Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Client Psychological Distress: An Important Factor in Career Counseling

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Client Psychological Distress: An Important Factor in Career Counseling

Article excerpt

The authors explored client psychological distress as a variable in career counseling. Forty-two clients in a naturalistic setting were seen for a total of 290 sessions by 21 counselors-in-training. The results indicated that (a) 60% of the clients were psychologically distressed, (b) clients' scores decreased significantly from pretest to posttest on psychological distress variables, (c) significant linear growth occurred in the clients' perception of the working alliance across sessions, and (d) the psychological distress outcome variables were significantly related to both the first session level of the working alliance and its linear growth.

There is growing recognition in the literature that client psychological distress is an important factor to consider in career counseling (Blustein & Spengler, 1995). Kates, Greiff, and Hagen (1993) pointed out that psychological distress can "accentuate the underlying symptoms and may lead to more pronounced psychiatric syndromes" (p. 164). Similarly, Herr (1989) argued for considering the role of career counseling in promoting mental health. He stated,

if one considers work and mental health to be linked ... and career counseling to be an effective process for helping persons choose work wisely and improve their adjustment to it, then, logic would argue for career counseling to be a useful process in the service of mental health. (p. 13)

Many other writers have made similar arguments. Although careful review of the literature indicates that researchers have explored some noncareer outcomes to career counseling, these have tended to be related to such constructs as self-esteem or locus of control rather than to more psychopathologically oriented outcomes. As Blustein and Spengler (1995) pointed out, "very few investigators have studied the effects of career interventions as a treatment for more significant problems in non-career functioning such as anxiety disorders" (p. 306). Career counseling has instead focused primarily on career choice and adjustment issues, using career assessment tools and techniques as well as career information to assist clients in resolving these issues. The emphasis has been on career outcomes, with little attention being given to any kind of psychological distress that may be present and that may even improve as a result of career counseling interventions.

Thus, because investigations of career counseling as a treatment for significant psychological distress have been virtually nonexistent, counselors know little about how distressed their clients are when they enter career counseling. One could theoretically conjecture that when one's career is in disarray, one would be more likely to exhibit depression, anxiety, and increased interpersonal sensitivity. In addition, one might feel less sure of personal and career goals. There is, however, little empirical data to demonstrate such relationships. Most counseling psychologists-in-training who are doing career counseling do not specifically assess for psychological distress or do not even recognize that it may be present; thus, data are not available regarding the potential therapeutic value career counseling may have for alleviating these symptoms. Because of this, little is known about what specific change mechanisms, such as the working alliance, contribute to positive client outcomes.

In integrating career and psychological adjustment in counseling, exploring the role of the working alliance is essential (Meara & Patton, 1994). It has been shown to play a pivotal role in the outcome of noncareer oriented counseling (Gelso & Fretz, 1992; Hartley & Strupp, 1983; Robbins, 1992). The limited exploration of the role of the working alliance in the career counseling process and outcome research has had equivocal results. Heppner and Hendricks (1995) observed that clients attributed significant importance to the working alliance. Similarly, Kirschner, Hoffman, and Hill (1994) and Gold, Kivlighan, Kerr, and Kramer (1993) found that the affective component (experiencing support and encouragement) accounted for a change in vocational identity. …

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