Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Designing Lives and Empowering Clients: The Case of Sue

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Designing Lives and Empowering Clients: The Case of Sue

Article excerpt

This case response centers on the client Sue, a professional mediator who seeks counseling to resolve a conflict with her employer that threatens her vocational identity (M. C. Rehfuss, 2003). P. B. Baltes's (1997) Selective Optimization With Compensation model of human development and J. Heckhausen and R. Schulz's (1995) Life-Span Theory of Control are used to frame Sue's career development, identify her current control orientation, and assist her in making the transition from compensation to an optimizing strategy. Such a strategy aims to preserve her vocational identity while satisfying the needs of her employer.

A persistent theme discussed in contemporary career literature is that a gulf exists between career counseling and empirically based career theory and research. Practitioners argue that current research is too far removed from the client's subjective experience, whereas researchers argue that practitioners use antiquated instruments and obsolete career orientations in an attempt to resolve contemporary problems. A potentially fruitful approach to overcoming this stalemate and moving the field forward would be to demonstrate how recent theoretical advances can actually inform and enhance practice. Thus, in this response to the case study of Sue (Rehfuss, 2003), I combine some of the latest developmental theory with a subjective approach in order to assess and work with the client, Sue, as she finds her way through her career crisis.

Because many readers may be unfamiliar with the theoretical orientations that I use in this case response, I provide a brief orientation to Baltes and colleagues' (Baltes, 1997; Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 1998) Selective Optimization With Compensation (SOC) meta-model of human development and Heckhausen and Schulz's (1995) Life-Span Theory of Control. These contemporary models of human functioning can serve the interests of researchers and practitioners and act as a bridge linking the interests and needs of both.

The SOC process model of human development (Baltes, 1997; Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Baltes et al., 1998) asserts that development proceeds in the face of an ever-changing and developing person-context unit. This unit of study can be defined in terms of the unique facilitating and constraining conditions within the context of human needs and resources. Human development, from the SOC perspective, continues in an optimal fashion when a person develops and pursues a series of goals (selection) that maximize person-level and context-level resources (optimization) and mitigate current and anticipated weaknesses and deficits (compensation; Baltes, 1997).

The SOC model suggests that during the process of goal selection individuals examine their perceived sphere of influence, identify potential resources and deficits that are internal and external to them (e.g., talents and social supports, respectively) and that will facilitate or impede their goals, and then move toward achieving their goals by mustering their resources and minimizing the impact of their deficits. Aside from the person-specific resource/deficit ratio, however, the SOC model provides little guidance concerning the universal human motivations that affect target selection and subsequent action. Heckhausen and Schulz's (1995) Life-Span Theory of Control addresses this omission by providing a target-preference hierarchy that is centered on the construct of control and defines the distinction between primary and secondary control.

Heckhausen and Schulz (1995) asserted that humans prefer to select and control targets that are external to them (primary control) as a means of achieving goals and acquiring and maintaining resources. In plain terms, individuals prefer to change other people or things rather than central features of themselves. If a person experiences sufficient barriers that preclude exercising primary control, then internal targets like values, beliefs, and goals become the object of control (secondary control) in such a way that the chosen internal targets are modified to become more congruent with prevailing external limitations and realities. …

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