Applying Social Cognitive Theory to Career Counseling: An Introduction

Article excerpt

This special section of The Career Development Quarterly presents articles that extend social cognitive theory to the practice of career counseling. Readers of the Quarterly are likely to be familiar with the construct of self-efficacy, which has been the most visible aspect of social cognitive theory in the career literature. Developed by Albert Bandura (1986), social cognitive theory is a versatile model of psychosocial functioning that highlights the human capacity for self-regulation. In addition to career development, the general theory has been extended to many domains of behavior such as educational achievement, affective reactions, organizational management, and health maintenance.

An earlier version of Bandura's theory, termed social learning theory, inspired John Krumboltz's influential theory of career decision making (Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1990). Efforts to apply the newer social cognitive theory to career behavior began with Hackett and Betz's (1981) classic article on the role of self-efficacy in women's career development. Hackett and Betz's hypotheses stimulated a wealth of research on career self-efficacy beliefs. In an effort to integrate findings into a coherent framework and to elaborate additional, career-relevant aspects of Bandura's position, Lent, Brown, and Hackett (1994) recently presented a social cognitive theory of educational-occupational interest, choice, and performance.

To date, the career literature on self-efficacy and other aspects of social cognitive theory has been dominated by research reports and theory-building efforts. There have been few efforts to flesh out the implications for career counseling resulting from inquiry into self-efficacy and related constructs (e.g., Betz, 1992; Hackett & Betz, 1981; Lent & Hackett, 1987). The articles in this special section address this need by considering a range of purposes (developmental and remedial) and of client populations for which career interventions based on social cognitive theory may be appropriate.

Lent and Brown (1996) begin the special section with a brief overview of social cognitive career theory, providing a conceptual base for the remaining articles. Hackett and Byars (1996) then describe the theory's implications specifically for African American women, and Chartrand and Rose (1996) illustrate how the theory can be used in the context of developmental and preventive interventions for persons at risk, such as women in a prison rehabilitation program. Like Hackett and Byars, Chartrand and Rose highlight the interplay among cognitive (e.g., self-efficacy) and contextual (e.g., opportunity structure) factors. Next, Brown and Lent ( 1996) present several counseling strategies, derived from social cognitive career theory, aimed at assisting clients who are experiencing career choice dilemmas.

Finally, although most of the articles in the special section focus on the career client or other recipients of career services, O'Brien and Heppner ( 1996) consider the other side of the fence, in particular, the self-efficacy of counselors (and counselor trainees) regarding their own ability to administer career interventions. …