The Future of Career Counseling

Exclusive Interview with Dr. Brian Hutchison

Dr. Brian Hutchison


The roots of career counseling in the United States date back to the late 19th century when American professor Frank Parsons (aka the father of the vocational guidance movement) laid the foundations of this field.

His successors, an interminable line of American scholars, experts, and intellectuals, further refined the field’s founding principles and developed it to the benefit of the global community.

One of those experts is Dr. Brian Hutchison, Core Faculty of Mental Health Counseling at Walden University, Past-Treasurer of the National Career Development Association (NCDA), and Past-President of the Asia Pacific Career Development Association (APCDA).

In an exclusive interview, the global career expert talks to us about career guidance in the United States, and how the industry should cope with the COVID-19 crisis, and his advice to career guidance practitioners at all levels.

Would you please provide us with a brief overview of the career guidance framework in the United States?

The United States does not have a centralized government system or a national framework for career guidance or career development; instead, there are several overlapping systems that provide career counseling services. In addition to the school and university systems, there are government-sponsored career centers that support the unemployed blue-collar or wage-earning workers, while salaried workers can benefit from a proliferation of career coaches and career counselors. On top of that, there is a vocational rehabilitation government system at the state level to support people with disabilities in  joining the workforce.

But how these systems link or coordinate with each other?

Despite this long and rich history of career guidance in the United States, the country still lacks a professional consortium that represents all the above-mentioned systems, so there is no or little coordination, and this needs to change because it weakens their power when it comes to lobbying state or federal governments for policy change.

COVID-19 had a massive impact on the employment and labor market. What can career practitioners learn from this crisis?

The situation had a significant impact on the mental health of most people, some lost their jobs, others fear losing them, and most of them had to work from home and stay by themselves for long times or reengage with their families in a different way. We have seen cases of anxiety, depression, and even trauma. This was a great reminder to the career counseling practitioners that their work has always been about wellbeing as much as it was about career counseling. Living a good life should be the primary objective of work. I think many counselors have skipped that step for a while, and were starting with a resume review or career coaching.

What kind of change do career counselors need to undergo to support workers at this stage?

Like everyone else, career counselors cannot know how the situation will develop or when things will go back to normal. The current available data on the disease and its economic impact is not sufficient, so it is difficult to forecast future directions of careers. Still, counselors have to use every session to ensure that their clients are doing well enough on a mental health level to do good career work. They need to help their clients stay positive, embrace uncertainty, and understand career at a deeper and more personal level. They need to help them realize that their career-related decisions impact every aspect of their lives.

What is your advice to career counselors and advisors at schools?

They need to realize that fears are natural and already happening in the students’ lives, depending on their age and life experiences. The types of fears, pressures, and anxieties facing a primary school student are different from those experienced by a high schooler. The situation created by COVID-19 then becomes just another set of fears that differs in experience from one student to another. Counselors need to relate these fears to future development and help the student understand that these problems are normal, and that we can work together to deal with them.

Counselors also need to equip students with life skills related to their wellbeing in terms of areas like nutrition and physical exercise. The curriculum and the framework of career development skills/knowledge need to incorporate those aspects.

How can career counselors deal with family interference in the career decisions of their kids?

I am not aware of any culture where a career counselor or a teacher has a right to tell the parents how to raise their children. The best tactic would be to do some social education programs to inform parents on how career decisions in childhood impact wellbeing and happiness over the lifespan. They will know that by forcing a child into a particular career, he or she might have a lucrative life, but not a happy one. If these kind of programs can be applied at a country, city, or school level, it would be even better.

The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the need for certain professions, like doctors and other health care professionals. Should countries plan their career guidance policies accordingly and concentrate on promoting particular careers?

I think we should neither concentrate on eliminating, creating, and promoting career options based on the needs resulting from the current situation, nor coerce or pressure students to make a choice that they do not want to make. A better strategy would be to clear the pathways into those careers by taking out obstacles for the people who are well oriented toward them.

What would be your advice to university students who are studying for a career or industry currently affected by the crisis, and therefore feeling uncertain about their future?

In such case, students will have to make one of three choices: commit to the path they have chosen (bearing in mind that it may take longer than expected to find a job), pause for a year or two, or pivot and select a new path which they think will be more fruitful in the future.

Counselors should empower them with whatever choice they make, after helping them clearly lay out and understand the information and the parameters of each of the three alternatives to the point where they feel some sense of confidence in making a choice and moving forward. Counselors cannot know how the situation will develop; still, after conducting some research and performing reality testing, they should be capable of laying out those options to a student through 3 or 4 sessions.

Would it not be risky or wasteful for students to choose to pause?

Not if they have a good development plan to benefit from their time, by studying, acquiring new skills, or working. The key is to make sure that they are constantly developing during that pause to later pick up on the career path that they always intended to be on.

Can online career counseling be as effective as in-person or group career counseling?

I think we do not have enough data, science, or research yet to answer that question definitively. It is a situation that has been forced upon the world so abruptly. We are still in an early stage, and there is going to be adaptations to this online environment of providing career services as we learn more about it. I would predict with a fair amount of certainty that we will have much more provision of services online than we used to.

The application of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence in career counseling is increasing. Do you think that their impact will increase in the future?

These technologies are going to improve and be more effective over time. There are already some artificially intelligent online coaching technologies where users find it difficult to tell whether the answers are being given to them by a human or a machine, but I believe that the human aspect of counseling and advising is what really matters eventually when it comes to career services. We need to be aware that technology will improve, and as it offers more efficient and cost-effective solutions, governments and corporations would opt for them. So, we need to be quite diligent in researching and promoting the aspects where humans provide assets which cannot be provided by machine intelligence.

Dr. Brian Hutchison offers career consultation and education work within the brand of “Global Career Guy”, where he specializes in developing career education products and programs, online career coaching and mentorship, and web-based education and networking tools for global career professionals. For more information, please visit