Constructivist and social constructionist career counseling: a Delphi study.

Author:Kang, ZiYoung

Constructivist and social constructionist (SC) approaches to career counseling highlight features not emphasized in other career counseling traditions. These features include social relations, meaning making, narratives, life themes, and self-creation in work and career that contribute to the appeal of constructivist and SC career counseling (Hartung, 2010). Although constructivist and SC approaches have been regarded as sharing substantial commonalities (Young & Popadiuk, 2012) and are often contrasted with positivist or modern approaches (Chen, 2003; Sampson, 2009), there remains no explicit consensus about the common features of these approaches. Chen (2003) noted that differences among constructivist and SC theories make identifying clear-cut, common features difficult. For example, Savickas (2005) used social constructionism as a meta-theory to develop career construction theory that integrates three main foci of career theories: (a) personality traits, (b) developmental tasks, and (c) life themes. On the other hand, Patton and McMahon (2014) developed their systems theory framework to help clients understand the multiplicity of influences on their careers--calling attention to a host of specific influences organized in a systemic perspective rather than focusing on the process of constructing an identity narrative emphasized in career construction theory. Differences in emphasis among career theories based in constructivism and social constructionism raise questions about their common defining features. Reaching consensus on the defining features of these approaches could help guide researchers, counselor educators, and career practitioners who examine and use career counseling approaches based in these epistemologies.

Definitions Needed for Research and Practice

We could find only three outcome studies of constructivist and SC career counseling approaches in PsycINFO (via ProQuest; www.proquest. com) when we used the keywords career and counseling along with either constructivist, constructionist, constructionism, or constructivism. We cite these studies to illustrate that constructivist and SC approaches have generally not been carefully defined as the independent variable in outcome studies. Grier-Reed, Skaar, and Conkel-Ziebell (2009) studied the effectiveness of a constructivist career course for a group of college students who had low scores on an academic aptitude test. Rather than focusing on the unique contribution of the constructivist approach, Grier-Reed ct al. viewed constructivism as a way to integrate the trait factor and the developmental approaches to career intervention. Although constructivist counseling can incorporate the trait factor and the developmental approaches to meet clients' needs, Grier-Reed and colleagues did not clearly define the distinguishing features of the constructivist approach they used. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the contribution of the constructivist approach from their study. In another study, Grier-Reed and Skaar (2010) sought to replicate and extend the earlier study by examining the effectiveness of the same course curriculum provided to general college students.

Di Fabio and Maree (2012) examined the effectiveness of life-design counseling and the Career Story Interview (Savickas, 2011). Although Di Fabio and Maree offered a detailed description of the intervention procedure, they did not provide information about the degree to which the actual intervention reflected the key features of the theory under study. To make constructivist and SC career counseling outcome research more useful, attention to treatment integrity is imperative. Treatment integrity refers to the degree to which a treatment is implemented as intended (Perepletchikova & Kazdin, 2005), and it represents an aspect of what Shadish, Cook, and Campbell (2002) called the construct validity of the independent variable. Assessing treatment integrity is an essential component of good evaluation research. However, no measures to assess the treatment integrity of constructivist and SC career counseling approaches have yet been developed. In this study, we aimed to identify distinguishing features of constructivist and SC career counseling approaches as a preliminary step toward developing measures of treatment integrity.

Organizing Framework

One of the challenges of constructivist and SC career counseling approaches is how to apply them to practice (McMahon & Watson, 2008). Patton and McMahon (2006) noted that constructivist career counseling has been described in ways that remain too abstract to guide practitioners. Furthermore, counselors may apply different career counseling approaches to meet different client needs (Savickas, 2012). Savickas (2012) described some precipitating situations and client emotional reactions that may indicate the suitability of SC counseling, but theorists have yet to identify specific guidelines about what kinds of clients' needs can be best addressed through constructivist or SC counseling approaches. To address these issues, we developed an organizing framework for this study.

First, we followed the guidance of Perepletchikova and Kazdin (2005), who suggested that a manual to guide intervention should (a) discuss the theoretical underpinnings of the intervention, (b) state rationales for adherence, (c) describe the characteristics of the intervention process, (d) spell out verbatim statements to be made by the counselor, (e) specify techniques, (f) provide examples of intervention operations, and (g) specify procedures for handling deviations from the intended intervention. This list of desiderata provided the starting point for an organizing framework for the present study.

To further develop an organizing framework, we reviewed two widely used counseling manuals--Cognitive Therapy of Depression (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979) and Client-Centered Therapy

In summary, we developed an organizing framework not to develop a specific counseling manual, but to extract common denominators of constructivist and SC approaches. In so doing, we excluded some-components proposed by Perepletchikova and Kazdin (e.g., verbatim statements to be made by the counselor, specific examples of interventions, and procedures for handling deviations). We used the following framework to devise Delphi questionnaires about the features of constructivist and SC forms of career counseling:

  1. Theoretical underpinnings, including propositions and view of human nature.

  2. Characteristics of the counseling process, including but not limited to (a) counseling process goals, (b) characteristics of the intervention process from beginning to end, (c) techniques (including use of assessments), and (d) guidelines and rationales for what counselors should do and not do.

  3. Nature of the counselor-client relationship, including but not limited to (a) desirable attitudes and beliefs of the counselor toward the client, and (b) characteristics of the counselor-client interaction.

  4. Range of applicability, including (a) clients' needs that can be addressed by constructivist and SC counseling, and (b) clients' needs that are not likely to be well suited to constructivist or SC counseling.

We designed the present study to address two primary research questions: (a) What are the defining features of constructivist and SC career counseling approaches that distinguish them from other career counseling approaches in terms of theoretical underpinnings, counseling processes, and counselor-client relationships? and (b) What is the range of applicability of constructivist and SC approaches? We used the Delphi technique (Linstone & Turoff, 1975), a research method widely used for consensus building among an expert panel, to address these questions.



A Delphi study requires qualified experts who have knowledge and experience about the issues under investigation. In the current study, participants were identified based on the h index (Roediger, 2006) delimited by the keywords career counseling (as a phrase) and one of the following words: constructivist, constructionist, constructionism, and constructivism. Delimited in this way, the index reflects a panelist's influence in regard to the topic of constructivist or SC career counseling. The Google Scholar database via Harzing's (2007) Publish or Perish program was used for the search. The invitation to the current study was sent to the nine panelists with the highest delimited h values. Eight of the nine panelists responded to three rounds of surveys.

Procedure and Questionnaires

We enlisted the participant who had the highest h index for help in recruiting the other participants. That participant agreed to send an e-mail of introduction to the other eight prospective participants with the attachment of a formal invitation from the first author. All nine experts consented to participate in the study. Except for the participant who sent the e-mail of introduction, no participants were told who else was participating in the study until all three rounds of surveys were completed. The formal invitation included a web link to the research consent information. Before we sent each questionnaire to the panel of experts, two full professors who have contributed to the published career literature with more than 20 years of research experience reviewed the questions. We then revised the questions based on feedback from these two reviewers. All three rounds of surveys were formatted in Microsoft Word and sent to the participants by e-mail. Participants completed their responses and returned them to the first author via e-mail.

Round 1 questionnaire. In Round 1, panelists were asked to provide their perspectives on what defines a constructivist approach and an SC approach to career counseling. Panelists were informed that they could limit their definitions to one of the two terms if they had not often used the other term in...

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