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    Challenging, Guidance and Cognitive Behavioural Approaches

    Challenging, Guidance and Cognitive Behavioural Approaches

    By Peter Beven

    It is an aim of this article to demonstrate that professional career guidance interviews can be enhanced by awareness of techniques and approaches in use by other professions. This is not to say that Guidance Workers are the same as professional counsellors or psychotherapists; but rather to pose the questions, what can we learn from other approaches?  - And how can the alternative perspective enhance the guidance process?  A skilled practitioner will have the skills and professional judgement to select an approach applicable to client need while taking into account resource and time constraints. Recent researches undertaken on working models of careers guidance indicate a crisis in the delivery of services, certainly in England. As Reid and West argue (2011, page 399)


    “…in a situation where guidance work has become more complex it appears that preparation for the work may have diminished, being restricted to a powerful and instrumental discourse in guidance in the UK…”,


    The pressure from successive governments for services to deliver a target driven service has led to what Reid and West describe as a “technicising” of the guidance sector where they argue opportunities for creative strategies in supporting clients with career decisions are perceived as potentially risky enterprises (Reid and West, 2011). The need for high quality career guidance support is arguably greater than ever; however the devolving of the role in England to school based services has resulted in inconsistencies in delivery (see, for example Haynes, G., McCrone, T. and Wade, P. (2013)) .  Of course the biggest losers in these developments are arguably the clients of the services themselves. If advisers have to work within strictly limited constraints in terms of outcomes and method then the danger is that “one size fits all” thinking will come to dominate? This, in spite of evidence that what is needed in times of increasing complexity for guidance to be delivered by skilled practitioners who are reflexive, open to learning new approaches and able to learn from theory with a view to supporting their client groups in a variety of ways.


    This article will examine a specific aspect of guidance practice, that is the role of challenging, and suggest ways advisers might draw upon developments in other cognate areas such as counselling and therapeutic practice.


    Challenging - a key skill

    The purpose of this article is to

    a) Reflect upon common situations in the guidance interview where challenging is appropriate,

    b) Identify some basic strategies for challenging and

    c) Illustrate the potential value to careers advisers and other guidance workers of theoretical ideas suggested by Rational Emotive Therapy (RET). It is the intention of this article to make a brief introduction to RET and attempt to make connections between this approach and the important aspect of challenging in careers guidance practice.


    The value of sensitive challenging in the guidance interview can hardly be overstated. If advisers see the world ONLY as their clients see it, they will have little to offer them.  It is true that at times of change and transition, people may show a very partial view of themselves and how other people think about them. The role of guidance in this respect is to enable clients to see the world in a less distorted, more rational way.


    What needs to be challenged?

    One or more of the following will be familiar to most careers advisers.

    • Clients who use other peoples judgements uncritically- e.g. "My dad says noone gets jobs after going to college"
    •  “It’s got nothing to do with me; yes, I got into trouble with the police, but I was led on by a bad crowd!”  i.e. Failure to own problems
    •  “If only I’d gone to a better school....” i.e. Failure to define problems in solvable terms
    •  “I don’t have any skills ... I’m only a cleaner” i.e. Clients who undervalue or misinterpret key experiences
    • “I don’t care what you say, I’m going to train to become a vet” (from a client who has very low GCSE passes).
    •  Failure to understand the consequences of behaviour - “I can’t understand why I got the sack ... I only hit the supervisor once!”
    • Potentially damaging irrational ideas and beliefs- these will be addressed later in this article



    Strategies for challenging

    Obviously, everyone has a right to choose what they will believe and what they will not. It is not the adviser’s role to change beliefs, but to enable the client to see that they have choices to make and what the implications of those choices are likely to be. The aim of challenging these phenomena in a guidance interview may be described in different ways.  For example, helping a client to become more self aware, developing new perspectives to see things more clearly or making new connections. These are known as cognitive responses. However, a challenge is only successful to the degree that clients do something about problem managing and changing behaviour. Egan (2013) cautions that by over - stressing insight and self understanding can actually stand in the way of action. Much more attention has been devoted to developing insight than to linking insight to action. Whereas the former can be an attractive proposition for some people, the latter is often difficult to achieve.


    Challenging can take many forms. A useful distinction to make is between those challenges, which take place inside the interview, and challenges that can be arranged outside the interview arena.


    1. Trying to get the client to make the challenge on him or herself. This can be particularly appropriate where there is a mismatch between a client’s aspirations and their current academic record. For example, often a sharing of information about entry requirements can be enough to encourage the client to reassess their situation.


    2. In the situation where clients are undervaluing themselves, such as the adult client who undervalues the skills developed out of the paid labour market bringing up children, the adviser can usefully look at the various activities undertaken and attempt to turn them into occupational terms, such as organisational or administrative skills, budgeting, child care etc. as appropriate.


    3. Where clients make dogmatic “global” assertions (for example, “all training is slave labour”), it is essential to check where this information comes from. It may come from family, friends some parts of the media. It can be counter - productive, to say the least,  to counter the client’s ideas by a straight refutation of his or her ideas. Sometimes a tentative approach is more successful, such as “I wonder whether you think all schemes are really like that or whether some may be better than others?”


    4. When clients are uncomfortable about certain experiences, they sometimes blame others. Most advisers will have encountered clients, who claim that they got into trouble with the police, but it wasn’t their fault, they were ‘led on’ by others. Other clients may claim that the reason they did badly at school was because they had ‘terrible teachers.’  While not denying that individuals can be led on by others to commit an offence, or that teachers do have a key role for good or ill with pupil’s learning, the blaming of others absolves personal responsibility. If we can blame others for things that go wrong in our lives then we avoid the discomfort of realising that we may have played a part in the problem. It also means that the defence mechanism of blaming others prevents us from learning from mistakes. A key goal of challenging in this instance is to encourage the clients to put themselves in the picture. This means not accepting at face value the blaming of others, but having the client to talk about what role they played in any decision made.


    5. Strategies involving action outside the interview. The most effective challenge will result in the client themselves taking some action, to discover whether their ideas really do hold good. This is where the chance to do work experience, work shadowing, “taster” courses etc. will come into their own where a client may have a misapprehension concerning what a job or training involves. Where behaviour in the workplace has been a difficulty the client needs to be shown incentives for changing behaviour. If incentives exist and the client is willing to respond to them then useful discussion can take place about how the client might react in workplace circumstances should problems arise for them again. The idea of modelling behaviour is important here.


    Challenging irrational beliefs in the interview

    What is Rational Emotive Therapy?

    Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) is a variant of cognitive behavioural therapy and originated in the work of Albert Ellis, a New York clinical psychologist. He originally worked as a psychoanalyst, but rejected this in favour of a more directive, problem focused approach.  Ellis argued that we are all influenced not simply by what happens to us in life, but our view or interpretation of what happens to us. His first major book setting out his ideas was Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy (1962). Since then there have been some attempts to link RET with Careers Guidance practice. For example, links have been made between RET and Crites’ model of the careers counselling process (Dryden, 1979). Other writers have investigated self beliefs and careers guidance (Borders and Archadel, 1987), and irrational expectations in careers counselling and arguments to confront them (Nevo, 1987). The possible role of RET in relation to career development in the workplace has also been described (Richman, 1993). More recently Sheward and Branch (2012) describe in detail the role that cognitive behavioural tactics might play in career counselling and coaching.

    The basics of RET

    According to RET, people are happiest when they set up important life goals and purposes and actively try to achieve these. Arguably there is a clear philosophical link here to the role of careers guidance practice. There is a problem, however. Ellis argues that all people have a biologically based tendency to think irrationally.  Ellis claimed that "even if everybody had the most rational upbringing, virtually all humans would often irrationally escalate their individual and social preferences into absolutist demands on a) themselves, b) other people and c) the universe around them” (Ellis 1984).


    RET theory indicates we perpetuate irrational views about ourselves, others and the world around us, that we re indoctrinate ourselves with these irrational beliefs and we need to work against these beliefs to conquer them. Frequently we defeat ourselves by attempting to satisfy short-term goals while at the same time sabotaging our long term prospects. (For example: People who have been made redundant spending most of any redundancy money on a new car) We strive to avoid short-term discomfort when sometimes it might be better to suffer it in the long term.


    What sort of irrational beliefs?

    These can relate to the demands we make about ourselves and the consequent negative ratings we give ourselves when we do not live up to the unrealistic objectives we impose upon ourselves (An example is the case of the redundant executive insisting that they must have another job with status and power with the view that “if I don't get a job like that I'm a worthless human being).


    Irrational beliefs also appear when we make dogmatic demands that comfort and comfortable life conditions must exist...e.g.  “I MUST buy new clothes for an interview or I can’t go”.  RET argues that the healthy alternative to drawing faulty inferences rests on a fundamental attitude of unconditional self acceptance where a person fully accepts themselves to be human with various strengths and weaknesses.


    Understanding your ABC’s!

    According to RET theory, certain events, feelings or a particular behaviour may trigger a response. This is known as the Activating Event that may be internal or external to the client. Take the situation where a company makes many of its staff redundant.  For the purposes of this example this is the activating event (A). Let us suppose that two of the workers facing redundancy had identical personal circumstances. After redundancy one ex - employee concludes that it is the end of the world as he knows it, takes the view “that’s it. I’ll never be able to do anything useful again.”  The second person in the same situation might be angry at being made redundant after many years, but also see redundancy as an opportunity to reassess their career plan, and try to get into a different line of work.  These two differing views are both consequences (C), but consequences of what?  RET theory argues that the consequences (C) are not an inevitable result of the activating event (A). (The fact that two people had such different reactions tends to support this.) RET theory proposes something interposes between the Activating event (A) and the emotional or behavioural consequence (C). The theory asserts that it is the client’s belief (B) about A that determines the consequence. These beliefs can be rational, realistic and lead to appropriate action. Alternatively they can be irrational and ultimately self destructive because they prevent appropriate action being taken. When these beliefs are rigid they can be irrational and take on the form of “absolutes”. For example, I must do x, people should do y; I should be treated better, etc.  When clients persist with such beliefs they will often make irrational conclusions from irrational premises.


    In the guidance interview the adviser can review the chain of cause and effect of the ABC model, and challenge the client’s “point B” where these are inappropriate to their situation. We can help clients check on what inferences they are drawing from their situation, and encourage them to see things from a different perspective.  We all have a choice as to how we view things!


    Please note that this is not to suggest that redundancy or other crises' clients can face should be dismissed as being “all right as long as you think positive”.  Appropriate negative emotions are important. They alert you that something is wrong but do not prevent you from doing something about it.  However it is the inappropriate negative emotions that cause pain, lead to self defeating thoughts and behaviour that prevent a client changing to achieve goals. The inappropriate responses are those which should be challenged.


    Signs of irrational beliefs in the guidance interview

    The following are some examples of client responses that may indicate irrational beliefs in the interview:

    a) “There’s no point in doing anything because things always go wrong.”

    b) “I can't stand to do this job any longer”-meaning that clients say they cannot bear it if what they want to change does not happen immediately.

    c) Blame and condemn! This type of response is an example of clients blaming themselves, other people and/or life conditions for their situation.

    d) Always and never thinking.... For example, “I’ll never be able to study because I didn’t do well at school.”

    e) “There’s no point in planning ahead when things are changing so quickly”

    f) “Why should other people have all the good luck?”

    g) It is common for some clients to hold rational and irrational beliefs at the same time. For example, it is perfectly rational to think “I want to get that job promotion” but less so to think “Since I want to get promotion I must achieve it at all costs, otherwise life won’t be worth living.”


    The objective of challenging irrational beliefs identified in the interview is to encourage clients to have a more flexible response to their own situation. When clients' beliefs are flexible they are described as rational.....flexible taking the form of desires, wishes, wants and preferences that do not escalate into dogmatic I must, you should, etc. When behaving rationally, clients will form conclusions based upon a considered judgement of the severity of their situation. Dryden (2013) discusses rational responses as including:

    a) Statements of toleration where faced with an unpleasant situation E.g. "I don't like my current job but I can tolerate it until I can make a change."

    b) Acceptance of fallibility:  people accepting themselves as fallible human beings with various strengths and weaknesses.

    c) Flexible thinking when responding to events. This means rejecting the notion that “this always happens to me...” with an individual trying to take more control for what happens.



    Challenging is a key skill in the guidance interview. The interview is a useful medium for challenging irrational beliefs.  An aim of guidance is to detect the presence of such irrationality to discriminate the rational from the irrational, to challenge, so that clients are encouraged to question how logical and consistent their beliefs are. Using RET principles in Careers Guidance practice incorporates the attempt to identify what is important in the thought processes of clients... how they view themselves and their relation to work, training and life choices. It offers the adviser the chance to challenge outmoded or ineffective thought processes by checking the “ABC” cause and effect. The adviser can then set about combating faulty ideas about jobs and training through providing information, as well as where appropriate suggesting options to test out hypotheses in the workplace or training situation.


    RET can be said to offer a model for effective challenging in careers guidance practice... it is direct,  problem focused and educative in function, and offers much to support the careers adviser in their guidance role. Many clients have ways of thinking that keeps them locked into their problem situations. Ellis in his "rational - emotive" approach provides a conceptual map or model to adapt when we are faced with “irrationality” in the interview situation.


    Borders, D., & Archadel, K. (1987) Self-beliefs and career counseling Journal of Career Development, 14, 69-79

    Dryden, W. (1979) Rational-emotive therapy and its contribution to careers counselling

    British Journal of Guidance and Counselling June 1979; DOI: 10.1080/03069887900760201

    Dryden, W. (2013) Rationality and Pluralism Hove: Routledge Press

    Ellis, A. (1984) The essence of RET Journal of Rational-Emotive Therapy, 2(1), 19-25.

    Haynes, G., McCrone, T. and Wade, P. (2013) Young people’s decision making:

    The importance of high quality school-based careers education, information, advice and guidance, Research Papers in Education, 28:4, 459-482, DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2012.727099

    Richman, D. R. (1993) Cognitive Career Counselling: A rational-emotive approach to career development Journal of Rational Emotive & Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Vol. 11:2 Summer 1993

    Nevo, O. (1987) Irrational expectations in career counseling and their confronting arguments The Career Development Quarterly, 1987, 35, 239-251

    Reid, H. and West, L. Struggling for space: narrative methods and the crisis of professionalism in career guidance in England British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, Vol. 39, No. 5, November 2011, 397_410

    Sheward, S. and Branch, R. (2012) Motivational Career Counselling & Coaching London: Sage publications