This section provides two contrasting client case studies. The first is of a client who had a good general sense of what he might like to do in the future, and who primarily needed information. The client who is the subject of the second case was facing a number of challenges across several domains, and needed much more extensive and broad ranging support.
Case Study 1: Providing information to a “lower need” client
After living abroad for several years, Client 1 returned to Lithuania. He wanted to gain a new qualification and find a well-paid job. He came to the training centre where the GOAL counselling service was located to find out what kind of training programmes were on offer, the duration of training, and the fees.
The client was provided with information about training programmes, their duration and price. He was interested in welder training programmes (duration 11.5 weeks) and plumber training programmes (duration 29 weeks). He was unemployed and was not registered with the public employment service (PES). The GOAL counsellor explained that if he registered with the PES he would be eligible to participate in that organisation’s “Discover Yourself” scheme, which provides financial support to young people (under 29 years) seeking vocational training. The client was interested in this opportunity, and said he would contact the PES for more information.
After a couple of days, the client returned to GOAL. He had registered with PES and enrolled in the scheme, which would pay for his vocational training. He was still interested in both the welding and plumbing programmes. Together with the GOAL counsellor he used a “professional possibilities” tool – an informal test which suggested that he had the requisite skills and mindset for either of the programmes he was interested in. To help him in his decision-making, the counsellor arranged meetings with the teachers in the institution’s welding and plumbing courses; these teachers told him about the training programmes and discussed employment opportunities in each profession. Having obtained this information, the client decided to study to be a plumber.
The client enrolled on the plumber training programme. All fees were paid by the PES.
The client completed training and successfully found a job at a local plumbing company.
Reflections on this case study
This case study provides an example of a “lower need” client. Such clients typically have a good level of motivation and a good general idea of the type of profession they would like to pursue, but lack information about vocational education options. In this particular case, the client was unaware of an available route for getting government funding to pay for his education. In interviews with evaluators, GOAL staff across the six countries repeatedly emphasised the complexity of the information landscape: even highly-motivated clients struggled to find user-friendly information about the educational pathways open to them. A core responsibility of GOAL counsellors was to stay well-informed about such opportunities, and to help clients find the information they needed to make well-informed decisions about their next steps (see Chapter 7). GOAL staff suggested that finding information about courses was more daunting for clients with low levels of education than for better educated clients, for two primary reasons: 1) low-educated clients are less likely to be adept at searching for the information they need; 2) information in the adult education sector is much more fragmented and difficult to find than information and (for example) the Higher Education sector. The combination of these two factors makes the information-sharing role of GOAL counsellors particularly important.
Case Study 2: A more complex counselling journey for a “higher need” client
Client 2 lives in Slovenia. She had a secondary-level qualification in hairdressing and wanted to further her education, but her ability to do so had been hampered by the need to fit education around work (she was employed part-time) and family commitments (she had two young children). The client wanted advice about how to achieve her educational objectives within the constraints of her other obligations.
The client had completed an adult education hairdressing programme and then, at her employer’s suggestion, decided to continue studies at a technical college. She came to GOAL because, after several lectures, she had begun to despair of being able to meet the demands of her study because of her obligations at work and home. The client had taken a very active part in the lessons she had attended, but had then abandoned her studies because of her excessive external obligations. She explained her situation to the counsellor: she was employed on a factory conveyor belt and her employer had offered her the option of advancing if she completed technical college studies. She therefore decided to pursue higher professional education studies. She turned to the counsellor in order to find a way of studying successfully and with as little stress as possible as she tried to juggle family, household, employment, and the struggles and stresses associated with low income. The counsellor began working with her on a one-to-one basis, and also sent revision material and homework to her home address. The counsellor and client agreed on weekly sessions if required, and agreed that the client could consult the counsellor after each lecture if she had any questions. They also agreed that the counsellor would keep an eye on whether the client was taking her examinations as required or whether she was encountering obstacles or required help.
The client became more independent and self-confident, daring to ask questions if there was something she did not understand during a lesson. Previously she had been reserved and kept herself to herself (there were fewer women at the secondary education centre and they normally sat away from the men); now she became more communicative and began to open up to others. Exhaustion meant that her motivation was still problematic. However, the counsellor noticed that she was making rapid progress in her studies and had become more confident that she would succeed. In part, this was due to the counsellor’s approach: in creating personal education plans with clients who were returning to education, the counsellor typically encouraged them to start out by taking subjects that were shorter and less demanding. This enabled them to gain good marks more quickly, thereby improving their self-image and building their motivation and sense of self-efficacy for more demanding subjects of longer duration.
Using the counselling centre’s online system, the counsellor checked whether the client was taking her examinations as scheduled. When she discovered that the client had missed the examination deadline, the counsellor invited the client in for another session. At this session, the counsellor learned that the client had been unable to arrange childcare for the exam period. They counsellor and client agreed that she would inform the counsellor if such scheduling conflicts arose again, so they could be addressed.
Session 4 and subsequent sessions
The client passed her examinations and was now in a position to take the upper-secondary vocational certificate. Thus far, all the examinations and tests had been written (with some subjects also being examined by colloquium so that students could take them in instalments). However, the upper-secondary vocational certificate was to be examined before a committee and covered an entire module (rather than just aspects of it). The counsellor noticed that the client had begun to feel a general sense of panic in the month leading up to the examination. The counsellor therefore gave the client general tips on how to combat stress, increase concentration levels, etc., as well as advice on learning, e.g. how to break a subject down, how to learn “smart”, and so on. In order to do this, the counsellor cancelled one of her own lessons (she is a mathematics teacher) and devoted the time to the GOAL project in the form of a “learning to learn” workshop for clients.
The client completed her studies successfully, so the counsellor suggested that she enrol in a higher education programme. The client demurred, saying she wanted a break from education. However, when the counsellor contacted the client a few months later, the client told her that she had now enrolled in higher education studies. These studies were going well, and she was enjoying them, she said.
The counsellor and client had no further sessions, but agreed that the client would contact the counsellor if she had any further study-related problems.
Reflections on this case study
As in Case Study 1, this client came to counselling with a good level of motivation and determination. However, she faced a range of obstacles. Because of these obstacles, she came to GOAL not with questions that could be answered through the provision of information, but with more complex questions and needs – in particular, how to successfully juggle her various life commitments in such a way that she could achieve her educational objectives. Complex challenges such as this have no simple solutions, and thus require ongoing, adaptable support from counsellors. GOAL counsellors across the six countries exhibited a high level of commitment to their clients – even if, as in this case study, it meant cancelling one’s own class in order to provide the support that the client needed.
As is illustrated in Case Study 2, a key practical difference between lower-need and higher-need clients is that the latter often require many more counselling sessions than the former, and are likely to take far longer to complete their counselling journey. This means that motivation may need to be rekindled multiple times, and that a broad range of challenges is likely to be encountered. Another implication of high need clients’ longer counselling journeys is at the personal/psychological level. Whereas a client who only needs one or two sessions is still very much the same person at the end of the counselling process (albeit with more information and a clearer sense of direction), a client with a longer and more complex counselling journey may change in important ways over the process of that journey. These can be positive ways, e.g. growth in self-esteem and self-efficacy, but also negative ways, e.g. a divorce or health problems. The client’s objectives may also change during that journey. Complex clients are typically not static during the counselling process; their lives, capabilities and needs change, and counsellors must adapt to this.