Career Counselling – A Field of Counselling Specialisation

If you are travelling the counsellor training road somewhere between Units 1 and 22, your primary goal right now is probably just to see those C’s filling up your assessment sheet. But what might you be doing once you have your Diploma? You may want to do further study – perhaps take on an advanced study major or even go on to university. Or maybe specialising hasn’t even crossed your mind but it is certainly something worth considering.

Specialisation comes in many forms, such as developing expertise in a favourite technique, working with a particular client group, or helping people with particular issues such as grief and loss, abuse, or relationship problems.

One of the great things about the counselling field is that there are so many possibilities, and each has its own challenges and rewards. As a practicing and qualified career counsellor, I came to the AIPC course hoping to hone my counselling skills in order to better assist my clients. Graduating in 2003 was an added bonus, but along the way, like a kid in a lolly shop, I became fascinated by other fields of counselling as well and have incorporated many of my new learnings into my work.

Some of you might be considering specialising as a career counsellor. This is a great field, and one in which I learn something new every day, despite the fact that I have worked in the area for over twenty years. But even if this area is not one you intend to specialise in, you will certainly find yourself counselling clients whose job, career or work-life balance is an issue. As we all spend a large chunk of our lives working, it is important to develop some understanding of current career theories and counselling practices.

While there are similarities between career counselling and generalist counselling, there is also much to distinguish the former as a separate discipline. The presenting issues are numerous and changing daily, but a useful framework for career counselling is to start by thinking of it in three broad areas. Of course in practice these areas often overlap.

Workplace counselling: involves assisting clients who are having problems at work, and the fees are most often paid by the employer. Usually this work comes under the banner of EAP (employee assistance program) and may also involve counselling family members of the worker. The rationale behind this program is that if an employee has a personal or family issue that is preventing him or her from operating at optimum levels then it is in the employer’s interest to invest in addressing this.

As a workplace counsellor you may find yourself assisting clients to deal with such issues as discrimination, harassment and bullying, gambling, drug and alcohol problems, the loss of a loved one, family and relationship problems, uncontrolled anger, time management etc. Despite its name, sessions are usually conducted at the counsellor’s premises rather than at the workplace.

Career “guidance”, transition and career planning: the clients who require these services are usually unemployed or are about to be made redundant; others include those who are unfulfilled in their current work and those who have need to retrain for a new role following an illness or injury. Women returning to the workforce after raising children are yet another key client group, but clients in this group range from school students through to retirees.

Counsellors may be involved in giving information on courses and pathways to a range of occupations and industries, and/or assisting clients to make appropriate decisions. This work is not about giving advice, but providing a range of strategies to help people identify the types of jobs that best suit them, to plan their careers and support them through transitions. This might include delivery of assessments such as the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®), Holland’s Self-Directed Search, card sorts, or computerised assessment packages. Some career counsellors assist clients with practical job search tools such as preparing resumes and job application letters, preparing for interviews etc. Payment for this work may come from the employer (known as outplacement), from a government-funded provider, including Job Network agencies and rehabilitation organisations, or from the client themself.

This type of counselling tends to be quite practical and usually involves the counsellor and client developing and agreeing on an action plan. While it is not absolutely essential, knowledge of training and study options, pathways and the labour market in general is especially useful here. Networking can greatly enhance your knowledge and will give your clients some useful referral points as well. While ideally the client is the one driving and paying for the process, and client confidentiality is always the prime focus, if you are being funded by an employer or agency you may find there are particular expectations and or outcomes imposed on you and the client.

Work/life counselling involves a holistic investigation of the client’s work in the context of their whole life needs. The aim is to find the best balance of work, learning, relationships, family, social life, community and other developmental activities. This form of counselling is relatively new, having emerged over the past forty years or so, coinciding with the idea that work is one aspect of our lives and should be fulfilling and meaningful in terms of the individual’s needs, desires and drives. The tools and strategies used here are more in the vein of mentoring or coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) often plays a role in this work.

Prior to the mid-1960’s work was usually seen as a way of earning an income to support other life activities. Now, work/life balance is high on the list of most people’s expectations.

On the whole, career counselling is solution-focussed and practical in that the client seeks professional assistance to create a better life for him or herself. However, this does not mean that other therapeutic tools are not useful and I employ a range of these in my work. Depending on the client’s needs, meetings can range from a single session to several.

Julie Farthing has a Bachelor of Arts, a Graduate Diploma (Career Education and Development), a Diploma of Professional Counselling and is currently completing a Masters of Social Science at RMIT University, Melbourne. Julie is a registered counsellor and a fellow of the Australian Association of Career Counsellors that writes regularly for career journals and daily newspapers on a range of career and employment issues. Visit her website at:

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