Paradigm Shift: Scores to Stories
Narrative approaches of career development diverge from a rich history grounded in positivistic tradition, including Parsons' rational career-decision making (Parsons, 1909; Pope, 2000). Career counseling in the postmodern world has shifted from an emphasis on scores (i.e., objectivity) to an emphasis on stories (i.e., perspectivity) (Blustein, 2006; Savickas, 1993). Likewise, the shift to a focus on story is consistent with what Daniel Pink (2005) calls a movement from the information age to the conceptual age. An emphasis on left-brained capabilities (objective, rational thinking) will be replaced by an emphasis on right-brained skills (abstract, creative thinking). The understanding and meaning of stories falls under this right-brained paradigm shift, and holds direct implications for career counseling. For career counselors to create ideal environments where client stories unfold, they must possess strong counseling skills AND be competent in narrative skills.
A Lesson from the Medical Field
The medical profession serves as an insightful example of narrative in practice. Several years ago, a group of physicians went under the stopwatch using the following research question: How long will physicians wait before interrupting their patients upon entering the room? The average response was only 21 seconds (as cited in Pink, 2005). In response to this issue, a new "Program in Narrative Medicine" was begun at Columbia University, where all medical students are required to complete training on narrative-based medicine. The objective is to learn to interpret patient stories of illness (Charon, 2004). In other words, physicians in training learn the skills needed to listen and understand patient narratives - a core of skills titled narrative competence. A parallel narrative movement is taking shape in the career development field. The life-career stories that we hear from our own clients are often dynamic and complex, perhaps even more so than stories of physical illness.
Role of Narrative Competence
According to Rita Charon (2004), narrative competence is "the set of skills required to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved by the stories one hears or reads." (p. 862)
She discussed three main sets of skills that are needed for health care professionals. They include the following:
I include two additional sets of narrative competencies that are relevant to career development:
Strategies to Help Develop Narrative Competencies
There are strategies that both experienced and beginning career development practitioners can use to help hone narrative competencies.
In conclusion, we hang on the cusp of an emerging shift in the career development field - a profound change from an emphasis on the old (scores and objective measures) to the new (stories and narrative approaches). In order to prepare ourselves for this paradigm shift, the need to hone narrative competencies will be vital.
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Mike Stebleton, Ph.D., is a counseling faculty member at Inver Hills Community College, located in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN metro area. Additionally, he holds adjunct positions at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota counseling graduate program and Metropolitan State University. Stebleton is the lead author of a recent publication by Prentice Hall titled, HIRED!: The job-hunting/career-planning guide. (3rd ed.) with Henle and Harris (2006). His current work focuses on narrative career development and the role of story, including the impact of media messages on life-career decision-making. This article is based on the session, "Do You Have a Story to Tell?" presented at the NCDA Conference, Chicago 2006. Correspondence regarding this article can be sent to: email@example.com.