Comparing Prescriptive and Descriptive Decision Making

According to Sharf (2006), descriptive theories explain our career decisions while prescriptive theories state there is an ideal approach to making these decisions. Examples of descriptive theories include Miller-Tiedeman’s Lifecareer theory and Hansen’s Holistic Approach (Sharf, 2006). Described as a spiritual approach to career decision-making, these perspectives conceive the ultimate goal is the discovery of “inner meanings found deep within” (Sharf, 2006, p417) oneself. As a result of this self-understanding, clients can utilize their own inner wisdom to discover what is right for them. In this process, the counselor does not direct but simply guides. According to Miller-Tiedeman, “you are not looking for a career…your life is your career”. (Sharf, 2006, p418). In other words, the search for a career is the process of defining one’s calling or life path, which Hansen adds is one part of a greater and “meaningful whole” (Sharf, 200, p426).
​In contrast, a cognitive information-processing approach, utilizes psychological decision making theories its basis (Sharf, 2006). Questioning one’s belief systems and examining decision-making skills are key components of this approach. Utilizing what Miller-Tiedeman describes as a common reality perspective, (Sharf, 2006), this approach requires self-knowledge and us to acquire occupational before we can begin making a decision effectively. Additionally decision-making skills are said to follow a logical process that includes: “Communication, analysis, synthesis, valuing, and execution” (Sharf, 2006, p432).

In the second part of this discussion board post we are to apply these decision-making theories to the client’s we work with daily. I work in the health-care field, which is fairly prescriptive in its decision-making approach. This is because, when it comes to health-related knowledge, we are usually left to rely on the “experts”. The doctors inform patients of a diagnosis and provide their recommended options. When faced with a critical decision that can have a profound affect on one’s well being, we usually rely on their judgment. It is difficult to question their abilities and judgment until after the fact when we notice an issue of malpractice has occurred. For example, when patients are given the facts of the diagnosis, they are allowed to examine the options. With this information, they synthesize information, analyze options and provide a personal evaluation of which fits best. This is very cognitive in nature, as I see it.
Having said this, it is usually the job of nurses and social workers, to address the spiritual matters pertaining to a client’s decisions. For example, prior to a surgery, nurses are required to have clients fill out a consent form indicating they understand what is happening and decide to follow-through with the doctor’s recommendations. Struggling with personality reality concerns, as Miller-Tildeman describes, is often related to one’s mortality and the lasting personal consequences of a health-related decision. What will my level of independence be? What will my life expectancy be? Bigger picture questions, are often addressed by nurses and social workers, which help the client’s come to terms with the life-altering consequences of such decisions.


Sharf R.S. (2006). Applying career development theory to counseling. 6th Ed. Belmont
CA: Thomson.

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