By: Jeff Landine and John Stewart
One significant task of career counselling involves understanding and organizing clients’ self-attributes. Clients provide a great deal of self-information about many aspects of themselves, which sometimes leaves counsellors in a quandary as to how to conceptualize and organize this information. For example, counsellors often use the terms self-concept and self-esteem interchangeably when these terms actually mean different things.
We think this issue can be remedied by following a taxonomy developed by Donald Super. Super viewed self-concept as the picture individuals have of themselves as they work and carry out different roles in their lives. Super distinguished between an individual self-concept and a self-concept system. He believed that people have many self-concepts that are evident in the roles they perform in the different settings of their lives. Together these concepts form a self-concept system. For example, a person may be a teacher, a parent, a spouse, a citizen, a friend and so on. In each of these roles, individuals have a self-concept, such as “I am responsible” that may be similar or different when all the self-concepts are considered together as the self-system. They may see themselves as more responsible in their teacher and parent roles than they do in their friend role. Further, Super proposed dimensions of each of these self-concepts, which include esteem, clarity, consistency, realism, complexity and efficacy. For example, the degree of self-esteem about the self-concept as a parent may be different from that experienced in the role of being a friend. Self-concept refers to the factual information individuals have about their abilities to implement a role while self-esteem is an assessment of these facts.
Super was mostly concerned about the vocational self-concepts that impact individuals in their vocational decision-making. He defined vocational self-concepts as the concepts individuals have about their perceived characteristics, which they considered important in their vocational decision-making. As counsellors, we think it is important to distinguish between the multiple self-concepts individuals have and the impact these can have on vocational decision-making. For example, distinguishing between the different self-concepts that are evident in their different roles helps clients develop clarity around each of these different self-concepts. Assessing clients’ feelings about their ability to perform the roles helps them to understand that esteem is likely to vary as well. Realism of self-concepts is also an important characteristic because individuals choose an occupation based on the information they have about themselves. Bringing inaccurate information to bear on this process is likely to lead to inappropriate choices. By helping clients develop appropriate clarity, self-esteem, and realism about their self-concepts for example (see list of dimensions above), we help them develop a clear picture of their system of self-concepts, and we help them make occupational choices that support a good fit between their self-system and the needs of the occupational role itself.
Super, D. (1963). Towards making self-concept operational. In D.E. Super, R. Starishevsky, N.
Matlin, and P. Jordan. Career development: Self-concept theory. New York: College
Entrance Examination Board.
Super, D. (1982). Self-concepts in career development: Theory and findings after thirty years.
Paper presented as the 20th International Congress of Applied Psychology, Edinburgh,
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA