Brown’s Values-Based Career Theory

Brown’s values-based career theory emphasizes the central importance of values in career counseling and occupational choice. Values are defined as cognitive structures that are the basis for self-evaluation and one’s evaluation of others. Values also have an affective dimension, are the primary basis of goal-directed behavior, and are the stimulus for the development of behavior related to goal attainment. Values have been portrayed as more fundamental traits than interests, and it has been suggested that concerns for values should be the primary consideration in career counseling, without precluding the use of other constructs. The values-based approach is also predicated on the idea that career counseling should in most cases be life-role counseling because of the interaction among life roles and the unlikely outcome that an occupation can satisfy all of an individual’s values.

The model assumes three types of values—cultural, work, and life values. Cultural values can be subdivided into five categories of social relations, time, relationship to nature, activity, and self-control. Work values are those values that clients expect to fulfill as a result of choosing and entering an occupation. Life values are those values that clients expect to have satisfied as a result of the choices they make in their major life roles, such as work, leisure, citizen, and relationships to significant others. Understanding these three types of values provides career counselors with the information needed for lifestyle planning.

Life-career counseling from a values perspective is based on the following assumptions: (1) Highly prioritized work values are the primary basis of career choice. When choosing an occupation to match values is constrained, structuring other life roles in ways that will satisfy highly prioritized life values should be pursued. (2) The most successful decision makers are likely to be those individuals or groups who have a future or past-future time orientation and a doing-activity value. (3) Clients with an individualism social value are required to make a series of estimates about their personal characteristics and the occupations they are considering if they are to be successful. (4) The sources of job satisfaction will vary for people who hold individualism and collateral social values. (5) Job success as determined by the supervisor or employer will be determined by the same factors for people regardless of their social relations value.

Sensitivity and attention must be given to cultural, work, and life values as a counselor works through the following stages of career counseling: client identification, relationship building, goal setting and assessment, problem solving, and termination. Perhaps the most important issue to be addressed during this process is to crystallize and prioritize the client’s cultural, work, and life values in the context of life roles. Culturally sensitive interviewing, card sorts, and standardized values clarification surveys are helpful techniques for this process. The Life Values Inventory is an empirically derived values assessment instrument developed from the principles of this model. At the end of the process clients should be aware of their values in the context of life roles; how values influence their motivation, goal setting, self-evaluation and thus satisfaction; and their evaluation of others.


  1. Brown, D., Crace, R. K., & Almeida, L. (2006). A culturally sensitive, values-based approach to career counseling. In A. J. Palmo, W. J. Weikel, & D. P. Borsos (Eds.), Foundations of mental health counseling (pp. 144-171). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
  2. Crace, R. K., & Brown, D. (2002). Life Values Inventory. Williamsburg, VA: Applied Psychology Resources. Available from

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