Revolving Doors: The Impact of Multiple School Transitions on Military Children

S. Beth Ruff, Michael A. Keim

There are 1.2 million school-age children with military parents in the United States, and approximately 90% attend public schools. On average, military children move three times more often than their civilian peers. Tensions at home, enrollment issues, adapting to new schools, and a lack of familiarity with military culture by public school professionals may adversely impact the academic, social and emotional growth of these students. Public school faculty and staff need to understand the challenges that multiple school transitions impose on military children in order to effectively meet the needs of this student population. In this article, the authors review the literature concerning obstacles and challenges mobile military children face, and discuss positive interventions that professional school counselors can employ to ease these transitions.

Keywords: school counselors, school transitions, military children, military culture

The Department of Defense (DOD) Demographics Report (2010) revealed that approximately 1.85 million children have one or both parents serving in the U.S. military. The report further explained that 1.2 million of these children have active-duty parents, and approximately 660,000 children have parents that serve in reserve positions in the military. Out of the 1.85 million military children, 1.2 million of them fall into the K–12 education range of 6–18 years of age (DOD, 2010). The Department of Defense Dependents Education (DODDE, 2012) budget for fiscal year 2013 estimated that 90% of these school-age military children attend public schools that are not sponsored by the DOD.

On average, military children move and change schools 6–9 times from the start of kindergarten to high school graduation (Astor, 2011; Berg, 2008; Kitmitto et al., 2011; Sherman & Glenn, 2011). Additionally, these military children move three times more often than their civilian peers, relocating every 1–4 years (Berg, 2008; Bradshaw, Sudhinaraset, Mmari, & Blum, 2010; Hipps, 2011). With military children comprising nearly 4% of the nation’s entire school-age population, public school administrators, teachers and school counselors should expect military students to transition in and out of their school populations (Rossen & Carter, 2011). Public school faculty and staff need to understand the challenges that multiple school transitions impose on military children in order to effectively meet the needs of this student population. In this article, the authors review the literature concerning the obstacles and challenges mobile military children face, and discuss positive interventions that professional school counselors can employ to ease transition.


Stressors for Military Families and Children


Military families face a unique set of life stressors specific to their culture. Hall (2008) describes the challenges faced by military families by stating that “the defining word for the military family is change; change is what their lives are about” (p. 193). As such, military families experience change and transition so frequently they often do not have time to grieve over the last transition before planning and preparing for the next. Relocation becomes a consistent stressor in the lives of military families, as the average military move occurs every 3 years, and some families, particularly families of high-ranking officers, move more frequently (Hall, 2008).

As noted in Weber and Weber (2005), previous studies (Pribesh & Downey, 1999; Simpson & Fowler, 1994; Wood, Halfon, Scarlatta, Newacheck, & Nessim, 1993) found relocation stress to have a detrimental effect on civilian child populations. School-age military children are especially vulnerable to the stress related to frequent transitions, as they must simultaneously cope with normal developmental stressors such as establishing peer relationships (Kelley, Finkel, & Ashby, 2003), conflict in parent/child relationships (Gibbs, Martin, Kupper, & Johnson, 2007; Lowe, Adams, Browne, & Hinkel, 2012), and increased academic demands (Engel, Gallagher, & Lyle, 2010). These additional stressors in conjunction with multiple school transitions could negatively affect the children’s adaption to new school environments. In addition to normative developmental stressors and frequent relocations, military children’s parents are often deployed, which can exacerbate stress in the children and may result in more barriers and maladjustment (Mmari, Bradshaw, Sudhinaraset, & Blum, 2010).


Transitional Barriers for Military Adolescent Students

Recognizing that these significant stressors for military children may be further complicated by multiple school transitions, the U.S. Army began to explore the lives of these children in order to identify ways to minimize the negative impacts of frequent relocation (Berg, 2008). In conjunction with the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), the Secondary Education Transition Study (SETS) was completed, which revealed specific educational challenges associated with multiple transitions (MCEC, 2001). The SETS study exposed several obstacles to transition between schools that impacted military children socially, emotionally and academically. Specific transition challenges identified by SETS for military adolescents include the following: slow transfer of school records and differences in curricula between schools, adapting to new school environments and making friends, limited access to extracurricular activities, a lack of understanding of military culture by public school teachers and staff, and tension at home and parental deployment (MCEC, 2001). The authors reviewed the literature for relevant information on each stressor.


Slow transfer of records and differences in curricula between schools. With each move to another state and school, military children encounter the challenges of slow transfer of records and differences in school curricula, which increase frustration with the transition process for parents and students (Sherman & Glenn, 2011). Kitmitto et al. (2011) found that enrollment into a new school could take up to 3 weeks, as the new school awaits the arrival of official records from the previous school. The lack of communication between the previous and receiving schools regarding history of schools attended, curricula, achievements, and stresses and traumas can lead to academic weaknesses (Berg, 2008).  As military parents fulfill their duties to serve and protect the United States, the nation’s schools may hinder student progress by requiring them to take classes over again or denying them placement into gifted or special needs education due to slow school record exchange (Astor, 2011).

Military children face several academic challenges as a result of frequent school transition. The differences in curricula and school requirements result in educational gaps for military children, which might entail repeating classes and lessons, and missing crucial topics such as multiplication and fractions (Bradshaw et al., 2010). Mmari et al. (2010) noted that parents expressed their concern for their children’s education quality; because of the differences in grade levels between schools, children had to learn the same material or read the same books repeatedly. A recent study by the MCEC reported that the differences in curricula continue to vary from school to school; and parents’ most commonly discussed concerns were the differences in scope and sequence in mathematics, specifically as it leads up to algebra and higher-level coursework (MCEC, 2012). Military parents work hard to fill the gaps in their child’s education due to transition, but many feel that if they do not advocate for their children, they will fall significantly behind their peers academically (Mmari et al., 2010).


Adapting to new school environments and making friends. With each move, military children must cope with the stress of making new friends and leaving others behind, adapting to a new school environment at awkward times, and figuring out how to fit in (Kitmitto et al., 2011). In a study conducted by Bradshaw et al. (2010), military students reported that some significant stressors in school transition were adjusting to the physical campus and to the culture of the school, including being aware of the school’s procedures and policies. Military students often transition at random times throughout the school year and experience added stressors such as learning the layout of the school and assimilating into already-established social groups (Bradshaw et al., 2010). Lack of information from the new school, such as not providing a campus map or an explanation of the course schedule, may lead the child to believe that the school is not supportive, which in turn can negatively impact the child’s adjustment to transition to the new school environment (Bradshaw et al., 2010).

Military children are frequently forced to end relationships with friends at a previous school and begin new peer relationships at the new school. In a qualitative study of military children, the most commonly mentioned stressor related to school transitions was the challenge of making and maintaining close friendships (Bradshaw et al., 2010). Many students described that the inevitable ending of close relationships led them to avoid making close connections with peers at new schools. With each move, letting go and saying goodbye to friendships becomes harder for the military students; and to avoid the inevitable grief, many students will choose to have superficial relationships instead of close friendships. It is more difficult with such relationships to gain acceptance from established cliques and social networks. This leads to military students often lacking a feeling of connectedness with others in their new schools, which in turn may lead to maladjustment in the transition (Bradshaw et al., 2010).


Limited access to extracurricular activities. With each school transition, military students encounter further challenges to retaining or gaining eligibility to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities at their new school (Sherman & Glenn, 2011). Students involved in sports who move late into the school year may miss tryouts for teams. Additionally, transferring to another state may mean that the new school does not offer the same athletic programs (Bradshaw et al., 2010). Even when students are eligible to participate in sports, military students can have difficulty breaking into established athletic programs and teams. Mmari and colleagues (2010) found that military children often experience discrimination when they participate in athletics at the new school. Athletic coaches were reluctant to put military students on teams or in starting positions, as doing so could disrupt the team dynamics.  Military students also struggled to bond with their new teammates, especially if a military student’s new position on the team resulted in an established teammate losing a starting position (Mmari et al., 2010).

Students taking part in other extracurricular activities, like student government, face similar challenges that limit their involvement. New military students may find that student government elections either happened before they entered the school or rely heavily on established popularity and previous school involvement, which would be difficult or impossible for a new student to demonstrate (Bradshaw et al., 2010). These challenges can negatively affect the military student’s adjustment to a new school, as they may hinder connectedness to the new school environment or create a sense of loss if the student was involved in high-status positions at a former school (Bradshaw et al, 2010). Limited access to these activities can lead to additional mental health concerns for the military student, as a decline in participation in such activities can cause further withdrawal and depressive symptoms (Rossen & Carter, 2011). The transition to a new school includes challenges both in the classroom and beyond.


Lack of understanding of military culture by public school teachers and staff. The way in which school teachers and staff interact with military students who transfer to their school can either increase or reduce the students’ stress. Unfortunately, administrators, educators and counselors in public schools tend to be unfamiliar with the specific issues and stressors that mobile military students encounter (Harrison & Vannest, 2008). Horton (2005) noted that because of their limited experience with the military, civilian school staff have a knowledge gap that affects their competence and effectiveness in working with military students and families. The school staff’s lack of understanding about the military students’ culture results in varying degrees of interactions ranging from overly sensitive to completely insensitive to their needs. Bradshaw et al. (2010) found that teachers’ expectations differ because they struggle with the right thing to do. Some teachers have high expectations for new military students and expect them to assimilate rather than acknowledging their unique issues. Other teachers recognize some of the issues military students face because of deployment, but choose to avoid the topic of war in the classroom or discourage the students from talking about their experiences as to not upset the students (Bradshaw et al., 2010).

In addition to the issue of sensitivity, teachers who are not familiar with military culture may maintain negative stereotypes or political ideologies that influence the way they interact with military students (Fenell, 2008). Horton (2005) explained that it is also possible for public school staff members to harbor strong negative feelings about the military, which may impact their treatment of the military students. Fear of discrimination may also be a factor that impedes school staff from identifying military students in their schools, as parents and students may not reveal their military connection (Bradshaw et al. 2010; Mmari et al., 2010). Additionally, Mmari and colleagues (2010) found that many teachers and counselors had not received information that would help them identify students connected to the military. While part of the school staff felt that properly identifying military students could aid in assisting and connecting with these students, others felt that labeling this population could result in prejudice toward the students by anti-military staff. A majority of the parents in the study reported that school staff did not know how to deal with and support military children and issues such as deployment, and that more training is needed (Mmari et al., 2010).


Tension at home and parental deployment. Relocation increases stress for all military family members. In preparing to move, parents are swamped with concerns and to-do lists, and may not have the patience or time to consider a child who is resistant to the transition (Hall, 2008). The numerous moves can leave parents feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, and less emotionally able to help their children cope with stress related to relocation (Bradshaw et al., 2010). Several studies reported that parental stress directly impacts the child’s ability to cope during stressful situations (Hall, 2008; Mmari et al., 2010; Waliski, Bokony, Edlund, & Kirchner, 2012). Further, parental stress increases the likelihood of conflicts between the parent and child and could lead to child maltreatment (Rentz et al., 2007; Waliski et al., 2012). Parents’ stress can exacerbate the emotional stress and frustration already felt by the military child due to transition.

In a qualitative research study by Bradshaw et al. (2010), the majority of military students reported that moving increased tension in the home. Some students reported feeling anger and resentment toward their parents and the military because of the constant uprooting and disruption due to change of duty stations. Many students reported telling parents that they refused to move or would run away to avoid moving again (Bradshaw et al., 2010). This negative and resistant behavior from a child can be an additional source of stress for the family. Parents may in turn view the behavior as a problem and punish or avoid the child instead of acknowledging the emotional strain the student is facing with transition (Harrison & Vannest, 2008).

The emotional stress of relocation can be further complicated if the military parent is deployed or at risk of being deployed. The constant fear for a parent’s safety can negatively affect a child academically, emotionally and behaviorally (Chawla & Solinas-Saunders, 2011; Harrison & Vannest, 2008; Mmari et al., 2010). Having a parent deployed in conjunction with a transition can lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety. In a qualitative study of military students, many participants reported increased fear and anxiety for deployed parent’s safety. These military students also reported difficulty coping with the absence of the deployed parent at special occasions such as birthdays, school programs and sporting events (Mmari et al., 2010). Absence of the deployed parent from these significant life events can cause stress, depression, feelings of loss, and anxiety for the military child. These feelings are often externalized in the form of declining grades and behavior problems at home and school (Harrison & Vannest, 2008). Adolescents also may experience increased stress with role ambiguity during a parent’s deployment—as the family instantly becomes a single-parent home, the adolescent may take on additional responsibilities to support the remaining parent (Chawla & Solinas-Saunders, 2011; Harrison & Vannest, 2008).

Research following Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the Gulf War in 1991 confirmed that stresses do occur within families during and after deployment (Jensen & Shaw, 1996; Kelley, 1994; Norwood, Fullerton, & Hagen, 1996; Pierce, Vinokur, & Buck, 1998; Rosen, Teitelbaum, & Westhuis, 1993). In their study of absent Navy mothers due to deployment during the Gulf War, Kelley, Herzog-Simmer, and Harris (1994) found that maternal depression, decreased self-esteem, and dysphoria were significantly correlated with children’s internalizing behavior (e.g., anxiety, depression).

Likewise, nondeployed parents also experience stress during times of deployment (Mmari et al., 2010), which in turn may be felt by children in the home (Chawla & Solinas-Saunders, 2011). Harrison and Vannest (2008) report that in addition to feelings of worry and fear for their spouse’s safety, the remaining parent also grapples with the stress of increased role expectation and responsibilities as a single parent. Without support, the remaining parent may cope with role strain and anxiety by withdrawing emotionally from their children or responding with severe punishment to misbehavior (Harrison & Vannest, 2008). These children may face an increased risk of maltreatment or neglect as the remaining parent may become abusive to the children when a spouse is deployed (Chawla & Solinas-Saunders, 2011; Gibbs et al., 2007; Rentz et al., 2007). Deployment can have significant detrimental effects on an entire military family’s well-being and coping skills.


Support Systems and Military Children       

While researchers have found many negative outcomes associated with school transitions for military children, supportive relationships appear to have a positive influence on outcomes for this group. Although the majority of the literature discusses the damaging consequences that multiple school transitions have on children from military families, some studies found that multiple school transitions fostered strength and resiliency. Lyle (2006) reported that there are mixed results in the literature regarding the effects of multiple school transitions. Multiple transitions have been shown to equip military children with more adaptability, accelerated maturity, deeper appreciation for cultural differences, and strong social skills in comparison to their civilian peers (Bradshaw et al., 2010; Mmari et al., 2010; Sherman & Glenn, 2011; Strobino & Salvaterra, 2000). Weber and Weber (2005) actually reported a lower rate of problems experienced by military adolescents exposed to increased frequency and number of relocations. Strobino and Salvaterra (2000) stated that whether transition affects military children positively or negatively depends largely upon their support systems. Students’ preoccupation with feelings of isolation and loneliness during school transition could result in poor grades and a decline in academic achievement. In contrast, military students who welcome change and find a new sense of responsibility during school transition may experience improved academic performance and achievement. It also was found that despite five or more school transitions, military children reported average to above-average grades, active involvement in extracurricular activities, and support of teachers and parents. This study attributed the positive adjustment of military students during multiple school transitions to supportive school cultures and strong parental involvement. The positive and negative results reveal that the level of school and parent support may be indicators of how well military students adjust during multiple school transitions (Strobino & Salvaterra, 2000).


Implications for School Counselors


Given the extensive influence that the school environment has on military students’ adjustment during school transitions, the importance of developing a supportive and understanding relationship with this student population is paramount. Rush and Akos (2007) note that school counselors are uniquely qualified to assist students with social, emotional and academic concerns. School counselors are specifically trained in child development, and they work closely with numerous sources of student support including parents, teachers and peers. Waliski et al. (2012) confirm that counselors possess the education and skills needed to help military students and are readily accessible within their community. Professional school counselors also have access to academic data that can be used to identify the specific needs of an enrolling military student, such as standardized test scores, attendance records, discipline referrals and report cards. Moreover, school counselors serve students directly by developing and implementing preventive programs and interventions that facilitate support and social belonging such as classroom guidance, intentional guidance groups and peer mentoring (Rush & Akos, 2007). The role of school counselors within the school environment places them in a unique position to serve and advocate for enrolling military students and consequently transform school transition into a positive experience. The following sections will provide an overview of ways that school counselors can support military students in their own schools.


Becoming Informed About Military Life


To initiate change, school counselors must first be informed about military life and become knowledgeable about resources and culturally sensitive interventions suited for military students (Waliski et al., 2012). Understanding the challenges and the unique needs of military students will help school counselors support military students and families during times of crisis (Harrison & Vannest, 2008). Several resources are available to assist school counselors in becoming advocates for and providing resources and interventions to military students. Organizations such as Operation Military Kids (OMK) and Military One Source provide specific tools and trainings on assisting military children and parents for school staff and community stakeholders (Eason, 2012). These resources could be used in staff development, classroom guidance, parent/teacher conferences, and small group and individual counseling (see Table 1).


Student-to-Student Interactions


With regard to strategies and programs that acclimatize new students to schools and ease the transition process, student-to-student programs were noted repeatedly in the literature (Berg, 2008; Bradshaw et al., 2010; Harrison & Vannest, 2008; Mmari et al., 2010; Strobino & Salvaterra, 2000). These programs connect new students with current students, who act as guides to the school grounds and reduce anxiety by initiating the friend-making process. One such program is noted by Rush and Akos (2007) in working with middle school students. The authors developed a 10-session, combination psychoeducational-counseling group created by school counselors to increase student knowledge concerning the deployment process. In addition to information sharing by the group leaders and group members early in the process and at the beginning of each session, the “later sessions, and the latter part of each session, are purposefully structured to be less directive and more process oriented to allow group members to pursue individual goals and provide more intrapersonal focus to help with particular issues that emerge” (Rush & Akos, p. 116). Students are further supported through the development of coping skills in a safe, encouraging environment.


Table 1


Web Resources to Support Military Students with Transition















Community Resources


Another avenue to help students adjust and adapt is connecting parents and caregivers to community resources. Mmari et al. (2010) found that some military parents did not utilize resources simply because they did not know they were available. Waliski et al. (2012) explained that counselors can serve as gatekeepers through whom military families can gain access to appropriate programs and services. Additionally, school counselors are in an advantageous position to develop partnerships between families and communities, to identify challenges such as transitions, to address these issues, and to advance student progress (Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2010). As military families transition, they may be unfamiliar with their new community and struggle to locate health care providers, childcare, tutoring, and mental health and counseling resources. School counselors are often equipped with lists for local providers and resources that could ease the transition for mobile military families. In addition to local resources, school counselors can proactively assist military children and their families by maintaining a record of resources specific to military families. For example, provides free tutoring and resources for military students (“ for U.S. military families,” 2014). Also, a new Web site sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs, “Parenting for Service Members and Veterans,” has been launched just for military families (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2013). This resource addresses the unique challenges of parenting in military families through an online anonymous parenting course, interactive activities, and stories of real military and veteran families that provide valuable skills for the everyday challenges of raising military children. The course and content were developed by experts from the DOD. By connecting parents to resources, the school counselor can assist in reducing tension at home and increasing parental support and school involvement.


Staff Trainings


An important strategy for school counselors to implement in their schools is facilitating school staff trainings specific to military culture and needs of military students. Harrison and Vannest (2008) suggest that teachers receive professional development focused on military culture and the skills necessary to assist their military students. Strobino and Salvaterra (2000) explain that it is important for all stakeholders to be aware of the relationship between the student’s experiences and school success.  School counselors and other school professionals are encouraged to focus on identifying the strengths of military students. Staff training can facilitate cultural sensitivity and supportive student/teacher relationships that contribute to positive school experiences.

A number of organizations—from the community to the national level—can provide training to assist educational professionals in working with the military community. Veterans’ organizations, such as Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or the American Legion, have posts in local communities with representatives appointed to serve schools and other civic institutions. National Guard or reserve posts and active-duty military installations have a public affairs officer (PAO) who is available to discuss military-related issues such as deployment with the educational community as well. Additionally, the MCEC (2012), a federally recognized nonprofit organization, is specifically “focused on ensuring quality educational opportunities for all military children affected by mobility, family separation, and transition.” They provide ongoing training for school counselors and other education professionals both online and in face-to-face settings. Two MCEC programs in particular relate directly to school transitions. The Supporting Military Children through School Transitions: Foundations focuses on the military-connected child’s experience with transitions by addressing “military lifestyle and culture, school transition perspectives, and identifying local transition challenges.” The second program—Supporting Military Children through School Transitions: Social/Emotional Institutefocuses on the social and emotional effects of student transitions, including “deployment and separation, building confidence and resiliency, and supporting children through trauma and loss” (MCEC, 2012).


Advocating for Military Students


In addition to interventions used at the individual school level, school counselors can advocate for military students at the local, district and state levels. A valuable resource for school counselors is the Military Children Interstate Compact Commission. The Council of State Governments and the DOD worked collaboratively to develop an Interstate Compact that would address the challenges military families face with each school transition (Kitmitto et al., 2011). The Compact addresses transition issues such as slow transfer of records, course and curriculum differences and equivalents, attendance, accessibility to extracurricular activities, and graduation requirements. Through the guidelines and detailed governance structure, the Compact allows for the uniform treatment of these challenges at the state and local district level. Currently, 43 states have signed the Interstate Compact (Matthews, 2012). It is important for school counselors to be aware of their state’s standing on the Compact. School counselors can advocate for compliance with the guidelines set by their adoption and for implementation of the guidelines if their state has not become a signatory.




Military families experience unique stressors related to the military culture, such as parental deployment and multiple relocations. The literature attributes the negative effects of multiple school transitions to factors such as tension at home and parental absence, slow transfer of school records and differences in curricula between schools, adapting to new school environments and making friends, limited access to extracurricular activities, and a lack of understanding by school teachers and staff of military culture. The majority of the reviewed literature found that the challenges of mobile military students can lead to a decline in academic achievement and social/emotional problems.

Research seems to suggest that supportive relationships and an encouraging school environment can help military students adjust to the struggles that they are likely to face. The literature points to the professional school counselor as being the most appropriate staff member to foster these positive experiences and advocate for new enrolling military students. School counselors can create a positive experience for new enrolling military students by connecting parents and caregivers to community resources, advocating for quick transfer of school records, creating programs that acclimate new students to school grounds and culture, encouraging accessibility to extracurricular activities, and facilitating school staff trainings specific to military culture and the particular needs of military students.



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S. Beth Ruff is a school counselor at Bright Star Elementary School in Douglasville, GA, and a doctoral student at the University of West Georgia. Michael A. Keim, NCC, is an Assistant Professor of Professional Counseling at the University of West Georgia. Correspondence can be addressed to S. Beth Ruff, Bright Star Elementary School, 6300 John West Road, Douglasville, GA 30134,

Becoming a Supervisor: Qualitative Findings on Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Doctoral Student Supervisors-in-Training

Melodie H. Frick, Harriet L. Glosoff

Counselor education doctoral students are influenced by many factors as they train to become supervisors. One of these factors, self-efficacy beliefs, plays an important role in supervisor development. In this phenomenological, qualitative research, 16 counselor education doctoral students participated in focus groups and discussed their experiences and perceptions of self-efficacy as supervisors. Data analyses revealed four themes associated with self-efficacy beliefs: ambivalence in the middle tier of supervision, influential people, receiving performance feedback, and conducting evaluations. Recommendations for counselor education and supervision, as well as future research, are provided.

Keywords: supervision, doctoral students, counselor education, self-efficacy, phenomenological, focus groups

Counselor education programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) require doctoral students to learn supervision theories and practices (CACREP, 2009). Professional literature highlights information on supervision theories (e.g., Bernard & Goodyear, 2009), supervising counselors-in-training (e.g., Woodside, Oberman, Cole, & Carruth, 2007), and effective supervision interventions and styles (e.g., Fernando & Hulse-Killacky, 2005) that assist with supervisor training and development. Until recently, however, few researchers have studied the experiences of counselor education doctoral students as they prepare to become supervisors (Hughes & Kleist, 2005; Limberg et al., 2013; Protivnak & Foss, 2011) or “the transition from supervisee to supervisor” (Rapisarda, Desmond, & Nelson, 2011, p. 121). Specifically, an exploration of factors associated with the self-efficacy beliefs of counselor education doctoral student supervisors is warranted to expand this topic and enhance counselor education training of supervisor development.

Bernard and Goodyear (2009) described supervisor development as a process shaped by changes in self-perceptions and roles, much like counselors-in-training experience in their developmental stages. Researchers have examined factors that may influence supervisors’ development (e.g., experiential learning and the influence of feedback). For example, Nelson, Oliver, and Capps (2006) explored the training experiences of 21 doctoral students in two cohorts of the same counseling program and reported that experiential learning, the use of role-plays, and receiving feedback from both professors and peers were equally as helpful in learning supervision skills as the actual practice of supervising counselors-in-training. Conversely, a supervisor’s development may be negatively influenced by unclear expectations of the supervision process or dual relationships with supervisees, which may lead to role ambiguity (Bernard & Goodyear, 2009). For example, Nilsson and Duan (2007) examined the relationship between role ambiguity and self-efficacy with 69 psychology doctoral student supervisors and found that when participants received clear supervision expectations, they reported higher rates of self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is one of the self-regulation functions in Bandura’s social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986) and is a factor in Larson’s (1998) social cognitive model of counselor training (SCMCT). Self-efficacy, the differentiated beliefs held by individuals about their capabilities to perform (Bandura, 2006), plays an important role in counselor and supervisor development (Barnes, 2004; Cashwell & Dooley, 2001) and is influenced by many factors (Schunk, 2004). Along with the counselor’s training environment, self-efficacy beliefs may influence a counselor’s learning process and resulting counseling performance (Larson, 1998). Daniels and Larson (2001) conducted a quantitative study with 45 counseling graduate students and found that performance feedback influenced counselors’ self-efficacy beliefs; self-efficacy increased with positive feedback and decreased with negative feedback. Steward (1998), however, identified missing components in the SCMCT, such as the role and level of self-efficacy of the supervisor, the possible influence of a faculty supervisor, and doctoral students giving and receiving feedback to supervisees and members of their cohort. For example, results of both quantitative studies (e.g., Hollingsworth & Fassinger, 2002) and qualitative studies (e.g., Majcher & Daniluk, 2009; Nelson et al., 2006) indicate the importance of mentoring experiences and relationships with faculty supervisors to the development of doctoral students and self-efficacy in their supervisory skills.

During their supervision training, doctoral students are in a unique position of supervising counselors-in-training while also being supervised by faculty. For the purpose of this study, the term middle tier will be used to describe this position. This term is not often used in the counseling literature, but may be compared to the position of middle managers in the business field—people who are subordinate to upper managers while having the responsibility of managing subordinates (Agnes, 2003). Similar to middle managers, doctoral student supervisors tend to have increased responsibility for supervising future counselors, albeit with limited authority in supervisory decisions, and may have experiences similar to middle managers in other disciplines. For example, performance-related feedback as perceived by middle managers appears to influence their role satisfaction and self-efficacy (Reynolds, 2006). In Reynolds’s (2006) study, 353 participants who represented four levels of management in a company in the United States reported that receiving positive feedback from supervisors had an affirming or encouraging effect on their self-efficacy, and that their self-efficacy was reduced after they received negative supervisory feedback. Translated to the field of counselor supervision, these findings suggest that doctoral students who participate in tiered supervision and receive positive performance feedback may have higher self-efficacy.

Findings to date illuminate factors that influence self-efficacy beliefs, such as performance feedback, clear supervisor expectations and mentoring relations. There is a need, however, to examine what other factors enhance or detract from the self-efficacy beliefs of counselor education doctoral student supervisors to ensure effective supervisor development and training. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to build on previous research and further examine the experiences of doctoral students as they train to become supervisors in a tiered supervision model. The overarching research questions that guided this study included: (a) What are the experiences of counselor education doctoral students who work within a tiered supervision training model as they train to become supervisors? and (b) What experiences influenced their sense of self-efficacy as supervisors?





A phenomenological research approach was selected to explore how counselor education doctoral students experience and make meaning of their reality (Merriam, 2009), and to provide richer descriptions of the experiences of doctoral student supervisors-in-training, which a quantitative study may not afford. A qualitative design using a constructivist-interpretivist method provided the opportunity to interact with doctoral students via focus groups and follow-up questionnaires to explore their self-constructed realities as counselor supervisors-in-training, and the meaning they placed on their experiences as they supervised master’s-level students while being supervised by faculty supervisors. Focus groups were chosen as part of the design, as they are often used in qualitative research (Kress & Shoffner, 2007; Limberg et al., 2013), and multiple-case sampling increases confidence and robustness in findings (Miles & Huberman, 1994).



Sixteen doctoral students from three CACREP-accredited counselor education programs in the southeastern United States volunteered to participate in this study. These programs were selected due to similarity in supervision training among participants (e.g., all were CACREP-accredited, required students to take at least one supervision course, utilized a full-time cohort design), and were in close proximity to the principal investigator. None of the participants attended the first author’s university or had any relationships with the authors. Criterion sampling was used to select participants that met the criteria of providing supervision to master’s-level counselors-in-training and receiving supervision by faculty supervisors at the time of their participation. The ages of the participants ranged from 27–61 years with a mean age of 36 years (SD = 1.56). Fourteen of the participants were women and two were men; two participants described their race as African-American (12.5%), one participant as Asian-American (6.25%), 12 participants as Caucasian (75%), and one participant as “more than one ethnicity” (6.25%). Seven of the 16 participants reported having 4 months to 12 years of work experience as counselor supervisors (M = 2.5 years, SD = 3.9 years) before beginning their doctoral studies. At the time of this study, all participants had completed a supervision course as part of their doctoral program, were supervising two to six master’s students in the same program (M = 4, SD = 1.2), and received weekly supervision with faculty supervisors in their respective programs.


Researcher Positionality

In presenting results of phenomenological research, it is critical to discuss the authors’ characteristics as researchers, as such characteristics influence data collection and analysis. The authors have experience as counselors, counselor educators, and clinical supervisors. Both authors share an interest in understanding how doctoral students move from the role of student to the role of supervisor, especially when providing supervision to master’s students who may experience critical incidents (with their clients or in their own development). The first author became engaged when she saw the different emotional reactions of her cohort when faced with the gatekeeping process, whether the reactions were based on personality, prior supervision experience, or stressors from inside and outside of the counselor education program. She wondered how doctoral students in other programs experienced the aforementioned situations, what kind of structure other programs used to work with critical incidents that involve remediation plans, and if there were ways to improve supervision training. It was critical to account for personal and professional biases throughout the research process to minimize biases in the collection or interpretation of data. Bracketing, therefore, was an important step during analysis (Moustakas, 1994) to reduce researcher biases. The first author accomplished this by meeting with her dissertation committee and with the second author throughout the study, as well as using peer reviewers to assess researcher bias in the design of the study, research questions, and theme development.


Quality and Trustworthiness

To strengthen the rigor of this study, the authors addressed credibility, dependability, transferability and confirmability (Merriam, 2009). One way to reinforce credibility is to have prolonged and persistent contact with participants (Hunt, 2011). The first author contacted participants before each focus group to convey the nature, scope and reasons for the study. She facilitated 90-minute focus group discussions and allowed participants to add or change the summary provided at the end of each focus group. Further, information was gathered from each participant through a follow-up questionnaire and afforded the opportunity for participants to contact her through e-mail with additional questions or thoughts.

By keeping an ongoing reflexive journal and analytical memos, the first author addressed dependability by keeping a detailed account throughout the research study, indicating how data were collected and analyzed and how decisions were made (Merriam, 2009). The first author included information on how data were reduced and themes and displays were constructed, and the second author conducted an audit trail on items such as transcripts, analytic memos, reflection notes, and process notes connecting findings to existing literature.

Through the use of rich, thick description of the information provided by participants, the authors made efforts to increase transferability. In addition, they offered a clear account of each stage of the process as well as the demographics of the participants (Hunt, 2011) to promote transferability.

Finally, the first author strengthened confirmability by examining her role as a research instrument. Selected colleagues chosen as peer reviewers (Kline, 2008), along with the first author’s dissertation committee members, had access to the audit trail and discussed and questioned the authors’ decisions, further increasing the integrity of the design. Two doctoral students who had provided supervision and had completed courses in qualitative research, but who had no connection to the research study, volunteered to serve as peer reviewers. They reviewed the focus group protocol for researcher bias, read the focus group transcripts (with pseudonyms inserted) and questionnaires, and the emergent themes, to confirm or contest the interpretation of the data. Further, they reviewed the quotes chosen to support themes for richness of description and provided feedback regarding the textural-structural descriptions as they were being developed. Their recommendations, such as not having emotional reactions to participants’ comments, guided the authors in data collection and analysis.


Data Collection

Upon receiving approval from the university’s Institutional Review Board, the first author contacted the directors of three CACREP-accredited counselor education programs and discussed the purpose of the study, participants’ rights, and logistical needs. Program directors disseminated an e-mail about this study to their doctoral students, instructing volunteer participants to contact the first author about participating in the focus groups.

Within a two-week period, she conducted three focus groups—one at each counselor education program site. Each focus group included five to six participants and lasted approximately 90 minutes. She employed a semi-structured interview protocol consisting of 17 questions (see Appendix). The questions were based on an extensive literature review on counselor and supervisor self-efficacy studies (e.g., Bandura, 2006; Cashwell & Dooley, 2001; Corrigan & Schmidt, 1983; Fernando & Hulse-Killacky, 2005; Gore, 2006; Israelashvili & Socher, 2007; Steward, 1998; Tang et al., 2004). The initial questions were open and general at first, so as to not lead or bias the participants in their responses. As the focus groups continued, the first author explored more specific information about participants’ experiences as doctoral student supervisors, focusing questions around their responses (Kline, 2008). Conducting a semi-structured interview with participants ensured that she asked specific questions and addressed predetermined topics related to the focus of the study, while also allowing for freedom to follow up on relevant information provided by participants during the focus groups.

Approximately six to eight weeks after each focus group, participants received a follow-up questionnaire consisting of four questions: (a) What factors (inside and outside of the program) influence your perceptions of your abilities as a supervisor? (b) How do you feel about working in the middle tier of supervision (i.e., working between a faculty supervisor and the counselors-in-training that you supervise)? (c) What, if anything, could help you feel more competent as a supervisor? (d) How can your supervision training be improved? The purpose of the follow-up questions was to explore participants’ responses after they gained more experiences as supervisors and to provide a means for them to respond to questions about their supervisory experiences privately, without concern of peer judgment.


Data Analysis


Data analysis began during the transcription process, with analysis occurring simultaneously with the collection of the data. The first author transcribed, verbatim, the recording of each focus group and changed participant names to protect their anonymity. Data analysis was then conducted in three stages: first, data were analyzed to identify significant issues within each focus group; second, data were cross-analyzed to identify common themes across all three focus groups; and third, follow-up questionnaires were analyzed to corroborate established themes and to identify additional, or different themes.

During data analysis, a Miles and Huberman (1994) approach was employed by using initial codes from focus-group question themes. Inductive analysis occurred with immersion in the data by reading and rereading focus group transcripts. It was during this immersion process that the first author began to identify core ideas and differentiate meanings and emergent themes for each focus group. She accomplished data reduction by identifying themes in participants’ answers to the interview protocol and focus group discussions until saturation was reached, and displayed narrative data in a figure to organize and compare developed themes. Finally, she used deductive verification of findings with previous research literature. During within-group analysis, she identified themes if more than half (i.e., more than three participants) of a focus group reported similar experiences, feelings or beliefs. Likewise, in across-group analyses, she confirmed themes if statements made by more than half (more than eight) of the participants matched. There were three cases in which the peer reviewers and the first author had differences of opinion on theme development. In those cases, she made changes guided by the suggestions of the peer reviewers. In addition, she sent the final list of themes related to the research questions to the second author and other members of the dissertation committee for purposes of confirmability.




Results of this phenomenological study revealed several themes associated with doctoral students’ perceptions of self-efficacy as supervisors (see Figure 1). Cross-group analyses are provided with participant quotes that are most relevant to each theme being discussed. Considerable overlap of four themes emerged across groups: ambivalence in the middle tier of supervision, influential people, receiving feedback, and conducting evaluations.











Figure 1. Emergent themes of doctoral student supervisors’ self-efficacy beliefs. Factors identified by doctoral student as affecting their self-efficacy as supervisors are represented with directional, bold-case arrows from each theme toward supervisor self-efficacy; below themes are sub-themes in each group connected with non-directional lines.


Ambivalence in the Middle Tier of Supervision

All participants noted how working in the middle tier of supervision brought up issues about their roles and perceptions about their capabilities as supervisors. All 16 participants reported feeling ambivalent about working in the middle tier, especially in relation to their role as supervisors and about dealing with critical incidents with supervisees involving the need for remediation. What follows is a presentation of representative quotations from one or two participants in the emergent sub-themes of role uncertainty and critical incidents/remediation.


Role Uncertainty. Participants raised the issue of role uncertainty in all three focus groups. For example, one participant described how it felt to be in the middle tier by stating the following:

I think that’s exactly how it feels [to be in the middle] sometimes….not really knowing how much you know, what does my voice really mean? How much of a say do we have if we have big concerns? And is what I recognize really a big concern? So I think kind of knowing that we have this piece of responsibility but then not really knowing how much authority or how much say-so we have in things, or even do I have the knowledge and experience to have much say-so?

Further, another participant expressed uncertainty regarding her middle-tier supervisory role as follows:

[I feel a] lack of power, not having real and true authority over what is happening or if something does happen, being able to make those concrete decisions…Where do I really fit in here? What am I really able to do with this supervisee?…kind of a little middle child, you know really not knowing where your identity really and truly is.  You’re trying to figure out who you really are.

Participants also indicated difficulty discerning their role when supervising counselors-in-training who were from different specialty areas such as college counseling, mental health counseling, and school counseling. All participants stated that they had not had any specific counseling or supervision training in different tracks, which was bothersome for nine participants who supervised students in specialties other than their own. For example, one participant stated the following:

I’m a mental health counselor and worked in the community and I have two school counselor interns, and so it was one of my very first questions was like, what do I do with these people? ’Cause I’m not aware of the differences and what I should be guiding them on anything.

Another participant noted how having more information on the different counseling tracks (e.g., mental health, school, college) would be helpful:

We’re going to be counselor educators. We may find ourselves having to supervise people in various tracks and I could see how it would be helpful for us to all have a little bit more information on a variety of tracks so that we could know what to offer, or how things are a little bit different.

Working in the middle tier of supervision appeared to be vexing for focus group participants. They expressed feelings of uncertainty, especially in dealing with critical incidents or remediation of supervisees. In addition to defining their roles as supervisors in the middle tier, another sub-theme emerged in which participants identified how they wanted to have a better understanding of how remediation plans work and have the opportunity to collaborate with faculty supervisors in addressing critical incidents with supervisees.


Critical Incidents/Remediation. Part of the focus group discussion centered on what critical incidents participants had with their supervisees and how comfortable they were, or would be, in implementing remediation plans with their supervisees. All participants expressed concerns about their roles as supervisors when remediation plans were required for master’s students in their respective programs and were uncertain of how the remediation process worked in their programs. Thirteen of the 16 participants expressed a desire to be a part of the remediation process of their supervisees in collaboration with faculty supervisors. They discussed seeing this as an important way to learn from the process, assuming that as future supervisors and counselor educators they will need to be the ones to implement such remediation plans. For example, one participant explained the following:

If we are in the position to provide supervision and we’re doing this to enhance our professional development so in the hopes that one day we’re going to be in the position of counselor educators, let’s say faculty supervisors, my concern with that is how are we going to know what to do unless we are involved [in the remediation process] now? And so I feel like that should be something that we’re provided that opportunity to do it.

Another participant indicated that she felt not being part of the remediation process took away the doctoral student supervisors’ credibility:

I don’t have my license yet, and I’m not sure how that plays into when there is an issue with a supervisee, but I know when there is an issue, there is something we have to do if you have a supervisee who is not performing as well, then that’s kind of taken out of your hands and given to a faculty. So they’re like, ‘Yeah you are capable of providing supervision,’ but when there’s an issue it seems like you’re no longer capable.

Another participant noted wanting “to see us do more of the cases where we need to do remediation” in order to be better prepared in identifying critical incidents, thus feeling more capable in the role as supervisor. Discussion on the middle tier proved to be a topic participants both related to and had concerns about. In addition to talking about critical incidents and the remediation process, another emergent theme included people within the participants’ training programs who were influential to their self-efficacy beliefs as supervisors.


Influential People

When asked about influences they had from inside and outside of their training programs, all participants identified people and things (e.g., previous work experience, support of significant others, conferences, spiritual meditation, supervision literature) as factors that affected their perceived abilities as supervisors. The specific factors most often identified by more than half of the participants, however, were the influence of supervisors and supervisees in their training programs.


Supervisors. All participants indicated that interactions with current and previous supervisors influenced their self-efficacy as supervisors. Ten participants reported supervisors modeling their supervision style and techniques as influential. For example, in regard to watching supervision tapes of the faculty supervisors, one participant stated that it has “been helpful for me to see the stance that they [faculty supervisors] take and the model that they use” when developing her own supervision skills. Seven participants also indicated having the space to grow as supervisors as a positive influence on their self-efficacy. One participant explained as follows:

I know people at other universities and it’s like boot camp, they [faculty supervisors] break them down and build them up in their own image like they’re gods. And I don’t feel that here. I feel like I’m able to be who I am and they’re supportive and helping me develop who I am.

In addition to the information provided during the focus groups, 11 focus group participants reiterated on their follow-up questionnaires that faculty supervisors had a positive influence on the development of their self-efficacy. For example, for one participant, “a lot of support from faculty supervisors in terms of their accessibility and willingness to answer questions” was a factor in strengthening her perception of her abilities as a counselor supervisor. Participants also noted the importance of working with their supervisees as beneficial and influential to their perceptions of self-efficacy as supervisors.


Supervisees. All participants in the focus groups discussed supervising counselors-in-training as having both direct and vicarious influences on their self-efficacy. One participant stated that having the direct experience of supervising counselors-in-training at different levels of training (e.g., pre-practicum, practicum, internship) was something that “really helped me to develop my ability as a supervisor.” In addition, one participant described a supervision session that influenced him as a supervisor: “When there are those ‘aha’ moments that either you both experience or they experience. That usually feels pretty good. So that’s when I feel the most competent, I think as a supervisor.” Further, another participant described a time when she felt competent as a supervisor: “When [the supervisees] reflect that they have taken what we’ve talked about and actually tried to implement it or it’s influenced their work, that’s when I have felt closest to competence.” In addition to working relations with supervisors and supervisees, receiving feedback was noted as an emergent theme and influential to the growth of the doctoral student supervisors.


Receiving Feedback

Of all of the emergent themes, performance feedback appeared to have the most overlap across focus groups. The authors asked participants how they felt about receiving feedback on their supervisory skills. Sub-themes emerged when participants identified receiving feedback from their supervisors, supervisees and peers as shaping to their self-efficacy beliefs as supervisors.


Supervisors. Fifteen participants discussed the process of receiving performance feedback from faculty as an important factor in their self-efficacy. Overall, participants reported receiving constructive feedback as critical to their learning, albeit with mixed reactions. One participant noted that “at the time it feels kind of crappy, but you learn something from it and you’re a better supervisor.” Some participants indicated how they valued their supervisors’ feedback and they preferred specific feedback over vague feedback. For example, as one participant explained, “I kind of just hang on her every word….it is important. I anticipate and look forward to that and am even somewhat disappointed if she kind of dances around an issue.” Constructive feedback was most preferred across all participants. In addition to the impact of receiving feedback from supervisors, participants commented on being influenced by the feedback they received from their supervisees.


Supervisees. Thirteen focus group participants reported that receiving performance evaluations from supervisees affected their sense of self-efficacy as supervisors and appeared to be beneficial to all participants. Participants indicated that they were more influenced by specific rather than general feedback, and they preferred receiving written feedback from their supervisees rather than having supervisees subjectively rate their performance with a number. One participant commented that “it’s more helpful for me when [supervisees] include written feedback versus just doing the number [rating]…something that’s more constructive.” Further, a participant described how receiving constructive feedback from supervisees influenced his self-efficacy as a supervisor:

I’d say it affects me a little bit. I’m thinking of some evaluations that I have received and some of them make me feel like I have that self-efficacy that I can do this. And then the other side, there have been some constructive comments as well, and some of those I think do influence me and help me develop.

Similar to feedback received from supervisors and supervisees, participants reiterated their preference in receiving clear and constructive feedback. Focus group participants also described receiving feedback from their peers as being influential in the development of their supervision skills.


Peers. Eleven participants shared that feedback received from peers was influential in shaping the perception of their skills and how they conducted supervision sessions. Participants described viewing videotapes of supervision sessions in group supervision and receiving feedback from peers on their taped supervision sessions as positive influences. For example, one participant stated that “there was one point in one of our classes when I’d shown a tape and I got some very… specific positive feedback [from peers] that made me feel really good, like made me feel more competent.” Another participant noted how much peers had helped her increase her comfort level in evaluating her supervisees: “I had a huge problem with evaluation when we started out….in supervision, my group really worked on that issue with me and I feel like I’m in a much better place.”

Performance feedback from faculty supervisors, supervisees, and peers was a common theme in all three focus groups and instrumental in the development of supervisory style and self-efficacy as supervisors. Constructive and specific feedback appeared to more positively influence participants’ self-efficacy than vague or unclear subjective rating scales. In addition to receiving performance feedback, another theme emerged when participants identified issues with providing supervisees’ performance evaluations.


Conducting Evaluations

Participants viewed evaluating supervisees with mixed emotions and believed that this process affected their self-efficacy beliefs as supervisors. Thirteen participants reported having difficulty providing supervisees with evaluative feedback. For example, one participant stated the following:

I had a huge problem with evaluation when we started out. It’s something I don’t like. I feel like I’m judging someone….And after, I guess, my fifth semester….I don’t feel like I’m judging them so much as it is a necessity of what we have to do, and as a gatekeeper we have to do this. And I see it more as a way of helping them grow now.

Conversely, one participant, who had experience as a supervisor before starting the doctoral counselor education program stated, “I didn’t really have too much discomfort with evaluating supervisees because of the fact that I was a previous supervisor before I got into this program.” Other participants, who either had previous experience with supervisory positions or who had been in the program for a longer period of time, confirmed this sentiment—that with more experience the anxiety-provoking feelings subsided.

All focus group participants, however, reported a lack of adequate instruction on how to conduct evaluations of supervisee performance. For example, participants indicated a lack of training on evaluating supervisees’ tapes of counseling sessions and in providing formal summative evaluations. One participant addressed how receiving more specific training in evaluating supervisees would have helped her feel more competent as a supervisor:

I felt like I had different experiences with different supervisors of how supervision was given, but I still felt like I didn’t know how to give the feedback or what all my options were, it would have just helped my confidence… to get that sort of encouragement that I’m on the right track or, so maybe more modeling specifically of how to do an evaluation and how to do a tape review.

All focus group participants raised the issue of using Likert-type questions as part of the evaluation process, specifically the subjectivity of interpretation of the scales in relation to supervisee performance and how supervisors used them differently. For example, a participant stated, “I wish there had been a little bit more concrete training in how to do an evaluation.” A second participant expanded this notion:

I would say about that scale it’s not only subjective but then our students, I think, talk to each other and then we’ve all evaluated them sometimes using the same form and given them a different number ’cause we interpret it differently…. It seems like another thing that sets us up for this weird ‘in the middle’ relationship because we’re not faculty.

Discussions about providing performance evaluations seemed to be one of the most vibrant parts of focus group discussions. Thus, it appears that having the support of influential people (e.g., supervisors and supervisees) and feedback from supervisors, supervisees and peers was helpful. Having more instruction on conducting evaluations and clarifying their role identity and expectations, however, would increase their sense of self as supervisors in the middle tier of supervision.




The purpose of this study was to explore what counselor education doctoral students experienced working in the middle tier of supervision and how their experiences related to their sense of self-efficacy as beginning supervisors. Data analysis revealed alignment with previous research that self-efficacy of an individual or group is influenced by extrinsic and intrinsic factors, direct and vicarious experiences, incentives, performance achievements, and verbal persuasion (Bandura, 1986), and that a person’s self-efficacy may increase from four experiential sources: mastery, modeling, social persuasion, and affective arousal (Larson, 1998). For example, participants identified factors that influence their self-efficacy as supervisors such as the direct experience of supervising counselors-in-training (mastery) as “shaping,” and how they learned vicariously from others in supervision classes. Participants also noted the positive influence of observing faculty supervision sessions (modeling) and receiving constructive feedback by supervisors, supervisees, and peers (verbal persuasion). In addition, participants described competent moments with their supervisees as empowering performance achievements, especially when they observed growth of their supervisees resulting from exchanges in their supervision sessions. Further, participants indicated social persuasion via support from their peers and future careers as counselor supervisors and counselor educators were incentives that influenced their learning experiences. Finally, participants discussed how feelings of anxiety and self-doubt (affective arousal) when giving performance evaluations to supervisees influenced their self-efficacy as supervisors.

Results from this study also support previous research on receiving constructive feedback, structural support, role ambiguity, and clear supervision goals from supervisors as influential factors on self-efficacy beliefs (Bernard & Goodyear, 2009; Nilsson & Duan, 2007; Reynolds, 2006). In addition, participants’ difficulty in conducting evaluations due to feeling judgmental and having a lack of clear instructions on evaluation methods are congruent with supervision literature (e.g., Corey, Haynes, Moulton, & Muratori, 2010; Falender & Shafranske, 2004). Finally, participants’ responses bolster previous research findings that receiving support from mentoring relationships and having trusting relationships with peers positively influence self-efficacy (Hollingsworth & Fassinger, 2002; Wong-Wylie, 2007).


Implications for Practice

The comments from participants across the three focus groups underscore the importance of receiving constructive and specific feedback from their faculty supervisors. Providing specific feedback requires that faculty supervisors employ methods of direct observation of the doctoral student’s work with supervisees (e.g., live observation, recorded sessions) rather than relying solely on self-report. Participants also wanted more information on how to effectively and consistently evaluate supervisee performance, especially those involving Likert-type questions, and how to effectively supervise master’s students who are studying in different areas of concentration (e.g., mental health, school counseling, and college counseling). Counselor educators could include modules addressing these topics before or during the time that doctoral supervisors work with master’s students, providing both information and opportunities to practice or role-play specific scenarios.

In response to questions about dealing with critical incidents in supervision, participants across groups discussed the importance of being prepared in handling remediation issues and wanting specific examples of remediation cases as well as clarity regarding their role in remediation processes. Previous research findings indicate teaching about critical incidents prior to engaging in job requirements as effective (Collins & Pieterse, 2007; Halpern, Gurevich, Schwartz, & Brazeau, 2009). As such, faculty supervisors may consider providing opportunities to role-play and share tapes of supervision sessions with master’s students in which faculty (or other doctoral students) effectively address critical incidents. In addition, faculty could share strategies with doctoral student supervisors on the design and implementation of remediation plans, responsibilities of faculty and school administrators, the extent to which doctoral student supervisors may be involved in the remediation process (e.g., no involvement, co-supervise with faculty, or full responsibility), and the ethical and legal factors that may impact the supervisors’ involvement. Participants viewed being included in the development and implementation of remediation plans for master’s supervisees as important for their development even though some participants experienced initial discomfort in evaluating supervisees. This further indicates the importance of fostering supportive working relationships that promote students’ growth and satisfaction in supervision training.



Findings from this study are beneficial to counselor doctoral students, counselor supervisors, and supervisors in various fields.  Limitations, however, exist in this study. The first is researcher perspective. The authors’ collective experiences influenced the inclusion of questions related to critical incidents and working in the middle tier of supervision. However, the first author made efforts to discern researcher bias by first examining her role as a research instrument before and throughout conducting this study, by triangulating sources, and by processing the interview protocol and analysis with peer reviewers and dissertation committee members. A second limitation is participant bias. Participants’ responses were based on their perceptions of events and recall. Situations participants experienced could have been colored or exaggerated and participants may have chosen safe responses in order to save face in front of their peers or in fear that faculty would be privy to their responses—an occurrence that may happen when using focus groups. The first author addressed this limitation by using follow-up questionnaires to provide participants an opportunity to express their views without their peers’ knowledge, and she reinforced confidentiality at the beginning of each focus group.


Recommendations for Future Research

Findings from this study suggest possible directions for future research. The first recommendation is to expand to a more diverse sample. The participants in this study were predominantly White (75%) and female (87.5%) from one region in the United States. As with all qualitative research, the findings from this study are not meant to be generalized to a wider group, and increasing the number of focus groups may offer a greater understanding as to the applicability of the current findings to doctoral student supervisors not represented in the current study. A second recommendation is to conduct a longitudinal study by following one or more cohorts of doctoral student supervisors throughout their supervision training to identify stages of growth and transition as supervisors, focusing on those factors that influence participants’ self-efficacy and supervisor development.




The purpose of this phenomenological study was to expand previous research on counselor supervision and to provide a view of doctoral student supervisors’ experiences as they train in a tiered supervision model. Findings revealed factors that may be associated with self-efficacy beliefs of doctoral students as they prepare to become counseling supervisors. Recommendations may assist faculty supervisors when considering training protocols and doctoral students as they develop their identities as supervisors.



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Focus Group Protocol

    1. How is your program designed to provide supervision training?
    2. What factors influence your perceptions of your abilities as supervisors?

Prompt: colleagues, professors, equipment, schedules, age, cultural factors such as gender, ethnicity, social class, whether you have had prior or no prior experience as supervisors.

    1. How does it feel to evaluate the supervisees’ performance?
    2. How, if at all, do your supervisees provide you with feedback about your performance?
    3. How do you feel about evaluations from your supervisees?

Prompt: How, if at all, do you think or feel supervisees’ evaluations influence how you perceive your skills as a supervisor?

    1. How, if at all, do your supervisors provide you with feedback about your performance?
    2. How do you feel about evaluations from your faculty supervisor?

Prompt: In what ways, if any, do evaluations from your faculty supervisor influence how you perceive your skills as a supervisor?

    1. What strengths or supports do you have in your program that guide you as a supervisor?
    2. What barriers or obstacles do you experience as a supervisor?
    3. What influences do you have from outside of the program that affect how you feel in your role as a supervisor?
    4. How does it feel to be in the middle tier of supervision: working between a faculty supervisor and master’s-level supervisee?

Prompt: Empowered, stuck in the middle, neutral, powerless.

    1. What, if any, critical incidents have you encountered in supervision?

Prompt: Supervisee that has a client who was suicidal or it becomes clear to you that a supervisee has not developed basic skills needed to work with current clients.

  1. If a critical incident occurred, or would occur in the future, what procedures did you or would you follow? How comfortable do you feel in having the responsibility of dealing with critical incidents?
  2. If not already mentioned by participants, ask if they have been faced with a situation in which their supervisee was not performing adequately/up to program expectations. If yes, ask them to describe their role in any remediation plan that was developed. If no, ask what concerns come to mind when they think about the possibility of dealing with such a situation.
  3. Describe a time when you felt least competent as a supervisor.
  4. Describe a time when you felt the most competent as a supervisor.
  5. How could supervision training be improved, especially in terms of anything that could help you feel more competent as a supervisor?

Melodie H. Frick, NCC, is an Assistant Professor at Western Carolina University. Harriett L. Glosoff, NCC, is a Professor at Montclair State University. Correspondence can be addressed to Melodie H. Frick, 91 Killian Building Lane, Room 204, Cullowhee, NC, 28723,

Mental Health Service Providers: College Student Perceptions of Helper Effectiveness

Ashley M. Ackerman, Richard A. Wantz, Michael W. Firmin, Dawn C. Poindexter, Amita L. Pujara

Undergraduate perceptions of the overall effectiveness of six types of mental health service providers (MHSPs) were obtained with a survey. Although many mental health services are available to consumers in the United States, research has indicated that these services are underutilized. Perceptions have been linked to therapeutic outcomes and may potentially serve as barriers to treatment. The results of the present study illustrate a range of perceptions and highlight the value of educating future consumers and practitioners about the roles of various MHSPs in providing mental health services. Future research is proposed.

Keywords: mental health provider, student perceptions, consumers, underutilized, practitioners

At the 2013 National Conference on Mental Health, President Obama called for a national discussion on mental health:

We know that recovery is possible; we know help is available, and yet, as a society, we often think about mental health differently than other forms of health. You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal. And yet, we whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions. In many cases, treatment is available and effective. If there’s anybody out there who’s listening, if you’re struggling, seek help.

(The White House, 2013, 3:20)

To address this plea for mental health awareness at the national level, there is a need for research that identifies and targets the barriers that prevent individuals from seeking mental health services. The goal of the present study was to gain more insight regarding perceptions of the effectiveness of MHSPs. Results of this study offer a baseline for future research that could investigate how these perceptions influence help-seeking behaviors.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH; n.d.), about one in four American adults has a mental disorder that can be diagnosed. Mental illness is the leading cause of disability (NIMH, 2012), and suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States (Russell, 2010). MHSPs (e.g., counselors, marriage and family therapists [MFTs], psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, social workers) offer critical services to their clients, advocate for mental health awareness, and stress the significance of the de-stigmatization of mental illness to the general public. Despite the services available, fewer than 37.9% of adults with mental illnesses receive treatment (Office of Applied Studies, 2009). This statistic reveals some important research questions: Do individuals avoid seeking mental health services because they do not believe the service providers can effectively treat them? Do people seek help from some MHSPs more than others because they believe them to be more effective?

According to World Health Organization’s 2001 report, the effectiveness of mental illness and substance abuse treatment has been well documented and has dramatically improved over the past 50 years. The 1995 Consumer Reports survey on the effectiveness of psychotherapy empirically supports the assertion that consumers benefit substantially from psychotherapy (Seligman, 1995). Participants in the study answered questions about the effectiveness of the treatment they received, how satisfied they were with the therapist’s treatment of their problems, and how their emotional state changed from the beginning to the end of therapy. Of the 426 participants who were feeling “very poor” when they began therapy, 87% reported that they were feeling “very good” or “good” by the time of the survey. No specific modality of psychotherapy was shown to be more effective than any other. Participants reported that primary care physicians were as effective as the other mental health practitioners in the short term, but significantly less effective in the long term. Those who sought treatment from a mental health professional rather than seeing only a primary care physician reported more improvement in the following domains: ability to relate to others, ability to cope with everyday stress, enjoying life more, personal growth and understanding, self-esteem, and confidence (Seligman, 1995). Still, when individuals are struggling with mental health issues, they most commonly consult their primary care physicians (Mickus, Colenda, & Hogan, 2000; Murstein & Fontaine, 1993).

Research conducted by Deen, Bridges, McGahan, and Andrews (2012) offers insight into the role that cognitive factors play in the utilization of mental health services. Participants in their study were presented with vignettes that described depressive episodes and asked if they would seek help from (a) a medical doctor and (b) a counselor or therapist for the presented problem. Participants also were asked if they believed that seeing a medical doctor or counselor would help alleviate the presented problem. A higher perceived need for medical doctors over counselors or therapists was reported. Medical doctors were perceived by participants as more useful and had more favorable therapeutic outcome expectancies than counselors or therapists (Deen et al., 2012).

Furthermore, a five-year study conducted by Su, Tsai, Hung, and Chou (2011) evaluated non-psychiatric physicians’ accuracy in recognizing disorders. In each case, the researchers recorded the primary care physician’s impression and referrals based on psychiatric diagnosis and then compared them with a psychiatrist’s final diagnosis. When the primary care physician was able to recognize psychiatric diagnostic criteria or common symptoms (e.g., low mood, loss of interest and negative thinking, acute confusion, consciousness disturbance, hallucination), this information was recorded as correct recognition. Five common psychiatric diagnoses were chosen for analysis: (a) depressive disorder (major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder), (b) anxiety disorders, (c) substance use disorders, (d) delirium, and (e) psychotic disorders (schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, and brief psychotic disorder). Su et al. (2011) reported that the overall diagnostic accuracy rate was 41.5%. Substance abuse disorders were the most accurately diagnosed by physicians (70.2%) and psychotic disorders were the least accurately diagnosed (9.7%). The most common psychiatric symptoms that patients report are depressive symptoms, yet the detection of depression by physicians (31.4%) is historically low (Su, et al., 2011).

Although pediatricians are instrumental in assessing and diagnosing the children’s mental health and behavioral challenges, they often state that their medical training does not fully prepare them to treat patients with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, mental retardation, substance abuse issues, or psychosocial problems (Russell, 2010). Clients who are seeking mental health services often perceive their primary care physicians and pediatricians as competent in providing mental health services, despite their lack of training on these specific issues. Moreover, many individuals suffer needlessly due to their primary care physicians’ lack of education regarding mental disorders (Tse, Wantz, & Firmin, 2010).

MHSPs have tremendous overlap in the populations served, disorders treated, and services offered (Hanna & Bemak, 1997). The helping professions are represented by diverse training standards, licenses, specialties, philosophies and histories (Fall, Levitov, Jennings, & Eberts, 2000). Although professional diversity allows for the treatment of a wide range of ­issues, this also can cause confusion regarding which type of MHSP a client should consult in a time of need. While perceptions of the competence of helping professionals can greatly affect utilization of services (Firmin, Wantz, Firmin, & Johnson, 2012), a review of the literature indicates that misperceptions are common.


Perceptions of MHSPs and Therapeutic Outcomes

Perceptions of MHSPs are important factors in the treatment outcomes of counseling (Firmin et al., 2012). According to Wampold (2001), client expectancy concerning the effectiveness of counseling accounts for 15% of the therapeutic outcome, and factors that clients carry into counseling (e.g., perceptions of MHSP competence and expertise) account for an astounding 40% of the therapeutic outcome. The therapeutic alliance alone accounts for 30% of the outcome of treatment (Wampold, 2001). Client perceptions of an MHSP’s competency in regard to treating specific needs have an effect on the therapeutic alliance as well as clients’ ability to facilitate positive changes in their lives. According to Meyer et al. (2002), client expectancy concerning the effectiveness of counseling is critical and often sufficient for inspiring positive change for the client. As far back as 1973, Frank asserted that counseling is most effective when both the client and counselor believe in the effectiveness of the intervention. Based on past analyses of the link between the expectancy factor and the therapeutic alliance, and their effect on treatment outcomes, the authors propose that creating more awareness and more positive perceptions of the overall effectiveness and accessibility of MHSPs would ultimately increase positive outcomes in counseling.


Undergraduate Students as Future Professionals and Help Seekers

College undergraduates’ perceptions of MHSPs are important for a number of reasons. First, the future of the helping profession depends on the incoming generation of undergraduate students, who are making decisions regarding which fields they will work in, and who may consider the helping professions. Career choices are related to well-being and overall life satisfaction (Steger & Dik, 2009). According to Roese and Summerville (2005), the most frequently identified life regrets for Americans involve their educational choices. Because educational choices have been consistently linked with life satisfaction, the accuracy of undergraduate perceptions of MHSPs merits more in-depth exploration.

Attending college can be a major life transition for students, accompanied by new pressures, stress, and surfacing mental health concerns. Most mental disorders are identifiable before or during the traditional college age of 1824 (Kessler et al., 2005). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA, 2012), about four out of five college students consume alcohol. About half of the college students who drink partake in binge drinking. Around 25% of college students disclosed academic consequences because of their drinking (e.g., missing class, falling behind, performing poorly on assignments, receiving lower grades overall). These statistics indicate an increasing need for mental health and substance abuse counseling among college students. Universities provide a number of resources to their students, yet they are underutilized (Watkins, Hunt, & Eisenberg, 2012). Research focused on undergraduate perceptions of MHSPs could encourage more utilization of MHSP services, potentially motivate more students to join the MHSP workforce, and support a more accurate overall perception and portrayal of the effectiveness and competence of MHSPs. Since perceptions have been linked to help-seeking behaviors, a primary goal of the present study was to gain insight into how college students perceive the effectiveness of the various MHSPs.





Data was collected from participants who were enrolled in a general psychology course at a private Midwestern university (N = 261). Participants were surveyed regarding their perceptions of MHSPs. The general psychology course provided a sample spanning a cross section of the university’s 100 academic majors.

Participants represented the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior class levels (Mage= 18.5; range = 17–55 years). Our study included 167 women (64%), 92 men (35%), and two participants that did not report gender (1%). The sample consisted primarily of Caucasian students (91%), while 9% were identified as ethnic minorities. Two participants opted out for undisclosed reasons. Participants reported home residences in 34 U.S. states (including 33% OH, 10% MI, 7% IN, and 6% PA).



A self-administered questionnaire was developed for the present study in order to evaluate six MHSPs (e.g., for various clinical situations, source of knowledge, and characteristics). Participants were asked to respond to the following question: In general, what is your opinion about how overall effective each of the following MHSPs (counselors, MFTs, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, and social workers) would be with helping a mental health client? Response options were based on a 4-point Likert-type scale: 1 (positive), 2 (neutral), 3 (negative), or 4 (unsure). The survey asked each participant to designate which MHSPs he or she would recommend for several clinical situations using a 3-point Likert-type scale: 1 (Yes, I would recommend this MHSP), 2 (No, I would not recommend this MHSP), or 3 (Not sure, not familiar with this MHSP). Participants also were asked to identify a source from which they had learned about the MHSP. A 3-point Likert-type scale was utilized to indicate if the source information was presented in a: 1 (positive), 2 (neutral), or 3 (negative) way. Lastly, participants categorized MHSPs based on the following: personal attributes (e.g., competent, intelligent/smart, and trustworthy); job-related activities (e.g., diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders, and prescribe medication); requirements (e.g., can be in independent private practice, doctoral degree required to practice, and over-paid); or not familiar with MHSP.



An initial pilot study was conducted in order to address and resolve ambiguities before the final survey was administered. A total of 12 students participated in the pilot survey; data obtained from the initial study were not included in the present research.

The survey was administered anonymously and was designed to take 20–25 minutes to complete. MHSPs were presented randomly throughout the survey as suggested by Sarafino’s (2005) protocols. IRB approval for the study was obtained prior to data collection and informed consent was obtained. Participants elected to complete, partially complete, or not complete the survey. The survey was administered during regular class time with no extra credit or other incentives awarded for participation, providing little chance for coercion.




Analyses focused on participant perceptions of the overall effectiveness of MHSPs in working with a potential mental health consumer. The following is a ranked list of the MHSPs from most positive to least positive by the frequency of perceptions: counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, MFTs, social workers, and psychiatric nurses. A visual comparison of participant responses is provided in Figure 1. The frequency of participants reporting negative perceptions ranked from highest to lowest in the following order: social workers, MFTs, psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists, counselors and psychologists.

When participants were asked to identify their opinions in regard to the overall effectiveness of each of the MHSPs in helping a mental health consumer, participants selected the “don’t know” option as follows: psychiatric nurses (17.6%),  MFTs (8.8%), psychiatrists (7.3%), psychologists (5.7%),social workers (4.2%), and counselors (3.1%).











Figure 1. Undergraduate perceptions of the overall effectiveness of MHSPs.

Since the same participants rated each of the MHSP categories, t-tests were used to compare category means as represented in Figure 2. As expected, the data suggests significant differences in perceptions of MHSPs’ overall effectiveness when comparing the means from each MHSP category. Perceptions of the overall effectiveness of MFTs (M = 1.63, SD = .703) were significantly more negative than the perceptions of the overall effectiveness of professional counselors (PC; M = 1.35, SD = .532); t (234) = 5.648, p < .001, as well as the overall effectiveness of psychologists (M = 1.40, SD = .539); t (226) = 4.05, p < .001. MFT overall effectiveness (M = 1.63, SD = .703) was perceived to be significantly more positive than psychiatric nurse overall effectiveness (M = 1.54, SD = .624); t (203) = 2.104, p < .05. Counselor overall effectiveness (M = 1.35, SD = .532) was perceived to be significantly more positive than psychiatrist overall effectiveness (M = 1.52, SD = .612); t (238) = –3.589, p < .001. Psychiatrists were perceived as less effective overall (M = 1.52, SD 612) than psychologists (M = 1.40, SD = .539); t (236) = 2.934, p <.01.















Figure 2. A comparison of the category means of the perceptions of overall effectiveness of MHSPs (lower scores are more positive).

Social workers received the highest percentage of unsure student responses (36.8%), followed closely by psychiatrists (36.4%), and MFTs (34.9%). These findings suggest the need for information and advocacy for these MHSPs in particular. Data from the present study also suggest that social workers have the highest amount of variance in participant responses (.520), while MFTs rank second (.486). For this study, variance is possibly an indication of misinformation and discrepant beliefs regarding the effectiveness of the MHSPs. Counselors had the least amount of variance (.281) when compared to the other MHSPs, suggesting that participants had more similar perceptions of counselor overall effectiveness when compared to the variance in perceptions of the other MHSPs.




The U.S. Surgeon General’s 1999 report on mental health stated to the American people that “the efficacy of mental health treatment is well-documented,” and recommended to “seek help if you have a mental health problem or think you have symptoms of mental illness.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (UDHHS; 2000, p. 13). The report further stipulated that stigmatization of mental illness is the greatest obstacle the United States faces in furthering the progress of individuals seeking mental health services (USDHHS, 2000). The present study highlights the need for the advocacy of MHSPs. Specifically, social workers, MFTs, and psychiatric nurses were perceived as significantly less effective overall than psychiatrists, counselors, and psychologists. This coincides with Consumer Reports’ 1994 Annual Questionnaire in which 4,000 subscribers who received some kind of mental health care between 1991 and 1994 responded to questions about their mental health care. This survey showed that participants were satisfied seeing social workers, psychologists, or psychiatrists (“Mental Health,” 1995). Those seeing a marriage and family therapist were slightly less satisfied (“Mental Health,” 1995). Overall, this report provided a positive recommendation to seek MHSPs for mental health issues.

Consumer Reports’ 2009 Annual Questionnaire once again queried its subscribers on the efficacy of mental health providers working specifically with depression and anxiety (“Depression & Anxiety,” 2010). This survey of 1,544 respondents, who had sought help for depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems between January 2006 and April 2009, found that psychologists, social workers, and licensed professional counselors were all equally helpful in providing relief for depression and anxiety (“Depression and Anxiety,” 2010).

Of concern from the present study is that for all MHSP categories, significant percentages of the participants reported a total absence of knowledge regarding MHSP overall effectiveness. This is one reason we recommend that counselors and counseling professional organizations (e.g., AMHCA, ACA, ACCA, CACREP, NBCC) increase their emphasis on professional advocacy.

In a broader sense, research regarding the methods through which people learn about MHSPs could identify more specific opportunities and venues for advocacy. The American College Counseling Association (ACCA) provides marketing strategy suggestions for reaching university faculty, staff, administrators and students: campus publications; campus television and radio shows; flyers posted around campus; e-mails; sponsoring anxiety, depression, and eating disorder screening days; table tents and banners in the cafeteria and student center; sponsoring career counseling week; guest speakers for classes and organizations; distributing brochures around campus; sponsorship and programming for Mental Health Awareness Month; developing mental health “theme of the month” campaigns; placing counseling advertisement kiosks in heavy traffic areas around campus; and hosting an open house (Mattox, 2000). These types of marketing actions are imperative and could be extended beyond university campuses. For example, public service announcements targeted toward specific consumers, mass media campaigns and the use of social networking for advocacy might be effective ways of reaching the increasingly tech-savvy generation. This approach could potentially be instrumental in decreasing the stigmatization of individuals who seek treatment for mental health-related issues and increase the awareness of services that are available.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Education Programs (CACREP) could enhance activism for the helping professions by requiring students to demonstrate advocacy at both the master’s and doctoral levels. The American Counseling Association (ACA) and the American Mental Health Counselor’s Association (AMHCA) can direct ongoing advocacy efforts by increasing the ease of access to information related to the effectiveness of MHSPs for undergraduates. Counseling organizations can provide support for young professionals who are interested in joining the helping profession by empirically validating and improving perceptions of the overall effectiveness of MHSPs.


Limitations and Future Research


Future researchers are encouraged to explore the specific attitudes and perceptions that serve as barriers to the utilization of mental health treatment. Researchers should consider delineating therapeutic outcomes based on the specific type of provider (e.g., counselors, MFTs, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, social workers). Of particular interest would be comparing the actual therapeutic outcomes of MHSPs to student perceptions of MHSP competence in treating specific mental disorders. The helping professions also could explore the perceptions of the overall effectiveness of MHSPs in comparison to those of primary care physicians.

Participants in the present study were not asked if they had received mental health services themselves. This is an important limitation to consider since perceptions of the effectiveness of MHSPs are likely influenced by firsthand experiences. In much the same way, a lack of familiarity or experience with MHSPs could potentially influence perceptions. The sources by which individuals learn about mental health–related issues could identify specific areas that can be utilized for advocating for the helping professions. For example, do people learn about mental health issues from movies, television, the Internet, commercials, newspapers, books, magazines, classes, friends, family members, firsthand experiences, or other sources? Is the information that individuals receive from these sources providing a foundation for accurate perceptions of the effectiveness of MHSPs? How do the attitudes founded on information from various sources influence help-seeking behavior? Research on these topics might provide further direction for professional advocacy.

Another limitation of the current study is that participants attended college in one geographical location. Though the participants represented 34 of the 50 states and spanned a wide range of academic majors, the results of the present study cannot be generalized to other types of institutions nationwide. All participants in this sample were undergraduate students, and therefore the results cannot be generalized to other populations. Confounding effects associated with the limitations of collecting data from a single university could be reduced by studying a larger and more nationally representative sample of private and public institutions or by comparing and contrasting results from various regions of the country. Perceptions of the general population should be explored for more generalizable results. On a final note, an important limitation of the present study is that only 9% of the participants identified themselves as ethnic minorities. We recommend further investigation of ethnic minority perceptions of MHSPs. Future studies also could focus on socioeconomic status, marital status, sexual orientation, age and gender as moderating variables.



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Ashley M. Ackerman is a graduate student at Wright State University. Richard A. Wantz, NCC, is a Professor of Counselor Education at Wright State University. Michael W. Firmin, NCC, is a Professor at Cedarville University. Dawn C. Poindexter is a graduate student at Wright State University. Amita L. Pujara, NCC, is an Adjunct Instructor at Wright State University and Life Therapist at South Community Behavioral Health Care, Inc. Correspondence can be addressed to Richard A. Wantz, Department of Human Services, College of Education and Human Services, 3640 Colonel Glenn Highway, 108V AL, Wright State University, Dayton, OH 45435-0001,


Assessing the Career-Development Needs of Student Veterans: A Proposal for Career Interventions

Seth Hayden, Kathy Ledwith, Shengli Dong, Mary Buzzetta

Student veterans often encounter unique challenges related to career development. The significant number of student veterans entering postsecondary environments requires career-development professionals addressing the needs of this population to decide upon appropriate career intervention topics. This study utilized a career-needs assessment survey to determine the appropriate needs of student veterans in a university setting. Student veterans indicated a desire to focus on the following topics within career intervention: transitioning military experience to civilian work, developing skills in résumé-building and networking, and negotiating job offers. Results of the needs survey can be used in the development of a career-related assessment.

Keywords: student veterans, career development, needs assessment, military, career-related assessment


     In 2013, there were 21.4 million male and female veterans aged 18 and older in the civilian noninstitutional population (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014a). The post-9/11 GI Bill, authorized by Congress in 2008, has contributed to a large number of veterans seeking postsecondary degrees (Sander, 2012). Since 2008, more than 817,000 military veterans have used the bill to attend U.S. colleges (Sander, 2013). Student veterans face many challenges on college campuses, including transition issues, relational challenges, feelings of isolation, and lingering effects of combat-related injuries (Green & Hayden, 2013).


     One of the most significant concerns is that veterans typically experience unemployment at a higher rate than their civilian counterparts (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014b). In 2013, the unemployment rate for Gulf War II-era veterans was 10.1 %; Gulf War I-era veterans 5.5%; and World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans 5.5% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014b). Younger veterans in particular struggled with unemployment. As of 2013, about 2.8 million of the nation’s veterans had served during the Gulf War II era (September 2001–present; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014a). The unemployment rate for the Gulf War II-era veterans (10.1%) is significantly higher than their civilian counterparts (6.8%; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014b). As young military personnel continue to return to college campuses, it is important to address the career-readiness needs of this population utilizing evidence-based practices.


Cognitive Information Processing


     The Cognitive Information Processing (CIP) approach to career decision making (Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, & Lenz, 2004) has been suggested as a way to aid veterans as they transition into the civilian workforce (Bullock, Braud, Andrews, & Phillips, 2009; Buzzetta & Rowe, 2012; Clemens & Milsom, 2008; Hayden, Green, & Dorsett, in press; Phillips, Braud, Andrews, & Bullock, 2007; Stein-McCormick, Osborn, Hayden, & Van Hoose, 2013). The CIP approach is designed to assist individuals in making both current and future career choices (Sampson et al., 2004; Buzzetta & Rowe, 2012). This theoretical approach states that career problem solving and decision making are skills that can be learned and practiced (Sampson et al., 2004). Once clients have improved their problem-solving and decision-making skills, then they can apply these same skills to choices they make in the future. According to the CIP approach, the key aspects of career problem solving and decision making are self-knowledge, occupational knowledge, decision-making skills, and metacognitions (Sampson et al., 2004). Engels and Harris (2002) suggest that military individuals would benefit from understanding their self-knowledge, occupational information and decision-making skills.


Pyramid of Information Processing

     The CIP approach consists of two key components: the pyramid of information processing, or the knowing, and the CASVE cycle, or the doing. The interactive elements are analogous to a recipe used in cooking. The pyramid is like the ingredients for the dish, while the CASVE cycle reflects the necessary steps to make the dish. Both are critical for effective career decision making and problem solving (Sampson et al., 2004). The pyramid of information processing includes three domains involved in career decision making: knowledge, decision-making skills, and executive processing (Sampson et al., 2004). Sampson et al. (2004) theorized that all components of the pyramid are affected by dysfunctional thinking and negative self-talk. The knowledge domain consists of two main areas: self-knowledge and occupational knowledge. Self-knowledge is the cornerstone of a client’s career-planning process, and is comprised of an individual’s knowledge of his or her values, interests, skills, and employment preferences (Reardon, Lenz, Peterson, & Sampson, 2012; Sampson et al., 2004). Occupational knowledge is the second cornerstone of a client’s career-planning process; it encompasses knowledge of options, including educational, leisure, and occupational alternatives, as well as how occupations can be organized.


     The decision-making skills domain consists of a systematic process to help clients improve their problem-solving and decision-making skills, and includes the CASVE cycle, which is a multi-phase decision-making process, intended to increase client awareness and improve a client’s decision-making skills. The executive processing domain includes metacognitions, which include an individual’s thoughts about the decision-making process. There are three cognitive strategies included in the executive processing domain: self-talk, self-awareness, and monitoring and controlling an individual’s progress in the problem-solving process. Metacognitions can include dysfunctional career thinking, which can present problems in career decision making, influence other domains in the pyramid, and impact individuals’ perceptions of their capabilities to perform well (Sampson et al., 2004).



     The CASVE cycle is used as a means of approaching a career problem or decision, and consists of five sequential stages (communication, analysis, synthesis, valuing, and execution), with repeated circuits when the problem still exists or new problems arise (Sampson et al., 2004). An individual enters the CASVE cycle after receiving either internal or external cues that he or she must make a career decision. In the communication stage, individuals are required to examine these prompts, and identify a gap that exists between where they are currently and where they would like to be. In the analysis phase, individuals clarify their existing self-knowledge by determining their occupational preferences, abilities, interests and values. The process of clarifying existing knowledge and gaining new information about potential options also is included. In the synthesis phase, individuals narrow down and further develop the options they are considering.


     In the valuing phase, individuals assess the costs and benefits of each remaining alternative. This task involves prioritizing the alternatives, as well as selecting a tentative primary and secondary choice. In the execution phase, individuals create and commit to a plan of action for accomplishing their first choice. Upon completion of the execution phase, individuals return to the communication phase to determine whether the gap has been filled. The CASVE cycle is recursive in nature. Therefore, if the gap has not been removed and problems still exist, an individual will progress through the CASVE cycle again (Sampson et al., 2004).


Negative Thinking

     Several studies have found that negative thoughts are related to career decision-making difficulties (Kleiman et al., 2004; Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1996; Sampson et al., 2004). Kleiman et al. (2004) examined the relationship between dysfunctional thoughts and an individual’s degree of career decidedness in a sample of 192 college students enrolled in an undergraduate career-planning course. The researchers found that dysfunctional thinking during the decision-making process can negatively influence rational decisions. Assessing for dysfunctional career thoughts and working with individuals to reduce negative career thinking can have a positive impact on the knowledge and decision-making skills domains of the pyramid of information processing. More importantly, utilizing a theoretical approach can provide a structure in which to address the needs of student veterans.


Needs Assessment Survey


     In order to address the needs of student veterans, counselors must first assess what these needs are. Student veterans offer a unique subset of our veteran population in that they operate within an educational environment while possessing diverse life experiences, and are therefore often unique in relation to their peers (Cook & Kim, 2009). Given the aforementioned employment difficulties for younger veterans (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014b), a need for career-focused interventions designed to assist this population is apparent.


     While various supportive services for veterans are available, determining an appropriate allocation of resources and time to address the needs of this population can enhance the quality of services. To match intervention with need, the authors created a needs survey designed to inform the development of a theoretically based career intervention, the purpose of which is assisting student veterans in developing skills in career decision making and problem solving.



     The sample for this needs assessment was collected from a sample of student veterans attending a large southeastern university (n = 92). Currently, this university has approximately 317 student veterans enrolled and receiving educational benefits through either the Montgomery GI Bill or post-9/11 GI Bill. This means of identifying veterans is imperfect, as there may be student veterans attending the university who do not utilize educational benefits. However, this is a common method of identifying veterans within university settings (University of Arizona, 2007). The participants were asked to complete the needs survey by both the university veterans association and the veterans benefit officer. Both social media and e-mail were used to elicit participation.


     All 317 identified members of the population receiving education benefits were provided the opportunity to respond to the survey, via both an e-mail request with the electronic survey attached and a post on the student veteran organization’s social media Web page. A total of 92 (29%) completed surveys were collected. Of the 92 respondents, a majority identified as graduate students (47; 51%). The remaining respondents indicated their classifications as undergraduate students with the classifications of junior (25; 23%), senior (18; 20%), and sophomore (2; 2%). No students classified as freshmen responded to the survey.



     The research team constructed the Veterans Needs Survey after examining the common career-development needs of both veterans and nonveterans encountered in the university’s career center. The instrument was created via a Qualtrics survey management system and attached to an electronic communication addressed to the potential respondents, as well as embedded in a social media thread of the university’s student veteran organization. The measure inquired about whether respondents had heard of the university career center; whether they had previously visited the university career center; what they would like to learn more about related to the career-development process; what modalities of treatment they were most interested in attending (e.g., group counseling, workshop series); how likely they were to attend the option indicated; education status; major/field of study; additional comments related to their career development; and an opportunity to participate in an intervention (an e-mail address was requested). The authors did not collect significant demographic information, instead focusing on variables like utilization of services (e.g., contact with the career center) and students’ academic classification, as these factors appear directly connected with career-development concerns.




     The survey examined utilization and perceptions of career-development needs. The majority of respondents (80; 87%) indicated that they had heard of the career center, but a smaller number indicated actually visiting the career center (66; 73%). The question pertaining to perceived career-development needs provided a multiple-option response set in which one could indicate several options. The most frequently indicated response was transferring skills gained in the military to the workplace (49; 55.06%). The second most frequently indicated response was preparing a résumé/CV (46; 51.69%), followed by negotiating a job offer (45; 50.56%). Table 1 provides a detailed description of additional responses regarding the career-development process.


     A significant majority (54; 61%) indicated that they would be most interested in attending a group format, and fewer respondents selected the workshop series as their first choice (24; 27%). Respondents indicating the other category specified that they would attend career fairs, take advantage of individual counseling, and utilize online workshops. Following up on the previous question, one item inquired how likely a respondent would be to attend the option indicated. The most frequently indicated response was somewhat likely (42; 47%) followed by very likely (34; 38%) with unlikely (14; 16%) being the least frequently indicated response. The majors/fields of study with a significant number of responses were law (9), business-related (undergraduate and graduate; 9), social work (7), and criminology (8).


Participants provided diverse general comments related to their career development. One student veteran stated, “I have an associates [sic] degree in Laboratory Technology from the military and would also like assistance building a résumé trying to find employment now.” Another shared, “As a distance learner, it is possible to feel out of reach when it comes to on-campus resources. But, I know we can overcome that. I may be a combat disabled veteran. But, I won’t let disabilities stop my self-actualization quest.”


   The information obtained from the needs survey can be utilized to inform an intervention designed to assist student veterans in their career development, which will provide a grounded approach in addressing these issues. The following section offers a proposal for meeting student veteran needs with a career-development intervention.


Table 1


Perceived Career-Development Needs














A Proposed Theoretically Based Career Intervention


     Based upon the CIP theoretical framework (Sampson et al., 2004) and the feedback received from the needs assessment, psychoeducational groups will be conducted in order to achieve the following goals: expanding student veteran self-knowledge and career options through the CIP approach, exploring transferable skills gained through military experiences, gaining knowledge of resources that can assist student veterans in the job search and application processes, and identifying and decreasing negative metacognitions and dysfunctional career thoughts.


     The psychoeducational group will meet once a week for 4 weeks. The group is open to all student veteran members attending the university through a campus-wide recruitment effort. Considering the tight connections between each CIP component, the group will be conducted in a closed-group format. The group facilitators will be graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees in counseling psychology or school psychology, and/or master’s students studying career counseling.


     The group activities will center on the student veterans’ needs obtained through the needs assessment survey and the CIP components that have been proposed to serve the needs of veterans (Bullock et al., 2009; Clemens & Milsom, 2008). The structure of the psychoeducational group is based on the CIP model and five stages of the CASVE cycle diagram: communication, analysis, synthesis, valuing, and execution.


     During the first session (communication), the group leader(s) will help to identify gaps between where group members are currently and where they aspire to be. Group members’ baseline information will be obtained by completing the Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI; Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1996/1998) and My Vocational Situation (MVS; Holland, Daiger, & Power, 1991). The group leader(s) will explain the CIP Pyramid, CASVE Cycle Diagram, Self-Directed Search (SDS; Holland 1985) and assessment procedures. Group members will have an opportunity to interact with each other and complete one section of the Guide to Good Decision Making (Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, & Reardon, 1992). As a part of the homework assignment listed on the Individual Learning Plan (ILP), a document designed to identify career-related goals and associated action steps, group members will complete the SDS, and bring a copy of their current résumé to the next session.


     During the second session (analysis/synthesis), the group leader(s) will help the student veterans examine and identify their interests, values, and skills (including transferable skills). The group leader(s) will assist group members in interpreting their SDS results, and examine any potential dysfunctional career thoughts that may be impacting group members’ career choices and decision-making abilities. To expand their career options, group members will be exposed to career-related resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014c) and the Military Crosswalk Search via O*Net Online (National Center for O*NET Development, n.d.). In addition to gaining self-knowledge and occupational information in the analysis process, group members will have opportunities to practice synthesis skills. Group members will improve their résumé-writing skills through practice and feedback from peers and the group leader(s). Exploring and highlighting transferable skills is another important component. As part of their assignment listed on the ILP, group members will enhance their career networking skills by accessing supportive professionals via an alumni network and the Student Veterans Association, among other resources. Group members will also conduct an informational interview to gain firsthand experiences for their chosen career options. They will bring updated versions of their résumés and cover letters for the next session to obtain feedback from the group.


     During the third session (valuing and execution), group members will present reflections on their informational interviews and provide feedback on their peers’ résumés and cover letters. In addition, group members will be exposed to various career resources such as VetJobs (VetJobs, Inc., 2014), Feds Hire Vets (U.S. Office of Personnel Management, n.d.), (NETability, Inc., 2014), the Riley Guide (Riley Guide, 2014), and the National Resource Directory (U.S. Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs, n.d.). The group leader(s) will explain the “elevator speech” exercise and ask group members to practice this exercise in order to maximize their interview skill development. The group will also enhance members’ ability to use social networking to optimize their job search and applications. All activities aim to help members weigh their career options and execute their career decision making through careful planning. The group leader(s) will encourage members to initiate career networking and start exploring job and career opportunities.


     During the last session (communication), group members will share what they originally included in their ILPs and what they have achieved, and offer suggestions and feedback to one another. They will retake the CTI and MVS and compare their new and initial results. Group leaders will help group members examine whether the gaps identified at the communication stage have successfully been closed, and suggest further measures to close gaps if necessary.




     The information gathered from the needs survey provides a thorough description of student veterans’ career-development needs. Interventions designed to support this population by determining appropriate interventions are often constructed using anecdotal information rather than objective needs. Student veteran responses to the survey indicate that veterans are concerned about transitioning their military experiences to civilian employment opportunities. In addition, student veterans appear to desire assistance with practical elements of the career-development process such as creating a résumé, negotiating a job offer, and networking. The purpose of this study is to develop a theoretically based intervention, and the study offers a framework in which to create effective career-development interventions for student veteran population.


     Student veterans appear to engage in a wide array of academic programs, with a significant portion of veterans selecting majors within the realm of business, law, sociology, social work and criminology. These survey results provide a snapshot of the majors/fields of study that student veterans seem to gravitate toward. These preferences could be attributed to the hierarchical and meritocratic nature of some of these fields, which are somewhat analogous to the culture of the military.


     Responses to the survey also provided a glimpse into the preferred modality of receiving career-related assistance. Oftentimes, military transition programs are designed to serve a large number of people, using seminar or workshop modalities in which to provide information. Student veterans indicated a strong preference for a smaller group counseling format that would provide more individual career-development support.


     An additional important consideration for future interventions is the high number of respondents who identified themselves as distance learners in the needs assessment (some of them may have been on active service, whereas others were simply enrolled in the university from a remote location). Given the technological capabilities that allow online learning environments, it is reasonable that student veterans could utilize e-learning opportunities. Designing online interventions could be helpful in determining appropriate modalities by which to deliver services.


     The student veterans’ comments and responses regarding their desired areas of focus for career development indicate a preference for a balanced approach of skill development. Ensuring that interventions focus on practical elements such as résumés and networking skill development, while also addressing broader topics such as transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce, appears to be a desired method for addressing the career-development needs of student veterans.



     The needs survey is limited in generalizability, as the results were collected from one educational institution, confining interpretations to the student veterans in this institution. Despite this limitation, the career-development concerns of student veterans provide a snapshot of the needs of this unique subset of the veteran population. Given the paucity of research in this area, it seemed necessary to facilitate an in-depth examination of this population’s career-development concerns, allowing the development of an informed intervention and establishing replicable protocol for future needs surveys.


     The low response rate to the online survey also limits the application of findings. Though the response rate of 29% may be considered reasonable for an online assessment, having a large portion of the sample disregard the assessment presents a gap in fully substantiated information on this topic. Developing methods for collecting more information would enhance the validity of the data.


     Finally, the high rate of graduate students who responded to the survey presents a challenge in applying the results to a primarily undergraduate institution. While there may be analogous experiences between graduate and undergraduate students, specific aspects of undergraduate student veterans’ career development may need additional evaluation.


Implications for Practice and Research

     In this needs assessment, collaborative efforts between career services professionals at the institution and the university veterans’ center resulted in informative data on the career concerns of student veterans. Co-sponsored initiatives targeting these expressed needs could increase the number of student veterans impacted by career services. Survey respondents, along with group or workshop participants, could be recruited to provide feedback as part of a career-development focus group, further informing research and application for student veterans’ career concerns. Survey results could also be useful for marketing career services to student veterans. In addition, career centers or university libraries could acquire career resources such as books and print materials on topics that survey respondents considered desirable, especially those specifically tailored for veterans.


     At the larger university level, major data on their students’ career-development concerns would be valuable information for college and department academic advisors and other university stakeholders. Career center staff members focus on various academic units as part of their career outreach, but further research regarding the unique career concerns of student veterans in specific majors could allow career center liaisons to impact veterans more effectively in their designated areas. As previously stated, since the survey was conducted at one higher education institution, duplicating the needs survey across a larger sample of colleges and universities would provide additional data sets for analysis, as well as broader application possibilities. Survey data could also be applied outside the institution to identify the most optimal partnerships in order to meet the comprehensive needs of student veterans. For example, career counselors might collaborate with mental health professionals, school counselors, and rehabilitation professionals to identify challenges and provide resources in order to maximize development for student veterans.


     The results of this survey also support future research on the efficacy and suitability of online career-development options. There are many online programs designed to provide veterans the opportunity to pursue their education while in active duty. While the convenience of remote educational options for a mobile population is understood, ensuring that universities also provide career-development resources to distance learners is an important consideration in addressing the needs of veterans. Career-development opportunities such as webinars and online workshops offer the flexibility of distance learning. For example, online formats could provide veterans an opportunity to participate in such workshops collaboratively. Possible areas of research would include effective use of distance learning for veterans and comparative benefits and costs of in-person versus distance formats.


     Based on the information collected, in future needs surveys, adjusting the survey items to detail reasons for certain item selections could allow greater understanding of both the responses and student veterans’ career thinking in general. Resulting career interventions would provide additional opportunities for further research to investigate aspects of career decision making and CIP theory, including relationships between student veterans’ self-knowledge, options knowledge, decision-making skills and metacognitions.




     While veterans’ needs receive significant attention, programs are often created based on anecdotal and intuitive information. Developing needs assessments to solicit veterans’ perceptions of career development can inform interventions. Specifically regarding career development, utilizing a theoretically based, researched approach offers a framework to guide practice and research. Ongoing assessment of needs and services that utilizes established approaches will ensure quality services for those who have sacrificed greatly in service of their country.



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Seth Hayden, NCC, is the Program Director of Career Advising, Counseling and Programming at Florida State University. Kathy Ledwith, NCC, is the Assistant Director for Career Counseling, Advising and Programming at Florida State University. Shengli Dong is an Assistant Professor at Florida State University. Mary Buzzetta, NCC, is a doctoral student at Florida State University. Correspondence can be addressed to Seth Hayden, 100 S. Woodward Avenue, Tallahassee, FL 32308,

The School Counselor’s Guide to Helping Students with Disabilities

Rivera-book-reviewThe insight, information and strategies provided in the book, The School Counselor’s Guide to Helping Students with Disabilities, are valuable resources for practicing school counselors and counselor educators. The book offers strategies for meeting the needs of students with disabilities more effectively.

The School Counselor’s Guide to Helping Students with Disabilities is divided into three parts. Part 1 provides foundational knowledge for school counselors and helps readers integrate information about disabilities into their counseling programs. Chapter 1 highlights school counselors’ roles regarding students with disabilities and explains the specialized developmental needs of such students as compared to their peers. Chapter 2 discusses common assumptions about students with disabilities and provides tools to help counselors interact with the students’ families more effectively. Chapter 3 explains how to transform a traditional school counseling program into one that facilitates competency development for students with disabilities. This chapter also provides information on including students with disabilities in school counseling programs and offers leadership and advocacy guidelines for school counselors. Chapter 4 explains the school counselor’s role in the individualized education program (IEP), Section 504, Plans and Transition Plans. Chapter 5 provides ways for school counselors to form effective partnerships with parents and highlights frequent experiences, feelings and realities of parents of children with disabilities, based on the authors’ experiences and knowledge.

Part 2 of the book focuses on the academic, personal/social and career domains from the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). Chapter 6 discusses ways in which school counselors play a crucial role in addressing the academic needs of students with disabilities, and it includes methods that help teachers create positive learning environments for students. Chapters 7 and 8 examine students’ social and personal needs, focusing on the effects of peer relationships. These chapters also include strategies for school counselors that promote social integration within schools. While describing the central needs and challenges of children with disabilities, Chapter 9 concentrates on the importance of career education and development. It also gives guidelines on preparing students for the transition from school to work, training or higher education.

Part 3 delivers practical information about disabilities, as detailed within each category of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). For each disability, the authors provide general information; what students and parents with the disability wish teachers and school counselors knew; practical applications in each of the ASCA domains; and resources containing more information about the specific disability.

The collective knowledge and experience of the authors, who are expert school counselors, make this book rich in valuable content. As a future school counselor, I find that this book provides fundamental resources for assisting students with disabilities. The information in this book soundly represents the ASCA domains for future school counselors. Reading this book would benefit educators, parents and anyone interested in working alongside students with disabilities.

Marshak, L. E., Dandeneau, C. J., Prezant, F. P., & L’Amoreaux, N. A. (2010). The School Counselor’s Guide to Helping Students with Disabilities. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Reviewed by: Estefanía Riveros, Miami, Florida.

The Professional Counselor Journal