External Problems – Career Counseling

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Many difficulties arising from other sources to impede or prevent the client needing career counseling from making effective choices.

Individuals often are inclined to say, "I'm my own worst enemy." They usually mean that many of the problems they face have been internally caused by inappropriate behaviors or attitudes, lack of self-understanding, or lack of skill. Very few, however, would agree that all their problems are self-caused. Those problems that originate outside the individual can be thought to be environmentally or externally related. In this usage the term "environment" is broadly applied to include not only the physical environment that surrounds the individual, but also the other people encountered by the individual and the social and psychological climate created by the interaction of those others with each other, the individual, and with the physical environment. These will be considered under the headings of need for social and environmental information, need for career-related information, and need for situational or social change.

Need for Social and Environmental Information

A frequently quoted saying states "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." But it certainly can be a means of producing great troubles for some individuals. Similarly, unfamiliarity with local custom, cultural attitudes, social and behavioral expectations, or accepted practices and procedures can lead to frustration and failure in interpersonal relations and in career development Clashes between the individual and society or some subsection of society may result from that person's lack of information, and the product of the encounter can be devastating.

The social and environmental information ordinarily needed by an individual is acquired in the developmental years from a variety of source! Much of the knowledge is provided by the formal educational structure that transmits information within the regular classroom and via the various contacts between the individual and teachers, peer groups, and others. Some information is acquired from extracurricular experiences such as clubs, athletics, school trips, lectures, and the like. Non-school-related activities, in eluding church groups, civic, fraternal, and social clubs, also provide part o the information acquired by the individual. Further, much knowledge comes from significant others, including parents, family, close friends, or additional people with whom the person has regular or important contact.

Learning deficits can occur for many reasons, including various failures in the system or in the individual. One frequently cited illustration o this problem is the absence of male role models for boys who grow up ii homes where the father is missing. Another example can be seen among children who have difficulty relating to a work-oriented society when the] have had no close contact with employed adults. Geographic mobility ha: also produced many problems that fit this category because many customs, attitudes, and practices are local or regional in nature; thus a youngster who grew up in a small rural community may encounter great difficulty in coping with life in the city.

The counselor, using traditional counseling techniques such as restatement, reflection, or interpretation, can help the client understand why and how his or her behavior, attitudes, or understandings differ from those held by peer group members. Such counseling reassures the client and helps engender confidence in the individuality apparent in the differences. However, this resolves only part of the difficulty faced by most clients since ii does not do anything to narrow that gap between the person and his or her peers. While the gap can never be eliminated, if we accept the idea that the individual is the product of the interaction of self, total environment, and the experiences encountered, much can be done to help the person acquire more comprehensive social and environmental information. Because behavior is usually evaluated in terms of local or regional standards, the individual who desires to "fit in" must overcome those learning deficits that produce the "different" behavior.

The public media provide one useful source of social and environmental information. These include newspapers, periodicals, books, radio, television, and so on. The client whose problem is identifying acceptable or customary modes of dress, for example, might be helped by viewing and discussing illustrations and advertisements in newspapers and magazines or appropriate television programs, or some of the instructional films, filmstrips, or slides available in most educational institutions. The individual who has difficulty with local dialect or speech patterns might use radio or television programs or educational tapes or records to increase understanding. All of these resources provide examples of symbolic social modeling. In addition to those resources normally available in everyday life, such as the local daily newspaper and local radio and television programs, there are vast resources available in public and institutional libraries and media centers.

Some information is unlikely to be in print or public media vehicles because of the currency of the information, its tendency to fluctuate rapidly, or other unique characteristics. Identifying people who have the needed information may be appropriate. Although consultation with lawyers and physicians is common practice, their counterparts in other fields are often overlooked. Very often the kind of information needed is a fairly common variety, for which there are many available consultants-peers, fellow club members, neighbors, fellow workers, for example.

Various agencies, public or private, fee or free, local, regional, or centralized may be appropriate sources for certain types of information. The person who needs a license for some type of activity, wishes to apply for citizenship, wants to determine eligibility for certain benefits because of parental veteran status, or has some similar problem may often be unaware of whom to contact to initiate action. Large communities may very often have an agency directory available. In other communities the information about local agencies is relatively difficult to obtain and use. If the counselor is not familiar with the appropriate agency to deal with the client's problem, he or she must be familiar with sources of information that will lead to identifying the agency.

The client may also, in some circumstances, be the logical collector of needed information. He or she may be able to apply basic principles of observation, listening, interviewing, or resource searching to collect the information. Occasionally the counselor may be the logical or appropriate collector of data. The client may need some help in identifying what to ask or look for, how to ask, whom to ask, and where.

Need for Career-related Information

Career education specialists have often labeled the first phase of career development as the awareness stage. This is the period in which the individual develops insight and understanding of self, and a broad comprehension of the general structure of the world of work, including its various components and how the system works. Awareness of the world of work is recognized as an essential foundation for later career development stages such as exploration and decision making. The awareness phase is an ongoing, lifelong process, but developmentally it is largely concentrated in the preadolescent or early adolescent years. Individuals usually have an adequate basis for exploratory and preliminary decision making by the tin they reach high school.

Counselors may often encounter clients seeking assistance in the career choice process whose awareness of work is so limited or distorted that it effectively blocks progress. Holland (1973) lists insufficient experience in learning about the work environment as one of five causes of maladaptive vocational development. Crites (1973) would describe such an individual as immature in career development. There is probably little advantage in attempting to determine the cause of the condition. There are, on the other hand, many steps the counselor can take to help the client overcome the condition. Providing assistance first necessitates determining the extent any type of help needed by the client. Some examples of the types of problems include inadequate or erroneous understanding of any of the following:
  1. How jobs relate to one another to form broad families or job clusters.

  2. How different jobs require different kinds of worker characteristics.

  3. The impact of job on the worker in lifestyle, income, status and opportunities.

  4. General relationships between levels of educational attainment and responsibility and status in work.

  5. The various educational and experience paths leading to different fields of work.

  6. The role and function of the various agencies and institutions available to help the individual successfully operate the system
The scope of missing information can range from little or no understanding of one or more of these general topics to quite narrow. An example of this more restricted type of problem is the lack of understanding of such matters as the admission requirements in highly competitive field, health standards for food preparation occupations length of formal training for highly skilled jobs, or public expectations of job holders in a specific occupation.

With all clients there is the possibility of resolving the problem in an individual or group setting. Group approaches include formally structured classes available in educational settings, and informal groups or workshops of variable length created by the counselor, a community agency, or an educational institution to help those with such problems. Individual help may come from the counselor or appropriate referral to someone else. Some states now provide for the preparation and certification of career information technicians or specialists who can be particularly useful in resolving problems of this type.

The resources available for assisting clients are numerous. They include printed materials that range from brief brochures to full-length books, and may encompass fictional presentations as well as purely factual statements. Audiovisual materials, including films, filmstrips, slides, and audio tapes, combinations of visual and aural matter, videotapes, and similar products are available for purchase from commercial services, or for rental or free use at many media centers. Programmed materials ranging from single page exercises to lengthy workbooks focus on many difficulties in this category. Computerized programs applicable to problems of this type are increasing. There are also simulation programs that are useful in helping clients acquire needed information

Clients are encountered occasionally who have well-developed and appropriate career plans and usable skills but are unable to obtain or hold a position because they cannot operate the system effectively. They may be lacking in interview skills, in interpersonal relations, or in understanding such basic job-holding characteristics as punctuality, regularity of attendance, acceptance of supervision, and cooperation with fellow workers. Counseling or job information materials or exercises may be sufficient to reduce or overcome the handicap.

Need for Situational or Social Change

Many clients face problems arising from their personal situation that impede or block effective career planning. These can be as varied as unsuitable housing conditions, transportation problems, indebtedness, money management difficulties, or paucity of opportunity. Problems frequently arise from relationships with significant others, such as restrictive attitudes of parents, spouse, or others, need for child care services, coordinating time schedules with those of others, interpersonal conflicts regarding ambitions, desired lifestyle, philosophy, and so on.

Our focus has not been on whether problems exist, but whether they impinge on the client with sufficient severity that they limit the possibility of successful choice counseling. This emphasis is particularly true of situational factors because such problems exist, to some extent, in almost every person's life. Client awareness of the restrictive impact of the problem may vary from a vague awareness to an intense and painful recognition of the precise dimensions of it.

Here the counselor's goal is to help clients realize that they can take charge of their lives and to help develop effective ways of dealing with problems so that they do take charge. Thus, counseling with these clients usually has two distinct phases or emphases, sometimes pursued sequentially and sometimes concurrently. The first of these involves counseling in a traditional or classical sense, aimed at helping the client develop insight and understanding of self, situation, am problems. The counselor provides a support system in which the client feels secure enough to look introspectively at his or her world, sort out relationships, build some understanding, and develop attitudes of self-confidence and self-direction. In the second aspect the counselor helps the client develop problem-solving or decision-making skills that are applicable specifically to the present problem or concern and applicable generally to future situations.

Both aspects of counseling are essential for the change in client. If the counselor focuses exclusively on the first phase, the client may develop complete insight and understanding, even to an exquisitely painful level, but may be immobilized in resolving the problem. If the counselor provides only "how-to-do-it" skills, the immediate symptom may be removed, but the underlying difficulty of lack of self-awareness will soon emerge in another part of the client's life. Either aspect of counseling, by itself, tends to leave the client in a dependent state. By helping the client who faces situational social problems develop self-understanding and decision-making skills, the counselor serves the basic goal of counseling to help the client be his or her own person and to be able to strive for the goals he or she has established.
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