Narrative Career Counseling

Narrative career counseling represents a shift from the 20th-century focus on objective interventions for career decision making toward a 21st-century concern for interpretive approaches. It is sited in postmodern developments where previous grand theories overemphasize either social structures (e.g., Marxism) or individual psychology (e.g., psychoanalysis). Narrative career counseling moves away from a scientific approach that is exemplified by the matching of relatively static personality traits with job factors. Narrative approaches recognize that as dynamic social actors individuals speak, act, and interpret events through their particular contexts and cultures. In other words, it views career decision making as a holistic process, recognizing that the career story is shaped by the increasing complexities of life in a diverse social world.

To assist individuals make career decisions, many narrative practitioners use techniques that seek to reveal life-career themes. By focusing on aspects such as key events, early memories, favorite characters from stories, and role models, the stories that are re-collected give an indication of the dominant themes that are the preoccupations for the individual. This process situates the self as the main character in the story, where individual meaning rather than historical fact is placed in the foreground. The aim is to develop the story by recognizing the themes, exploring the related career interests, and helping the individual to draft future possibilities. Narrative approaches recognize that as part of the sequence of moving from the past and present to the future, a period of indecision is necessary where potential career ideas can be tested. It is the action taken in the testing and enactment stages that moves the story on; without this action, the approach could be stuck in reflective storytelling. This approach provides a reality-testing element where the potential new story is evaluated in regard to its fit with the rest of the individual’s life and includes recognizing the part that significant others play in career decision making.

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The approach is empowering since the individual takes an active part in defining career roles that fit into his or her own understanding of meaningful life events. It provides a telling way of assessing an individual’s career counseling needs, revealing more than objective assessment methods. Many practitioners will incorporate objective methods at a later stage, once the individual has developed a self-concept. Inevitably what the person recounts when telling his or her story is subjective, but life is subjective and people understand their own experience and that of others through the medium of storytelling. Such subjective exploration leads to the identification of goals and actions that are more meaningful for the individual and consequently more likely to be successful.


  1. Cochran, L. (1997). Career counseling: A narrative approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Savickas, M. L. (2005). The theory and practice of career construction. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (pp. 42-70). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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