Career Counseling: Applying the Systems Theory Framework of Career Development

By McMahon, Mary | Journal of Employment Counseling, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Career Counseling: Applying the Systems Theory Framework of Career Development


McMahon, Mary, Journal of Employment Counseling


In recent years, career development and career counseling have increasingly been informed by concepts emanating from the constructivist worldview. For example, the Systems Theory Framework (STF; M. McMahon, 2002; M. McMahon & W. Patton, 1995; W. Patton & M. McMahon, 1997, 1999) of career development has been proposed as a metatheoretical account of career development. Furthermore, its theoretical constructs may be applied to career counseling. Thus, the STF provides a theoretical and practical consistency to career counseling and addresses concerns about a gulf between career theory and practice. This article discusses the practical application of the STF of career development as a guide to career counseling.

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For most of its relatively brief history, career counseling has been informed by the positivist worldview, with its emphasis on objective, value-free knowledge. More recently, the constructivist worldview, with its emphasis on meaning making by individuals, has been influential in advances in career theory and practice. Thus, at the beginning of the 21st century, career counseling finds itself being informed by contrasting worldviews.

Systems theory is fundamental to counseling modalities derived from the constructivist worldview, such as narrative therapy and solution-oriented counseling, both of which have been applied to career counseling (e.g., Cochran, 1997; McMahon, Adams, & Lim, 2002). Furthermore, systems theory underpins approaches such as sociodynamic counseling (Peavy, 1998) and active engagement (Amundson, 1998) that have evolved in the field of career counseling. What is significant about approaches such as sociodynamic counseling and active engagement is their capacity to encourage clients to locate occupational or work issues within the broader context of their other life roles and situations.

Illustrative of the broader context in which individuals exist is the Systems Theory Framework (STF) of career development (McMahon, 2002; McMahon & Patton, 1995; Patton & McMahon, 1997, 1999). The STF provides a metatheoretical understanding of career development that is consistent with the emerging constructivist position on career development and career counseling. Thus, it has the capacity to address criticisms about the gulf between career theory and career practice. This article presents the STF of career development as a map that may guide career counseling. First, I offer an overview of the STF at a theoretical level. Second, I discuss the practical application of the STF to career counseling.

OVERVIEW OF THE STF OF CAREER DEVELOPMENT

The STF of career development (see Figure 1; Patton & McMahon, 1999) presents a framework of influences on career development identified by the many researchers, theorists, and practitioners who have contributed to career counselors' understanding in this field. The term influence was deliberately chosen by the developers of the STF as a dynamic term capable of reflecting both content and process components of career theory. Content influences include (a) intrapersonal variables such as personality and age and (b) contextual variables that comprise both social influences, such as family, and environmental/societal influences, such as geographic location. The process influences include recursiveness (both within the individual and between the individual and the context), change over time, and chance.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The content and process influences are represented in the STF as many complex and interconnected systems within and between which career development occurs (see Figure 1). At the heart of the STF is the individual system, comprising a range of intrapersonal influences such as gender, interests, age, abilities, personality, and sexual orientation. In terms of systems theory, the individual is a system in its own right, with the intrapersonal influences that are depicted representing its subsystems. …

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