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Effects of a Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention on

Career Indecision
Jesus Alfonso Datu
De La Salle University, Philippines
jesus.datu@dlsu.edu.ph

This paper investigates the effects of a cognitive-behavioral intervention on


career indecision among selected Filipino college freshmen (n=43) from a
private sectarian university. Utilizing an outcome research design, the efficacy
of a three-session cognitive-behavioral intervention, consisting of individual
cognitive exercises, psychoeducation, behavioral role plays and homework
was tested. Treatment outcomes were measured through administering Career
Decision Profile (CDP), short essays and observation notes. Results revealed
that there is a significant difference in the career indecision levels of the
subjects with a moderate effect size of d=.41 (t (42) = 2.08,p<.05). The results
have likewise demonstrated an increase in the domain of self-clarity as a result
of the treatment (t (42) = 1.94, d=.35, p<.05). Implications of the findings on
the practice of career counseling in educational institutions are discussed.

Keywords: Career indecision, cognitive-behavioral intervention, outcome


research

Transitions in career or educational status often result to some degree of


career indecision and it had been shown that college students are quite vulnerable
to this experience (Gati & Osipow, 2000). Individuals’ perceived difficulties in
making career choices elevate the necessity to gauge and craft interventions that
will address such problems (Osipow, 1999).

With the increasing number of clients who are undecided about specific
career paths, counselors are confronted with newer tasks in providing appropriate
vocational guidance services. Though a good number of studies were carried out
to look at predictors of career indecision such as emotional intelligence (Di Fabio
& Palazzeschi, 2009), personality traits (Borges & Savickas, 2002; Di Fabio &
Palazzeschi, 2009; Starica, 2011), anxiety (Campagna, 2007; Kelly & Pulver,
2003), career locus of control (Starica, 2011), academic self-esteem (Starica,
2011), parenting behaviors (Dietrich & Kracke, 2009) and career decision-
making self-efficacy (Creed, Patton & Bartrum, 2004), there is still a marked
Philippine Journal of Counseling Psychology (2013), Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 71-84.
© Philippine Association for Counselor Education, Research, and Supervision (PACERS)
ISSN 1655-1702
PHILIPPINE JOURNAL OF COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY
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dearth of research that examines the efficacy of interventions in addressing


vocational problems, especially in the Philippine context. Designing and
implementing career programs or interventions for college students who are
experiencing career-indecision is a matter that warrants serious attention.

A number of recent studies that looked into addressing career indecision


include: a group intervention based on Betz and Taylor’s career decision-making
self-efficacy theory (Wang, Zang & Shao, 2010; Faria & Rodrigues, 2011);
Kuder career planning system in classroom settings (Stephen, 2010); self and
environment orientation group counseling (Faria & Rodrigues, 2011); and
sociology career planning seminar (Downing, 2011). However, there is lack of
research designed to contextualize an intervention that will address career
indecision based on cognitive-behavioral therapy. Given that dysfunctional
career thoughts were found to be a significant determinant of career indecision
(Dimakakou, Mylonas, Argyropoulou & Tampouri, 2012) and cognitive
modification techniques are predictive of decreased levels of career indecision
(Chang, 2007), it is quite interesting to determine its effectiveness among
adolescents in a collectivistic society like the Philippines. Hence, the current
study is purported to test the efficacy of a cognitive-behavioral intervention in
reducing career indecision levels of Filipino college students.

Career Indecision

Career indecision is a phenomenon by which individuals are confronted


with difficulties in making career choices which result to failure in attaining a
vocational commitment (Osipow, 1999). It involves an interweaving of
intrapersonal, interpersonal and contextual factors (Ryan & Deci, 2000). As a
concern that has caught the attention of vocational and counseling psychologists
across different countries, several researches were made to determine correlates
and predictors of career indecision. Among these determinants include emotional
intelligence (Di Fabio & Palazzeschi, 2009), personality traits (Laethem,
Mestdagh & Venderheyden, 2003 as cited in Guay et al., 2003; Borges &
Savickas, 2002; Di Fabio & Palazzeschi, 2009; Starica, 2011), anxiety
(Campagna, 2007; Kelly & Pulver, 2003), insufficient primary social support
(Downing & Nauta, 2010), career locus of control (Starica, 2011), academic self-
esteem (Starica, 2011), parenting behaviors (Dietrich & Kracke, 2009), self-
efficacy (Guay, Ratelle, Senecal, Larose & Dechenes, 2006), career decision-
making self-efficacy (Creed, Patton & Bartrum, 2004), contextual factors (Lent,
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Brown & Hackett, 1994), and dysfunctional thoughts (Dimakakou, Mylonas,


Argyropoulou & Tampouri, 2012; Chang, 2007).

A good number of researches were conducted to explain why individuals


experience difficulties in making a vocational commitment. For instance,
typologies of career indecision were constructed from empirical inquiries
(Dysinger, 1950; Callahan & Greenhaus, 1992; Savickas, 2004 as cited in Di
Fabio, 2006) to categorize career decision in reference to some criteria. Process-
oriented models were also devised which looked into the different factors a that
facilitate the emergence of career indecision like the taxonomy-based model of
Gati Krausz & Osipow (1996), self-determination theory of Germeijs & De
Boeck (2003), and expected utility theory (Gati & Asher, 2001). Newly
formulated frameworks have capitalized on the notion that “success in the
development of different interventions ultimately depends on the validity of
career indecision types” (Kelly & Pulver, 2003, p. 445).

Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most empirically-


validated models in the field of counseling and psychotherapy. Its therapeutic
utility was heavily reinforced by the number of practice-based evidences that
dealt with a wide spectrum of concerns such as assertiveness issues (Duckworth,
2008), anger management (Cox & Harrison, 2008), depression (Marcotte,
Levesque & Fortin, 2006; Fujisawa et al., 2010), postdisaster distress (Hamblen,
Norris, Pietruszkiewicz, Gibson, Naturale & Louis, 2009), obsessions and
compulsions (Sica, Taylor, Arrindell & Sanavio, 2006) and stress management
(Mercer, 2008).

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a therapeutic orientation derived from


the constructivist paradigm in addressing psychological and emotional concerns
of a wide array of clientele. It is centered on the premise that “people are active
participants in the construction of their own reality” (Granvold, 1994, p. 5). In
effect, this therapeutic orientation views that an individual is capable of changing
in spite of the extrinsic variables.

In the paradigm of CBT, maladaptive behaviors and emotions are


produced by a dynamic interaction that exists in one’s cognitions, feelings, and
behaviors. It asserts that cognitions do not solely cause dysfunction, yet, they are
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an inevitable part of it (Beck & Weishar, 1989 as cited in Granvold, 1994).


Cognition, then, is the target domain of change. The negative beliefs that
individuals hold about specific events termed as “automatic thoughts” makes
them susceptible to emotional disturbances. However, significant experiences in
the past would serve as precursors towards the crystallization of automatic
thoughts in the form of core beliefs. Therefore, modifying surfaced and deeper
cognitive schemas is a crucial task in order to unlearn behaviors and emotions
that are not predictive of positive outcomes.

The Present Study

The current study focused on the effects of a cognitive-behavioral


treatment approach in career indecision levels of Filipino college students. Given
that career decidedness was found to be a robust predictor of subjective well-
being (Uthakayamar, Schimmack, Hartung & Rogers, 2010), it is crucial to look
at specific strategies that can address individuals’ career decision making
difficulties. The study aims to establish more evidences about the potential utility
of cognitive-behavioral interventions, especially in career decision-making
concerns experienced by first year college students who are quite vulnerable to
experience indecision. Dysfunctional thinking patterns were identified as
predictive determinants as well of inability to make vocational choices
(Uthayakumar, Schimmack, Hartung, & Rogers, 2010). In relation to this, Chang
(2007) also suggested that dysfunctional beliefs of individuals served as one of
the precursors of career decision-making difficulties.

It is hypothesized that facilitating an intervention anchored on the


framework of cognitive-behavioral therapy can lead to significant increase on the
levels of career decidedness and reduction on the magnitude of career indecision
among the college students. A treatment manual was developed to ensure that
appropriate activities and processing are delivered. Given that there is a
scarcity of studies done in the Philippine context to test for the efficacy of
theoretically-grounded interventions for career-related issues (Garcia, Casas &
Santos, 2007; Datu, 2012), helping Filipino college students overcome their
career decision-making difficulties may be even more challenging. Determining
the effectiveness of this intervention in reducing levels of career indecision
experienced by college students will address a considerable gap between
outcome research and counseling practice.

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Method

Research Design

The study employed an outcome research design, specifically a one-


group pre-test/post-test design to look at the effects of a treatment on particular
behavioral outcomes (Shuttleworth, 2009; Bonate, 2000). In the current study,
the efficacy of a cognitive-behavioral group intervention approach served as the
treatment while career indecision level is the outcome variable.
Participants

Forty three first year college students whose ages range from 16-18
(M=17.5) were recruited from one class in a private university in Metro Manila.
They are all taking Bachelor of Science in Electronics and Communications
Engineering. Although they have enrolled in an engineering course, most of them
are still unsure whether they are on the right career track. Prior to the
implementation of the intervention, they held some negative thought patterns
about the course they have undertaken.

Instruments

There are three instruments that were utilized in the current study. Both
quantitative and qualitative measures were included to depict a clear picture of
career indecision as perceived by the participants. These include the following:

Career Decision Profile. Career Decision Profile (CDP) is a 16-item test


devised by Jones (1989) that gauges individuals’ vulnerability to experience
career indecision. The instrument has six dimensions which involved;
decidedness, comfort, self-clarity, knowledge about occupations and training,
decisiveness and career choice importance. Higher scores would mean lower
levels of career indecision.

Short Essay. A short essay will be utilized to identify participants’


thoughts about their career decisions in five to ten sentences. Sharing information
about their perceived capabilities to deal with the collegiate course they have
enrolled in will be integrated in the questions as well.

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Observation Notes. Observation notes was employed to assess how the


participants work on the activities that they engaged in. These would likewise
depict their reactions as they participate in the intervention. With this measure,
possible problems can be detected that may arise as the counselor implements
rthe modules of the intervention program and address other relevant issues may
arise in group interactions. These observation and notes were necessary to
continuously evaluating the responses of the participants during the course of the
treatment.

Procedure

A cognitive-behavioral group manual was first drafted to facilitate the


implementation of the three-session intervention. Second, informed consent
forms were distributed to the participants to ensure that ethical considerations are
observed prior, during and after the administration of the intervention. Third, pre-
intervention assessment tools were given such as Career Decision Profile and
short essays regarding the negative thoughts that they hold about themselves in
the context of career decision-making. Fourth, activities outlined in the manual
were implemented such as individual cognitive exercises, behavioral role plays,
homework and didactic modules on modifying negative thoughts and career
planning. Then, post-intervention assessment measures were administered using
the same quantitative and qualitative tools. Lastly, quantitative data were
analyzed using t-test after testing for homogeneity of variance to look for
significant differences as a result of the treatment facilitated along with the effect
size using Cohen’s d while qualitative data were analyzed by clustering together
themes that were commonly identified.

Results

The descriptive statistical measures of the participants’ responses before


and after the intervention are illustrated in Table 1 and Table 3. Test of
significant differences and effect sizes were also presented (Table 4 and Table 5).
Negative thought patterns prior to the implementation of the intervention and
modified cognitive patterns after the intervention were identified as well (Table 2
and Table 6).

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Before Treatment Implementation

Table 1.
Descriptive Statistics of the Subjects’ Career Indecision before the Intervention
Mean N Standard deviation
Comfort 5.02 43 1.57
Self-Clarity 5.75 43 1.68
Occupational Knowledge and Training 4.90 43 1.30
Decisiveness 4.58 43 1.67
Career Choice Importance 3.19 43 1.79
Career Indecision 77.49 43 11.11

Higher mean scores were observed from self-clarity (M=5.75, SD=1.68)


and comfort (M=5.02, SD=1.57) domains of career decidedness prior to
the implementation of the cognitive-behavioral intervention. This would
mean that participants have relatively low levels of career indecision.
However, qualitative analyses of their short essays that they have negative
thoughts that affect the way their ability to become decided about a
specific career path. Some themes of negative thought patterns were
identified as follows (see Table 2):

Table 2.
Expressed Negative Thinking Patterns of the Participants before the Intervention
Participant Strand from Participants’ Short Essays
1 “I’m depressed….Engineering is tough and very hard because it is full of challenging
questions.”
2 “Engineering is very hard to accomplish but the subjects are quite hard.”
3 “Depressed and it is hard because a lot of people say that is too hard..”
4 “I feel scared coz it’s a hard course…”
5 “I am nervous and less confident because I am not sure about this course…”
6 “I may not pass the course and I may not be able to handle the stress given because it is
difficult..”
7 “I feel discouraged and helpless about the course because I failed my exam in trigo..”
8 “I think that I might not be good as I thought I would be in my course…”
9 “I believe that I may not excel in my career choice because I have some negative
characteristics…”
10 “That I could not finish it (Engineering) because it is hard..”
11 “I feel scared about the course since it is hard…”
12 “Maybe I made the wrong choice in choosing my course because I am incompetent..”
13 “I think that I will fail in reaching my goal of becoming an engineer because not good
enough…”
14 “I think that I can’t make it. If I am challenged now, what more for next years? I think
of this because I don’t trust myself..”
15 “I am not good enough to handle it because I do not excel…”

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High mean scores can be seen from self-clarity (M=6.32, SD=1.57) and
occupational knowledge and training (M=5.16, SD=1.34) domains of
participants’ career indecision. By merely examining the means of some
domains, it seemed that there were positive changes on their perceived
abilities to make career decisions.

Table 3.
Descriptive Statistics of the Participants’ Career Indecision after the
Intervention
Mean n Standard deviation
Comfort 5.05 43 1.36
Self-Clarity 6.32 43 1.57
Occupational Knowledge and Training 5.16 43 1.34
Decisiveness 5.12 43 1.83
Career Choice Importance 3.36 43 1.15
Career Indecision 82.47 43 13.0

Table 4 depicted that there is a statistically significant difference on the


participants’ level of career indecision after the implementation of the
intervention. There is a moderate effect size as well which means that
there is an averagely graded treatment effect on the intended outcome.
Along with this positive outcome, an increase in self-clarity was observed
as well which is illustrated on the following table.

Table 4.
Significant Difference Test for Career Indecision among the Participants

Career Indecision M SD t df d Sig. (2-tailed)


Pre-test 77.49 11.11 2.08 42 .41 .04*
Post-test 82.47 13.0
Note: *Significant at α=.05

As shown in Table 5, participants got higher scores after receiving


the cognitive-behaviorally oriented group treatment,with a medium effect
size. However, it is important to look at some of the modified cognitive
patterns that the participants have learned as a result of the treatment. The
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following statements were expressed by the participants through their


short essays after the intervention (see Table 6):

Table 5.
Significant Difference Test for Self-Clarity among the Participants
Career Indecision M SD t df D Sig. (2-tailed)
Pre-test 5.75 1.68 1.94 42 .35 .05*
Post-test 6.32 1.57
Note: *Significant at α=.05

Table 6.
Participants’ Modified Cognitive Patterns after the Intervention

Participant Strand from Participants’ Short Essays


1 “I must remove my bad attitude and bad habits…”
2 “Thinking of a better future might be a good step…”
3 ‘I must be inspired to be able to pass the course…”
4 “Unwind, think positively and study..”
5 “Have myself time to relax and always think of the positive side…”
6 “Think positive, I’ll give my best in everything that I’ll do…”
7 “Exert more effort in studying…”
8 “I have to set my goals straight and keep the fire of motivation in me keep burning..”
9 “Think positively and do my best….”
10 “I should focus to my future have fun on what I do and I should think positively..”
11 “Be responsible, stop being lazy and prioritize my studies…”
12 “I should not be harsh with myself…”
13 “I must always think positively..”
14 “Study hard. Keep the thought of passing in mind…”
15 “I will be optimistic, no matter what happened..”
16 “I will control my emotions better..”
17 “Show initiative that I can finish this course…”
18 “I should think positively, be more inspired and be motivated to overcome negative
beliefs.”
19 “I should turn depression into a positive feeling and become more optimistic.”
20 “I would replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts…”
21 “I should try my best to get better grades…”
22 “Think happy thoughts and try hard and try to study well…”
23 “I should learn to trust myself and believe that I am capable of doing things…”
24 “Think of happy thoughts so that I will be enjoying this course…”

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Discussion

The aim of the current study is to determine the efficacy of a


cognitive-behavioral group intervention in reducing the level of career
indecision among selected Filipino college students. As the results
suggest, marked differences can be seen on the levels of career
decidedness of the participants as a result of the intervention. To better
capture the behavioral outcomes acquired from joining the treatment
strategy, an outcome research that integrated quantitative and qualitative
measures was utilized.
Prior to the intervention, participants appeared to have moderate
degrees of career indecision (M=77.49, SD=11.11) as depicted by the
Career Decision Profile. However, it was found out that they have
negative beliefs that they hold about themselves in relation to making
occupational choices. Specific themes of maladaptive thinking patterns
were recognized on their short essays before receiving the treatment which
focused on perceived failure and hopelessness resulting to negative
emotions.

After implementing the treatment, a statistically significant


reduction in the participants’ level of career indecision was noted (t (42) =
2.08, d=.41, p<.05). The result showed that employing an intervention
that is anchored on the framework of cognitive-behavioral therapy is
effective in addressing levels of career decision-making difficulties of
college students. It also suggests that dysfunctional thoughts may be
salient determinants of career indecision (Chang, 2007; Dimakakou,
Mylonas, Argyropoulou & Tampouri, 2012). In addition, participants have
improved on self-clarity due to the intervention (t (42) = 1.94, d=.35,
p<.05). It can be inferred that the students may have gained much clearer
understanding about themselves which is believed to be a salient step in
choosing an career path (Patton & McMahon, 1999; Jones, 1989).

The statistically significant difference of the pre- and post-


treatment levels of career indecision was supported by the themes
identified in the short essay after the intervention. Qualitative indicators of
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changes in coping mechanisms to combat career indecision were identified


from their responses during the last day of intervention which includes
increasing self-regulation, having a positive mindset, augmenting positive
emotions and setting specific goals. Hence, it can be deduced that positive
changes recognized in the quantitative phase of the study were consistent
with the positive qualitative indicators that were identified in the
qualitative phases of assessment and observation notes.

Future researchers are suggested to further test interventions that


modify faulty cognitions predictive of career indecision instead of simply
identifying its predictors. By doing so, therapeutic gains can be
strengthened using evidence-based treatment strategies that could
effectively enhance career decision making among Filipino college
students.

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