The authors examine the usefulness of postmodernism in career counseling. Specifically, a case is made for broadening career counseling theories and techniques to feature the contextual influences inherent in each individual's unique career history. A career intervention, titled the Career-O-Gram, is introduced as a tool for exploring contextual influences on career development. A case study is presented to demonstrate the application of the Career-O-Gram.
Career development theorists focus on the plethora of developmental, psychodynamic, interpersonal, and sociological influences that affect individual career development. Inextricably combined with these influences are individual personalities, skills, interests, values, and knowledge of occupations. Developmental, interpersonal, social, and intrapersonal influences all combine in career exploration and decision making. Given the magnitude of interest in career development influences articulated from various theoretical viewpoints, it seems logical to deduce that exploring these influences with clients would be beneficial.
Examining multiple influences is a cornerstone concept of postmodern philosophy, which is currently affecting the counseling profession, in general, and, to a lesser degree, the field of career counseling (McNamee & Gergen, 1995; Sexton & Griffin, 1997). Postmodernism, also referred to as post-positivist or constructivist thought, emphasizes plurality of perspectives, contextual impacts, social constructions of reality, and the importance of the meaning individuals give to their experiences. From a postmodern perspective, theories (including career development theories) are not built on facts, but rather facts are derived from theory (Hayes & Oppenheim, 1997).
Proponents of postmodern career interventions (Peavy, 1997; Savickas, 1993) focus on exploring the meaning clients place on their careers. The emphasis here is on the contextual factors that influence clients' career development. Career interventions that are based in modern philosophy focus on identifying specific traits of individuals and then placing those individuals in corresponding career categories. Thus, modernists search for "fit," and postmodernists search for "meaning" in helping clients articulate their career goals.
Modern thought predominated in an era when an individual might expect to hold few jobs over his or her life span, and work was a thing to be "done"; it had little to do with the measure of personal worth (Kennedy, 1998). Postmodernism is alive in an era of fast-paced change in which career decisions take on personal meanings that are related to self-- esteem, and the concept of career is a lifelong and ever-changing process (Kennedy, 1998).
In the following sections of this article, we outline the views of researchers and counselors in the career development field who propose a shift toward postmodern thinking in career counseling. We conclude with a description of a tool designed to assess career development from a postmodern perspective. A case study demonstrates the perceived efficacy of this approach.
Postmodernism and Career Counseling
Richardson (1993) is a proponent of changing the direction of career development to encompass a more postmodern or social constructionist epistemology. She proposed expanding career development theories and decision-making models to include the acknowledgment of multiple contextual influences and subjective meanings that clients give to their choices of work or career. The concept of work includes activities both inside and outside the occupational structure that contribute to human development. Richardson (1993) noted, "If inquiry is limited to work in jobs and occupations, what might be known about people in the multiple and interacting contexts or environments of their lives is severely truncated" (p. 428). The concept of work also moves away from a focus on middleclass individuals who are typically engaged in what are considered "careers" (Savickas, 1993). …