By Louis Cournoyer, Ph. D., c.o.

Career development professionals are increasingly working with complex psychosocial issues, and our intervention models must be revised accordingly.

The field of career development, in Quebec as well as in Canada, is going through a turbulent period that is not independent of social, political, cultural and economic realities. For Boutinet, individuals these days are increasingly asked to manage and develop only their professional identity. So it’s not surprising that around the world, coaching models are increasingly oriented toward developing independence, managing change, life-long learning and the search for enduring meaning, all of which is occurring amidst social and societal change. In the most recent review of studies illustrating the focus of career development research, Erford and Crockett reveal the relational nature at the core of career development:

Themes driving career development research in 2011

Individual / work relationship

  • Look at the influences: autonomy; self-esteem, confidence and self image; feeling of personal effectiveness; personality traits, attachment needs, emotional intelligence;
  • Mobilize meaning: congruence, reflexivity, decision-making methods;
  • Stimulate commitment to work: satisfaction, vicarious learning;
  • Develop coping strategies: risk, creativity, expressing and managing emotions, assertiveness, regulation, reflexivity, social adaptation, searching for information, authenticity;
  • Increasing employability: skills and knowledge development, strategies for finding and holding on to a job;
  • Become aware of psychological health in the workplace: harmonious work relationships, burnout, fatigue and stress, trauma, psychological harassment, managing anxiety;
  • Study student retention and success: satisfaction, hope, academic and professional aspirations;
  • Follow life courses and personal and social transitions.


Individual / organization relationship

  • Study the underlying organizational issues: respect, fairness, consistency, organizational support for employees;
  • Determine organizations’ mores and values;
  • Adopt flexible initiatives: organizational resources: financial support, flexible hours, continuous education, working from home;
  • Foster women’s access to management positions;
  • Analyze the commitments made to employees, upholding of contractual commitments;
  • Propose organizational policies for supervising employees;
  • Understand the process for socialization, organizational change and interpersonal relationships between colleagues and with management.

Individual / social and family life relationships

  • Work on work-family balance: managing roles and conflicts, female identity, family decisions;
  • Identify initiatives and measures to find work-life balance;
  • Manage life roles;
  • Grasp the impact of life situations and social relationships;
  • Examine the use of social networks and contacts;
  • Facilitate transition to retirement/new career.





Individual / job market relationship

  • Study the aging of the population;
  • Examine the impact of elder care or caring for people with special needs;
  • Understand the extent of multiculturalism and diversity today: gender, weight, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexuality (homosexuality, transgender), disability, attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity;
  • Promote the professional integration of new workers;
  • Analyze the development of interests and aptitudes in children;
  • Examine the role of religion and spirituality;
  • Follow the career path of homosexuals and transgendered people.


Source: Erford, B. T. and Crockett, S. A. (2012), Practice and Research in Career Counseling and Development—2011. The Career Development Quarterly, 60, 290–332.

In regards to the topics raised, it would seem that career development is not a free and sequential growth process, but a complex process of ongoing adaptation and negotiation with oneself and the “other” (colleagues, supervisors, juniors, family and friends, groups, institutions, organizations, the workplace), oriented toward human development within a personal, academic and professional context. In Quebec, a study led by Cournoyer (2010) of career development professionals shows a worrisome increase of clients who are dealing with more complex and interrelated psychosocial problems: difficulties keeping a job in an unstable job market, poverty, crime and prosecution, single parenting, social isolation and stigmatization, learning disabilities and mental health (e.g. depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder—diagnosed or not), alcohol, drug or gambling dependency, isolation, marital and other relationship problems, etc. Interventions by career development professionals go beyond the strict and instrumental question of helping with deciding what to study or with looking for a job. They integrate mourning and trauma, improving self-esteem and self-confidence, taking into account the challenges with looking at oneself in the present and taking action in the future because of behaviours or attitudes related to procrastination, depression, fear, passiveness, unrealistic expectations, etc. As such, the models for intervention by career development professionals must now more than ever be revised and enhanced by a diversified empirical and practical knowledge covering psychological, social, cultural, legal issues, financial, medical and pharmaceutical issues.

In conclusion, certain questions arise:

  • Are career development professionals ready to deal with the increasing complexity of psychosocial problems that are cropping up in their field of practice?
  • How can a field with such different activities, whose professionals have such different training in terms of specialization (career counselling/development, teaching, sociology, communications, psychoeducation, special education, etc.), different levels of academic achievement (college, bachelor’s, master’s) and partial oversight of its members through a professional order, possess a consistent professional identity and social relevance that is recognized by the public?
  • Can we truly talk about “the” career development field when the practice is so fragmented, or should we find a term that better reflects the different practices?


Louis Cournoyer is a counselling professor at Université du Québec à Montréal. A career counsellor for the last 15 year, he maintains a professional practice serving young adults and adults, as well as professional coaching to career counsellors and career development advisors.