The Relationship between Cognitive Development and Career Decision Making: Implications for the Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling Process

By Klim, Brian M. | Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Cognitive Development and Career Decision Making: Implications for the Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling Process


Klim, Brian M., Career Planning and Adult Development Journal


"Career development theories can be considered cognitive development theories as well." This statement by Dr. Susan KHm in her examination of the relationship between level of cognitive development and career decision-making, has particular relevance for vocational rehabilitation practitioners. A significant number of the clients they serve have either a cognitive impairment, a learning disability, or a major mental illness or psychiatric diagnosis which impairs cognitive functioning in areas where ego strength is required for the analytical activities regarding definition of self and perceptions of the world around them. The implication for the vocational rehabilitation counselor is that they must create a process of career decision-making for their client that attempts to compensate for their client's cognitive deficits while at the same time seeking to enhance their ego strength by structuring involvement in vocational activities that result in ego enhancing outcomes. For instance, in dealing with clients with a history of addiction, there is a particular dynamic which can be described as "shooting for the moon." This revolves around the client choosing a career goal that is far beyond what their past performance would indicate is a realistic option. They may then spend years on a subsidized road towards this goal, which will never be reached. Clients with a history of addictive behaviors may tend to reject counselor suggestions for intermediate steps, or refuse the counselor's attempts to prescribe information gathering homework assignments. There may be a tendency to look at outside factors as the reason for lack of success, rather than the goal itself, or their own failure to follow through on the smaller tasks necessary to achieve progress. For individuals whose career development or academic preparation was interrupted by psychiatric problems or serious physical injury, it can be difficult to accept that their previous goal may now be unrealistic. They may see the counselor as unsupportive if they do not concur with their desired aim career-wise. Review of data from the client's history contrasted with the requirements of the particular vocational goal may help them to see that their expressed goal is not feasible. Working to achieve a workable compromise becomes the challenge. Continuing to encourage client responsibility in the vocational exploration process with clear tasks is important.

A statement in Dr. Klim's preceding article which deserves strong attention is that, in reference to Peterson, Sampson, et al's emphasis on process in their approach to career decision-making and the delivery of career services, there is rarely one correct solution and each solution presents a new set of problems to be solved. For many who come for vocational rehabilitation services and for many who go through the career choice process, their self-perceived options are limited by geographic proximity to their comfort zone, such as parameters set by the need to live in family supported housing. For many, the "day job" becomes a "career." Collecting information about the world of work often has more to do with collecting information on jobs in their county or town or neighborhood. For instance, I observed as a vocational counselor in Rhode Island, one of the smallest states in the U.S., it was commonly acknowledged that many clients would not consider a job requiring travel to even the next town, despite the availability of private or public transportation. This is in sharp contrast to many workers in that area that on a daily basis travel as far as Boston, an hour or longer away, to practice their profession or trade.

Dr. Klim writes that career development involves both vocational exploration and self-concept development, and that interests, abilities and values are more clearly delineated as an individual moves through the process. The imperative for the vocational rehabilitation counselor is to guide the client through the information gathering process. …

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