Context specific career counselling


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IN the Indian context career psychology may be viewed from two distinct vantage points – the first with a focus on issues of ‘practice’, the second on ‘research’.

In understanding the practice of career counselling we need to move from a narrow and specific to a broader perspective. In the last three decades the author herself moved away from a narrow focus on clinical practice with disturbed children in the child guidance clinic of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-sciences, Bangalore, first to urban schools in 1976 and subsequently in the past few years to rural schools. In the process she discovered, not surprisingly, that the teachers were far more interested in the scholastic performance of the children than their mental health problems.

Though the author was initially drawn to work on the ‘scholastic problem’ as an entry point, the lack of concern in the school setting about the normal developmental needs of children and their mental health was shocking. Clearly, there was need to sensitize the teachers to child mental health and disabilities. The need to incorporate mental health, academic achievement and promoting normal development in the physical, intellectual language, emotional, social, moral and sexual domains and in the area of disabilities propelled the author into an activist mode. She decided to work as a consultant, training the teachers in identification, management and referral of children with problems to the appropriate agencies. The above narrative reflects the transition from a specific to a broader activist mode of practice.

Second, let us look at the movement of career counselling from a segmental and western perspective to a holistic (ancient Indian) approach. During the course of the above work, especially in the rural areas, the value of a holistic approach became obvious if one had to accommodate the differences among children across age, gender, caste, religion, socio economic and educational backgrounds and rural and urban residence. Interventions, career counselling or otherwise, need to be calibrated to accommodate the above differences.

Third, a look at socioeconomic and urban rural divides makes clear that the contexts and circumstances surrounding the caste system are important. This is highlighted by the WORCC-IRS report by Arulmani and Arulmani (2006), revealing observed differences among adolescents belonging to the general category and scheduled castes and backward classes in the social cognitive realm, showing higher attitude of cynicism and negative career beliefs in SC and BC groups. Significantly, a large number from these groups have fatalistic thoughts and believe that they are unable to exercise control over the trajectory of their lives. They lack motivation to fight against the odds. However, the general castes are insulated by their caste status and show a stronger orientation for creating opportunities.

The study also highlights the negative repercussion of affirmative action on the general category group, sowing the seeds of resentment and hostility. Career counselling requires a fine sense of balance to help the client navigate between the positive and negative aspects of affirmative action. The WORCC-IRS report also highlights the role of parents or significant others in the career decisions of their children. No career decisions are made without the cooperation of the significant others. Perhaps parental career counselling for their children seems to be a desirable option to support the adolescents.


An attempt was made to study the nature of career choice in the rural setting. The author and her colleague Ranga Naik carried out a study in two villages in HD Kote taluk in Mysore district. Five focus group interviews were conducted in the villages of Sargur and Kothegal. Each group consisted of 14-16 adolescent boys and girls and their parents. Unlike urban SC/BC parents, rural parents want their children to study further to the extent possible. They also believe that their children should not toil hard physically as they did on the farm or as coolies, but instead lead a somewhat comfortable life in government jobs or as teachers. Surprisingly, the parents leave the entire choice of career options to their children, as they are better educated. They did not object if their children went off to work in the city as long as it was not too far. But despite the faith reposed in them by their parents, the children themselves were rather muddled and hardly thought much about the possible career options. They were happy to study up to PUC, TCH or BA and considered science subjects as being difficult. Becoming a teacher, conductor or joining the police force were the preferred job options. Their role models were drawn from those individuals with whom they were familiar. Many also opted for ITI diplomas as they offered the possibility of factory jobs in the city. Generally, children do not appear to plan for their future in a serious manner.

Neither the parents nor children seem concerned about prestigious occupations such as being a doctor, engineer or lawyer and earning a lot of money. They only want enough money to live comfortably.

For rural children, career counselling requires groundwork to establish market demand in and around their districts. These options may be gathered in the schools in the form of projects, life skills training, role-play and discussion. It is worth noting that both very high aspirations and cynicism were not present among the rural youth.


In order to reach out to such a heterogeneous and large population there is need to create multiple cadres of workers such as teachers/helpers in the schools and even interested adults in the community, in addition to the cadre of trained counsellors. At the top of the pyramid are the trained career counsellors especially with a background of psychology. Their functions are: (a) direct consultancy as career counselling on payment to the youngsters, applicable mostly to adolescents in urban schools and colleges; (b) training of other cadres of workers; (c) developing appropriate tools of assessment both for baseline assessment and for evaluation of the efficiency of the strategies used; and (d) evolving strategies of counselling which are appropriate in the Indian context to suit the needs of different groups.

Here I would like to highlight two points. The super specialists in any field, including career psychology, often feel compelled to share everything they know the way they have learnt it. A parallel can be drawn to the mythology of Ramayana when Hanuman carried an entire mountain as he could not identify the ‘sanjeevani’ plant to revive Lakshmana.


We as professionals need to decide the essence of the content that has to be communicated. The model should be that of a refrigerator; assembling a refrigerator is a highly complex task but using one is not. In the author’s experience it is possible to communicate complex issues in a simple manner. Career counselling should follow a simple and compact format in terms of the core concepts and not go into unnecessary details as it is normally communicated.

It is undeniable that in most schools at the grassroots level the teachers are overburdened by both multiple roles and large numbers of children. It is often unrealistic to even expect them to manage the regular classroom teaching. We tend to overlook the enormous resource we have in our country, our children. The author’s own work (Kapur 1995, 1997, 2003 and 2005) provides evidence that children can act as their own resource with adults serving as catalysts in the initial stage till the child gets started. The counselling can be done through life skills training, role-play and focus group interviews and discussions that form the rubric of relevant and realistic career aspirations.

Apart from career information, aptitude and interest, the cognitive and emotional characteristics of the individual also play a significant role. Psychological assessment lies at the core of exploring the cognitive and emotional domains. While there are several well-known tests of cognitive functions, it is essential to note that the rural and disadvantaged groups perform poorly in these tests. This does not imply that the children lack potential. In the author’s experience, there is invariably a significant improvement in their performance after intervention. IQ and similar quotients too need to be considered as ‘fluid states’ and not as rigid standards.

In the realm of personality, it appears that the temperamental traits are better indicators of emotional predisposition in children rather than traits derived from personality tests standardized on adults. It is worth noting that the ancient Indian concept of temperament, i.e., triguna referring to the satvic (well-being), rajasik (easily aroused) and tamasik (torpid/dull) is easier for parents to relate to. The triguna construct goes beyond the limitations of specific trait theories.


The psychologists and career counsellors are guilty of complacency when it comes to evaluating the impact of their counselling. If a farmer casts some seeds on the ground and assumes that there will be a good crop, he will invariably be labelled the village idiot! But the so-called professionals do not worry about such mundane things as the evaluation of actual outcome! The quality of services would improve enormously if only the importance of evaluation is taken into consideration at the stage of planning services.

Quality control of what is hoisted on the children under the guise of career counselling is absolutely essential. Ethical practice should be of utmost concern to any practitioner and the consumer. There should be a monitoring body to protect the interests of the counsellor and client alike. To sum up, career counselling is an ever-expanding field that needs to be holistic, with inbuilt evaluation to ensure sound practice.


Theory and empirical research are essential for the advancement of any scientific endeavour. Unfortunately, much of the research in India is anchored to western theories of career counselling, and often to a single theoretical framework. These theories are based on empirical research on a different population, more homogenous in its psychosocial and cultural contexts. The models drawn on such theories are often untenable in our ground realities because of an extremely heterogeneous population marked by class, caste and socio-economic divides. In addition, while a single theory usually fails to explain such a diverse population, several theories together may contribute to a better understanding.

i) It is essential for a researcher to examine the ground realities using ethnographic methods and testing them against the available theories. It may also be necessary to derive culturally relevant theories instead of recycling western ones.

ii) Empirical studies should, whenever possible, be longitudinal as choosing a career has life long implications. When this is not possible, crossover designs using cross-sectional and longitudinal methods can be used.

iii) There is a need to shift from fact-finding research to applied research as career counselling is essentially embedded in practice.

iv) Evaluative research should become the bedrock of career counselling. Process evaluation using qualitative methods and outcome evaluation using quantitative assessment would help the empirical research to become more scientific and useful. A country like India cannot afford to fritter away time, manpower and financial resources on research that has no application in the field. Evaluative research is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

v) Ethics in research practice is essential. Currently most Indian researchers are insufficiently aware of the ethical aspects of research. Larger grant giving agencies rightly insist on ethical guidelines.


To conclude, career psychology is an important area that holds the key to the future of most adolescents in the country. In India, career counselling needs to be anchored to ground realities of the job market, career choice and skills equipment and the match between them. Instead of relying on western theories and technologies, we need to evolve and evaluate context specific strategies of reaching out to a large population of adolescents in an effective manner.



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Arulmani, G. and Sonali Nag Arulmani, Work Orientation and Responses to Career Choices: Indian Regional Survey, WORCC-IRS draft report, 2006.

Kapur, M., Mental Health of Indian Children, Sage, Delhi, 1995.

Kapur, M., Mental Health in Indian Children, Sage, Delhi, 1997.

Kapur, M. and H. Uma, Promotion of Psychosocial Development of Rural School Children. A project report submitted to the National Council for Rural Institutes (NCRI), MHRD. New Delhi, 2003.

Kapur, M., Innovative Approaches for Promotion: Psychosocial Development of Scheduled Caste and Tribal Children in Ashram Schools. Project report submitted to the WHO India Office, New Delhi, 2005.

Kapur, M. and Ranga Naik, A Study of Career Choices Among Rural Adolescents (unpublished report), 2006.

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