Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

A Social Cognitive Framework for Career Choice Counseling

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

A Social Cognitive Framework for Career Choice Counseling

Article excerpt

This article extends social cognitive career theory by suggesting how several of its major hypotheses can be applied to counseling persons with career choice difficulties. Several theory-derived counseling strategies are described that can be used to assist clients in developing a broad array of career options, analyzing and overcoming barriers to career choice, and counteracting choice-limiting self-efficacy beliefs. Each strategy is illustrated with a case example. Future research needs related to the counseling model are discussed.

Although social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994) may provide an empirically valid and unifying account of vocational interest development and occupational choice processes, its counseling implications may be less than straightforward. This article shows how basic hypotheses of the theory can be applied to clients who experience occupational choice difficulties. Specifically, we highlight three basic tenets of SCCT that we consider to have important implications for practice. We then describe specific counseling strategies (with case examples) that have the potential to help clients (a) generate a broad array of occupational possibilities that are as uncontaminated as possible by perceptual and cognitive distortions, (b) identify and overcome barriers to implementing preferred occupational choices, and (c) modify inaccurate self-efficacy beliefs so that optimum choices can be developed and implemented.


The basic hypotheses of our interest and choice models suggest three fundamental tenets that have important implications for treating vocational choice difficulties. First, because SCCT suggests that occupational and academic interests develop primarily from selfefficacy beliefs and outcome expectations, which may or may not match more objective indicators of abilities or reinforcers, some (perhaps many) clients enter counseling having already eliminated potentially rewarding occupational possibilities because of faulty self-efficacy beliefs or outcome expectations. Second, because SCCT posits that perceptions of barriers moderate the relations between interests and occupational choices, clients may be less likely to translate their interests into choices if they perceive insurmountable barriers to implementing those choices. Third, because self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectations are assumed to develop primarily from (self- and other) reinforced performance accomplishments, modifying faulty self-efficacy percepts and outcome expectations requires the counselor to help clients actively acquire new success experiences, review previous performance accomplishments, and benefit cognitively from these experiences.

It may be useful to illustrate the psychological and economic implications of these self-efficacy, outcome expectation, and choicebarrier processes with an example. Some mathematically talented women show low interest in math- and science-related occupations because their socialization experiences led them to acquire inaccurately low self-efficacy beliefs (e.g., Campbell & Hackett, 1986; Eccles, 1987; Hackett, Betz, O'Halloran, & Romac, 1990) or unfavorable outcome expectations (e.g., Eccles, 1987). And even mathematically capable women, as we suggest in two of our case examples, may not express interest in occupations requiring a moderate level of mathematics sophistication if they inaccurately discount their capabilities. Moreover, even those who accurately gauge their efficacy at math tasks, and who perceive positive outcomes associated with careers involving math tasks, may not elect to pursue such careers if they perceive significant barriers to entry, success, or advancement.

According to the first tenet, then, some persons may prematurely eliminate potentially rewarding occupational pursuits because of inaccurate self-efficacy, outcome expectations, or both. In such instances, we advocate helping clients to identify foreclosed possibilities and to develop more accurate perceptions of their occupational competencies and of potential outcomes. …

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