Career Counseling and the Information Highway: Heeding the Road Signs

By O'Halloran, Theresa M.; Fahr, Alicia V. et al. | Career Development Quarterly, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Career Counseling and the Information Highway: Heeding the Road Signs


O'Halloran, Theresa M., Fahr, Alicia V., Keller, Jenny R., Career Development Quarterly


Personal Persnectives

Traveling the "information highway" in the process of career counseling or providing career counseling services via the Internet pose additional challenges for counselors. In this article, the authors use current ethical guidelines to guide discussion of, and possible resolutions to, challenges posed by incorporating the Internet into career counseling.

Although most counselors continue to practice face-to-face counseling with their clients, the Internet is quickly becoming a standard counseling tool for career counselors (Gysbers, Heppner, & Johnston, 1998; Harris-Bowlsbey, 2000). Career counseling professionals now must hold at least minimal competencies in the use of computers and retrieval of information on the Internet (Stevens & Lundberg, 1998). Some counselors may choose to develop and provide interactive online service. The number and variety of Web sites and the issues involved in infusing the Internet into counseling are major challenges. A recent search for career-related Web sites resulted in a range of sites, from 256 to 23,137, depending on the search engine and search term used.

One frequently used option for simplifying the search process is to use published lists of useful career Web sites. For example, Bolles (1998) and Harris-Bowlsbey, Dikel, and Sampson (1998) have offered recommendations of key Web sites for career counselors. The rapid change of Web site addresses and the need for frequent updating of information limit the usefulness of these lists of Web sites. The information on the Internet is not static, does not have a regular update schedule, and may be part of e-commerce, which affects the intent of the published information. Locating career-related Web sites is a quick and easy process, whereas narrowing them down and practicing counseling using the Internet as a tool can feel overwhelming.

In our practice, we recognized potential benefits and drawbacks in the use of the Internet in our career counseling. We were concerned that caution may have been thrown to the wind in the service of this evolving and flashy tool, the Internet, and therefore reviewed the National Career Development Association's (NCDA) NCDA Ethical Standards (NCDA, 1991) and the NCDA Guidelines for the Use of the Internet for Provision of Career Information and Planning Services (NCDA, 1997) to guide our practice in this new terrain. With no road signs to guide travelers, one can easily become lost, make a wrong turn, or have an accident on the new "information highway" and lose sight of some important practice issues along the way. We offer these information highway road signs for new counselors in the field and recommend that seasoned counselors pause along the road to examine their practices.

Pedestrian Crossing

Using the Internet in career counseling requires careful attention to the clients that counselors serve. Introducing the Internet into counseling and using appropriate measures of informed consent and confidentiality gain new importance. As the NCDA Ethical Standards (NCDA, 1991) state, a counselor's primary obligation is to respect the integrity and promote the welfare of the client (see Section B.1). As in all counseling relationships, a portion of the initial assessment should focus on identifying the most appropriate service to, and treatment for, an individual, based on the client's stated needs. When using the Internet, the NCDA Ethical Standards state that "career counselors must also ensure that clients are intellectually, emotionally, and physically compatible with the use of computer application and understand its purpose and operation" (NCDA, 1991, Section B.16). This also emphasizes the importance of selective use and introduction of the Internet in its proper perspective (see NCDA, 1991, Section C. 1). The Internet can be a useful tool for finding career information, job openings, and assessment tools; it is best used as an adjunct to counseling, and with caution. …

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