Personal and Career Counseling

Personal counseling and career counseling share a significant history. Vocational or career counseling started with the work of Frank Parsons and his staff at the Vocation Bureau of Boston in 1908. Parsons would die shortly after the bureau began operations, but not before the term counseling emerged to describe the services provided to clients of the Vocation Bureau. His book, Choosing a Vocation, would be published a year after his death, cementing the legacy of career counseling. Thirty years later Edmund G. Williamson would introduce the first counseling theory, which was based on the original work of Parsons.

Much of the description of counseling found in definitions ascribed to counseling by professionals and professional organizations can also apply to the definition of career counseling. Career counseling is a specialization of personal counseling much like other specialty areas of counseling (i.e., school, family, rehabilitation, etc.), which implies a particular emphasis, population, or setting for its practice. Counseling is a process that assists individuals in gaining helpful information about themselves, others, and the world around them as they problem solve or make decisions to improve their quality of life. Counseling emphasizes the value of individuals being able to make their own decisions. Counseling and its specialties, which include career counseling, provide their professional services for individuals, groups, or families. Counseling professionals may provide services through institutions such as schools, colleges, and universities, as well as in public agency and private practice settings. At the same time, personal counselors, including career counselors, may work in consultation with institutions or organizations.

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As with any other counseling specialty, career counselors rely upon theory, research, and a set of specific skills (e.g., active listening) to assist their clients. Career counselors can assist clients with issues related to career information, decision making, and career or work adjustment related issues. Likewise, they can help clients deal with career-related changes and transitions such as pursuing a new occupation, retirement, or a career-related crises (e.g., downsizing). Career counselors use resources such as career information, technology, and assessment instruments to enhance their work with clients as clients acquire critical personal and occupational information during the career counseling process. Career counseling and other counseling specialties are typically viewed as briefer or shorter interventions than more clinically focused approaches (e.g., psychotherapy) found among professionals and professional settings where more pronounced clinical issues and diagnoses may be found (i.e., addiction settings, partial hospitalization programs, etc.).

The various kinds of personal counselors, including career counselors, have professional organizations (e.g., American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association’s Division 17: Society of Counseling Psychology, National Career Development Association) who advocate for professional standards, licensure, and certification. There are also accrediting bodies (e.g., Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs, Council on Rehabilitation Education) to ensure that professional preparation standards are met by academic training programs. In accordance with professional organizations and accrediting bodies, minimum educational requirements (e.g., master’s degree) and competency levels are suggested for various kinds of counselors, including career counselors, with a strong emphasis on ethical standards and practices.


  1. Capuzzi, D., & Stauffer, M. D. (2006). Career counseling: Foundations, perspectives, and applications. Boston: Pearson Education.
  2. Corey, G. (2005). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  3. Nystul, M. S. (2003). Introduction to counseling: An art and science perspective (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  4. Parsons, F. (1909). Choosing a vocation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  5. Sharf, R. S. (2006). Applying career development theory to counseling (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  6. Subich, L. M. (Ed.). (1993). How personal is career counseling? [Special section]. Career Development Quarterly, 42, 129-191.
  7. Williamson, E. G. (1939). How to counsel students. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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