Counselor Actions to Facilitate Client Change During Life-Design Counseling.

Author:Tian, Xiaopeng

The authors examined whether and how counselor interventions foster client change during life-design counseling (Savickas, 2015). Two counseling sessions were conducted. Interviews with the 2 clients and the counselor after each counseling session were done in accordance with interpersonal process recall (Larsen, Flesaker, & Stege, 2008). The results indicated a scheme of counselor interventions that corresponded to client change. Specifically, the counselor fostered client reflection and reflexivity by (a) exploring original constructions, (b) identifying problematic themes in the constructions, (c) interpreting those themes, (d) identifying and recording client change and reflection, (e) connecting the themes to current issues, (f) facilitating a process of critical review, and (g) facilitating the reconstruction process. The results add a counselor's perspective to the research on client change and suggest a study of cases facilitated by counselors with diverse styles and skills that could further identify links between client change and counselor intervention.

Keywords: life-design counseling, counselor role, career construction interview, career construction counseling, interpersonal process recall


Life-design counseling (LDC) methods aim to help people cope with dramatic changes in the world of work by constructing their careers (Guichard, 2016). In the past decade, research has documented the effectiveness of LDC. Much of this research involved case studies of individual counseling sessions and self-guided career intervention. Results of these studies have indicated positive client change, including increases in reflexive action (Hartung & Vess, 2016; Taylor & Savickas, 2016), self-reflection (Cardoso, Goncalves, Duarte, Silva, & Alves, 2016; Cardoso, Silva, Goncalves, & Duarte, 2014; Hartung & Santilli, 2017), agency (Di Fabio, 2016; Maree, 2014; Taylor & Savickas, 2016), vocational certainty (Cardoso, Goncalves, et al., 2016), self-awareness (Maree, 2014, 2016a; Maree & Twigge, 2016), new career narratives that enhance quality of life (Setlhare-Meltor & Wood, 2016), satisfactory work-related contexts (Maree, 2015; Maree & Twigge, 2016), and willingness to deal more adaptively with career-related challenges (Maree, 2016a). Research on life-design group counseling and online group counseling has indicated similar changes for participants in the form of developing a unique sense of self (Maree, Pienaar, & Fletcher, 2018); fulfilling an identity (Barclay & Stoltz, 2016b); increasing career decision-making readiness (Barclay & Stoltz, 2016a; Di Fabio & Maree, 2012); improving meaning making (Lengelle, Meijers, & Hughes, 2016); and elevating career certainty, career self-efficacy (Cardoso, Janeiro, & Duarte, 2017), and career adaptability (Maree & Symington, 2015; Nota, Santilli, & Soresi, 2016). These studies were carried out in many countries and different cultural contexts, and the results were obtained from a diverse range of individuals.

In addition to verifying the effectiveness of LDC, researchers have studied stages of client change as well as suggested factors and mechanisms that foster reflection and reflexivity. Most of these studies have reported specific characteristics related to certain intervention methods that fostered client change. It is noteworthy that researchers produced clear operational manuals to guide counselors through specific LDC or group interventions, such as the Life-Design Counseling Manual (Savickas, 2015), The Life Design Theme Mapping Guide (Stoltz & Barclay, 2015), and The Life Design Group Guide (Barclay & Stoltz, 2016c), yet the actions carried out by the counselor were rarely mentioned.

While reviewing articles about LDC, Guichard (2016) commented that counselors played important roles in promoting client change. He also noted that counselors advanced several techniques for use in LDC, including general questions, reflecting on or echoing clients' words, requests for clarification, rephrasing, and synthesizing. Hartung and Vess (2016) stated that the counselor acts as an audience to provide clarity and validation. In so doing, they echoed the research of Del Corso and Briddick (2015), who described specific actions of the counselor as an important audience for helping clients explore their career stories, reflect, and compose powerful narratives. Although essential for effective counseling, specific counselor actions in LDC have not been well documented. Therefore, we focused on what counselor interventions foster client change in LDC and how those actions do so. We collected information on one counselor's intentions and actions and identified a scheme of counselor interventions that corresponded to client change.

LDC Process Research

As noted above, most LDC process research has attributed client change to characteristics of intervention methods or the intervention process. From these studies, Guichard (2016) identified several key factors: emotions when the client is telling the life stories, early or oldest life elements, life elements related to role models, and the use of metaphors to reveal something hard to express or discuss directly in dialogues. After a careful examination of these studies, we believe that these results indirectly reflect the role of the counselor in the counseling process but lack a record of the counselor's behavior. For example, Taylor and Savickas (2016) stated that being heard and validated were elements that prompted client change, and that counselors fostered reflexivity and agency by encouraging clients to consider the contrast between the two pictures drawn by the clients themselves: one depicting the current problems, and the other depicting the preferred state of the future. Maree (2016b) indicated that the most important process during the intervention was revisiting past thoughts and actions and suggesting how past stories related to the present situation. We were interested in how the counselor, following the guidance of the counseling method, carried out actions during the intervention that facilitate the client through these processes.

Several studies have used interpersonal process recall (IPR; Larsen, Flesaker, & Stege, 2008) to obtain thoughts and internal dialogue not expressed by clients during counseling. For example, Cardoso, Duarte, et al. (2016) and Hartung and Vess (2016) conducted IPR with a client after an LDC session and asked her to recall her thoughts and feelings during the counseling process. Reid, Bimrose, and Brown (2016) and Vilhjalmsdottir and Tulinius (2016) invited both clients and counselors to recall and review the counseling process. Their interviews with the counselors focused on recall of what change happened to clients during counseling sessions. All of these researchers either conducted interviews with only the client or conducted interviews with both the counselor and client but focused only on client change.

Purpose of the Study

We propose that in order to investigate how counselor interventions correspond to client change, it is important to study covert thoughts and feelings of the two parties in the same counseling process. Such study includes how client and counselor perceive each other's thoughts and how they perceive themselves, their intentions, self-talk, self-directedness, and internal experiences (Melton, Nofzinger-Collins, Wynne, & Susman, 2005). We focused specifically on collecting the counselor's intention and thoughts. We asked the counselor to carefully describe her observations of the clients, the counseling actions or techniques she used, and the intent behind her actions during these sessions. By putting together (a) the dialogues between the clients and the counselor, (b) the internal dialogue of the clients, and (c) the thoughts and strategies behind the counselor's intervention, we were able to describe the specific techniques applied by the counselor and the change elicited through the counseling.


Participants and Procedure

We posted a recruitment advertisement for 2 days on a local social network. Two clients who had identity and decision-making problems were considered eligible for the research. In accordance with the Chinese Psychological Society's (2007) code of ethics, we obtained informed consent and addressed confidentiality, research aims, and publication issues prior to the counseling sessions. The counseling sessions were carried out in March 2016 in the counseling rooms of a university in Beijing, China.

The first client, Zach (a pseudonym), was a 30-year-old Chinese man who worked full-time as a data analyst in the automobile industry. He was considering a job transition. The second client, Helga (a pseudonym), was a 24-year-old Chinese woman about to graduate from her master's degree program in finance. She was encountering some difficulties in choosing between two employment opportunities. Both participants received two counseling sessions 6 days apart. Each session lasted about 75 minutes. After the two sessions, both clients reported that their problems were resolved, and the intervention thus ended.

Counseling for each one of the two participants was conducted by the same counselor. The counselor possessed more than 500 hours of career counseling, and one third of her cases were conducted using career construction counseling methods (Savickas, 2019). The second author led the research team that consisted of a PhD candidate (the first author) and two postgraduates (the third and sixth authors), all trained in interviewing skills, qualitative data analysis, and counseling processes and techniques based on career construction counseling (Savickas, 2013, 2015, 2019). The PhD candidate led and implemented all of...

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