Holistic theoriesIntegrative Life Planning Theory (ILP)

Sunny Hansen 1996

Basic underpinning of the theory.

Integrative Life Planning or ILP is a holistic theory was developed by Hansen out of a need by her students to integrate more than work in career interventions (NCDA, 2008). She uses the metaphor of quilts and their pieces to explain life planning as “Weaving Our Lives into a Meaningful Whole” (Hansen, 1996, p.81). Her theory revolves around the key principles of interconnectedness, wholeness and relatedness (Hansen, 1996, p.2). She argued for a paradigm shift in career work, solving old problems in new ways (Hansen, 1996, p.3). It’s in some ways very much a reaction to the ‘old matching theories’ that were, and to some extent are, prevalent in career guidance. She recognises that society is changing and so are the ways in which we define ‘career’.

Hansen aims to define career in a much broader context than the linear paradigm of trait and factor. She also recognises and integrates the changes in demographics – increasing multiculturalism in the broadest sense and the need to be able to deal effectively and sensitively with this, which is very much something that is still topical more than two decades on. Hansen adds to this the changes in people’s lives. For instance the changing gender roles of men and women, both in the workplace and outside the spere of work, if this split is justified within the context of discussing ILP. She observed that workplaces and organisations are changing as well and recognises the loss of loyalty, arguing that old models of ‘fitting people into jobs’ is no longer of much use and new concepts of career and life planning are needed (Hansen, 1996, p. 7-10).

Her thinking has lead her to develop Integrative Life Planning as an alternative concept that integrates the many aspects of life, but also incorporates and responds to the changes at all levels in society. To illustrate this, she uses the metaphor of the quilt, which can be understood in many different levels; as the complex world around us, as the model itself, as the complexities in the world of work but also as the complexities and the many interwoven parts in our own lives, etc…. A quilt integrates many different pieces of fabric to make a whole, carefully sewn together and matched to make an enticing work of art that is warm and nurturing when used. (Hansen, 1996, p.12).

A key point in this is that quilting can be learnt by anyone interested in putting the pieces of the quilt together in a way that provides meaning for the maker as well as the user. Quilters weave together the personal, professional and the practical.


Integrative Life Planning theory is strongly linked to Super’s developmental theory and also links to Proschaska’s Stages of Change model and other change theories. There is also influence or a link with Multicultural Career Counselling theory and gender theories.

Integrative Life Planning Theory in practice

In it’s practice, Hansen argues that ILP is a “comprehensive model designed for career professionals […] to assist young people and adults in learning a life planning process that is holistic in nature” (Hansen, 1996, p.17). The process of life and career planning can be approached from six different perspectives

Career theory and Integrative Life Planning by Sunny Hansen: the six critical life tasks.

Hansen defines 6 critical tasks that are interconnected with the goal of helping people lead fuller lives and see their connectedness and spirituality.

Critical task 1: Finding work that needs doing in changing global contexts. (Hansen, 1996, p. 49)

  • Career professionals need to incorporate a global perspective into career theories and models. This means help clients find work that needs doing, that will improve lives society and the planet (Hansen, 1996, p. 254).
  • ILP argues for career professionals to be agents of change to improve the human condition. A really ambious aim I must say! Though, isn’t that what we are doing in small ways?
  • Hansen proposes that the first task in this context is to “delienate the external context” (Hansen, 1996, p.49). In more practical terms: practioners assess the local and global needs of the community they work in and prioritise these, because not all can be covered in their work, and action these in their work, in conjunction with the client’s personal needs and contexts, as well as community needs . (Hansen, 1996, p. 80)

Critical task 2: Weaving our lives into a meaningful whole. (Hansen, 1996, p. 81)

  • Career professionals need to help clients acquire a holistic self-view that will allow them to understand their career patterns, their need to plan in both local and global contexts, and the relationship between women and men and between work and the other life roles (Hansen, 1996, p. 255).
  • Assisting and encourage clients holistically develop their life
  • Areas of wholeness include: life roles of labour, love, learning, leisure,…
  • Career professionals can help men and women to move beyond traditional stereotypes […] towards equitable relationships and a more complete development as human beings.
  • This involves an examination of the different (gendered) roles and functions we have in our lives – this very much relates to developmentalism and Super.
  • Increased self-sufficiency and connectedness for men and women.

Critical task 3: Connecting family and work. (Hansen, 1996, p.119)

  • Career professionals need to understand that the changing individuals and families and the changing structures of the workplace will require an interactive approach to family and work (Hansen, 1996, p. 256).
  • Practice reflects the changes in family life and how work is integrated, affected and influence by these and vice-versa.
  • Changing family demographics and changing workplaces – integrative thinking about work and family.
  • Helping clients understand the connection between family and work.
  • Very much in line with developmentalism and Super, it’s important to consider the client’s stage of career, family salience, preferred lifestyle, flexibility, life goals and values, etc…
  • Fitting individuals into jobs is no longer enough. Their family context and life context is important.

Critical task 4: Valuing pluralism and inclusivity. (Hansen, 1996, p. 153)

  • Gaining enhanced awareness of ‘the other’ and of our own ‘otherness’ will be a life-long taks (Hansen, 1996, p. 257)
  • Learning to deal effectively with difference – ILP as a vehicle for understanding diversity.
  • Increasing awareness of the multi-faceted and pluralistic nature of the world and our society and social context – as opposed to understanding the world as one of dominant/subordinate cultures and world views.
  • A critical understanding of multiculturalism and the client’s position within this, from a client perspective – linked to multicultural career counselling.

Critical task 5: Exploring spirituality and life purpose. (Hansen, 1996, p. 187)

  • Developing awareness of our own spirituality and how it relates to work, meaning, values and purpose is another critical task for the career professional (Hansen, 1996, p. 257).
  • Spirituality (beliefs and a world view that is not necessarily linked to organised religion) is central to many people, although it may not always consciously at the centre.
  • Understanding the role of spirituality in the life decisions of their clients as well as in their own lives.
  • Spirituality is integrated within many aspects of life, including personal values and preferences, development, materialism, etc…
  • Can fit in well with finding work that needs doing and links in well with the universal search for meaning.

Critical task 6: Managing personal transitions and organisational change. (Hansen, 1996, p. 215)

  • Career professionals have to understand the extraordinary changes taking place in society and around the world, including in the world of work and in people’s personal lives (Hansen, 1996, p. 257).
  • Links in with other transition models and theories. Schlossberg’s work is discussed by Hansen within this context, for instance, as well as Brammer’s ‘Life Transitions’ and Gelatt’s ‘Positive Uncertainty’.
  • Organisational change is the other leg of this critical task, including: shifting organisational structures, shifting work patterns and human values (especially since Covid 19), shifting leadership patterns and the changing leadership of women and men.

Implications for career professionals

Rather than a theory or way of working, ILP is a conceptional framework to underpin the work we do and how we understand our work and its context, the client and their context, the world (of work) and its context. It is there to help others make life choices and gain a big-picture perspective (Hansen, 1996, p. 252) which ‘traditional’ theories don’t offer. It can also inform on the nature of career development and what influences it. Like a quilt, it integrates the many colours, facets and fabrics that make up ‘reality’ around us, integrating all aspects that influence and are integrated within work and life.


To say the least, there is a lot to epxlore in Integrated Life Planning theory and I have only been able to scratch the surface. If you are interested in exploring the many other facets of this theory further, I would like to recommend reading Hansen’s book, though not readily available anymore and quite expensive if you do find a copy, unfortunately. It would lead me way beyond the scope of this web page to tackle all aspects of her theory, but I hope I have given you enough to get a good overview ILP.

I feel the theory offers a lot to explore and think about. It pitches traditional career guidance with its fixed paradigms, to a changed and changing world with its many conflicting and conflating facets. I would argue however that, evne though the ideas Hansen includes and works through in her work, is still very much valid today, or even more so. I also really like the metaphor of the quilt as it offers a really good visual idea of the basic structure of the theory.

It does take a lot of work and effort (life-long if you want to apply all aspects of the theory) to get to grips with this multi-faceted theoretical quilt. I think it does offer a very good springboard for CPD and assessing your practice as is, as long as you don’t feel you have to assess every aspect of your practice to every aspect of ILP. It’s great to familiarise yourself with and then dip into when assessing your work or reflecting on it.

I’m not so sure how well it works directly with the client group I work with, but I will reflect on this. I’m not sure if I’m alone in this but I do feel that the theory is somewhat moralising and aims to get the client to ‘change their ways’ in some places, and fit in with the prevailing assumptions and values Hansen puts forward. On the other hand, its central tenet is the varied, changing and caleidoscope nature of all aspects of the world around us, as well as our inner world and values.

What do you think?

  • How does ILP and the values it integrates within it, relate to the values implied or integrated into traditional career theories such as trait and factor theory?
  • What questions does it ask and how would it challenge you and influence your practice and your own thinking?
  • Does it reflect the changes in the world as it is now? Or does it come across as a bit dated?
  • How does it interact with your thinking and values? What about the different tasks did you find challenging and challenged your perception of yourself, the world around you and your clients?
  • Would it work equally well with all age groups?
  • As per usual, have a look at Brown and see how this theory fares…

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