Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Applying the Happenstance Learning Theory to Involuntary Career Transitions

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Applying the Happenstance Learning Theory to Involuntary Career Transitions

Article excerpt

The happenstance learning theory (HLT) proposes a model of career counseling that helps clients to build more satisfying personal and work lives. Although reflective listening remains an essential part of the process, HLT is an action-oriented approach to helping clients to both create and benefit from unplanned events. Success is measured not by what happens during the counseling interview but by what the client experiences in the real world during and after counseling. A case study illustrates how HLT might be applied with a client who has been laid off after 20 years on the job.

The traditional view of career counseling has been one or two meetings with a counselor, wherein clients decided on the occupation in which they would be employed for the rest of their lives. However, over the past 2 decades, the profession of counseling has moved toward a view that career development is a lifelong process rather than a onetime choice (Hall, 2004). This view is particularly salient during times of economic crisis, when individuals are often challenged to change direction to retain or regain employment. The stress of economic crisis further supports suggestions by Blustein (2006, 2008), Krumboltz (1993), and Zunker (2008) that the distinction between career and personal counseling is artificial and unnecessary. Not only can economic stress create financial hardship, but threatened or actual job loss can result in significant psychological distress as well as disruption to family relationships (e.g., Larson, Wilson, & Beley, 1994; Noer, 2009; Paul & Moser, 2009). Outplacement counseling can be helpful in providing specific job-search skills, such as networking, résumé preparation, and instrumental social support, and these services can be helpful in addressing the problem -focused aspect of coping with job loss. However, instrumental job-search assistance may ultimately fail because it does not attend to psychological factors such as discouragement or depression related to extended unemployment and unsuccessful job-search efforts, which can affect the persistence with which one continues to search for a job (Moorhouse & Caltabiano, 2007; Paul & Moser, 2009). When a job search is further complicated by discrimination based on age, sex, race, or disability, the emotional effects of downsizing may be particularly damaging.

A core proposition of the happenstance learning theory (HLT; Krumboltz, 2009; Mitchell, Levin, & Krumboltz, 1999) is that during their working lives and even through retirement, clients may work with counselors who will help them not only think through issues related to paid employment but also with each of the multitude of issues they will face as they try to meet die challenges of life. The goal of counselors should be to help clients create more satisfying lives for themselves. Thus, HLT may be a particularly helpful approach to working with clients across a broad range of concerns related to organizational downsizing, which has effects across many domains of a client's life. Practitioners of HLT recognize that clients are often challenged to respond to events and societal inequalities that are outside individual control. However, by focusing on action rather than primarily on insight, HLT can help clients create small success experiences that can help restore their sense of self-efficacy. We provide a brief overview of HLT as follows and then address specific applications of this theory to an illustrative case of job loss.

HLT

As outlined by Krumboltz (2009), HLT is based on four fundamental propositions; the first is that "the goal of career counseling is to help clients learn to take actions to achieve more satisfying career and personal lives - not to make a single career decision" (p. 135). This approach is particularly suited to the rapid pace of change in the modern workplace. Even in meetings designed to assist students in selecting a first job or college major, career counselors should be teaching their clients to adapt creatively to changing conditions and new opportunities. …

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