Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

Linking Career Theories to Volunteering

Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

Linking Career Theories to Volunteering

Article excerpt


Within mental health fields, the study of careers and vocational interests has been extensively explored. The extant literature focuses on the interplay between prominent career theories and a multitude of other factors, including career choices for women, differences across ethnicities, age groups, and the disenfranchised. Of course, the literature is not limited to only these variables, but after an extensive literature review, I was surprised at the lack of literature and research on how career theories are linked to volunteering. The purpose of this review is to examine the ways in which career theories can be linked and connected to volunteering in America. Of the numerous career development theories, the tenets of Holland, Super, and Lent are used here as links to factors of volunteering.

An Overview of Volunteering

Volunteers of America, United Way, The Salvation Army, and local church or school fundraisers are all examples of ways Americans become involved in their communities by volunteering. Helping others in need is an important part of the American way of life; high schools and colleges, companies and businesses, social fraternities are examples of groups that encourage volunteering and community service activities. In 2001, 83.9 million American adults volunteered their time and the number is continually increasing (Independent Sector, 2009). The numbers of volunteers is equivalent to over 9 million-full time employees, while 89 per cent of American households each contribute annual monetary funds of $1 ,620 (Independent Sector, 2001). These numbers exemplify the everyday generosity of Americans, but who are these people that volunteer? First, a conceptualization of what it means to volunteer is necessary. According to the American Heritage College Dictionary (2002) a volunteer is "a person who performs or offers to perform a service voluntarily," with volunteering defined as "to perform or offer to perform a service of one's own free will" (p. 1538). From a psychological standpoint, Clary and Snyder (1999), described volunteering as a form of planned helping. They defined several key characteristics: "The helper must seek out the opportunity, the helper arrives at this decision after a period of deliberation, the helper provides assistance over time, and the helper's decisions about beginning to help and about continuing to help are influenced by whether the particular activity fits with the helpers own needs and goals" (p. 156).

Social psychologists have studied functional strategies in an attempt to understand the motives for volunteering (Houle et al., 2005). According to Clary and Snyder (1991), functional analysis is defined as, "the reasons and purposes that underlie and generate psychological phenomena - the personal and societal needs, plans, goals, and functions being served by people's beliefs and their actions" (p. 123). Volunteering is a prosocial behavior that not only benefits strangers (Marta & Pozzi, 2008), but also benefits the individuals that choose to engage in sustained and planned behaviors (Wilson, 2000). The benefits to the volunteer could range from improvements in physical health, mental health, finances (in the form of a possible tax deduction), and enhancement in interpersonal skills. As Wilson stated, "volunteering is causing good health" (p. 150). Wilson (2000) suggested that volunteering, or helping others, results in a reduction of disease risk, that the act of volunteering assists with maintaining good health. The helper develops social networks and strong community connections that act as defenses against stressors. "The altruistic features of volunteerism might reduce destructive levels of selfabsorption" (Wilson, 2000, p. 150), which suggests that there are buffers and healthy resiliency that volunteering provides to the helper.

Community connectedness and social integration are key components of volunteering as a social function (Clary et al. …

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