The guidance professional should be armed with a range of theories (Reid, 2008, p176). Law (2008, p9) states that teachers, advisors and mentors need to think in terms of narrative thinking, using narrative to enable people in terms of their own career management. Narrative can empower the client and thus the client is able to develop new actions based on their story. Narrative work allows clients to select from a personal data base and organize pertinent information into a story that delivers new meaning (Chope and Consoli, 2007), that can deliver change and facilitate career decision making, applying a client centered personal ‘meaning’ at the foreground of decision making. Narrative counselling appears to successfully work in other therapy settings. For example, the fields of medicine or psychotherapy, which suggests that narrative approaches can make the crossover to career counselling.


Narrative Approaches to Career Guidance


Within a narrative approach, personal stories are analysed in order to locate the life theme. The practitioner pays attention to the verbs in the recounting of the themes, in order to examine the ‘’headlines’’ present in the old story that may help the client to identify a new career identity (Savickas, 2005, cited in Reid 2008, p467). In telling their stories, clients are remembering the past in a way that constructs a future (Savickas 2005). ‘The past is often a prelude to the future (Ivey, et al p5)’; understanding one’s past you can add meaning and structure to the future and therefore aid effective career decision making.


Criticism of a humanistic or narrative approach can be made if the model views the individual as the only author of their story (Reid, 2006a, cited in Reid 2008, p467). The practitioner must take an holistic view of the story, there are many people in the appointment room, not just the person and the practitioner. McMahon (2006) also raises a concern for professionals, that clients may tell their dominant story and not reveal other stories, ‘stories that they don’t know or realise, stories that they have forgotten and stories that have been silenced’ (McMahon, 2006, p18).


The practitioner also needs to be thoughtful, seen as taking an interest, non-judgemental, and can portray a sense of being listened with (West, 2011). However McLeod (1997, cited in Reid and West 2010) that there is no comprehensive handbook on how to do this (narrative counselling) – there is a need for flexibility and creativity rather than formula. But focusing on aspects such as key events, early memories, favourite characters from stories, and role models, the stories that are re-collected give an indication of the dominant themes that are preoccupations for the individual (Reid, 2008). The style, rapport building, input, interpretation and questioning of the practitioner are key to successful narrative counselling. Practice and training on the part of the practitioner may be required. For example Savickas (2005, p4) states ‘that they can listen for the facts but also for the glue that holds the facts together as they try to hear the theme or secret that makes a whole of the life’.


England has become a multicultural society and the narrative approach can aid the gathering of information about a multicultural client’s “worldview” (Howard, 1991). However, can narrative career guidance be encapsulated into a 30 minute session within the time restraints against a guidance practitioner? According to West (2011), slow time is required for effective narrative counselling. In Savickas narrative DVD example a second interview is required, will time be allowed for narrative counselling in England? Can narrative relate to young person as compared to mature adults who are perhaps better able to express themselves, or who possess more life experiences? Perhaps more research is required against different types of career guidance audiences and an investigation into the influence that ‘music’ could have on a young person. Are currently qualified guidance counsellors skilled and trained to a degree that will deliver this constructivist approach to narrative career guidance?


Reid and West (2010) suggest a model integration framework that encompasses narrative, diverse contexts and modern relevance with Egan’s three stage model, the potential advantage is that Egan’s model is well understood by career professionals in England, and thus adoption and uptake in practice could be easier to implement across the country. The research is at an early stage, the initial feedback has been encouraging, ‘the work could enrich the available repertoire of methods’ (Reid and West, 2010).


Bill Law’s (2008) storyboarding techniques is another form of narrative at an early stage of research, connecting history and meaning to a person, Law states ‘recounting how one thing seems to lead to another is a compelling teacher’, allowing the client to explore and understand career choice. Law’s three-scene storyboard narrative technique can visually inform the client as to what is going on and working out ‘what can they do about it’. This technique is at an early stage of research however it could relate to certain groups of people, predominantly young people who are creative and artistic instincts. Again, it could be a useful tool in a practitioner’s toolkit and geared towards a certain group of young people, aiding the realisation of a turning point and helping career decision making, visually and through narrative.


For Reference Details, contact Diarmuid at:


Diarmuid Haughian

MA Career Guidance, QCG