Writing and Telling a Career Story

Stories are universal. Cultures include stories; cultures are stories-incomplete stories, always evolving. Every person has a story; a person is a story-an incomplete story, always evolving. At their confluence, the stories of cultures manifest through individuals, and individuals express themselves through the stories of their cultures.  As such, one is a story of the other, with each reflecting one another.  Indeed, on this planet, there are seven billion stories and counting, incomplete and always evolving, as diverse as all the peoples on earth, yet, somehow humanely very similar to one another.  How these many stories are told, heard, and created is very much the domain of counselling.

Story and Storying

Story is fundamental to constructivist and social constructionist approaches to career counseling. Yet, not all clients know how to tell their stories and not all clients know how to write their stories.  Sometimes in counseling, clients need a practical tool to help them to produce their stories, which does not always come naturally in the peculiar situation and dialogue that is counseling.

My Career Chapter

My Career Chapter (McIlveen, 2006) is a semi-structured career assessment and counseling procedure that facilitates a client writing a story and telling a story about his or her life in relation to career.  The client produces a written manuscript by completing a range of sentence-completion activities directed at the myriad influences that constitute his or her life.  Client and counselor interpret the written story together in a process of co-construction.  This chapter outlines the theory and procedures that underpins My Career Chapter and describes how it can be used with adult clients.

Story is the sine qua non of narrative career counseling; without story there cannot be narrative career counseling.  What follows is a summary of the definitive features of this approach:

Narrative career counselling emphasises subjectivity and meaning. It aims to facilitate self-reflection and elaboration of self-concepts toward an enhanced self-understanding that is subjectively and contextually truthful.  It entails a collaborative process in which the client is supported in creating an open-ended personal story that holistically accounts for his or her life and career, and enables the person to make meaningfully informed career-decisions and actions (McIlveen & Patton, 2007b, p.  228).

The various approaches to narrative career counseling, chief among them being the models articulated by Cochran (2000) and Savickas (2011), possess the definitive features identified by McIlveen and Patton (2007): subjectivity, meaningfulness, awareness, collaboration, and movement toward goals.

Without facilitating the client telling his or her story, without listening and hearing the story, and without the counselor engaging with the client and in the client’s story as benevolent editor, there can be no transformation of awareness of the client’s identity and there can be no movement toward goals. Thus, narrative career counselling is not so much about the story per se, as it is about the process of storying.  Indeed, it is the process of storying that is emphasised in My Career Chapter.  The writing and telling are separate but inherently valuable processes and are concomitantly confronting to clients, for their stories are their own, written under their own hands, spoken in their own words, and heard in their own ears, perhaps for the first time.


Cochran, L. (2000). Career counseling: A narrative approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

McIlveen, P. (2006). My Career Chapter: A dialogical autobiography Retrieved from http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/23797

McIlveen, P., & Patton, W. (2007). Narrative career counselling: Theory and exemplars of practice. Australian Psychologist, 42(3), 226-235. doi: 10.1080/00050060701405592

Savickas, M. L. (2011). Career counseling. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

This blog article is an excerpt from:

McIlveen, P. (2017). Using My Career Chapter with a Malaysian engineer to write and tell a career story. In L. A. Busacca & M. C. Rehfuss (Eds.), Postmodern career counseling. A Handbook of culture, context, and cases (pp. 105-117). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

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