The Rise and Fall of Vocational Psychology: A Personal Perspective

By De Giovanni, Vincent | Australian Journal of Career Development, Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview

The Rise and Fall of Vocational Psychology: A Personal Perspective


De Giovanni, Vincent, Australian Journal of Career Development


This paper provides a personal perspective on vocational psychology in Australia. A number of achievements have been made through reading and research on this topic. Firstly, I am now far more knowledgeable about vocational psychology as a science, its beginnings and its historical development. Secondly, the scope for a complete study of this issue was clearly beyond what could be accomplished in either the time or the space available for this paper. Thirdly, and most importantly, my critical reading has revealed that in the same way as many of the authors referred to throughout this paper have taken a particular perspective and emphasised this through their language and focus, I have also been focused on my perspective. This means that rather than examining all information and opinions impartially, my approach has been to look for evidence and arguments supporting a personal position. On reflection however, I have decided this is not necessarily such a bad thing. It has forced me to be aware of my biases and at least be seen to take an even-handed approach.

Much of the most pertinent Australian data in this paper was obtained from less-than-rigorous academic or scientific publications. I obtained some I Refereed paper accepted under previous editor writings from anecdotal sources written by vocational psychologists involved in the development of vocational psychology in Australia, particularly in New South Wales where it largely began. I also had the opportunity to talk to former vocational psychologists who were variously tutored or supervised by some of these same pioneers, and who were around when some of the changes that led to the decline of the discipline actually occurred. Vocational psychologists such as Greville Booth, Richard Sweet, Raymond Field and James Hand were all past senior psychologists with the New South Wales Vocational Guidance Bureau (VGB). Although I may not be quoting any of these individuals specifically, discussions with all of them provided me with additional personal insights and further sources of material. It was heartening to know that I was not alone in this experience. Nixon and Taft (1977) also had to admit that:

   despite our best efforts, and those of the Australian
   Psychological Society's archivist, Will Pitty, much
   material which we believe should be included [in
   Psychology in Australia] resides only in the memories
   and personal papers of O'Neil's pioneers and consolidators.
   Much of what appears here is based on
   the experience of authors, on the history (mostly
   unwritten) of institutions; universities, colleges, commercial-firms
   and government instrumentalities.

The historical material examined that tried to place vocational psychology/guidance into a context suggests two things:

* vocational psychology was the forerunner of organisational psychology in Australia (see O'Neil, 1976; Feather, 1985; Nixon & Taft, 1977). At least one author suggests it to have also been the forerunner to counselling psychology in the United States (Anastasi, 1964)

* the application of psychology to work and industry grew from its roots in the guidance and selection of persons for jobs into other aspects of organisational structures and functions. Although in many ways still fundamentally related to those early developments in vocational psychology, these other aspects eventually took over in importance and recognition, relegating vocational psychology to a minor role at best, and outdated and prehistoric at worst.

There is a lack of clarity in the way the various subspecialities of occupational psychology have developed. I hope to illustrate this in my examination of the milestones in the development of this area of applied psychology. For the moment however, I return to an undated marketing brochure produced by the Australian Psychological Society entitled, Psychologists: What do they do? How can they help? …

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