The Role of Work in People's Lives: Applied Career Counseling and Vocational Psychology

Book Review by Danielle Savage

The Role of Work in People's Lives: Applied Career Counseling and Vocational Psychology, by Nadene Peterson and Roberto Cortez Gonzālez. Belmont, CA: Brooks Cole, 2005, 2d ed., 592 pages.

The Role of Work in People's Lives is an ambitious graduate-level textbook that attempts to integrate what we currently know about multiculturalism and diverse populations into a comprehensive overview of work, career development, and career counseling. Instead of tacking on a chapter on diversity at the end of the book, the authors have resolutely placed it to the forefront of their exploration of life and vocational planning issues by incorporating relevant elements into each chapter.

Peterson, retired professor at Our Lady of the Lake, and Gonzālez, professor at The University of Texas at El Paso, are well-qualified for the challenge. They have written the books Career Counseling Models for Diverse Populations: Hands-On Applications for Practitioners (Brooks Cole, 2000), and the earlier edition of Role, also in 2000, as well as numerous articles and presentations, either together or separately, on related topics.

The first chapter opens with a photographic illustration of a public laundry in India, and describes the intricate system of its use in the community. This is a far cry from the high-flying executive many may associate with occupational research, but a good reminder that work is always connected to a historical and social context, and that for many individuals, it does not necessarily involve intrinsic or extrinsic rewards or even remuneration. The authors continually challenge assumptions about what work is, how people perceive meaning in their work, and how they can appropriately implement vocational development approaches given their backgrounds and values. They dismiss much traditional career counseling as elitist, as it "does not capture the experience of diverse populations."

Probing the dramatic changes occurring in the job market, they investigate the corresponding evolution in life and career development research and in the career services profession itself. As they state, "the field is being challenged to dramatically transform itself into a practical source of assistance for people with vast arrays of life situations and work circumstances." They present historical as well as current and emerging models and theories, then examine them in light of their applicability to various distinct populations including African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual individuals, older workers, and individuals with disabilities. The authors also focus on other traditionally under-researched groups such as the gifted and adults with LD (learning disabilities) and ADD (attention deficit disorder). Throughout, largely unexamined principles such as the Protestant (they prefer "Puritan") work ethic are critically analyzed and deconstructed.

A feature of the new edition is an increased emphasis on vocational development and counseling in middle school. Other chapters cover values, ethics, and spirituality; vocational counseling in high schools and for adults; and family and systemic influences on future choices. A "Practical Applications" section in each chapter provides specific, concrete ways that the material covered can be used to enhance career exploration.

The book makes the case for much more integration into the literature of current knowledge about the self, work, and society gleaned through the disciplines of political science, international relations, business, economics, and multicultural and feminist studies, among others, to reflect the subtle interplay that exists between individuals and society at all levels. They continually point out the potential for bias, such as the overuse of college students as samples in studies on occupational decision-making.

Given the tremendous scope of this work, it would be surprising if not downright astonishing for it to be entirely comprehensive. Some omissions exist (I was puzzled to find nothing on Schein's Career Anchors, for example), and discussions about specific applications of theories and models for different groups are necessarily condensed. Further, there is little delving into upmarket trends such as coaching, mentoring, networking, and so-called portfolio or boundaryless careers.

Nevertheless, as a textbook to be complemented with primary and other sources, it is a remarkable contribution to the field. As practitioners, diversity is not some abstract concept we only read about in scholarly journals, but an important - and enriching - aspect of our everyday lives. The frontier between "mainstream" and "non-traditional" students is growing fuzzier every day, as we recognize that our clients and constituents may identify with many different communities simultaneously. This textbook will assist graduate students and others develop a critical perspective of how far we have come in the field in the last 100 years, but also serve as a reminder of how much we still do not know.

Danielle Savage is Career Counselor at The American University of Paris, where she works with students and alumni from over 100 countries. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto, a Matrise from the Universit de Paris III la Sorbonne Nouvelle and is currently pursuing a MSc. in Organizational Psychology from the University of London. In addition to NCDA, Danielle is a member of NACE (the National Association of Colleges and Employers), NRWA (the National Resume Writing Association), and several European professional associations. She can be reached at dsavage@aup.fr.