Leading Career Development (Psychoeducational) Groups in Schools

by Kurt L. Kraus

What are Career Development Groups?
Career Development Groups are a powerful medium through which elementary up to graduate school counselors can

  • foster students’ engaged and active learning
  • tackle a wide spectrum of career education and developmental challenges
  • develop their interpersonal communication skills including learning to receive and give meaningful feedback
  • learn to open oneself to the feelings, opinions, values, and likes and dislikes of others.

In summary, groups are a superb method for professional school counselors to assist students in their individual career growth and development.

Why groups?
Schools are the land of groups and group work: Groups in one form or another happen in nearly every classroom, in countless peer interactions from student organizations to every athletic endeavor, not only in the counselor’s office. But school counselors have unique and specialized abilities to promote the effective use of group work to provide many powerful opportunities to meet a vast array of student needs.

Well-led Career Development Groups emphasize the members and their roles in that membership. In fact, the interaction between members often initiates the content that the counselor presents in the second through the final session. The process is the complex exchanges in response and reaction to the content offered. There is an important normalcy emphasized when young people talk directly with their peers, as for many kids talking to an adult is neither easy nor desired. For one example, when students realize that their dilemma is shared by their peers, that “others’ worry about this too!”, the value is enormous. As with all psychoeducational groups, leadership responsibilities of Career Development Groups include: member selection, determining content, setting a clear and appropriate agenda, designing pace and duration, instigating effective intra-group communication, keeping to the agenda, ensuring that all members benefit from the group knowing these ways might be quite dissimilar, attending to each session’s progression, and the group’s final termination The objective being that members make personal meaning from the experience – both from the process and the content of the group!

Keys to consider as you prepare to lead Career Development Groups:

  • Effective groups are comprised of selected members who are “screened” and “invited.” Groups like these are often destined for failure if they are thought of as great time savers, or “easier” than one-on-one counseling, or “just the same as classroom teaching.”
  • These psychoeducational groups present information – they teach if you will – but through a process where the members engage each other with questions, answers, examples, and even may offer “If I were you…” style recommendations.
  • Career Development Groups leadership skills draw from a wide breadth of literature: counseling, organizational leadership, team-building, education.
  • Leadership in psychoeducational groups like these feels like ‘coaching.’ Student members need to learn how to participate, engage, interact, give and receive meaningful feedback, and how to maintain the agenda without getting caught up in or lost in the interpersonal dynamics.
  • Once you’ve presented the catalyst content, be sure you shift gears and get out of the way. Your role must be to facilitate the members; once they “take and run with it” you sometimes needn’t say a word. Leadership at this point is facilitation.

At all levels of education (primary through post-graduate) CDGs might address topics such as: career-play groups in early elementary programs, or ‘explore your interests’ groups; career-shadowing groups in middle schools and academic and career-direction groups in middle and high schools; college application essay groups, job interview groups, considering military service groups; and for higher education, coping with career-decision-stress groups, balancing career and relationship groups, “What am I going to do now?” groups, or the grief and joy of graduating groups.

For Example:
Here are three brief examples that emphasize potential member and the purpose of the CDGs to which they were invited:

  1. Matthew is an excellent student who “for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be an architect.” In the second semester of his junior year he shares with his counselor a recent surge of ambivalence, “Classes are too hard. I’m getting sick of school, and am not sure I could handle going into such a demanding field.” This perfectly normal development could be processed individually but instead his counselor refers Matt to a time-limited CDG whose membership is designed to consist of others similarly questioning their early decisions, their ability, and their motivations.
  2. Kate is a middle school student who has exceptionally high expectations for herself. Such expectations are fostered by parents who are supportive but demanding; high achievers themselves they have expressed that she should be making up her mind “pretty soon” as to what she’ll study in college. Her self-esteem and concept are of some concern to her counselor. Kate readily joins a Career Development Group that focuses on coping effectively with pressure and takes a look at the process of making early career decisions.
  3. Zhongjia is from Rhode Island. She has been accepted early decision to a prestigious post-secondary school on the Pacific coast. The news of her acceptance is a moment of great joy and then sadness and regret begin to emerge. She is invited to join a unique CDG that devotes content to aspects of “leaving home, the fear of losing friends, making new relationships, and establishing yourself at your new school.” (A note: The school counselor wondered if Zhongjia’s presentation might require more than the group would offer in terms of counseling, but when presented options, she chose to give the group a try.)

Matthew, Kate, and Zhongjia each could “work individually” with their school counselor, but through referral to Career Development Groups these students each have the opportunity to offer as well as receive from the process. Their content is “common” and therefore the school counselors are not at a loss for recruiting appropriate members to comprise these beneficial groups. The time and effort usually pays enormous dividends.

Wrapping up
Ultimately, students will take from participating in a Career Development Group experience that which he or she finds useful at that time and place in their development. When utilizing a group method, there will be students who seem to give as much as they receive; and, there always seems to emerge a host of anticipated and unexpected benefits for all members. It is an experience not to miss.

Kurt L. Kraus, Ed.D., NCC, LPC, ACS
Associate Professor of Counseling
Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel
Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

Kurt L. Kraus
Beijing Language and Culture University, Visiting Professor 2006
Xueyuan Lu Haidian Qu
Beijing 100083
People's Republic of China

Kurt is a school counselor turned professor. He teaches courses in SU’s CACREP accredited School, Community, Mental Health, and College Student Personnel programs. Kurt conducts research and writes largely on group work. He is a Fellow in the Association for Specialists in Group Work and continues to lead groups regularly, of which he says “never ceases to rejuvenate him!” He can be reached at
Email: klkrau@ship.edu

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