Positive Psychology Techniques for K-12 Career Counseling

by Louis V. Paradise and Dawn Romano Ironside

Positive psychology approaches to counseling have been receiving widespread attention in recent years. Developed by Martin Seligman and his colleagues (e.g., Seligman, 1991; Seligman & Csikszentmihaly, 2000), these efforts focus on the positive aspects of life over the negative, on individual strengths rather than weakness or deficiencies, and on the normal human developmental issues rather than the abnormal. Considerable research has shown that positive developmental approaches can be more useful than remedial approaches which are based on pathology or human deficiencies.

Much of what positive psychology is all about is rooted theoretically in the humanistic and person-centered approaches to counseling and therapy. The basic tenets of positive psychology are that individuals have, at their essence, goodness, basic signature strengths, and resources. It is argued by proponents of this approach that positive aspects of behavior should be the focus of attention rather than the negative traits and maladaptive behaviors that have characterized much of the helping professions in the past. Many of the techniques and applications used in positive psychology are drawn from cognitive/behavioral counseling. Thus, positive psychology seems to be where humanistic, cognitive, and behavioral underpinnings merge.

While positive psychology approaches provide optimistic solutions for individuals of all ages, we believe that they can be particularly effective for the K-12 population. Often the use of positive psychology approaches will focus on the emotional issues of the K-12 student: self-esteem, parenting problems, peer pressure, behavior problems, etc. For these problems, the cognitive-affective nature of positive psychology has been valuable. However, little attention has been given to applying positive psychology to career counseling with the K-12 student. All too often, as research by Osborn and Baggerly (2004) has shown, school counselors think in terms of classic trait-factor approaches, matching students' traits to job/career/work environment characteristic of the "square pegs-square holes" approach which has been employed since the 1940s.

Techniques based on positive psychology can offer the advantage of focusing on the whole student rather than only on the part that allows a psychometric match between person and career. Since the goals of career counseling vary greatly throughout the K-12 span, certain techniques are more appropriate to specific ages. All techniques, however, focus on the positive, optimistic aspects of the individual's career development. A sampling across K-12 is presented.

Early grades

Middle grades

Upper grades

Overall, positive psychology counseling offers many new and exciting approaches to facilitate a positive career development experience throughout the K-12 years. By using techniques and approaches that focus on the notion that every child has strengths and resources, school counselors can be effective in their career initiatives.

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Osborn, D. S., & Baggerly, J. N. (2004). School counselors' perceptions of career counseling and career testing: Preferences, priorities, and predictors. Journal of Career Development, 31, 45-59.
Scales, P. C. (1999). Increasing service learning's impact on middle school children. Middle School Journal, 30, 40-44.
Seligman, M. E. P. (1991). Learned optimism. New York. Knopf.
Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihaly, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.
Steen, T. A., Kachorek, L. V., & Peterson, C. (2003). Character strengths among youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32 (1), 5-17.

Louis V. Paradise, Ph.D. is professor of educational leadership, counseling, and foundations at the University of New Orleans.
Dawn Romano Ironside , M.Ed. is a practicing school counselor and doctoral research associate at the University of New Orleans. Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to louis.paradise@uno.edu .

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