Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Contributions of the Working Alliance in the Practice of Career Counseling

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Contributions of the Working Alliance in the Practice of Career Counseling

Article excerpt

Recently a number of arguments articulated many similarities in the processes of what is termed personal counseling and what is called career counseling (cf. e.g., Hackett, 1991; Krumboltz, 1991; Meara, 1990). Most counselors, educators and others in helping professions, such as college student development specialists, know from experience that individuals present themselves for help in their totality whether that assistance is labeled advice, guidance, counseling, or psychotherapy. Those in search of assistance cannot compartmentalize their concerns related to self, relationships, or work in order to satisfy some arbitrary definition of a disciplinary subspecialty or a very narrow conceptualization of help-giver expertise.

Yet, the literature with respect to research, theory, policy, and practice often separates the world of work from other aspects of personal development and counseling. Occasionally, counselors do reflect on these conceptually similar yet de facto diverse phenomena. Such reflections are helpful, but they tend to focus more on making the argument that the two areas need better integration and less on providing suggestions for doing so. The purpose here is to assume the former, that is, that the argument for integration has been made, and to concentrate on the latter, that is, to provide a concrete suggestion for exploring how such integration might occur.


We hope to accomplish this purpose by focusing on the working alliance, a concept well developed in the personal counseling literature and, in particular, the psychoanalytic counseling literature. As we have noted elsewhere (Patton & Meara, 1992), we believe that psychoanalytic concepts are relevant for a broad range of problems in everyday life including educational and vocational indecision. In line with this belief, suggestions are given on how the working alliance may be fruitfully incorporated into career counseling practice, and brief thoughts for research and policy-making are offered as well.

Psychoanalytic concepts have been slow to influence both the career and personal counseling literature for reasons that have more to do with the diverse origins of psychoanalysis and counseling than with their usefulness in helping clients.

Psychoanalysis developed first within the Continental European intellectual tradition of the 1800s, and later flourished in the British and American medical traditions. In sharp contrast professional counseling traces its origins to public and higher education in North America, particularly in the United States, where egalitarian ideas of educating the mass and personalizing the educational experience for the individual student were prevalent. (Patton & Meara, 1992, p. xi; Schmidt, 1977.)

In addition, the field of vocational guidance developed from an heuristic atheoretical empiricism in the very practical and useful work of Frank Parsons (1909) and has thrived in both research and practice on what emerged from that work: trait and factor theories of job satisfaction, and cognitively oriented problem-solving-approaches to vocational counseling. The field of counseling itself owes much to the tradition of nonmedical counseling (Whiteley, 1984), which places little emphasis on psychoanalytic ideas.

A notable exception to this historical trend in vocational psychology and counseling is the early work of Bordin and his colleagues (Bordin, Nachmann, & Segal, 1963; Nachmann, 1960; Segal, 1961). The work of Roe (cf. e.g., 1957) can also be considered an exception and loosely psychoanalytic as she was interested in the influences of early childhood on subsequent occupational choice. These authors, however, concentrated more on the dynamics of vocational choice rather than vocational or career counseling, and their work did not have nearly as much influence among counselors and career development specialists as other approaches. We believe that a deliberate focus on understanding the psychoanalytic construct of the working alliance, whatever counseling approach or combination of approaches one uses, would enhance the change process in career counseling and the satisfaction of both client and counselor. …

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