November 18, 2011

5 types of homework suggestions for solution-focused career counselors

Career counselors use solution-focused principles and interventions more and more. Solution-focused career guidance is a bit different from traditional career guidance in several aspects. Firstly, many of the well-known solution-focused techniques are used, such as usefulness questions, scaling questions, desired situation questions, future projection questions, past success questions, and coping questions. Secondly, the solution-focused posture is used. This posture is not the posture of the expert who offers opinions and advice but a posture of not knowing. By exploring the perspective of clients and by asking focused questions clients are helped to discover how they can take steps forward. This posture of the solution-focused professional is sometimes called 'leading from behind'. Thirdly, solution-focused career counselors work from a different view on career development and -guidance than is traditionally the case. Simply put, traditionally, solution-focused career counselors work from a linear view in which successively is worked on these tasks: 1) analysis (of self and labor market), setting goals, 3) making a plan, 4) implementing the plan. The solution-focused approach uses a test-and-learn approach instead. This approach is not linear but circular and assumes that one primarily learns and grows by doing first and then analyzing (not the other way around). (more about this here).

Many career counselors give homework to their clients. Between one session and the following clients can do the homework so that their understanding may grow or progress in the desired direction may happen. Solution-focused career counselors can use homework too. It is impossible to provide an exhaustive list of homework assignments because the options are endless. Career counselors may not only give standard homework assignments but also customized homework which may be made up on the spot. What may be useful is to describe a few types of homeworkassignments and to explain how solution-focused career counselors may use these. Because solution-focused career counselors emphasize autonomy and choice of their clients a lot I'd rather not speak of 'homework assignments' but of 'homework suggestions'.

5 type of homework suggestions for solution-focused career counselors
  1. Behavior suggestions: When clients already have an idea about what they want to achieve and when they are motivated to try out things, behavior suggestions may be useful. Behavior suggestions can be thought of as tips to try out things which were discussed with the client (little experiments). It can be particularly useful to offer the suggestion to try again things which have worked before. Solution-focused career counselors can be quite inventive in their behavior suggestions. An example: when you have asked a scaling question and the client is now at a 4 on the scale you might suggest to try behavior which is at a 5 on the scale (thanks to Sylvia Woldijk for this example). A second example is the suggestion to use an effective networking strategy).  
  2. Writing suggestions: Solution-focused career counselors can give writing suggestions with a solution-focused twist to their clients. An example is to write about gratifying situations in their work. A second example is to write about things which they have done that worked well. A third example is to write about a future projection: describe the situation one year from now when you will have achieved what you want to achieve. A final example is to write down a preparation for a job application interview using the STAR technique).  
  3. Information collection suggestions: This suggestion may both refer to gathering information about job opportunities and to gathering information about  one's own functioning. An example of the latter is to do a 360 degrees feedback process. The way you gather this feedback can be made solution-focused for instance by asking about what the client has done well, about what they appreciate in the clients functioning and which opportunities they see for further growth/improvement (positively and concretely formulated). 
  4. Questionnaires: Traditionally, career counselors often use tests, questionnaires and checklists as homework assignments. Solution--focused career counselors tend to use these less frequently but this is not to say that questionnaires can't be useful. Some solution-focused career counselors have designed their own questionnaires. Others use standard questionnaires which they discuss with their clients in a solution-focused manner. Instead of providing expert-interpretations ("This test shows that you ...") they may ask things like: "Was it useful for you to take this questionnaire?" How was it useful?", "What ideas for a step forward did you get from this?" 
  5. Observation suggestions:  When clients lack a more or less clear idea about what they want to achieve and do not seem ready to take steps forward, observation suggestions may be useful. Observation suggestions are suggestions to clients to pay attention to what goes right between this session and the next one. Another example is to suggest to pay attention to which aspect of the client's work provide gratification. Observation suggestion can be surprisingly beneficial because they may help clients to develop a quite different perspective on themselves and their circumstances.  
Are you a career counselor? I hope there is some useful for you in these suggestions.

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