Effective career counseling involves addressing career concerns, along with considering contextual factors and social-emotional issues. In addition to students developing competence in career counseling skills, having confidence in their ability to use such competencies is important (Gysbers, Heppner, & Johnston, 2014). Facilitating career counseling self-efficacy is an essential aspect of counselor training, since there appears to be a relationship between counselor self-efficacy and more favorable counseling skills (Lent et al., 2009).
Mount Mary University's Counseling Program aims to develop a holistic learning community that prepares counselors-in-training for professional practice while developing a strong counselor identity, advocacy and leadership skills, integrity, and a deep sense of social justice. Our career development course focuses on career theories, the career counseling process and techniques, and technological information resources for occupational and educational guidance. Other topics addressed include: career and educational planning; interrelationships between work, family and other life roles; and, diversity and gender in the context of career development. Students apply their knowledge of developmental and cultural issues in career development and career counseling skills through service learning.
Changes in Self-efficacy
To better understand our students’ career counseling self-efficacy development, we collected and analyzed data using the Career Counseling Self-Efficacy Scale (CCSES) (O'Brien, Heppner, Flores, & Bikos, 1995). During the 2016-2017 academic year, students in the career development course were asked to complete the CCSES in the first and last class sessions of the semester. To determine if there was a difference in students’ career counseling self-efficacy from beginning to end of the semester, a paired sample t-test and effect size were calculated. Our students identified significantly greater self-efficacy at the end of the semester (M=77.31, SD=13.97) compared to the beginning of the semester (M=47.49, SD=17.06), t(76)= 15.11, p<.001, with a large effect (d= 1.72).
The Effect of the Learning Environment
We cannot know for certain all the factors that contribute to this increase in self-efficacy. However, it is likely that the course experience plays a role, as the growth in self-efficacy occurred over the course of enrollment in the career development class. As we reviewed the course and considered student growth we have observed, we identified five key ingredients that seem to be present in a learning environment that enhances career counseling self-efficacy.
1. Hands on learning: While there are times when direct instruction is provided in the classroom learning experience, students benefit from the strong emphasis instructors place on experiential learning through in-class and take-home exercises. Students practice administering, scoring, and interpreting career instruments and providing assessment results and feedback to mock clients/students. In addition, students practice career interventions in class and complete a career interview and genogram outside of class.
2. Service learning: Morgan, Greenwaldt, and Gosselin (2014) found that counselors "benefit from a more applied, community-based experience" (p. 492). We partner with local public school districts, university advising centers and community-based organizations to provide our students with opportunities to interact with youth and young adults in providing career related activities. For example, our students mentor public high school juniors during a three-hour academic and career planning workshop.
3. Integration of career theory: One of the greatest challenges our students face is the application of career theory in practice. Thus, we require students to incorporate career theory within multiple assignments. For example, one assignment involves students developing a career intervention for a population that is underrepresented in the workforce. With this assignment, they must include at least two career theories that influence the interventions provided. This leads students to visit and revisit various career theories and work through the application of those theories in practical ways.
4. Emphasis on self-reflection: A component of multiple assignments is an emphasis on self-reflection. Structured class time is also devoted to reflective discussions. Students are encouraged to reflect on their skill development and reactions to class activities. Students appear to benefit from the processing that occurs within these reflective activities, and they are encouraged to take action steps to address challenges or concerns that arise.
5. Performance feedback: Consistent with self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1977), our students appear to benefit from direct feedback about their performance in career counseling. Providing such feedback is important, as career counseling is a noted area in which trainees may not gain adequate supervision (Morgan, Greenwaldt, & Gosselin, 2014). Whether verbal or written, providing clear and specific feedback about what they are doing well and where they may continue to develop appears to help students improve on future career counseling-related skill demonstrations and assignments. As a result, students begin to feel more competent providing career counseling.
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavior change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.
Gysbers, N. C., Heppner, M. J., & Johnston, J. A. (2014). Career counseling: Holism, diversity, and strengths, (4th ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
Lent, R. W., Gali Cinamon, R., Bryan, N. A., Jezzi, M. M., Martin, H. M., & Lim, R. (2009). Perceived sources of change in trainees’ self-efficacy beliefs. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 46(3), 317-327.
Morgan, L. W., Greenwaldt, M. E., & Gosselin, K. P. (2014). School counselors' perceptions of competency in career counseling. The Professional Counselor, 4(5), 481-496.
O'Brien, K. M., Heppner, M. J., Flores, L. Y., & Bikos, L. H. (1995). The Career Counseling Self-Efficacy Scale: Instrument development and training. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 44(1), 20-31.
Terri L. Jashinsky, PhD, is an associate professor in the M.S. in Counseling Program at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, WI. She teaches various courses in the program, including Career Development. She is also one of the primary faculty members responsible for evaluating the Career Development course and implementing improvements based on ongoing program evaluation findings. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Carrie L. King, PhD, is the Counseling Department Chair at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, WI. She teaches school counseling courses, including Academic and Career Planning. She is also a member of several college and career readiness leadership teams at the local and state level including Reach Higher Wisconsin. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.