Using life design with vulnerable youth.

Author:Setlhare-Meltor, Rubina

Career counseling processes normed for Western contexts may not folly address the needs of vulnerable youth in disadvantaged, non-Western contexts. Therefore, this study examined the utility of a narrative career counseling process within the life-design paradigm for assisting a former street child to successfully shape his future career narrative. Report of a case study suggested that the life-design process assisted the client in designing a future career narrative that would enhance his quality of life. Although the study is based on 1 particular case, the findings may have significance for improving career counseling for vulnerable individuals.

Keywords: career narrative, life design, narrative career counseling, resilience, street child


A large segment of the South African population lives in poverty (Statistics South Africa, 2013), which severely limits their life and career choices. This suggests a need for career counseling processes alternative to those developed for contexts where further education and formal employment are easier to access (Maree, 2013a). The challenge with career counseling developed from a Western perspective (Akhurst & Mkhize, 2006) is that it has relevance for only a small proportion of South Africans: those who attended better resourced education institutions and who possess the necessary level of social capital required to navigate the employment market (Watson, 2010). Vulnerable, poverty-stricken individuals experience huge obstacles in this regard (Maree, 2013b).

Psychometric career assessments normed for more affluent Western contexts (Maree, 2013b) tend to be based on theories that are not congruent with the social structures, value systems, and economic realities of vulnerable populations, such as South African street children (Ward & Seager, 2010), who experience severe socioeconomic challenges as a daily reality (Ennew & Swart-Kruger, 2003). Their disrupted schooling does not allow them to benefit from traditional psychometric career assessments, because they lack work-related information and career planning skills that typically are gained through a better quality school experience (Malindi & Machenjedze, 2012). As with other vulnerable populations, street children generally lack the necessary social capital and skills for accessing relevant community resources that would allow them to become employable, and, additionally, they are not easily able to access skills training or further qualifications (Malindi & Machenjedze, 2012).

Fortunately, recent developments in career counseling theory and practice, including advancement of the life-design paradigm (Savickas et al., 2009), have potential benefits for children from backgrounds characterized by poor and unstable schooling. Maree (2013a) referred to a new wave in career counseling theory and practice "aimed at empowering clients to reflect on their life stories in order to identify their main life themes on the basis of which they can construct their careers" (p. 19). This narrative approach is set within a philosophical framework that puts ownership of the process with the client. Clients relate and then recreate personal narratives that influence the career choices they make (Savickas, 2011). The counselor guides this process using purposeful activities (Maree, 2007) with regular reflections so that clients can identify assets and challenges in their narratives to construct alternative future narratives (Maree, 2013a).

The present case study examined the relevance of a narrative career counseling approach (Maree, 2013a) for former street children. We were interested in how a late adolescent, recently from the streets, might be assisted to design an alternative, more hopeful future career narrative. In addressing the question, we first outline the theoretical framework of a narrative approach (Maree, 2007). We then describe the research methodology and discuss the process. We conclude by discussing the significance of a narrative approach (Maree, 2007) for use with a former street child.

Theoretical Framework and Counseling Process

Narrative career counseling acknowledges clients' distinctive individual realities (Chen, 2007; Maree, 2007). In so doing, clients develop an appreciation for their past experiences that then motivate them to deconstruct, reconstruct, and coconstruct their life narratives (Savickas, 2011). A narrative approach conceptualizes individuals in their entirety to create a meaningful fit between personal experience and occupational identity (Watson, 2010). An international team conceived the life-design paradigm, which advances the use of narrative career intervention methods (Savickas et al., 2009). Within this paradigm, narrative methods aim to link personal narratives to career development processes (Eloff & Ebersohn, 2006). The life-design paradigm acknowledges that social interaction and life experience influence individual identity and that, through interactive counseling processes, the individual's life purpose and values become apparent to the client (Maree, 2013a; Savickas et al., 2009). This has potential value for individuals from diverse contexts beyond what standardized Western psychometric assessments might offer (Watson, 2010). This process potentially provides an opportunity for clients from challenging circumstances to reflect on their unique life themes to guide career decisions from an asset-based perspective (Maree, 2007).

Narrative counseling processes aim to guide clients to become reflective, look beyond the surface of their stories, and probe their life experiences and emotions to give purpose and meaning to their unique life stories (Maree, 2007). Clients come to realize that, just as intention, action, and meaning are flexible, so career narratives can be constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed, leading to conscious improved decision making for the future (Savickas et al., 2009). The process allows individuals from challenging contexts with little positive support and resources to access pathways to achieve sustainable growth that is linked to their personal narratives and identity (Maree, 2013a).

In narrative career counseling, the counselor guides clients in identifying repeated themes from their different life events (Savickas, 2011), which then become the golden threads that shape future, hope-filled career decisions. The reffamed themes are added to the client's existing narrative to enrich and extend it (Maree, 2013a). Each activity facilitated by the counselor is followed by a collaborative reflection on the meaning it had for the client. The present case study implemented a hybrid approach to narrative career counseling (Maree, 2007) with a client by combining the Career Construction Interview (CCI; Savickas, 2011) with other life-design methods, as noted in Table 1 (Guichard, 2013; Maree, 2013a). Case study research allows...

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