Social Theories Career Counseling

Carl Rogers, Erik Eriksson, and Frank Parson’s are all theorists who have had considerable influence in the field of career counseling. Career development has grown and changed since its initial contribution and work of Frank Parsons. Career counseling began in the United States and drastically evolved after the First World War. The evolution of career counseling has grown to now include clearer definitions of terms and involves more assessments and resources to match a person’s personality with their skills and abilities.

One of the most influential theorists is John Holland and his theoretical concepts.

The United States, over the past century, has developed several empirically based theories and approaches that are proven to be still effective for today’s career counselor. Holland’s Typology and Social Cognitive Career Theory have similarities theoretically, but differ in their implementation of each theory’s skill set. This paper will explore the development of such career theories that have shaped the career counseling field and discuss the advancement of career development and how this advancement shapes, influences, and reinforces a person’s purpose.

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Social Cognitive Career Theory

Lent, Brown, & Hackett, the authors of Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT), are rooted in Bandura’s self-efficacy theory, which integrates cognitive, self-regulatory, and motivational processes in to a lifelong process (Zunker, 2012, p. 42). SCCT suggests that individuals have control over their thoughts, actions, and behaviors and these are reinforced by learned experiences. Cognitive regulation of motivation is enhanced by self-efficacy, because people will exert to a level in accordance with what they are expecting in return.

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As people improve their skill set, confidence is gained, resulting improved outcomes and self-value. It is a goal driven aspiration of self-belief and internal ability.

Goals assist the individual with providing guidance, organization, and enhanced outcomes. Adversely, SCCT argues that women are underrepresented in male dominated fields. Women who have not been exposed to skills and jobs that are dominated by men may have a belief system that does not render them to believe they can have influence in these types of positions. Self-efficacy is greatly influenced through learning experiences. Both previous accomplishments and failures are influential to a person’s performance. Other significant learning experiences include vicarious learning (modeling), social persuasion (encouragement), and physiological states and reactions (stress). According to Zunker, “self-efficacy” is strengthened with successes experienced within a performance domain, whereas it is weakened when there are repeated failures”.

In order to sustain behavior and increase positive outcomes, personal goals are essential to this theory. Zunker argues that motivation may be due to both extrinsic reinforcement and internal self-efficacy. Individuals with higher self-efficacy are likely to expend more effort and endure longer, than those with lower self-efficacy. Motivations and expectations vary by individual. Likewise, those with lower self-efficacy tend to believe tasks are harder than they are and incur more stress. Self-belief plays a vital role in the career decision-making process. People gravitate to careers that they believe they can do. Conversely, they avoid those where they doubt their ability.

SCCT is a holistic theoretical approach to career development. This theory shows a relationship the individual’s personal attributes, external environmental factors, and behavior simultaneously. Self -efficacy is built on the individual’s attainments which are grounded in the outcome expectations of the internal, external, and contextual environments. These learned behaviors from various environmental stimuli assist with developing self-efficacy. As self-efficacy is developed it is possible for a person to contextually internally and externally be lacking. An example of this would be, an ex-con, while in prison, learned an skill and proficiently practiced and worked that skill for years, but when released had no opportunity, due to his record.

Holland’s theory fails to account for contextual environments in career development, whereas SCCT is not remiss. The contextual environment could be a significant barrier to employment to certain groups of individuals for various reasons. Identifying deficiencies in self-efficacy is necessary for the counselor to address. This may be one interrelationship that needs to be acknowledged and mitigated in career counseling. There are various tools to assess self-efficacy.

Based on this model being behavior based, it is highly unlikely that a SCCT theorist counselor would administer a personality trait based assessment. Therefore, the social cognitive theorist would use a subjective assessment for self-reporting, and find the Skill Confidence Inventory scale (SCI) and Generalized Self-Efficacy scale (GSE) as useful tools in assessing self-efficacy. The SCI is known for assessing self-efficacy in the vocational domain; whereas the GSE evaluates the individual’s optimism and coping skills in regards to facing challenges and barriers. It would be their position that behavior overrides the personality traits, and that skills can be learned.

John Holland’s Typology

Holland hypothesizes that one’s personality is expressed through their vocational interests and those interests could be categorized in to  Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional typologies. “The key concept behind Holland’s environmental models and environmental influences, is that individuals are attracted to a particular role demand an occupational environment that meets their personal needs and provides them with satisfaction”. People search for working environments that would allow them to exercise their talents and skills, which leads to a congruent person who has a higher job satisfaction rate. Individuals who demonstrate low congruence often report instability and minimal job satisfaction. Self-knowledge is instrumental in vocational satisfaction and stability.

Holland’s theorizes that career development is a lifespan process. The more experiences one has, the more self-awareness one has and crystallization occurs. According to Holland’s theory, one would have greater congruence between his working environment and personality traits, through lived experiences. This is similar to Jewish theology and their position on work and the importance of working is not about personal gratification, so much as it is for service to others. This greater sense of congruence also leads to better wellness, mental health, and interrelationships.

When there is a lack of congruence, people may seek guidance and counsel for career placement and development. Using Holland’s Theory, the counselor may elect to use the Strong’s Interest Inventory (which measures interests), the Vocational Preference Inventory (which provides information about goals, interests, and talents), the Position Classification Inventory (is a RIASEC job analysis measure), and/or the Career Attitudes and Strategies (which measures work environment variables) as assessments tools in providing career counseling. Holland’s Career Typology has been influential in vocational counseling due its cognitive approach to problem solving.

According to Chen and Simpson’s (2015) study, gender, race/ethnicity, high school achievement, and personality type were statistically significant factors in increasing or decreasing a student’s enrollment into a STEM major. Although this typology has been proven to be effective, there are limitations to this theory. This theory fails to incorporate the external factors and influences that affect the person. Holland’s focus was on the individual and his/her personality traits. The further limitations include the inadequacy in addressing the external factors and ecological systems that affects ones working environment and career choice.


Each theory is built off different concepts, but share significant commonalities. Armstrong and Vogel (2010) have found in their research that a ‘Holland-based interpretation of the relationships of interest and efficacy may be a useful alternative to the SCCT model’. These two attributes are common or similar among advanced career development models, as discussed and examined in the Social Cognitive Career Theory; although they are not considered in the Holland Theory, which was birthed out of the Trait-and-Factor theory. Although limited in scope, “The Trait-and-Factor theory has been the most durable of all career counseling theories”.

Effective job placement requires that an individual understand the specific skills and attributes he possesses, for making a satisfying career choice. The individual’s skills and abilities are not the only attributes needed, but there also needs to be congruent external and internal environments. These external environments play a pivotal role in career development and placement. Contrasting external and interrelation environments could become a barrier to successful career placement for certain individuals. Many career theorists will agree that job satisfaction and wellness increase when there is a worker who is engaged in his working environment. Engaged employees experience positive emotions, are healthier, and have better interpersonal relationships.

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Social Theories Career Counseling. (2022, Apr 15). Retrieved from

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