Reason, Intuition, and Social Justice: Elaborating on Parsons's Career Decision-Making Model

Article excerpt

Henry Borow (1964) once said, "it is the mark of a mature profession to know its heritage" (p. 45). The heritage of the counseling profession may be traced directly back to the early 1900s and the work of Frank Parsons, a "Renaissance man" whose career path actually transcended multiple fields, including college teaching, politics, and social service work. In Boston, Massachusetts, Parsons established the Vocation Bureau as the first formal career counseling center in the United States and planted the seeds of the counseling profession, which continue to mature and bear fruit more than 90 years later. In human life-span terms, 90 years certainly qualifies counseling as a "mature" profession. However, a profession transcends individual human lifetimes and the field of counseling that Parsons is credited with founding, as part of the vocational guidance movement, stands far from reaching Super's maxicycle stage of disengagement (Super, Savickas, & Super, 1996). Rather, our profession continues to grow, explore, and establish itself in new areas of theory, practice, and research (e. g., Savickas & Lent, 1994; Savickas & Walsh, 1996; Walsh & Osipow, 1995), thereby maintaining the fundamental vision for the counseling profession instilled by Parsons in the early part of the twentieth century.

A sense of the field's current level of maturity is gained by examining the roots of contemporary career counseling and development theory, research, and practice. It is well known to many in the counseling profession that these roots lead directly to Parsons and his seminal model of career decision making. Parsons's (1909) three-part model for the wise choice of a vocation remains an essential vision for contemporary career development and counseling (Swanson, 1996). Also included among Parsons's contributions to the counseling profession was a socially active and politically responsible vision of vocational guidance that would help all people to make satisfying occupational choices by applying "true reasoning" to match knowledge of self with knowledge of the world of work (Davis, 1969). Often, however, this fact is not adequately communicated in textbooks and courses dealing with career counseling and development, and it is certainly less well known. Parsons envisioned a practice of vocational guidance based on rationality and reason with service, concern for others, cooperation, and social justice among its core values.

In this article, we consider and elaborate on Parsons's most well-known contribution to career development and counseling. To accomplish this objective, we first examine contemporary perspectives on career decision making that include both rational and alternative models. Alternative models, as described in the vocational and career development literature by such scholars as Gelatt (1989), Krieshok (1998), and Phillips (1994, 1997), have emphasized process, emotional, cultural (e.g., decision-making style), and noncognitive factors rather than content, rationality, independence, and objectivity in decision making. Following Parsons's broad vision of social change, we then extend this discussion to elaborate on the role of the social contexts and opportunity structures within which career decision making takes place. Attending to social issues often remains the purview of sociology and other areas within psychology, with considerably less attention devoted to these issues in counseling, generally, and career counseling, specifically (M. T. Brown, Fukunaga, Umemoto, & Wicker, 1996). This proves unfortunate because, as history reveals, the roots of counseling and vocational guidance reside with Parsons in early twentieth century social and political reformation movements (Davis, 1969). Returning to these roots could ultimately lead the counseling profession to a renewed vision in the spirit of Parsons's work that comprehends career decision making as a socially situated process entailing purposeful reasoning and prudent intuition. …