Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Effects of Test Interpretation Style and Favorability in the Counseling Process

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Effects of Test Interpretation Style and Favorability in the Counseling Process

Article excerpt

Psychological tests are used frequently in counseling. When used properly, tests--or more precisely, test results--may enhance the counseling process and facilitate client change. Research has shown that many clients benefit from receiving feedback about their test results, hereafter referred to as test interpretation (TI; Goldman, 1971; Goodyear, 1990; Oliver & Spokane, 1988). For example, TI has been associated with positive changes in self-understanding (Dressel & Matteson, 1950; Rogers, 1954), self-esteem (Finn & Tonsager, 1992; Newman & Greenway, 1997), vocational choice certainty (Rubinstein, 1978), and career exploration behavior (Hoffman, Spokane, & Magoon, 1981; Randahl, Hansen, & Haverkamp, 1993). Yet, the mechanisms, or "processes," responsible for these changes are unclear.

It is somewhat surprising that despite their apparent usefulness, so few studies have been conducted on the TI process. In two comprehensive reviews of the literature, Goodyear (1990) and Tinsley and Chu (1999) located 44 and 65 studies, respectively, the vast majority of which focused only on TI outcomes. The lack of process studies has made it difficult to explain inconsistent findings across various outcome studies. In addition, perhaps because so little is known about the process, widespread variability exists regarding how TI occurs in practice. Insofar as it can potentially benefit clients, research is needed to link TI processes with counseling outcomes and, ultimately, to generate empirically based strategies for sharing test results with clients.

Two process-oriented research questions served as the basis for this study. First, how does a counselor's TI style affect a client's thinking about the results, the session, and the counselor? Second, how does the favorability of TI affect a client's thinking about the results, the session, and the counselor? The fast question may be tied theoretically to the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) of attitude change; the second may be tied to the Barnum effect (Meehl, 1956).

ELM

ELM is a popular and widely studied theory of attitude change, both in social psychology and in counseling (Heppner & Frazier, 1992; McNeill & Stoltenberg, 1989; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). According to this theory, messages are processed along one of two routes, the central or the peripheral route. These routes have been shown to have important consequences for the durability of attitude change. If, for example, a message is processed along the central route, that is, if the content of the message is elaborated upon and considered carefully and thoughtfully, then attitude change is more likely to be maintained over time. If, however, a message is processed along the peripheral route, that is, if the message is accepted merely on the basis of peripheral cues (e.g., communicator's expertise) without considering it carefully or thoughtfully, then attitude change is less likely to be maintained. Thus, increasing the likelihood of central route processing is important, especially if enduring attitude change is desired.

One way to increase the likelihood of central route processing is to increase the personal relevance of a message. This may be accomplished by involving a person actively in the process (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). By doing this, it is believed that the individual will be more motivated to process the message. Thus, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that by involving a client actively in a TI session, personal relevance may be increased, thereby increasing central route processing. To test this hypothesis, Hanson, Claiborn, and Kerr (1997) compared the effects of two TI styles, interactive and delivered, on clients' thoughts and their perceptions of the session and the counselor. Twenty-six honors college students who were participating in a three-session career counseling experience served as clients. …

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