Kobus Maree

Department of educational Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 0001


Although much has been written internationally about the use of early recollections in counselling (Hartung, 2010; Savickas, 1998; 2009a), less has been written about its use in career counselling, particularly in (South) Africa. Furthermore, very little has been written about the overlap or crosswalk between the use of early recollections and the use of hypnotherapy in counselling. This article attempts to remedy this hiatus.

In this article, I explain the theoretical crossover between these two concepts and use a case study to illustrate how the crossover occurs in practice. I will also provide guidelines on the use of informal hypnosis in career counselling to facilitate best practice.

Theoretical Background: Ericksonian Hypnotherapy

Erickson pioneered the art and science of indirect communication to promote the use of latent potential and enabling healing (Battino & South, 2002) and, as it were, informal hypnotherapy. Whereas Hoyt (2003) argues  that Erickson used Ericksonian hypnosis to help people deal with challenges by enabling them to use their strong points or assets, Thomason (2009, p. 353) maintains that “Erickson’s overall goal was to help clients get unstuck by getting them to have experiences that activated their own natural healing abilities”. Geary (1996) states that Ericksonian hypnosis always begins with a thorough assessment that identifies hypnotic phenomena, the client’s values and major life themes. Such themes may include any combination of the following and other challenges that have to be dealt with by the client and counsellor: low self-image or self-concept; unrealistic perception of the self or own intrinsic value; lack of assertiveness; sadness or depression; insecurity; feelings of rejection, inferiority and inadequacy; not being accepted by others; not fitting in; anxiety; not being understood; and uncertainty about the future.

Career Construction Counselling for Life Designing

Over the past number of years, several researchers have stressed the importance of designing a life that is experienced as successful and satisfactory by people (Savickas et al., 2009). These researchers also maintain that lives should be designed in such a way that people can redesign their lives when their circumstances and needs change and they face repeated transitions. However, in a world characterised by ongoing change, uncertainty and flexibility, this ideal has become far harder to realise (Guichard, 2009). In the 21st century, people are expected to hold themselves and their lives together in the face of escalating discontinuity (Savickas, 2007). They are expected to be more self-sufficient by repeatedly drawing on their own advice, which can be drawn from their own life stories. Important as interpersonal communication is, no one can be the ultimate expert on anyone else − the only person who really knows his or her own story is that person himself or herself. Counsellors are consequently reminded of the unwisdom of adopting an all-knowing stance when interrelating with clients.

The career construction interview using the three recollections technique (TRT) is used to apply the above theoretical principles in practice. This technique is regarded by many career counselling practitioners as an appropriate assessment and therapeutic mechanism that counsellors and clients can use to uncover essential facets of clients’ personality and life structure. A brief discussion of the career construction interview follows.

Career construction Interview Using the Three Early Recollections Technique

Clients’ goals for counselling are elicited in the opening question of the career construction interview. Several primary questions are then asked to elicit narratives from clients to help counsellors grasp and co-construct their life stories (Hartung, 2007; 2010; Savickas, 1998; 2007; 2011). In recognising clients’ present career concerns in relation to their stages of career development, the interview covers, in succession, each of the four fundamental components of career construction, namely life structure, career adaptability, life themes and personality style.

Use of Early Recollections: Brief Theoretical Background

Savickas (2006a, b) suggests that counsellors ask the following question to elicit clients’ earliest recollections: “I am interested in hearing three stories about things you recall happening to you when you were young.” All responses are written down carefully.

Early recollections are probed mainly to elicit clients’ central preoccupations and problem themes that emerge in their responses to the career construction interview questions. The recollections often reflect the sequence of events that constitute clients’ life stories (Savickas, 2008). Cochran (2007, p. 5) maintains that “[at] best, one or more early recollections will offer a prototype for a plot of life and career. Perhaps more commonly, early recollections offer fragments of a larger story that must still be composed”. When people reflect on their lives in an attempt to uncover early recollections, they are actually engaging in intrapersonal communication, which Petroulakis (1984, p. 45) describes as “a presupposition for the development of all human relations and communication”. Counsellors and clients work together to recapture missing parts of these stories that may be useful in their attempts to co-construct alternative stories to clients’ ‘problem-saturated’ versions (Hester, 2004, p. 339).

Considering the three recollections technique from a person-centred perspective, Adler (1932) maintains that there is no such thing as ‘chance’ memories and that early recollections reflect the stories of clients’ lives. Clients often repeat stories to themselves to warn or comfort themselves, to keep themselves focused on their goals and to prepare themselves − through revisiting (drawing advice from) past experiences − for the future with a proven plan of action.

 (The interested reader is referred to the original article for an elucidation of a case study that describes the technique and strategy alluded to below.)

 Brief Discussion of the Case study

The data suggest that the use of early recollections is a promising strategy for involving clients in the design of their lives. The technique discussed here can enable the individuals concerned to understand themselves better, experience growth, discover themselves and find advice from within to help them solve fundamental personal problems. The technique can also assist clients to identify central life themes that can help them deal with problems and manage repeated transitions. Clients can be empowered to construct their own lives and (re-)write their life stories in collaboration with counsellors. In the process, they can regain self-respect and hope.


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