Teaching Cultural Competency in Career Counseling

The topic of cultural competency has been on my mind the past few days. I was talking with a student the other day who happens to be African American. We were discussing, in general, how to create a more inclusive environment for students of color in our program, our career center (for those who work there specifically as grad assistants, but also diverse staff), and how that also might extend to career service delivery. We talked about how the core value of being both culturally aware and inclusive is evident in our values, but not always in our actions. We decided that through talking with current students, that we could identifying what we are doing well, along with some practical ideas of how we could do better. That’s our plan for this semester – will report back later on what we discover.

Fast forward two days, when I am leading supervision for our master’s interns. We were discussing a client from a diverse background, and the topic of whether a career counselor should bring up the topic of culture or wait for the client to do it. We acknowledged the recent events in NC as a potential entry point into that discussion, and discussed our comfort/discomfort with the topic of racial tension and cultural differences in session. I shared how the student I had spoken to earlier had told me how odd it was that not one person (instructor, supervisor, classmate) had brought up recent riots or their potential impact, and how the lack of discussion sent a confusing message: Was it due to insensitivity? lack of awareness? discomfort? This led us, as a group, to decide that a) we needed to examine ourselves and determine which of these were true for us individually;  b) determine to take appropriate actions relative to our answer(s) to those questions – for example, perhaps purposely learning more about all sides of an issue; and c) acknowledge that we, as counselors are trained to introduce and facilitate difficult discussions – and to put this into practice by asking ourselves, our classmates, our instructors, our supervisors, and our clients, about how culture and current events are impacting them personally and professionally. Finally, we discussed some practical questions and ideas for infusing sensitivity (cultural, ability/disability, orientation, etc.) into our career counseling sessions. Some of these include:

  • What identities are important to you? (Give a personal example: For example, my family is very important to me, so the “daughter identity” would be one identity that is important to me.).
  • Help me learn more about you. How has your background, your family, your culture, contributed to where you are now?
  • Where do you think these negative thoughts are coming from (after completing the Career Thoughts Inventory – to see if there is an identifiable core from which messages are coming).
  • What obstacles do you foresee in achieving your goal? What obstacles have you experienced before? What obstacles have you overcome (and how)? What obstacles do you still struggle with?
  • Tell me about the important people in your life, and how they have helped shape your  vision for yourself.
  • Who else have you spoken with about your career concern? Who have you talked with in the past?
  • How do you think your immediate and extended family will feel about your career goals?
  • What haven’t I asked you about that’s important to you as you think about this decision?

In addition, some tools such as the Decision Space Worksheet that ask clients to identify all the factors impacting a career decision are likely to encourage discussion of topics of special interest and impact to a client. What specific questions have you found useful for discussing cultural differences?

New Book: Technology in Mental Health (2016)

First, a disclaimer. One of the tech twins has a chapter in this fantastic new book, so may be a little biased. We’ll let you be the judge.


First, this book is the only one that focuses specifically on the topic of technology in mental health. This second edition has 39 chapters written by 52 different authors who represent practitioners, professors, consultants, directors, from various mental health fields. The technologies covered spread the gamut and include telephone counseling, chat, virtual reality, texting and more. The book is divided into two sections: Part 1 focuses on the use of technologies in mental health, while Part 2 focuses on integrating technology into training and supervision of counseling providers. The book is full of practical examples, scenarios, ethical considerations, and plenty of up-to-date references for further reading. In addition, the list of 52 authors represents a host of potential fellow technophiles to connect with and learn from.

The book is available online here and you can receive a 15% discount if you add the code GOSS0716. As an instructor of a technology in counseling course, I’m thrilled to have such a high quality book for my students.


What Could’ve Been Done Instead?

Soon fall classes will be starting up again, which leads me to consider how to help students be more creative (within the boundaries of ethical and legal standards) in their approaches to working with clients. After reading an article this morning on divergent thinking, I thought that perhaps I could stimulate their creative thinking as well as their appreciation of and engagement in career counseling by asking the “what could’ve been done instead” question.

  • Identifying career possibilities has often been a function of taking career assessments. What other ways might a career counselor use to help a person identify career options?
  • Decision making approaches and models (CASVE Cycle, Parsons’ emphasis on “true reasoning,” etc.). What are other approaches to decision making? What could have been offered instead?
  • Learning about self. Aside from career assessments and constructivist narrative approaches, how else could individuals learn about themselves?
  • Learning about options. What other options, aside from O*NET and the OOH and search engines, exist to help individuals learn about career options?
  • Developing interviewing skills. We have books, videos on interviewing, and in some cases, provide mock interview opportunities for clients. What else could be done?
  • Teaching career development skills. What other ways besides undergraduate career classes, posted videos, books, and static information on websites, might we teach others about career development skills?
  • Treatment planning. It doesn’t take long for career treatment plans to look the same, relying on the same approaches, assessments, steps, etc. – and there is a great deal of overlap of these tools when working with client after client who needs to make a career decision. Challenging oneself (or students) to think about what other tools or approaches might answer the question keeps the counselor fresh, and also encourages us to see clients as unique and thus deserving of tailored interventions.
  • Pedagogical approaches. (This one is more for me!). When teaching, I often rely on the tried and true – case studies, mini-lectures, quizzes, etc. What could I do instead  of (or in addition to) these approaches?


Becoming a Career Counselor Checklist

Whether I’m working with a small group of students focusing on becoming career counselors, or a large group of students who are studying to be counselors with a different focus, I want them to be knowledgeable of the skills and activities that career counselors possess. The checklist becomes a more interactive and engaging way to gain occupational knowledge about what a career counselor does, rather than reading a description of career counselors on O*NET.

For the career counseling students, this serves as an individual learning plan between the time they look at the checklist and the time they graduate. They can see the skills they currently posses that career counselors use, and also identify the gaps between where they are and where they want to be. The next step would be to create an action plan that helps them develop the missing skills, such as shadowing or seeking out projects during their practicum and internship that address those experiences.

For the other counseling students, I find that using the checklist has multiple positive outcomes. First, their esteem of career counseling increases. They learn that career counseling is not just pointing someone towards jobs or critiquing resumes, but that it is often a much more complex process. Second, they are able to see that many of the skills they currently have are also valued and used within the field of career counseling. Third, outlining the skills and experiences of career counselors demystifies the process and makes the idea of discussing career-related issues with their clients a positive one, not to be feared or avoided.  I hope you find the checklist useful to you in your teaching!

Becoming a Career Counselor Checklist

Teaching Career Counseling Skills

The first time you do anything new can be terrifying. As part of my career development course, I require my students to find a volunteer on whom to practice career advising. They have to find someone who has a career issue such as needing to choose/change a career or major, learn how to job search, see what career options fit their interests/skills/values, learn about their options, address self-esteem or confidence with respect to making a career decision, and so on. This course requirement tends to be highly anxiety provoking. One way I’ve found to help address this anxiety is through showing a video of the world’s worst career counselor.

After watching the clip, we talk about what the counselor did well and where he could have improved. By seeing a very poor example of career counseling, they are affirmed in that they know they can certainly do better than that example, and that takes some of the pressure off. We use other strategies, too, such as brainstorming useful questions, creating a rough outline of what should occur in each session, roleplaying, and so forth. What other strategies do you use for teaching career counseling skills and increasing students’ confidence?