By Anderson, Sharon K.; Peila-Shuster, Jackie J. et al. | Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
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Anderson, Sharon K., Peila-Shuster, Jackie J., Aragon, Antonette, Career Planning and Adult Development Journal


In this article, we explore some ethical issues for career counselors to consider as they work with clients from nondominant cultures. We begin our exploration with an ethical paradox. The juxtaposition of career counseling's history, the National Career Development Association's (NCDA's) current-day commitment to multicultural competencies, and career counseling's five historical tenets illustrate this paradox. Next, we explore two ethical pitfalls career counselors can find themselves vulnerable to when they are unaware of racism, privilege, and oppression. We finish the article with two case scenarios to examine two models: the Ethical Acculturation Model, and the Culturally Appropriate Career Counseling Model (CACCM).

Ethical Paradox

The history of career counseling is steeped in ethical concerns. For example, the work of Frank Parsons called for social justice through the vocational guidance movement. This method of social reform looked to professionals to develop thoughtful career plans to assist and help protect youth (particularly those of immigrants and the working poor) from exploitation in the labor force (Baker, 2009). Given this background, the call for culture-centered approaches and culturally responsive techniques in career counseling should not come as a surprise.

Career counseling that incorporates multicultural approaches, which in turn utilize culturally responsive techniques, is ethical and beneficial for all clients. Individuals who seek career counseling assistance come with unique cultural contexts and experiences. The NCDA (2009) emphasized the importance of culturally responsive counseling by its adoption of the Multicultural Career Counseling Minimum Competencies. The purpose of the competencies is to ensure that all individuals practicing in, or training for practice in, the career counseling and development field are aware of the expectation that we, as professionals, will practice in ways that promote the career development and functioning of individuals of all backgrounds. (NCDA, 2009, p. 1) Career counselors are expected to develop multicultural competencies in career development theory; individual and group counseling skills; individual/group assessment; information resources and technology; program promotion, management, and implementation; coaching, consultation, and performance improvement; supervision; ethical/legal issues; and research/evaluation (NCDA, 2007). In addition, the NCDA code of ethics encourages career professionals to "understand the diverse cultural backgrounds of the individuals they serve . . . [and] also explore their own cultural identities and how one's cultural identity affects one's values and beliefs about the working relationship" (NCDA, 2007, p. 4).

From a different perspective, the profession of career counseling has a "professional cultural" lens that may work against ethical practice and comportment when it is serving clients of color. For example, some of the historical tenets at the core of career counseling that have long influenced theory, research, and career assessment appear to work in opposition to a culture-centered mindset. Gysbers, Heppner, and Johnston (2003) identified five central career counseling tenets that highlight some of the complexities diverse clients face:

Individualism and autonomy- According to this tenet, the individual is the primary career decision maker and thus does not take into consideration that the family unit or other stakeholders in the individual's life may be critical influences on career decision making.

Affluence- This tenet assumes that clients can afford to spend time in self- and career exploration, and perhaps can obtain additional training or education prior to making a career choice and getting a job. In truth, many individuals cannot afford this type of economic luxury.

Opportunity available to all- This tenet, which supports the belief that opportunities are available to anyone that works hard enough, does not take into account the barriers that oppression or discrimination impose.

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