Multicultural Approach to Career Counseling

Chapter 8 A Values-Based, Multicultural Approach to Career Counseling and Advocacy

Things to Remember

The process and techniques used in a culturally sensitive approach to career counseling


The cultural values of the major racial and ethnic groups in the United States


The advocacy process and the risks involved


That religious values may influence the career choice making process


In a sense, this entire book to this point has been to a large extent about values and multiculturalism. Specifically, in Chapter 2 I outlined how professional organizations have established ethical prohibitions against not taking race, ethnicity, and culture into consideration in counseling and psychological practice. In the discussions about each of the theories, I have included suggested multicultural adaptations, both in the theories themselves and in their applications. I have also pointed out that Holland (1997) theorized that his six personality types include both interests and values, that TWA (Dawis, 2002) and its adaptation on O*NET place values at the center of the theory and its applications, and that Super not only saw values as important in career development, but he and Nevill produced the Values Scale (Super & Nevill, 1996) to help measure work values. However, not one of the aforementioned theories or its application includes cultural values, in spite of evidence that suggests that they are an important variable in the career development of African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latina individuals and groups (Fouad & Kantamneni, 2013).


In the years leading up to my initial statement about the importance of cultural values in career development and counseling, I read and rejected several ideas about how best to tackle the issue. I happened to be involved with a report of a group of English consultants who helped an African government design a health care intervention that failed miserably. The now-forgotten authors concluded that the first step in their process should have been to assess the values of the people who were to be helped and only then to design the intervention. The report of the failed consultation and the extensive work of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development on the need for cultural competence oriented my thinking to differences and similarities in cultural values.


In 1988, I embarked on a crash course in work and human values by reading literally dozens of research articles about values. Some of those articles discussed the differences in values in various cultures, including the impact those values had on the decision-making process, work satisfaction, and so forth. I also discovered that some people in the field of communications had focused on variations of communication styles based on differences in cultural values. This chapter is the culmination of a long process of discovery aimed at ascertaining how effective, sensitive career counseling can be offered in a cross-cultural context.


In Chapter 1, I cited Blustein and his colleagues (Blustein, McWhirter, & Perry, 2005), who had called for a change in the paradigms that guide the work of career development specialists, partially because of its cultural roots in Eurocentric thinking and partially because the current models do not include advocacy for racial, cultural, ethnic, and sexual minorities. In this chapter, a multicultural approach to career counseling is presented, based largely on my (2002) values-based theory and its updates in this book. The objective of this presentation is to provide a detailed, comprehensive approach to career counseling, defined as a process aimed at facilitating career development and one that may involve choosing, entering, adjusting to, or advancing in a career. Along with Brooks (Brown & Brooks, 1991), I defined career problems as undecidedness growing out of too little information; indecisiveness growing out of choice anxiety; unsatisfactory work performance; incongruence between the person and the work role; and incongruence between the work roles and other life roles, such as family or leisure.


I want to point out that the approach discussed here does not rule out borrowing ideas from other theories. For example, I often use Bandura’s ideas about self-efficacy and appraisals to help my clients understand their motivation or, more likely, their lack of motivation. This presentation is followed by a section focused on helping students and others build their own approaches to career counseling.


Implicit in many discussions on multiculturalism, and its extension to counseling, is the message that white counselors need to learn about the cultures of ethnic and racial minorities, persons who are disabled, and persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered and apply this knowledge to counseling. Consider the very real possibility of a lesbian counselor entering her office one day to find a white, Christian male who believes that homosexuality is a sin and freely expresses that view with everyone. One possibility is for the counselor to refer the client to another professional if she finds his views so repugnant that she cannot maintain her objectivity. The other is to try to understand his worldview, develop a working relationship with him, and proceed to help him with his career problem. The point here is a simple one: In a diverse culture such as ours, all counselors, regardless of race, ethnicity, or worldview, need a multicultural approach to career counseling.


As was illustrated in earlier chapters, the mechanics of career counseling, including approaches to the relationship and assessment, vary based on the theory being applied. Gysbers, Heppner, and Johnston (2003) developed a taxonomy of tasks that occur within career counseling simultaneously with the process of developing a working alliance. These tasks include identifying the presenting problem; structuring the counseling relationship; developing a counselor–client bond; gathering information about the client, including information about personal and contextual restraints; goal setting; intervention selection; action taking; and evaluation of outcomes. As will be shown later, the multicultural counseling model outlined in this chapter accepts most of these ideas regarding the structure of career counseling with minor changes.


Foundation of the Values-Based Approach

There are three aspects of culture. Universal dimension refers to the similarities among all groups. General cultural dimension refers to the characteristics of a particular group and typically refers to ethnicity, the group’s common history, values, language, customs, religion, and politics. There are more than 200 national entities and 5,000 languages in the world. These broad groups can be broken down into countless subgroups. It is impossible for career counselors to study all of the cultures and subcultures of the world, although it is possible for counselors in the United States to learn about what are termed the cultural generalizations of the major cultural groups in this country. The third aspect of culture is the personal dimension, which is reflected in the individual’s worldview and is based on the extent to which the general cultural values and worldview have been adopted by the individual. The process by which this occurs is called enculturation, and the result is racial/ethnic identity development, a continuous process that results in a worldview.


An individual’s worldview is the basis for his or her perception of reality (Ivey, D’Andrea, Ivey, & Simek-Morgan, 2009). Cultural generalization—that is, the assumption that the individual’s characteristics resemble those of the broader group—is stereotyping and must be avoided (Ho, 1995). Skin color, dress, ethnicity, religious beliefs, customs, or traditions honored are not proxies for personal culture.


As was discussed in Chapter 6, there are two broad philosophical bases for our theories and approaches: logical positivism and postmodernism. Ivey and his colleagues (2009) adopted a postmodern underpinning for their general approach to multicultural counseling, because it accommodates a “multiplicity of points of views” (p. 7). In fact, postmodernism accommodates an infinite number of points of view, because each person is perceived as having a unique worldview. Not surprisingly, given the relative perspective of postmodernism, there are no guiding truths, because truth is unknowable. Because there are no guiding truths, values are situational, not universal. It was this valueless perspective that led Prilleltensky (1997) to reject postmodernism as a philosophical basis for the practice of psychology.


The assertion here is that career counseling should proceed based on the client’s worldview, which is primarily based on the client’s cultural values unless those value collide with the laws of the dominant culture. If advocacy is incorporated into the career counseling process, then it should also be based on the client’s values. However, career counselors may also engage in advocacy aimed at legislative, community, and/or organizational change outside of the career counseling process based on their own values system.


Recently, I was confronted with a situation in which a young Chinese American high school student was being kept out of school to work in the family restaurant. Her parents believed that their action was perfectly congruent with their worldview, but their behavior was in conflict with the laws of the state of North Carolina. Career counseling cannot be a value-free enterprise. For example, if I take the relativity perspective on values in postmodern approaches into a career counseling session with an unacculturated American Indian male and help him build a career plan based on his worldview, then the plan must be implemented in a culture dominated by a totally different worldview. I may advocate for the client with prospective employers, but I may also find myself interpreting the employer’s values and helping the client continue to prize his own views while adapting to those in the workplace so that he can find meaningful employment.

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