Cross-Cultural Career Counseling

Frederick T L Leong & Paul J Hartung. Handbook of Racial & Ethnic Minority Psychology. Editor: Guillermo Bernai. Sage Publications. 2003.

As the field of psychology increases its recognition of the importance of cultural differences, scholars have begun to challenge Western-based models of career counseling and their relevance to culturally different clients (see Leong, 1995). Many of these scholars have gone on to reformulate existing career theories with greater attention to issues of culture and context in career development and counseling. Another trend has been for scholars and practitioners within the fields of vocational psychology and career development to propose more culturally appropriate models for racial and ethnic minorities. These models have been advanced in efforts to improve the process and outcome of career counseling and career intervention for clients of diverse racial and ethnic minority backgrounds by situating counseling in a cultural context (Fouad & Bingham, 1995; Leong, 1993; Leong & Brown, 1995; Leong & Hartung, 1997).

Effective career counseling with racial and ethnic minorities, as with all clients, necessarily occurs within a cultural context (Fouad, 1995; Fouad & Arbona, 1994). Counselors must attend to important cultural variables such as values, ethnic identity, language, interpersonal communication style, and time orientation for the career counseling and intervention process to be appropriate and for that process to yield desirable outcomes (Fouad, 1995; Leong, 1993, 1995; Leong & Hartung, 1997). Because racial and ethnic minority individuals are more likely to seek formal counseling for educational and work-related concerns, career counselors stand uniquely positioned to deliver services that incorporate culturally appropriate processes and goals (Leong, 1993; Sue & Sue, 1990). Doing so might thereby increase the likelihood that racial and ethnic minority clients will seek additional mental health services when the need arises.

In recent years, scholars within the fields of vocational psychology and career development have increasingly come to explicitly adopt the belief that career counseling must take place within a cultural context. Consequently, they have examined the validity and viability of career counseling models and methods for a culturally diverse workforce—a workforce that includes growing numbers of people representing various racial and ethnic minority groups (Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Fouad, 1995; Leong, 1995; Savickas, 1995a, 1995b). Scholars have considered the extent to which existing career choice and development theories explain, predict, and describe the career development and vocational behavior of racial and ethnic minority group members (see, e.g., Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Leong, 1995; Savickas, 1995a, 1995b). Some have argued that extant career development theories and career counseling models have little value at all in this realm and are limited mostly to use with college-educated, White, male, middle-class individuals. Such a claim derives support from those who quickly note that most research on career theories, and in psychology generally, involves White college undergraduate students (Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Tnandis, 1994). In this regard, Leong and Brown (1995) asserted that “the central problem with most, if not all of the majority career theories is their lack of cultural validity for racial and ethnic minorities in this country” (p. 145).

An important response to the cultural validity problem in career theory and counseling practice within the past decade has been increased scholarly productivity aimed at both better conceptualizing the career choice and development process and developing culturally relevant career counseling models and intervention methods. This scholarship has produced textbooks (e.g., Leong, 1995; Savickas & Walsh, 1996), chapters (e.g., Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Fouad, 1995; Fouad & Bingham, 1995; Leong & Brown, 1995; Subich, 1996; Vondracek & Fouad, 1994), and a number of articles in special issues and sections of journals, including The Career Development Quarterly (Leong, 1991; Savickas, 1993), Journal of Vocational Behavior (Tinsley, 1994), and Journal of Career Assessment (Walsh, 1994). The growing body of multicultural career development and counseling literature has done much to enhance conceptual and, to some degree, empirical knowledge of cultural, socioeconomic, gender, and environmental factors that influence career development and vocational behavior.

Recent statements of career theories also demonstrate progress in attending to issues of culture and context in career development and counseling. For example, Super, Savickas, and Super (1996) described how the constructs of roles and values make life span and life space theory more relevant to women and diverse cultural and ethnic groups. Similarly, Young, Valach, and Collin (1996) embedded issues of culture within the fabric of their contextual explanation of career. Much scholarship has also focused on examining the relevance and usefulness of career counseling models and interventions for individuals representing diverse racial and ethnic minority groups (see, e.g., Betz & Fitzgerald, 1995; Bowman, 1993; Subich, 1996). Nancy Betz’s (1993) conclusion that “there is much to be done in the area of multicultural career counseling” (p. 55) still holds true, yet significant work has begun to advance knowledge and awareness of the career counseling process with racial and ethnic minorities.

Work in this vein has led to the development or adaptation of several distinct models of cross-cultural career counseling. These models have been advanced in efforts to improve the process and outcome of career counseling and career intervention for clients of diverse racial and ethnic minority backgrounds by situating counseling in a cultural context (Fouad & Bingham, 1995; Leong, 1993; Leong & Brown, 1995; Leong & Hartung, 1997). One such model, which we describe more fully elsewhere in this chapter, adapted a conceptual framework for cross-cultural career assessment and counseling using an integrative tripartite approach (Leong & Hartung, 1997). Like models of similar purpose that we will review below, the integrative-sequential model recognizes how culture influences what individuals identify as career problems, whether they seek professional help for any work- or career-related problems that have been identified, and how counselors evaluate those problems to identify culturally appropriate interventions.

In addition to counseling models, some specific approaches to career intervention have been described that support and advance culturally sensitive career counseling. These approaches include contextual (Collin, 1996; Young & Valach, 1996; Young et al, 1996), personal construct (Savickas, 1995a), and narrative (Cochran, 1997) strategies for assisting individuals to make improved career decisions. Each of these strategies emphasizes clients’ subjective and personal career realities.

In this chapter, we examine several recently developed models useful for conducting cross-cultural career counseling. Although there have been numerous empirical studies of career development among racial and ethnic minority students, many of these findings have already been reviewed elsewhere (e.g., Leong, 1995, Leong & Brown, 1995). We decided that a review of these newer intervention models might help spark additional research. These models were chosen for review here because they embed cultural variables and issues throughout the career counseling process.

The first model seeks to locate career counseling in a comprehensive sequential cultural context that illustrates the influence of cultural factors across all stages of the career counseling help-seeking process. The second model was developed specifically for cross-cultural career counseling, drawing primarily from the cross-cultural and multicultural counseling literature (e.g., Sue & Sue, 1990). The third model represents an elaboration of an existing developmental career assessment and counseling approach designed to increase its relevance for use in cross-cultural career counseling contexts. The fourth and final model proposes a cultural accommodation approach to cross-cultural counseling in general but can be readily adapted to career counseling clients.

Integrative-Sequential Model of Career Counseling Services

We begin with a model that adopted a broad contextual perspective in analyzing the career counseling enterprise with racial and ethnic minorities. This model adopted a conceptual framework for cross-cultural career assessment and counseling by using an integrative-sequential approach (Leong & Hartung, 1997). Like models of similar purpose that we will review below, the integrative-sequential model recognizes how culture influences what individuals identify as career problems, whether they seek professional help for any identified work- or career-related problems, and how counselors evaluate those problems to identify culturally appropriate interventions.

Given this set of assumptions, here is the probable scenario using Leong and Hartung’s (1997) sequential model for career counseling services with racial and ethnic minority clients. We will use the example of Asian American clients to illustrate this model. In the first stage of this model, where the emergence of career problems occurs in the ethnic minority community, Asians and Asian Americans are likely to have different conceptualizations of their career problems in contrast to White Americans by virtue of their collectivistic orientation. White Americans with individualistic values are likely to possess a conception of their “self” as autonomous, distinct, and self-contained. Independent thinking and action are the hallmarks of a mature and actualized individual. Obviously, such beliefs will also color how they conceptualize their career problems. Having a sense of self that is connected and defined greatly by group norms and expectations, Asians and Asian Americans are less likely to view their career decision-making problems as purely personal ones. They are much more likely than White Americans to experience tensions between personal interests/goals/aspirations and family duty/obligations and social responsibilities. At the same time, the high power distance and hierarchical relationships in existence in the families of these individuals make the expression and sharing of such tensions highly complex and problematic. In light of such a conception of career problems, Asians and Asian Americans are therefore much more likely to believe that these problems are too complicated to be resolved simply by talking with someone else about them.

For those who eventually do seek career counseling, such a belief is often confirmed because most of the White European American career counselors they encounter are likely to approach their career problems with a conception of the self as an autonomous and separate entity. Indeed, many of these counselors will perceive these clients as being quite immature because they appear not to have “fully individuated” from their families of origin as they should have. This moves us to the second stage in Leong and Hartung’s (1997) model, namely, help seeking. Being collectivistic and having an interdependent self-construal, the clients will very likely view their “personal career problems” as being embedded in a complex social network of obligations and responsibilities that transcends the notion that a career choice is simply a personal choice based on individual interests, aptitudes, and abilities. Such a conceptualization, combined with the tendency for collectivistic persons to distrust out-group members, will make Asians and Asian Americans very reluctant to seek help with their career problems. This culturally based reluctance to seek professional help is also further supported by the important influence of in-group members, such as families and peers, on collectivistic persons. This social inhibition toward seeking professional assistance for problems, career or emotional ones, should be quite robust among collectivistic clients because it is multiply determined and supported by numerous cultural values and beliefs. All of this results in a very high threshold that has to be passed before an Asian or Asian American person with collectivistic values will seek career counseling.

For those for whom the threshold has been passed, other problems may occur when career counseling services are sought. The social inhibition described above is now accompanied by a considerable amount of ambivalence as the Asian or Asian American client enters into career counseling. Already fearful that the White American career counselor may not fully understand the complexity of his or her problems, the client brings with him or her a high level of cultural mistrust and cultural stereotypes. More often than not, these stereotypes are confirmed. Here is a not too unreasonable scenario: A White European American counselor trained in Western-based models of career counseling engages the client and begins the career assessment phase. This is the third stage in Leong and Hartung’s (1997) sequential model. Being an individualistic counselor with an independent self-construal operating on the ethnocentric assumption that the client should be similar in self-conception, he or she concludes from the assessment that the client exhibits evidence of career immaturity and too much dependence on others in the career decision-making process. As this conceptualization is “tactfully” communicated to the client, the counselor does not realize that he or she is misunderstanding his or her Asian or Asian American client and quite possibly alienating him or her by applying a social cognitive schema that simply does not fit. We would propose that if we were to conduct career counseling process studies with such dyads (collectivistic Asian client and individualistic White career counselor), we would find many instances of such culturally dystonic experiences for the client, which in turn would result in negative therapeutic encounters and premature termination from career counseling. With his or her fears and stereotypes confirmed, the client decides not to come for the next appointment with this counselor and instead prematurely terminates from counseling.

Western-based models of career counseling have long been criticized for their Eurocentric bias. Specifically, this translates into the tendency to conceptualize career maturity from a purely individualistic orientation, thereby relegating persons with a collectivistic orientation to the diagnosis of being career immature. Some recent research has begun to demonstrate empirically the individualistic bias in such career assessment models. For example, an early study found that Asian American college students exhibited a more dependent decision-making style and lower career maturity than European American students (Leong, 1991). Leong (1991) went on to question the validity of these findings because the same Asian Americans who exhibited dependent decision-making styles and lower career maturity did not exhibit lower levels of vocational identity, as measured by Holland, Daiger, and Power’s (1980) My Vocational Situation inventory. Motivated by this discrepancy, Hardin, Leong, and Osipow (2001) conducted a study demonstrating that the definition and measurement of career maturity may be less valid for Asian Americans because it fails to accurately distinguish between independence, interdependence, and dependence. Hardin et al. (2001) believed that Asian Americans, who tend to be more collectivistic and more likely to possess interdependent self-construals than European Americans, are actually considered dependent (not interdependent) and erroneously classified as less career mature in current assessment models such as the Career Maturity Inventory.

To investigate this possibility, Hardin et al. (2001) administered several instruments, including the Career Maturity Inventory (CMI) (Cntes, 1978) and the Self-Construal Scale (SCS) (Singelis, 1994), to 235 self-identified non-Hispanic, White European American and 182 self-identified Asian American college students. Consistent with previous research (Leong, 1991; Luzzo, 1992), the Asian American participants exhibited less mature career choice attitudes, as measured by the CMI, than their European American counterparts. However, these results were moderated by self-construal. Specifically, interdependence, not independence, was found to be most associated with career choice attitudes. Those participants who had high interdependent self-construals, regardless of the level of their independent self-construals, had less mature career choice attitudes, as measured by the CMI, than those participants who had lower interdependent self-construals. No differences in maturity of career choice attitudes were observed based on level of independence. Furthermore, the three subscales on which the Asian Americans were found to exhibit less mature career choice attitudes than the European Americans (Compromise, Independence, and Involvement) were also the three subscales found to be most related to interdependence. Specifically, those participants who were high in interdependence had lower scores on these subscales than participants who were low in interdependence. Thus, it appears that the CMI is biased toward a definition and measurement of career maturity based on independent self-construals and that persons high on interdependent self-construals, such as collectivistic Asians, will be categorized as career immature in this model.

For those clients who make it to the fourth stage of Leong and Hartung’s (1997) model, where actual career counseling begins, other challenges present themselves. The same collectivistic tendency to view out-group members as very different and not to be readily trusted exists in the counseling phase as in the assessment phase. Such clients are also likely to expect a high power distance and hierarchical relationship with the counselor. The counselor’s attempt to use a nondirective and egalitarian approach is likely to produce puzzlement and even discomfort among these clients. In addition, collectivistic Asian or Asian American clients with interdependent self-construals will have very strong ties to families and friends. Attempts by the counselor to help the client “mature and individuate from the families and friends” to “become an independent, self-sufficient person capable of making his or her own decisions” will often result in more culturally dystonic experiences for this client. This is likely to lead to negative outcomes for the final phase in Leong and Hartung’s (1997) model, namely, counseling outcomes and return to the community.

The major advantage of this model is the adoption of a comprehensive perspective of the natural history in which career services are sought. With a stage-oriented sequential process, this model allows for an in-depth exploration of the possible cultural factors that might influence the career counseling enterprise from problem conception, problem emergence, and help seeking to intervention and outcome. By separating out the career counseling into different stages, this model allows us to examine different facets of that natural history. For example, if racial and ethnic minority groups exhibit differential rates of help seeking for career and vocational problems, as they currently do for mental health problems (see Leong, 2001), are there cultural differences in problem conception (vis-à-vis career problems) that would help us understand the differential rates in help seeking? The current model proposes that the client’s career problem does not begin and end with the career counselor but instead has a natural history that exists prior to help seeking and extends beyond the termination of counseling.

A Culturally Appropriate Career Counseling Model

Asserting the centrality of culture in effective career counseling, Fouad and Bingham (1995) articulated a culturally appropriate career counseling model. Their seven-step model extends prior work by Ward and Bingham (1993), who sought to develop a culturally sensitive model for use in career assessment with ethnic minority women. The model rests on the fundamental assumption that counselors must consider and attend to a wide array of important cultural variables in the career counseling process and when designing career interventions with racial and ethnic minorities. These cultural variables include, for example, racial identity development, discrimination, family and gender role expectations, and various worldview dimensions. Let us consider each step of the model proposed by Fouad and Bingham in turn.

Step 1: Establish a Culturally Appropriate Relationship. Issues of culture are considered throughout each step of the counseling process, which begins in Step 1 with the counselor establishing a culturally appropriate relationship. For many ethnic minority individuals who may prize the relationship more than any other component of counseling, this step may be the most crucial (Bingham & Ward, 1996). As in any client-counselor relationship, establishing rapport is important to successful engagement of the client in the counseling process. With racial and ethnic minorities, it becomes particularly important for the counselor to attend to issues of culture that may influence the client’s perception of the counseling process and their expectations for its outcome. Different clients will likely approach the relationship with a counselor differently as a function of their cultural values and beliefs. These differences may surface during counseling in verbal and nonverbal behaviors, such as level of self-disclosure and degree of eye contact, and in the clients’ expectations of the counselor. Fouad and Bingham (1995) noted, for example, that Asian American clients might expect the counselor to take an authoritative or expert role, whereas Hispanic clients may expect the counselor to self-disclose and share personal information. In this opening phase of cross-cultural career counseling, counselors must demonstrate flexibility in adjusting their style to appropriately connect with the client, suspend their own stereotypes and biases, and accommodate to the needs and expectations of the client relative to the role the client desires the counselor to assume in the relationship.

Step 2: Identify Career Issues. Step 2 of the culturally appropriate career counseling model involves identifying career issues that clients present. This step centers on determining what the client defines as a “career issue,” and therefore it is important for the counselor to conceive career issues in the broadest sense. Clients must be allowed and encouraged to explore whatever problems and concerns they are experiencing across a broad range of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, environmental, and other domains. The counselor facilitates this process through open-ended questions and prompts aimed to help the client broadly examine and then specify what the client perceives and defines as career issues. To further assist in this process, Bingham and Ward (1997) described the Career Counseling Checklist and the Decision Tree as career assessments to help clients broaden their cultural perspectives on the world of work and to assist counselors in determining the need for counseling and when to address racial and ethnic issues. Fouad and Bingham (1995) also advised that in this step of the counseling process especially, counselors should help clients to explicitly define any external barriers to their career choice and development such as employer, coworker, or institutional prejudice, racism, and discrimination.

Step 3: Assess the Effects of Cultural Variables. Having established a culturally appropriate relationship and identified the client’s career concerns and perceived barriers in Steps 1 and 2, Step 3 moves to assessing the effects of cultural variables on the client’s career issues and decisions. The outcome of this step should be a clear understanding of how cultural variables influence the client’s career decision making and development. Fouad and Bingham (1995) depicted various spheres of influence of cultural variables using a concentric circles diagram. The individual self, including biological and genetic factors, occupies the core circle, with gender, family, racial or ethnic group, and the dominant (majority) group emanating outward from and exerting an influence on this core of the person. In counseling, the model asserts the importance of examining the full range of these variables to determine what particular spheres may be affecting the client. For example, gender role expectations may inhibit some women from exploring traditionally male-dominated occupations. Family-based norms of duty, obligation, and deference to parents may affect the career decision-making process for various ethnic minorities. On another level, structural factors such as stereotyping, racism, and discrimination that limit racial and ethnic minority group members’ participation in particular occupations can and do significantly affect and inhibit career development and work adjustment for these individuals. By working with clients to assess and pinpoint the particular cultural issues that affect their career development, appropriate treatment goals and interventions can be designed.

Step 4: Set Counseling Goals. In a 1993 article, Leong described the importance of setting culturally appropriate goals in cross-cultural career counseling. Leong cautioned counselors against directing clients toward culturally inappropriate goals due to their own prejudices and stereotyping. For example, a counselor may become frustrated with a racial or ethnic minority client’s lack of English-language proficiency, which may in turn dilute the career counseling services the client receives as the counselor believes the client cannot benefit from counseling. Counselors might also steer racial and ethnic minority clients toward occupations based on stereotypical beliefs about what those clients might be best suited for (e.g., Asian Americans in science occupations or Hispanic Americans in service-oriented occupations). Fouad and Bingham (1995) concurred with Leong’s assessment and therefore included as Step 4 of their model the importance of establishing counseling goals consistent with the client’s worldview, cultural value orientation, and cultural practices. Vital to this step of the process is the counselor underscoring the collaborative nature of the counseling relationship. This translates into the counselor actively working in partnership with the client to set goals that the client wants, that the client can realistically achieve, and that respect the client’s cultural background.

Step 5: Design Culturally Appropriate Counseling Interventions. In Step 5, the focus of counseling centers squarely on interventions. With a trusting relationship and appropriate goals established, client and counselor work in tandem to select and implement culturally relevant counseling interventions designed to promote attainment of the mutually agreed-on goals set in the previous step. Reviewing the scant literature on career interventions with racial and ethnic minorities up to 1993, Bowman delineated several areas and types of interventions for counselors to consider using with racial and ethnic minority clients. Among her recommendations, she suggested that counselors (a) use group rather than individual interventions for clients with more collectivistic and relational cultural value orientations, (b) incorporate the family in the counseling and decision-making process, (c) use role models working in nontraditional occupations that appropriately reflect the racial and ethnic identity of the client and that promote the client’s awareness of previously unconsidered options, (d) use career information materials in ways appropriate to the client’s language and cultural background (see Hartung, 1996, for more discussion of this point), and (e) enlist counselors of the same ethnicity as the client to deliver the intervention.

Step 6: Make a Decision. Readiness to make a career-related decision in Step 6 occurs only after the client and counselor have successfully completed the previous five steps (Bingham & Ward, 1996; Fouad & Bingham, 1995). On reaching Step 6, clients would be expected to be involved in decision making related to their specific career concerns and goals, initially implementing their plans, and moving toward closure of the counseling process. There may arise at this point a need to revisit earlier steps to reconsider or reappraise the client-counselor relationship, revise and reestablish counseling goals, or redesign intervention strategies. The model suggests here that it is incumbent on the counselor to remain sensitive and open to the possibility of again working through previously “completed” steps.

Step 7: Implement and Follow Up. Counseling draws to a close in Step 7, with the client becoming more highly involved in implementing decisions and plans toward ultimate goal attainment. Fouad and Bingham (1995) discussed how, at this step, the counselor may need to encourage the client to seek further counseling despite any feelings on the part of the client that doing so would somehow indicate that the client failed and possibly result in the client’s “loss of face.” The counselor must, when necessary, convey clearly to the client that returning to counseling occurs frequently among clients and represents an opportunity to reevaluate and improve on the gains already made.

A Developmental Approach to Cross-Cultural Career Counseling

Taking a different approach to conceptualizing the cross-cultural career counseling process, Hartung et al. (1998) elaborated the career-development assessment and counseling model (C-DAC) (Super, 1983) for use in career counseling with racial and ethnic minorities. Rather than developing an entirely new model, Hartung et al. decided to extend the C-DAC model as an existing conceptual scheme with the goal of making it more relevant in cross-cultural counseling contexts. They argued that counselors who take a developmental career assessment and counseling approach would benefit from using this elaborated framework by increasing their awareness, knowledge, and skills relative to the influence of cultural factors on racial and ethnic minority career development and vocational behavior throughout the counseling process.

The C-DAC Model. Developmental career assessment and counseling systematically bridges career theory and practice. Integrating differential, developmental, and phenomenological methods, the C-DAC model uses a comprehensive career assessment battery to help clients explore their roles, developmental stages and tasks, career attitudes and knowledge, values, and interests within their unique life contexts. Hartung et al. (1998) elaborated on the C-DAC model to formally appraise cultural identity in Step 1 of the model and to consider cultural identity concerns throughout the career assessment and counseling process. This would help counselors more clearly understand how cultural factors influence individuals’ career development and vocational behavior.

The four-step C-DAC approach begins in Step 1 with a preview of the client’s record and an initial interview to assess role salience and formulate a preliminary counseling plan. Central to this first step, counselors determine through dialogue and formal assessment the importance of work to the client relative to life roles in other areas (e.g., study, home and family, community, and leisure). Ascertaining the client’s level of work role salience indicates to the counselor whether further career assessment and counseling will be meaningful (high career salience) or not (low career salience). Clients high in career salience show readiness for further career assessment. Clients low in career salience may, depending on their unique life status, need help either orienting to the world of work prior to further assessment or exploring and preparing for other life roles.

Step 2, depth-view, comprises formal assessment of career choice readiness and adaptability, interests, and values. Here the counselor first administers instruments to formally assess important career choice process variables, including the client’s developmental career stage, career concerns, and level of career maturity or career adaptability. Step 2 thus begins with measurement of the client’s readiness for career decision-making activities such as identifying and exploring occupational interests and work values. If the client’s scores indicate a high level of career choice readiness, the counselor interprets this to mean that the client is prepared to maximally benefit from interest, values, and other career choice content assessments. If the client attains low scores on career choice readiness assessments, the counselor interprets this to mean that the client is less apt to be able to benefit from such content assessments (see Savickas, 2000, for a discussion of career choice content and career choice process assessments).

Data assessment in Step 3 reviews all information gathered. This includes data obtained from both the informal assessment conducted in the preview stage and formal assessment completed in the depth-view stage. Counseling in Step 4 explores what the data mean for the client. Taken together, the four steps of the C-DAC approach incorporate the following five dimensions of career assessment and counseling interventions designed to promote successful career decision making:

  • Role salience: the relative importance of work and nonwork roles
  • Career development: assessing developmental stages and tasks
  • Career choice readiness: career planning attitudes and knowledge
  • Values and interests: desired outcomes of work and preferred occupations
  • Tentative decision making, plan formation, and initial implementation

Hartung et al. (1998) recommended extending the C-DAC model to infuse assessments and interventions that address the following sixth dimension:

  • Cultural identity development

Incorporating this sixth dimension was designed to make cultural identity a core component of the C-DAC model, foster cultural relevance in implementing each step of the model, and specify culturally sensitive assessments and counseling interventions as part of the assessment and counseling process. Hartung et al. (1998) recommended including in the assessment and counseling process culture-sensitive assessments such as the Multicultural Career Counseling Checklist (MCCC) (Bingham & Ward, 1996; Ward & Bingham, 1993) and the Career Counseling Checklist (CCC) (Bingham & Ward, 1996; Ward & Bingham, 1993).

Hartung et al. (1998) thus elaborated the model to formally appraise cultural identity in Step 1 and to consider cultural identity concerns throughout the counseling and assessment process. They recommended adding to the model assessments and interventions that address cultural identity development as a significant variable affecting career exploration, choice, development, and adjustment. In so doing, counselors might take better account of cultural factors, such as those described in Step 3 of Fouad and Bingham’s (1995) model, that influence each C-DAC step and attend to how those factors promote or inhibit racial and ethnic minority career development. The elaboration further recognizes the influence of such factors as acculturation, cultural value orientations (individualism and collectivism), and external career barriers (e.g., stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination) on racial and ethnic minority career development and vocational behavior.

Including cultural identity as a core C-DAC element should prompt career counselors to be aware of their own attitudes about clients who are culturally different from themselves. For example, Hartung et al. (1998) suggested that counselors might examine their own career development and take a C-DAC battery of instruments. This would effectively create a parallel process that might enhance a counselor’s empathy for the career process of the client.

Hartung et al. (1998) argued that making cultural identity a core component of the C-DAC model would augment the differential, developmental, and personal construct components of the approach. Infusing this important dimension takes into account cultural variables that influence each of the other components as well as the entire career decision-making and development process. To effectively use the C-DAC model, counselors must also recognize the role of cultural variables that influence the counseling process for both the client and themselves. Counselors need to remain cognizant of such factors as acculturation, cultural value orientations, and external career obstacles (e.g., stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination) that may act as significant moderators of racial and ethnic minority career development and vocational behavior. For example, assessing the client’s acculturation level in Step 1 would guide the counselor in determining whether and how to modify subsequent steps (e.g., in terms of selecting, sequencing, and interpreting assessment instruments). Major issues related to ethnic minority vocational behavior and career development relative to their acculturation levels include occupational segregation, stereotyping, discrimination, prestige, mobility, attitudes, aspirations and expectations, stress, satisfaction, choice, and interest (Leong, 1995; Leong & Seráfica, 1995).

Using the C-DAC model within this elaborated framework recognizes that the individual client and counselor both can be conceptualized from the universal, group, and individual perspectives. All three perspectives are important, and using any one vantage point without the other two reveals only part of the problem and part of the solution. Counselors must consider all three perspectives to accurately understand clients’ career development. Doing so should give the C-DAC model incremental validity above and beyond its use when emphasizing only one dimension.

An Integrative and Multidimensional Model of Career Counseling

Lamenting the lack of comprehensive and integrative theoretical models for cross-cultural counseling, Leong (1996) proposed a multidimensional and integrative model of cross-cultural counseling. This integrative model has recently been extended to career counseling (Leong & Hardin, in press; Leong & Tang, in press). Leong (1996) used Kluckhohn and Murray’s (1950) tripartite framework in proposing that cross-cultural counselors and therapists need to attend to all three major dimensions of human personality and identity—namely, the universal, the group, and the individual dimensions. The universal dimension is based on the knowledge base generated by mainstream psychology and the “universal laws” of human behavior that have been identified (e.g., the universal “fight or flight” response in humans to physical threat). The group dimension has been the domain of both cross-cultural psychology and ethnic minority psychology and the study of gender differences. The third and final dimension concerns unique individual differences and characteristics. The individual dimension is more often covered by behavioral and existential theories in which individual learning histories and personal phenomenology are proposed as critical elements in the understanding of human behavior. Leong’s (1996) integrative model proposes that all three dimensions are equally important in understanding human experiences and should be attended to by the counselor in an integrative fashion.

Leong (1996) used a famous quote from Kluckhohn and Murray’s (1950) influential chapter on “The Determinants of Personality Formation,” published in their book Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture, as the beginning point for his integrative model. The quote was as follows: “Every man is in certain respects: a) like all other men, b) like some other men, and c) like no other man” (p. 35). In this quote, Kluckhohn and Murray are pointing out that some of the determinants of personality are common features found in the genetic makeup of all people. This addresses the biological aspect of the biopsychosocial model generally used in today’s medical sciences. For certain other features of personality, however, Kluckhohn and Murray (1950) stated that most men are like some other men, showing the importance of social grouping, whether that grouping is based on culture, race, ethnicity, gender, or social class. Last, they said that “each individual’s modes of perceiving, feeling, needing, and behaving have characteristic patterns which are not precisely duplicated by those of any other individual” (p. 37). Each person’s individuality, often the focus of social learning theories and models, is thus expressed in the last part of the quote. It accentuates the fact that all persons have distinct social learning experiences that can influence their values, beliefs, and cognitive schemas.

The integrative model of cross-cultural counseling proposed by Leong (1996) has as one of its fundamental bases the notion that the individual client must exist at three levels: the universal, the group, and the individual. The problem with much of the past research in the field of cross-cultural counseling is that the focus has been on only one of the three levels, ignoring the influence of the other levels in the counseling situation. Leong’s (1996) integrative model includes all three dimensions of personality as well as their dynamic interactions and thus will have better incremental validity than any model that focuses on only one of the three levels. The integrative model for cross-cultural counseling and psychotherapy was conceived to provide a more complex and dynamic conception of human beings.

Cross-cultural career counseling that is based on Leong’s (1996) integrative model would be an eclectic approach that seeks to apply knowledge from all three dimensions to understand and assist the client with his or her career problems and developmental tasks (see Leong & Hardin, in press; Leong & Tang, in press). For example, career counselors using this model would recognize that work is universal but that its meaning is embedded in a cultural context that shapes and colors its nature and experience. Instead of mindlessly applying Western-based models of career counseling to all clients coming through their doors, career counselors using the integrative model would carefully select theories and models from both the universalist (mainstream psychology) and the cross-cultural and racial/ethnic minority psychology literature to guide their counseling with culturally different students. At the same time, these counselors also realize that theories and models from the universal and group dimensions will never fully capture or represent the unique experiences of individuals. Instead, they will recognize the complexity of the individual and seek to integrate all three dimensions of knowledge to guide their work with students.

To illustrate how the integrative model of cross-cultural career counseling would work, we would like to use an example cited by Leong and Tan (2002). They chose Super’s (1957) model of career development to illustrate the value and utility of the integrative model. Although Leong and Tan had chosen Super’s model to illustrate Leong’s (1996) integrative model, the integrative model is equally applicable to other career models and constructs. According to Leong and Tan,

One important component of Super’s (1957) model is the concept of career maturity. According to Super, an individual’s level of career maturity will influence his or her ability to handle the career developmental tasks at his or her appropriate stage. Those with high levels of career maturity would progress smoothly in their career development while those with low levels of career maturity would experience considerable difficulties. In using this model, school counselors would actually be intervening at the universal dimension within the integrative model, assuming that career maturity is a universal concept and is therefore applicable to all clients including those who are culturally different. And yet, research is beginning to show that such an assumption may not be correct, (p. 248)

Leong and Tan (2002) went on to observe that

a school counselor who is trying to help a culturally different student by simply adopting Super’s model and proceeds to assess the student’s career maturity level with the Career Maturity Inventory (Crites, 1965) may actually be making an error if he or she does not understand the cultural relativity inherent in the concept and measurement of career maturity. This is because the concept of the self varies significantly across cultures and the Group dimension within the integrative models needs to be taken into account. According to Markus and Kitayama (1991), Asian Americans, with more collectivistic values, may conceive of the self as interdependent, whereas persons from individualistic cultures may view the self as independent. According to this model, the independent self has the core need to strategically express or assert the internal attributes of the self while the interdependent construal formulates self in relation to others (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Being unique is very critical for the independent self and fitting-in is very important for the interdependent self. The basis of self-esteem for the independent self is the ability to express the self and to validate internal attributes. For the interdependent self, the basis of self-esteem is the ability to adjust, restrain self, and maintain harmony with social context (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Such differences in self-conception may make career decision-making a much more interpersonal process for collectivists than for individualists. For the latter, career decision making may be an individual matter based mainly on personal interests, values, and aspirations, while for the former, career decision-making may be a familial matter based on group interests, values, and needs, (pp. 248–249)

Some research has already begun to demonstrate the value of self-construal as a culture-specific variable in our analysis of the career psychology of Asian Americans. In a research project examining ethnic differences in career maturity between Asian Americans and White Americans, Leong (1991) found an interesting anomaly. Using Crites’s (1978) measure of career maturity, Leong (1991) found that although Asian Americans showed less mature career choice attitudes than their European American counterparts, the two groups did not differ in terms of vocational identity, as measured by Holland et al.’s (1980) My Vocational Situation. He concluded that these results indicated that Asian Americans and European Americans approached the career decision-making process differently, yet still arrived at similarly crystallized vocational identities. On the basis of these results, Leong (1991) introduced the concept of cultural relativity in the construct of career maturity. He suggested that rather than automatically assuming that Asian Americans actually have lower career maturity, researchers and counselors need to carefully investigate possible ways in which cultural differences moderate the meaning of career maturity.

Leong and Tan (2002) argued that the concept of independence may be culturally relative and needs to be understood in context. They criticized Crites’s (1965) theory of career maturity, based on Super’s (1957) theory of vocational development and the basis of the CMI, for its assumption that their construct of independence in career decision making is universal and an equally crucial component of career mature attitudes for all cultural groups with the same external referents. However, this emphasis on independence, to the exclusion of other alternatives such as interdependence, may underlie the cultural differences discussed above between Asian and European Americans in their approaches to the career decision-making process. Once again, the study by Hardin et al. (2001) illustrates the cultural relativity in Crites’s (1978) CMI. They found that interdependence, not independence, was most associated with career choice attitudes. Those participants who had high interdependent self-construals, regardless of the level of their independent self-construals, had less mature career choice attitudes, as measured by the CMI, than those participants who had lower interdependent self-construals. No differences in maturity of career choice attitudes were observed based on the level of independence. Furthermore, the three subscales on which the Asian Americans were found to exhibit less mature career choice attitudes than the European Americans (Compromise, Independence, and Involvement) were also the three subscales found to be most related to interdependence. Specifically, those participants who were high in interdependence had lower scores on these subscales than participants who were low in interdependence.

In view of these findings, a counselor who applies only the universal dimension and administers a career maturity scale to Asian American clients without attending to the group dimension may actually be committing a diagnostic error. As shown by the research studies cited above, current measures of career maturity are biased against an interdependent (collectivistic) construal of the self and therefore favor independent self-construal, which is dominant in Western societies. Using such measures without modifications may inappropriately diagnose Asian American clients as “career immature” when in actuality they are not.

A basic premise of the integrative model is that we need to mindfully question the “assumed” universality of the constructs (e.g., career maturity) within Western models of career counseling and use cultural differences to help us identify “group-level” (i.e., cultural in the present case) variables that would fill the gaps in our current dominant models. Universality should not be assumed but instead systematically examined in comparative cross-cultural studies to identify possible group-level differences or moderator effects. Where cultural relativity is found, emic or culture-specific constructs may be sought to help better explain the phenomenon or account for the “anomalies” within Western models. At the same time, it should not be assumed that culture accounts for vast amounts of variance in the vocational behavior of racial and ethnic minority groups without empirical verification. Clearly, both cultural validity and cultural specificity types of research in vocational psychology need to continue (Leong & Brown, 1995). In the meantime, recognizing and attending to both the universal and group dimensions and their complex interactions within a unique individual make for a cross-culturally competent counselor.


We have reviewed four recent models of cross-cultural career counseling with racial and ethnic minority clients. The development of models such as those reviewed in this chapter bodes well for the future of vocational psychology and career intervention. Incorporating important cultural variables, such as these models attempt to do, helps the field move closer to its goal of cultural validity in career theory, research, and practice with individuals representing diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Our goals for this chapter have been to (a) provide an overview of the current models to readers outside of vocational psychology who may not be familiar with these models, (b) share these cross-cultural career counseling models with practitioners who are in great need for such models, and (c) encourage psychologists and other social scientists to pursue empirical research to test the validity and utility of these models. Finally, in the not-too-distant future, as these theories become more established and research evidence begins to accumulate either to challenge or support these models, other scholars may begin to attempt to compare and contrast these models and perhaps even develop models that seek to integrate these disparate models into one.