Narrative-Based Career Counseling Perspectives in Times of Change: An Analysis of Strengths and Limitations

By Stebleton, Michael J. | Journal of Employment Counseling, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Narrative-Based Career Counseling Perspectives in Times of Change: An Analysis of Strengths and Limitations


Stebleton, Michael J., Journal of Employment Counseling


There is an ongoing movement in the career development counseling field that focuses on narrative-based approaches.The purposes of this article are to analyze the factors that led to a turn to narrative career counseling, to examine the strengths of narrative, and to outline potential limitations. The literature review examined scholarly work in the career development field. Contributions from other disciplines (e.g., medicine) were integrated to provide complementary perspectives. The author contends that there is an appropriate place for narrative in career and employment counseling. Suggestions for addressing limitations and applications for career and employment counselors are highlighted.

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Personal stories identify and shape individuals. Stories inform life; they hold people together and keep them apart (Mair, 1988, p. 127). Career and employment counselors assume unique positions of privilege as listeners of these stories that are filled with the complexities of clients' human experiences. More specifically, these clients in need bring career-related stories of loss; of transition; of belonging; and of indecision; as well as of hope, creativity, and optimism. Narrative career counseling represents an innovative perspective that has received significant recent attention in the career development literature (Amundson, 2006; Brott, 2005; Bujold, 2004; McMahon & Watson, 2008, 2009). Yet, the narrative career counseling perspective can still be considered a work in progress (Reid, 2006). What are the strengths of using narrative-based counseling approaches, and why might career development practitioners opt to integrate these strategies into their practice? What might be the potential limitations of narrative-based perspectives, and how might practitioners address these issues?

The purpose of this article was threefold: (a) to briefly explore the trends that led to a shift in the interest in narrative-based approaches; (b) to outline the potential strengths and limitations of narrative-based career and employment counseling perspectives; and (c) to discuss practical applications and strategies for career and employment counselors, including possible avenues for addressing the obstacles of using a narrative-based perspective. Although the merits of narrative counseling have been highlighted in the literature (Brott, 2001; Campbell & Ungar, 2004; Chen, 2002), there is a dearth of articles that extensively examine the potential limitations, as well as the benefits, of using narrative-based approaches. With the current article, it is my intent to fill this gap. The objective is not to dissuade career and employment counselors from incorporating narrative perspectives into their work, but rather to consider the factors involved when deciding to integrate narrative approaches. This article includes an analysis of the literature on narrative approaches and provides concrete suggestions for career practitioners who want to use a narrative approach. Moreover, I contend that there is an appropriate place for narrative-based approaches to make a worthy contribution to the career development and employment counseling profession.

EXAMINING NARRATIVE-BASED APPROACHES: A CAVEAT

For purposes of this article, story or narrative can be defined as a collection of lived experiences that make up one's life-career, including transitions in paid and unpaid life roles over the course of a lifetime. When examining the benefits and limitations of any approach, including narrative-based counseling strategies, there is a tendency to compare and contrast features with other models of practice. Inevitably, narrative approaches--and other similar interventions based on postmodern theories--are analyzed in relation to the modern traditional career models (e.g., trait and factor approaches). According to Sampson (2009), modern and postmodern career theories should not be viewed as mutually exclusive. …

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