September 17, 2010

Assumptions of solution-focused career guidance

One of the areas in which the solution-focused approach is applied is career guidance (see this article from 2004: Realistic career guidance). The solution-focused approach to career guidance differs quite a bit from a traditional approach. Here is an explanation of some of these differences.

Usually, in career guidance, the professional has the role of an expert. This expert usually administers different types of tests, determines what happens in the sessions and provides much advice to the client.  The dominant approach to career guidance follows a linear approach which, in a simplified form, can be summarized as follows:

Here is an attempt to describe some of the basic assumptions and approaches of solution-focused career counselors.

1. Career development is circular: the solution-focused approach does not follow a linear approach but a so-called test-and-learn approach (research by Herminia Ibarra shows that effective career development and change happens this way). This circular approach is based on the idea that clients primarily learn and progress by first trying things and than reflecting on them (instead of first analyzing and only then taking action). Examples of actions clients may undertake are: 1) trying out new professional activities in small scale experiments, 2) contacting new social networks, and 3) keeping on developing and refining your self-narrative (the story you tell yourself and other about who you are). Solution-focused career counselors facilitate clients to follow this test-and-learn approach so that they can make progress in the direction of their own choice.

2. Not-knowing posture:  An important difference with how many other career counselors work is that solution-focused career counselors assume a posture of not knowing. In everything they do, they build on the perspective of their client and don't prescribe any solutions. Instead they respond to what the client brings forward and ask questions aimed to help the client find out how to make progress. Solution-focused career counselors can, of course, choose the role of the trainer, for example for explaining effective strategies for networking.

3. Clients want to be autonomous: solution-focused career counselors view their clients as individuals who want to set their own goals and choose their own direction. Clients want to choose for themselves what they initiate and want to control as much as possible what they do. Solution-focused career counselors focus their approach on supporting and helping to fulfill this need for autonomy.

4. Clients want to be competent: solution-focused career counselors view clients as individuals who want to be competent, view themselves as competent and are competent. During the process the client may more or less aware of this competence. Solution-focused career counselors focus on strengthening their clients' sense of competence by expressing positive expectations and by helping clients become more aware of what they have done that has worked well and what have already accomplished.

5. Clients want to be related to others: solution-focused career counselors view their clients as individuals who want to have and build meaningful and caring relationships with other people and who want to make a positive contribution to others with whatever they do. By asking specific questions and responses, solution-focused career counselors help clients to fulfill and strengthen this desire for relatedness.

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