It may be helpful to review briefly some of the typologies to provide a basis for the plan to be proposed here.

Williamson (1939, 1950), as a trait and factor advocate, proposed that career counseling clients can be divided into four groups. These were labeled as follows:
  1. No choice.

  2. Uncertain choice.

  3. Unwise choice.

  4. Discrepancy between interests and aptitudes.
Holland (1973) stated that maladaptive vocational development usually is produced by one of five causes. These five causes include the allowing:
  1. Insufficient experience to acquire well-defined interests, competencies, or perceptions of self.

  2. Insufficient experience to learn about the work environment.

  3. Ambiguous or conflicting experience about interests, competencies, or personal characteristics.

  4. Ambiguous or conflicting experience about work environments.

  5. Lack of self-information or confidence needed to translate personal characteristics into occupational opportunities.
Krumboltz and Thoresen (1969) have proposed seven types of problems that clients bring to counseling. Of these, only three are specifically related to career problems. These include the following:
  1. The absence of a goal, or indecision.

  2. Expressed feeling of concern about high aspirations, or un-realism.

  3. A conflict between equally appropriate alternatives, or multi-potentiality.
Crites (1969, 1976) has proposed a system that is somewhat more complicated, but at the same time provides definite advantages of comprehensiveness. He suggests that three kinds of diagnosis are necessary if one is to understand the client. These three types of diagnosis include the following:

1. Differential diagnosis is the effort made by the counselor to identify what the client's problem is. Essentially, this system attempts to eliminate subjective judgment and to depend upon identifying discrepancies between career choice and client aptitudes and interests. The categories used include the following:

A. Problems of adjustment-adjusted/maladjusted.

B. Problems of indecision/multi-potential/undecided/uninterested.

C. Problems of unrealism-unrealistic/unfulfilled/coerced.

2. Dynamic diagnosis is the attempt by the counselor to determine why the client has this problem. Crites is concerned with learning how the client has dealt with other problems encountered previously. For example, is the client whom Williamson might label "uncertain choice" and Krumboltz as "multi-potentiality" unable to choose because he or she is facing simple indecision, is this a more serious situation of pervasive indecisiveness? Exploring this area requires some examination of development and behavioral data. 3. Decisional diagnosis, according to Crites, is necessary because both differential and dynamic diagnoses are primarily concerned with the content of career choice but neither provides information about how the client makes decisions. Crites suggests that scores on the Career Maturity Inventory would provide information useful in evaluating the client's decisional skills.

Each of these taxonomies has certain advantages. One can also see high degree of similarity among the various systems. Most are relatively simple, easily applied and understood. However, as Crites (1969) has emphasized, persistent problems exist with such classification methods, including unreliability, lack of mutual exclusiveness, and lack of exhaustiveness. He attempted to surmount these shortcomings by developing the system described above.

Each taxonomy, including that of Crites, assumes that career counseling can proceed immediately with all clients, without regard to personal environmental factors that might impede or prevent successful counseling and subsequent follow-through. A more realistic approach recognizes that clients who come for career counseling bring with them all aspects of their lives. Some clients may be ready to enter the career counseling process, while others may need to resolve difficulties that would interfere with the process. Analogous situations can be found in many other aspects of life- for example, a student who wants to study a specific course may first need to complete prerequisite courses, or a person desiring to travel to a foreign country must first obtain a passport, perhaps a visa and required inoculations, sometimes special clothing, language skills, and other equipment.

The system that we will use suffers from some of the same disadvantages as other arrangements. On the other hand, it has the specific advantage of resolving the problem we have just been considering. It is relatively simple, provides a basis for client and counselor action, and avoids labels that can cause problems. Further, it is a system that is also appropriate to use with clients who are not career counseling cases.

Tyler (1969) has proposed a plan that seems to fit the needs of career counselors. She suggests that the counselor, on the basis of the evaluation of the client and the client's situation, can estimate the likelihood of the client having the "possibilities" to make and carry through decisions that are satisfying to the client and to society. If those possibilities appear strong enough to indicate a positive response, counselor and client can focus on choice. Typical clues for this classification include a fairly accurate client self-appraisal with no indication of actual or potential obstacles of serious magnitude, and client statements that suggest that career development has reached an appropriate level. On the other hand, if the client's statements suggest problems that limit or prevent choice, the counselor and client must focus on change. Clues that suggest a "change" classification include any indication that client assets and expressed goals do not mesh, or that physical, psychological, or environmental obstacles exist and are of sufficient magnitude to block or impede effective planning and execution of career goals. Tyler suggests a temporary third category of doubtful for those cases where the counselor lacks sufficient information to classify the client and his or her problem.

At the next level, depending on the initial counseling objective, both choice and change categories can be divided into two subcategories. Choice cases can be separated into those where client need is either for a comprehensive survey of possibilities or for a decision or commitment. Classification into one of these groups depends partly on the career maturity that Crites emphasizes and partly on other factors such as timing or proximity to completion of formal education. The individual who expresses great uncertainty about a career choice (Williamson's "no choice" or Krumboltz's "indecision") would fit into the first group. Someone who has progressed in career development to the stage of focusing on two or three possibilities but is having trouble selecting a specific goal (Williamson's "uncertain choice" or Krumboltz's "multi-potentiality") would represent the second group. Similarly, change cases are those who need either the removal of an obstacle that is blocking progress in a promising direction, or the development of one or more new possibilities not now being considered.

Tyler's classification system takes into account the present status of the client, his or her apparent potentialities, and the possibility of existing problems or obstacles that might prevent or impede making appropriate career choices. It provides a "holding" category for those occasional clients whose confusion, uncertainty, reluctance to be self-revealing, or other characteristics prevent an early and confident decision about type of case. Finally, the proposed system also provides for counselor-client goal-directed action based on client need.

Developing Structure

Having ascertained that the client's problem falls within the counselor's competence, and having also made a tentative classification of the client problem, including the initial objectives of counseling, the counselor is now in a position to discuss structure. Frequently, some reference or explanation of ground rules may have already occurred. For example, many counseling centers have a brief prepared statement, often included in the brochure describing services, assuring confidentiality, emphasizing the voluntary nature of the relationship, and identifying ethical responsibility. In other situations these items may have been included in the opening moments of the fir: session. If the counselor tapes sessions, some of these topics will have been included with the request for client permission.

Beyond these preliminary "rules of the game," some of which may have already been discussed with the client, the other aspects of structure that warrant special consideration. These topics can be discussed most effectively if they are presented in relation to the client's problem. It is for this reason that it seems most appropriate to delay this topic until sufficient data about the client are available to permit casting the discussion in those terms. When these topics are considered at the very beginning of the first session they must be discussed in very general terms. When consideration is delayed until later in the first interview, it becomes possible to approach matter from a viewpoint that emphasizes the client's needs.

Stewart et al. (1978) suggest that discussion of structure covers four topics including purpose, responsibilities, focus and limits of the counseling process. Shertzer and Stone (1974) state that structure consists of the way the counselor defines the nature, limits, roles, and goals within the counseling relationship. The extent to which each of these topics is discussed depends on client concern, degree of familiarity with the counseling process and whether the topic has already been dealt with as the interview progressed. Some authors suggest that counselors have an ethical responsibility to establish structure formally, others disagree. The recent increase in professional malpractice court cases suggests quite clearly that counselors must assure themselves that their clients clearly understand these aspects of structure.

The purpose or nature of counseling is much more clearly understood by the counselor than by the client. This situation sometimes causes the counselor to overlook the fact that this may well be the first encounter this client has ever had with a counselor. It is entirely possible that the client may have brought serious misconceptions that could lead to future complications and difficulties. The counselor should explain that counseling attempts to help the client to identify, understand, and cope with concerns or problems that the client has found vexing.

The counselor should also explore with the client the roles or responsibilities that each accepts in the counseling relationship. Clients often transfer to the counseling relationship their previous experience with physicians who may have prescribed medication or treatment for a particular problem, and expect the counselor to do the work while they passively accept whatever is prescribed. The counselor can use the time in establishing structure to emphasize clearly the active role of each participant in the counseling relationship and the necessity of the client assuming responsibility for completing assigned tasks and ultimately making and executing decisions.

Each counselor works under certain limits, some of which may be self-imposed and others that are created by the setting or institution in which the counselor functions. The kinds of limits to be discussed with the client would usually include any restriction on type of problem dealt with, the extent to which voluntary participation remains within client control, the confidentiality of the relationship, and the access to information by others. The counselor should also mention any constraints on length of interview time, frequency of appointments, available hours, and so forth.

Developing Plans for Counseling

Discussion of focus or goal leads logically to a detailed development of a plan of action for a specific client with a specific problem. For this reason, it is advantageous for consideration of planning to be taken up after other aspects of structure have been satisfied. If the topic of focus or counseling goals arises early in the first interview, the counselor can describe general procedures and point out that specific plans can only be made after more is known about the client and his or her problem. Before that specific plan is developed with the client, he or she has a right to know the various possibilities or approaches that the counselor considers appropriate. This general discussion of counseling focus can serve as a natural bridge to the development of a tentative course of action or plan that is specific for this client.

Having already made a tentative classification of the problem troubling the client, the counselor is ready to discuss those client needs that seen to be most pressing. If counselor and client agree on the nature of the problem, they next begin to establish counseling goals and appropriate action to alleviate that problem. Clients often may present several problems that stand independently or may be interwoven into a very complicated tangle. In either case, counseling is more likely to succeed by clearly agreeing upon one specific concern, among the many, to be dealt with first. This may even necessitate establishing some priority among the array of problems sc that first things do remain first. The classification system provides for an initial course of action that can be used as the basis for describing the plan of action being proposed by the counselor. One advantage of such a system is that it relates the counselor's plan directly to client need.

Although the plan will quite likely be modified somewhat as counseling progresses, it should be spelled out as completely as possible at this time. The client has a right to know, as clearly as possible, how much time (in terms of both interviews and independent assignments) he or she is tentatively committing and what kinds of activities, other than interviews, are likely to be involved. Client concurrence on goals and proposed activities is an absolute necessity, since the reluctant client is soon a non-client. Once counselor and client agree on the goals to be pursued and on a general plan, they should develop a tentative time schedule. This includes the counselor's best estimate of the number of interviews likely to be scheduled, their length, the usual interval between sessions, and the amount of time likely to be needed for other activities such as testing, participation in group sessions, or completion of assigned exercises such as collecting information from experts in various occupations, simulation, computer exercises, or tryout work experiences.

Understanding the Client's World

As previously indicated, the counselor may reach a decision to discuss structure and counseling plans either relatively early or near the close of the first interview or occasionally, only after a second or third session with the client. This negotiation should transpire as soon as the counselor feels that he or she has an adequate understanding of the client's major concern. When this occurs early in the first interview, the counselor may have developed only a very sketchy picture of the client's world. On the other hand, when negotiation is delayed, the counselor may have acquired as much information as needed at this point. Further, in some counseling settings the client is required to provide fairly comprehensive personal data by completing a questionnaire or form used by the counseling center prior to the first interview.

The counselor who feels that there are significant gaps in his or her insight into the client's psychological realities may wish to turn to further discussion of these areas. Only those topics that relate to the counseling plan deserve time for elaboration, and the relevance to counseling must be obvious to the client. Counselors disagree on how much information is needed to help the client. Some take the position that the counselor should limit himself or herself to that information proffered by the client. The result may be that information of great significance to the counseling process may lie hidden for a long time. Others contend that a fairly complete case history is necessary to assure counselor accountability and effective use of counseling time. The result may be extensive exploration into relatively unimportant topics and an increasing passivity on the part of the client. A middle ground seems most advantageous for both counselor and client. It appears reasonable to expect sufficient information to permit a good understanding of the client's present world or psychological realities and enough background to answer some of the "why" questions Crites (1969) suggests as dynamic diagnosis.

Topics that are frequently discussed with most career counseling clients include the following:


1. Client's view of self-- How does the client generally view his or her self and his or her world? What factors contribute to a generally positive or negative view? Which of these does he or she feel are within his or her control? If there are problems or negative factors, are they real or attitudinal? Does the client appear to take charge of his or her life, accepting both responsibility and accountability for present status and likely future status?

2. Client characteristics--What are the client's abilities, achievements, aptitudes, attitudes, interests, values? How well developed are each of these? How aware is the client of his or her strengths or weaknesses in each of these? Are these characteristics stable or variable? Is there evidence that the client is motivated?

3. Client's view of the future--Is the client positive and optimistic or apprehensive and uncertain? Has he or she reached the level of career maturity that is normal for his or her developmental peer group? What are his or her dreams and goals for the future? Are they fantasy or realistic, improbable or highly accurate?

4. Health and physical status--Does the client have either positive or negative physical characteristics that must be considered in developing career plans?

Family and Background

5. Family--Who are they? What kind of people are they? What has been their influence, past and present, on the client? How strong are the ties, loyalties, and desires of client to please family members? Which, if any, have been or are role models for the client? What are the attitudes of family toward the client? What are their desires, ambitions, and hopes for the client? What are the client's attitudes toward the family?

6. Educational background--What is the client's attitude toward past and present educational experiences? What has been this general quality of previous education? Has the client encountered educational experiences that have been either limiting and handicapping or challenging and growth-producing? Within this client's educational experience are there, or have there been individuals or experiences that are either extremely positive or negative in influence? Do client abilities, attitudes, and experience support the possibility of further education if unfolding plans suggest this?

External Factors

7. Work experience--What kinds of work (both paid or unpaid] has the client experienced? What attitudes exist toward work as a result of these experiences? Is the client evaluating his or her attitudes and experiences realistically? Has the contact with work (either vicarious or participatory) contributed to or impeded client career maturity? What factors, if any, from previous work contact have relevance for future career development?

8. Significant individuals--Who are the significant individuals in the client's past and present who influence career planning? What was/is their impact? Does the client assess their influence fairly accurately either positively or negatively? Does their presence or influence sustain and enhance or denigrate and restrict the client's view of self?

9. Significant experiences--What events have been influential in the client's life? How have they influenced his or her life? What previous decisions has the client confronted, successfully or unsuccessfully? How were successful decisions made? Why did the others fail? How has the client coped with difficulties, disappointments, problems?

Some or many of these questions may be irrelevant for a particular client. In other cases, even more detail about some of the general topics may be highly desirable. In still other cases, topics not included above may have considerable importance in both classifying the client and his or her problem and understanding the psychological realities that surround the client. The list above is not intended as a checklist, but rather is to show the breadth of client information that can relate significantly to the career development and career choice process that is often called career counseling.

Client attributes can easily be organized in checklist fashion, and sometimes that approach is helpful for the beginning counselor. At least it provides some reassurance to counselor and client that most client aspects pertinent to career counseling have been reviewed and are being considered in the counseling process.

A somewhat comparable approach to identifying important aspects of the client's world has been reported by O'Neil and Bush (1978), O'Neil, Meeker, and Borgers (1978), and O'Neil et al. (1980a, 19806). They propose that six broad factors influence the career decision-making process. They have asked career decision clients, in three reported research studies, to rate the degree of influence that the components of these factors exerted upon career decisions. The six factors and the component subcategories parallel quite closely the topics listed above. In these studies, sampling a total of more than 2600 individuals, they report the rank order of effect for the six factors to be listed below. The subcategories are listed under each factor to demonstrate the general nature of each factor.

Goals of Counseling

During this first interview (occasionally more than one may be required to reach this point), the counselor has been concerned with three main purposes: establishing a relationship so that counseling can continue, developing the client's psychological realities so that the goals of counseling can be conceptualized, and agreeing on the structure and plan for further counseling and related activities. The first of these purposes permeates all the counseling sessions, but probably the time and attention given to this goal diminish as rapport and trust develop. Thus, the remaining two goals really set the perimeters of the first interview. Once these two goals are satisfactorily attained, the counselor should turn attention to closing the interview. At least two matters need to be dealt with before that point is reached. These include summarizing the session's activities and arranging of immediate next steps.

Either counselor or client can summarize the main points of the session. There are definite advantages to either method. Usually, the primary reasons for summarizing are to be sure the counselor is understanding the client and his or her concerns and that the client understands and accepts the plan for resolving the problem.

When the counselor does the summary, one major advantage is expediency. Having the advantage of seeing many clients, the counselor can usually identify more rapidly and express more succinctly the major topics that have been discussed. If the time allotted for the interview is running short, the counselor can probably cover more territory in less time and still include the major topics mentioned by the client. A second advantage of counselor summarization is client reassurance. It can be most encouraging to the client to hear the counselor restating those items the client presented earlier-he or she realizes the counselor really heard and really understands.

There also are disadvantages to counselor summarization. Many counselors feel that the major responsibility for progress rests on the client. Thus any counselor action that involves leadership or responsibility may diminish client responsibility. This is probably less the case in career counseling, since the counselor must exert leadership at many points in the process. A more serious disadvantage can be the possibility that the counselor has missed some feelings and nuances that are important to the client and to the counseling process. As the counselor summarizes, the client may not catch the fact that these items have been missed or misunderstood by the counselor. Sometimes the client lacks the self-assurance needed to tell the counselor that something important has been ignored.

An advantage of client summarization is that the counselor has the opportunity to recheck his or her conclusions about client attitudes, client view of the major concern, and client understanding of the various points discussed. In other words, after the story has been pieced together during the interview, the counselor can now hear the client saying what he or she believes are the major elements of their earlier discussion. This also permits the client to benefit from his or her own synopsis of the session.

The major disadvantages may be client uncertainty about the amount of detail to include, perhaps a tendency to repeat factual matter rather than feelings and attitudes, and sometimes the belief that the counselor hasn't really heard him or her.

Another option does exist, and often may be most advantageous for both parties. This alternative has both involved in the summarization. Probably this mutual activity eliminates most of the disadvantages previously enumerated as well as retaining most of the advantages.

The counselor will ordinarily develop an approach to the summarization phase that fits his or her personality and counseling technique. Often it will be something like the following:

Before we conclude, let's spend a little time summarizing what has happened in this session.
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