A Review on Heppner and Hendricks’ Study on Career Counseling


Loyola Marymount University


Daniel Rodriguez


Brian Marsee


Lorena Yepez


Maria Garibay


The research study conducted by Mary J. Heppner and Frederica Hendricks set out to expand upon the limited amount of research conducted in the field of career counseling.  Its goal “was to begin applying advances in psychotherapy process research to the study of clients with career indecision concerns, specifically an undecided and an indecisive client.  More specifically, the present study was designed to provide a better understanding of the change process in career counseling with an indecisive an undecided client and provide a hypothesis for future research with various subtypes of career clients.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  The study focused on the differences between an undecided and indecisive college student and the relationship that a counselor plays in improving ones confidence in choosing a particular vocation.  The four main variables Heppner and Hendricks (1995) focused on were “(a) what specific events were the most significant in each session, (b) counselor intentions in the “best” versus “worst” sessions, (c) role of the working alliance with career clients, and (d) differential counseling outcomes.”  There were four individuals who participated in the study.  Two male college students ages 21 and 19 and “two female counselors were recruited for the study.  Sex of the counselors was purposely kept the same in order to avoid a potential confound across dyads.” (Heppner& Hendricks, 1995)  Client 1 “was assessed as an indecisive client on the basis of characteristics of indecisive, as opposed to undecided, students identified in the literature: excessive anxiety, difficulty in making decisions not only in career matters but also in a more global sense, and lack of psychological separation from parents.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995) Client 2 “was assessed as an undecided client on the basis of criteria identified in the literature.  In addition, Salomone (1982) defined an undecided student as one who has not decided because he or she has not gathered sufficient information to “allow for a sound and confident decision.” ” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995) 

Due to the fact, this study was the first of its kind; Heppner & Hendricks deliberately designed the study to focus on a few distinct subjects to allow for further research and growth in the career counseling literature.  “The investigation used both process and outcome measures that have been used and validated in previous research in order to increase the validity of the findings.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  Based on previous research the four following basic hypotheses were developed during this study.  “Hypothesis 1, short-term career counseling provided to an indecisive client and an undecided client will differ in terms of outcome, with the undecided client perceiving a more positive outcome.  Hypothesis 2, the indecisive client will identify therapeutic events related to interpersonal and family issues as more useful, and the undecided client will identify events related to gaining more information about aspects of self or occupations as most helpful.  Hypothesis 3, there will be differences between the best and worst sessions for the dyads with regard to counselor intentions and perceived characteristics of the session (depth, smoothness, positivity, arousal); specifically, (a) the undecided dyad’s best session will be characterized by counselor intentions reflecting getting and giving information and clarification of issues related to career choice; (b) the indecisive dyad’s best session will be characterized by counselor intentions reflecting identification of feelings and understanding underlying dynamics of the problem; and (c) the dyads will perceive their best sessions as being more deep and positive than their worst sessions.  Hypothesis 4, the importance of the working alliance will differ for the dyads, with the relationship being more important to the indecisive client than to the undecided client.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)

The methodology of this study began by assessing the two clients as either undecided or indecisive, and studying the different aspects of the two clients’ personalities.  Multiple measures were used to assess the clients as this allowed for a way of validating the findings, since there was no control group in this study to allow for comparison because of its single-subject nature.  One of the measures the clients were administered was the My Vocational Situation  instrument that assesses problems with career development in three areas: vocational identity, occupational information, and barriers to occupational goals.  Vocational identity refers to “the possession of a clear and stable picture of one’s goals, interests, personality and talents” (Holland et al., 1980, p. 1).  The barriers scale consists of questions related to obstacles the person perceives may hinder career decision-making.  The occupational information scale consists of items related to how much information about occupations the person needs.”   (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  Another measure given to the clients was the Problem Solving Inventory, which evaluated the clients’ perceived problem-solving ability and problem-solving style.  “Low [problem solving inventory] scorers rated themselves as being less impulsive and avoidant, being more systematic and persistent, and having fewer emotional problems.  They reported fewer dysfunctional thoughts and fewer irrational beliefs.  They seemed to be less dependent in their decision making style, reported lower levels of both short- and long-term depression, and reported fewer physical symptoms.”  (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  The clients were also assessed on their decisiveness and on how comfortable they are with their decision-making, and career decision needs using the Career Decision Profile inventory.  The scales on the Career Decision Profile include Decidedness—how decided a person perceives themselves, Comfort—how comfortable one is with one’s choice, Self-Clarity—how clear the person perceives themselves to be, Knowledge About Occupations—the need an individual has for information, Decisiveness—the amount of difficulty a person perceives themselves to have in decision making and Career Importance—to assess the importance of the career decision to the individual at the present time. 

The Career Transitions Inventory, developed to evaluate a person’s internal process variables that may serve as strengths or barriers in making career transitions, was also administered to the clients.  The higher the score on The Career Transitions Inventory, the better a person perceives themselves as doing in the area, whereas low scores indicate barriers in making career transitions.  Finally, the clients were given the Self-Assessment of Career Decision Status to assess “(a) how decided clients perceived themselves to be, (b) how much hope they have that career counseling would be helpful to them, and (c) how important they perceive having a good relationship with the counselor to be in order to make a decision.”  (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  The Self-Assessment of Career Decision Status was used as a post-treatment, as well as a pre-treatment measure.  The counseling sessions began by randomly assigning the two female counselors to the clients.  The counselors signed consent forms that explained their rights in the study, and the clients signed standard consent forms at the beginning of the study.  The clients were told that they were to participate in a study examining what specific events during their career counseling sessions were helpful and what events impeded their career counseling.  The counseling was set to consists of six sessions “in order to provide a sufficient period of time to study the process as it unfolded, but a short enough period of time to approximate the more typical short-term nature of career counseling.  Each session was videotaped.”  (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  The counseling process was examined by using the Brief Structured Recall procedure, the Session Evaluation Questionnaire, and the Working Alliance Inventory.  The Brief Structured Recall procedure “is a videotape-assisted recall method [that consists of] two sets of questionnaires for both the client and the counselor: the Overall Session Questionnaire and the Specific Event Questionnaire.”  (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)    The Overall Session Questionnaire was used to establish the “best” and “worst” sessions in this study. It asked the clients and counselors about how helpful or hindering they perceived the session to be and why. The client also described in narrative form “any important information about the background of the event (i.e., “Are there things about you as a person, or recent events in your life, or from previous sessions, that explain why this event was so helpful to you?); [and to] rate each of the 17 possible effects of the event (e.g., “Realized something new about self”).”  (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  The Brief Structured Recall protocol was completed immediately after each session.  One of the experimenters guided each of the clients in the completion of the protocol as this provided more monitoring by having the researcher available to answer questions and therefore reducing systematic error variance. Counselors also completed the first section of the protocol, the Overall Session Questionnaire, immediately after each session.  After the experimenter delivered the cue, the client identified significant or helpful events in a videotaped session to the respective counselor that same day. Finally, the counselor completed the final section, the Session Evaluation Questionnaire. The test measures how positive or negative the client and counselor feels after the session, how much emotion each feels, how deep or intensive the session was, and reactions to the smoothness of the session.  The Working Alliance Inventory consists of two forms—one completed by the counselor and one by the client.  It has “three subscales to assess Bordin’s (1979) theoretical constructs of bond, task, and goal dimensions.  The “counselors were instructed to conduct sessions as similarly to non-experimental conditions as possible.  Both counselors used “standard” counseling methods, such as building rapport, understanding the problem, and setting goals, but also worked toward addressing the more unique career planning needs of each client.”  (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  Post-treatment outcome measures included the My Vocational Situation instrument, the Career Transitions Inventory, the Career Decision Profile, the Working Alliance Inventory, and the Self-Assessment of Career Decision Status, which was modified to reflect a past tense.

The results found by Heppner & Hendricks concluded that the undecided client benefited more from the vocational counseling in that the client felt more confident in choosing a career.  Therefore, hypothesis 1 was validated by the results obtained by the study.  To be specific, “the client progressed from 4-11on his pre-and post-MVS Vocational Identity scale, which indicates much greater vocational clarity.  Conversely, the change from 7 to 6 for the indecisive student indicates no change in his clarity at the posttest.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  The indecisive client however, did not gain any further clarity toward a career and did not feel any more confident.  “Moreover, at posttest the undecided client also placed himself in the highest possible ranking of decidedness (16) as compared with the indecisive client’s posttest rating of 7” on the Decidedness scale on the pre-and posttest Career Decision Profile. (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)

With regard to Hypothesis 2 the results did not validate the expectation of the researchers that the indecisive client would identify counseling events related to interpersonal and family issues as more beneficial in career counseling.  However, as Hypothesis 2 indicated the undecided client did identify events related to gaining more information about aspects about self or occupations as most helpful, which also coincided with his counselor expectations. For instance, “both the undecided client and the counselor rated all the sessions highly, with only a 1 point difference (on a 9 point scale) between the best and worst sessions.  Both the undecided client and counselor rated Sessions 2 and 3 the most positively, and both rated Sessions 1 and 4 as the worst.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)  Whereas, even though the indecisive client and his counselor both agreed that the most salient “event in Session 2 was when the counselor asked the client to think about how self critical he was and how much he thinks and analyzes situations before acting, [and] both agreed that the most helpful event was discussing his relationship with an overwhelming feelings of responsibility toward his family.  In other sessions, a pattern that emerged was that the client would choose most helpful events that were tangible (e.g., doing an occupational card sort), whereas the counselor focused on more affective events as being most helpful (e.g., identification of feelings related to indecision). Thus, there appeared to be some overlap but also some discrepancy between the indecisive client and counselor on what was helpful in the sessions.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)

Heppner & Hendricks, 1995, were able to verify Hypothesis 3 which stated that the best sessions for both clients were more positive and deep than those sessions identified as their worst. In addition, during the indecisive client’s best session “the counselor perceived herself as (a) conveying more hope, (b) promoting more tension release through catharsis, (c) enabling more acceptance of feeling, (d) encourage more identification of underlying dynamics, and (e) building a better working alliance.” During these sessions “the indecisive client indicated feeling more (a) aware and clearer about feelings, (b) feeling as though he had realized something new about himself, (c) feeling more relieved or comfortable, and (d) feeling less impatient and less doubting of the value of counseling.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)

From the beginning of the experiment, Hypothesis 4 was not confirmed by the results obtained from the Self-Assessment of Career Decision Status. At pre-test, the SACDS revealed, “that the relation with their [the clients] counselors would be “very important.”  However, the working alliance that developed for the undecided dyad was stronger than that in the indecisive client-counselor pair.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995) 

The research done by Heppner & Hendricks, (1995) has provided interesting insight into the field of career counseling which will open doors for similar studies in the future. This study was groundbreaking in its concept and focus. Overall, the researchers have achieved the goals that they set out to accomplish. However, the validity results found appeared skewed due to various confounding variables in the research. For example, the research was composed of a small sample of only four people. In addition, both career counselors were homogeneous in their gender and race, as were both of the participants. Furthermore, “it is unclear whether the results from this single-subject design will generalize to other career clients.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995) In conclusion, “the results (a) support previous speculation about the differential utility of interventions for undecided and indecisive clients, (b) suggest that the relationship may be important to clients in career counseling, and (c) raise questions about previously assumed intervention strategies for career clients.” (Heppner & Hendricks, 1995)



Heppner, M. J., & Hendricks, F. (1995). A Process and Outcome Study Examining Career Indecision and Indecisiveness. Journal of Counseling and Development, 73, 4, 426-38.





A.    Goal of researching career counseling

1.     Advance Psychotherapy process research

a)    Applied to indecisive client

b)    Applied to undecided client

2.     Understand the change process in career counseling

a)    Concerning the indecisive client

b)    Concerning the undecided client

3.     Provide hypotheses for future research

a)    Outcome will differ positively for clients

b)    Differences in aspects considered useful by clients

c)     Variation from counselor intentions & perceived characteristics

d)    Working alliance will differ for the dyads

B.    Methodology behind career counseling research

1.     Pretreatment measures

a)    My Vocational Situation (MVS)

b)    Problem Solving Inventory (PSI)

c)     Career Decision Profile (CDP)

d)    Career Transitions Inventory (CTI)

e)    Self-Assessment of Career Decision Status (SACDS)

f)      Counseling Process consisting of the Specific Event Questionnaire (SEQ) & the Brief Structure Recall procedure (BSR)

2.     Posttreatment measures

a)     Clients’ Classifications

b)     Counselors Descriptions

3.      Procedures

a)    Informed consent regarding investigation

b)    Administration of measures to clients

C.    Results concluded from research study

1.     Undecided client benefited more from vocational counseling than indecisive client

a)    Undecided client gained more vocational clarity

b)    Indecisive client did not gain more clarity

2.     Indecisive client’s did not identify toward therapeutic events while undecided client gained information about aspects on self

a)    Data indicated counseling helpful for undecided client

b)    Data indicated counseling neutral for indecisive client

3.     Quality of session correlates with counseling outcome

a)    Positive sessions generated further achievement

b)    Sessions considered negative produced little achievement

4.     SACDS did not yield expected results

a)    Undecided client relationship with counselor was confirmed to be very important

b)    Indecisive client’s working alliance with counselor did not surpass that of the undecided client

D.    Conclusion

1.     Strengths of study

a)    Provided insight into career counseling

b)    Stepping stone for further research

2.     Flaws of study

a)    Many confounding variables

b)    Validity questionable toward other clients