Individualized Career Counseling Outcome Assessment: A Case Study Using the Personal Questionnaire.

Author:Cardoso, Paulo

Career counseling has evolved to include practices that attribute a central importance to context variables and meaning-making processes. Accordingly, there is a need for client assessment tools that consider the subjectivity and cultural specificity of clients and the interface between their work and life concerns. The idiographic assessment of outcomes, which uses individualized measures that involve clients in the definition of person-specific items, is a promising approach. This article explores the use of the Personal Questionnaire (PQ) as an individualized outcome measure that complements standardized outcome career measures. The authors identity the factors leading to the emergence of idiographic assessment in career counseling, review existing research relevant to the need for the PQ, and present a case study of career construction counseling that illustrates how the PQ helps counselors to obtain sensitive and contextualized assessments of career counseling outcomes, guides interventions, and facilitates meaning making.

Keywords: outcome research, Personal Questionnaire, individualized PROMs, client-generated outcome measures, case study


Theoretical, social, and research developments have challenged career counselors to consider assessment tools that are sensitive to a client's complex singularity. The answer to these challenges may be found with an idiographic approach that uses individualized tools to involve clients in the process of tailoring assessments to their own unique realities. Individualized tools, however, are rarely used to assess career counseling outcomes. In this article, we present an illustrative case in which the Personal Questionnaire (PQ; Elliott, Mack, & Shapiro, 1999) is used as an individualized outcome measure to complement standardized career-outcome measures. The aim is to highlight the usefulness of the PQ individualized measure for career counseling research and practice.

Idiographic Career Assessment

Historically, nomothetic assessment has been predominant in career counseling research and practice (McMahon, Watson, & Lee, 2018). In this type of assessment, which is characterized by the quest for universal rules of behavior (McAdams, 2009), standardized tools are used to provide objective measures of career constructs, such as interests, aptitudes, values, and life themes (Savickas, 1993). Although occurring less frequently than nomothetic assessment, idiographic assessment has been present in career counseling, as noted in the pioneering works of Parsons (1909), Super (1954), and Tyler (1959). In contrast to nomothetic measures, idiographic assessments focus on the complexities of individual singularity and particular and situated knowledge (Savickas, 1995).

The emergence of constructivism has contributed to increased attention to idiographic assessment in career counseling (Whiston & Rahardja, 2005). Within this framework, the perspective of people as constructing reality through interpretive and interpersonal processes (Warwar & Greenberg, 2000) has led to a growing demand for measures that are sensitive to changes in meaning and the contexts in which such changes occur (Gysbers, 2006). A contextualized picture of the singular complexity of each client requires personally tailored methods that involve the client in die definition of measure items, according to an idiographic approach (Sales & Alves, 2012). In this sense, idiographic tools (e.g., card sorts, genograms, life lines, memory boxes) have begun to be used in career counseling to involve clients in the evaluation of personally meaningful career constructs (see McIlveen & Patton, 2007; McMahon & Watson, 2015).

The increasing mobility of populations has also created a need for counseling tools that address the career specificities of culturally diverse populations. The use of idiographic methods is recommended for culturally diverse populations, despite the increasing number of cross-cultural validation studies of traditional career-related variables (e.g., interests, values, self-efficacy, decidedness), because idiographic methods are more sensitive to cultural singularities, such as language specificities, cultural identity, acculturation, cultural values, and perceived barriers (Leong & Flores, 2015).

In sum, theoretical and social developments have increased the salience of idiographic assessment approaches that focus on the complexities of individual singularity and value the construction of particular and situated knowledge (Savickas, 1995). Idiographic assessment approaches can be implemented to evaluate career counseling outcomes.

Individualized Career Counseling Outcome Measures

Individualized outcome instruments allow respondents to select issues, domains, or aspects of their own personal concern (Fitzpatrick, Davey, Buxton, & Jones, 1998). Individualized assessment items are free-text propositions (e.g., problems) that are defined and rated for intensity by the client. The repeated administration of these case-specific measures allows for the assessment of change in the areas that are relevant to each individual. Individualized outcome measures (also called client-generated outcome measures [e.g., Elliott et al., 2016], patient-generated outcome measures [e.g., Sales & Alves, 2016], or individualized patient-reported outcome measures [I-PROMs; Sales, 2017; Sales & Alves, 2016]) have been used in medicine and mental health fields. Because these tools broaden assessment to individually contextualized aspects not covered by nomothetic measures (Sales, Neves, Alves, & Ashworth, 2017), they hold promise for contemporary career counseling.

To our knowledge, the Future Career Autobiography (FCA; Rehfuss, 2009) is the only individualized measure developed to assess career counseling outcomes. The evaluation of change in individuals' occupational narratives is determined by asking clients to write a brief paragraph about where they hope to be in life and what occupation they hope to have 5 years after graduating from college. This Future Career Autobiography essay is intended to be a short narrative evoking clients' descriptions of their career motives, values, and goals. The responses then facilitate comparisons between narratives before and after the intervention (Rehfuss, 2009; Rehfuss, Del Corso, Galvin, & Wykes, 2011).

Purpose of the Study

The effective use of I-PROMs in psychotherapy reinforces the importance of exploring these methods in career counseling outcome assessments. Use of I-PROMs responds to the call for using individualized measures at the outset of counseling to gain a clearer picture of clients' concerns and to better tailor intervention efforts to clients' specific needs (Brown & McPartland, 2005; Savickas, 2015). Idiographic assessment in career counseling could benefit from advances in the field of psychotherapy. The I-PROM used most commonly in the field is the PQ (Elliott et al., 1999). This well-established, evidence-based measure (Elliott et al., 2016) can be applied to a wide variety of research contexts, such as large-scale quantitative studies, case studies, or mixed-methods research. Moreover, PQ is suitable for integrating into routine clinical services for monitoring progress in counseling and psychotherapy (e.g., Antunes, Sales, & Elliott, 2018). PQ may also be useful for career counseling research and practice. We explored this possibility in a single case study where the PQ was used to complement a nomothetic career assessment system. We systematically contrasted results obtained from the PQ against standardized measures to gain an understanding of its advantages. This illustrative case adds to the rare studies using individualized outcome measures in career counseling. To our knowledge...

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