06/01/2004

Distance Counseling Methods & Tele-counseling Approach for Employee Development

by Alice Rush

I have been counseling for almost 15 years, primarily corporate career development counseling with Fortune 500 companies, yet also in private practice in the Sacramento area. With the prevalence of on-line career assessments and the increased demand for distance counseling, many career counselors feel forced into distant counseling as a trend, yet they don't really want to do this kind of work. Counselors have said, "It's awkward, cumbersome and they can't connect as well with their clients." Some career counselors who have never tried it, but have expressed the process as something unnatural, too technical or seemingly unrewarding work. "What will they de-humanize next, internet church/temple/monastery services?"

I understand this sentiment intimately. Distant Counseling seems to almost go against our values as counselors. I must say when I first started distant counseling ten years ago with corporate employees, I was also resistant. I thought, Where is the support and humanity in this process? Not to mention I wasn't sure if this approach was as valid or ethical in comparison with traditional in person counseling.

I have come to realize over the years, however, that distance counseling appointments can often times provide counselors more depth and focus in a shorter period of time than in-person counseling appointments. I have discussed this phenomena with other experienced distance counselors, and they have found similar outcomes. One of my colleagues, Dr. Sandy Womack of Eduplan has said, "It's as though they want to tell you their whole life's story as soon as they get you on the phone." It's immediate. Not a lot of small talk or rapport building seems to be required for clients to feel comfortable sharing what's meaningful in their lives, almost immediately. I have used the "strangers on the train" phenomena, when describing distance counseling. When anonymity is greatest, we tend to reveal the most. Empirical social science research has also supported this tendency. At California State University, Hayward, my Interpersonal Processes professor, Dr. Patch, conducted an experiment in the early 80's, finding a statistical significance in client personal information revealed when speaking behind a partition (providing anonymity) as opposed to in-person face-to-face counseling. We see the parallel relevance with distance counseling, today.

Methods and Assessments Used in Distant Counseling:

In review of methods and the distance counseling process, the first step is the intake process. It's important to have obtained solid client/employee background prior to your appointment. This intake information should include (but is not limited to) the employee's name, job title, scope of work responsibilities, career and education goals, length of time with the company, current education background, age and ethnicity (for cultural sensitivity), why they want career counseling, and what they want to accomplish (expected outcomes.)

If the employee goals for counseling include assessment, I have found a combination of Skillscan online assessment, a self developed values checklist (sent as a word doc), a rewarding experiences assessment to ascertain all the elements of best work, and the Myers Briggs- deliver a comprehensive assessment profile for the client. Validating the Myers Briggs can be completed over the phone by utilizing Tieger's "Do What You Are" questions for each scale, especially if the client has a low raw score on a Myers Briggs scale and needs clarification.

The Skillscan assessment is the most effective online assessment I've used for helping clients/employees focus on their motivated skills (skills that give the employee energy when they are utilized.) These motivated skills are then linked with best fit internal career options, advancement options, development options, and helps the counselor with focus for clarification on education degree emphasis (prior to requesting corporate tuition reimbursement). It is also useful for employees who want to re-energize their current jobs. Skillscan has an excellent "Development Action Planning" section, listing specific activities employees may participate in to do more of "what they love" in their current job and/or develop skills so they can perform their current job (or future internal job) more confidently and effectively.

Once assessments are completed, I have employees fax me their results, then we schedule a phone meeting- starting with the intake process to clarify their goals for career counseling.

Duration and follow up

Phone meetings range in time from 1-2 hours, with the goal to verify and assist in validating career assessment results, uncover client/employee insights, facilitate employee goal focus, and create the beginning of a career development action plan. This action plan report is then documented for the individual and sent to their home email address (or US mail) with the subject line "Confidential Career Plan follow up." Added follow up support by phone is also highly recommended to encourage employee in acting on development plans, as well as help employee overcome any obstacles in the way of achieving goals. These follow ups can be, brief emails or quick voicemails, yet they can make all the difference in preserving employee momentum in achieving career goals. These follow ups can also help employees work through all the stages of the career management process, not simply the assessment stage.

Summary and Benefits

In closure, employees who work 60 hours a week, travel, juggle small children, work, activities, and school, typically feel as though their lives are out of control and many find they don't have time for traditional career counseling. In contrast, distant career counseling is typically brief (1-2 hours), can be worked into a lunch hour, and feedback results indicate the counseling has a healing affect on the client-- giving the employee a renewed sense of control over their life, with an action plan and the beginning of lifelong career insight. From an organizational perspective, distance counseling is more cost effective, time efficient, and can be delivered nationally without travel expense.

I hope more of you will try this emerging counseling process. You may be surprised by the depth of this work, in a short period of time. For more information about online assessments, visit: www.skillscan.net and www.cpp.com.


Alice Rush, MA, RPCC, MCC is Career Counseling Director, Owner and Founder of CareerU Career Development Consulting firm in the Sacramento Area. Alice has over thirteen years corporate career counseling and training experience working with Fortune 500 companies. She has also been a columnist for the Telegraph Newspapers, "CareerU for Success," and co-presented at the International Career Development Conference on Distance Counseling Techniques and Case Studies. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Psychology and a Master's Degree in Counseling. For more information, contact Alice Rush at (916) 349-7855, or Alice@CareerU.com or www.careeru.com.


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