School Counselors’ Perceptions of Competency in Career Counseling

Leann Wyrick Morgan, Mary Ellen Greenwaldt, Kevin P. Gosselin

The National Office for School Counselor Advocacy stated that secondary students need better support from professional school counselors when making decisions regarding their postsecondary education and career. The present qualitative study explored school counselors’ perceptions of competence in the area of career counseling, and resulted in the following themes: challenges to delivery, opportunity, self-doubt, reliance on colleagues, and the use of technology. Recommendations for college and career readiness best practice were incorporated with the findings from the National Office for School Counselor Advocacy report.

Keywords: school counselor, career counseling, competence, postsecondary education, qualitative study


No step in life, unless it may be the choice of a husband or wife, is more important than the choice of a vocation. . . . These vital problems should be solved in a careful, scientific way, with due regard to each person’s aptitudes, abilities, ambitions, resources, and limitations, and the relations of these elements to the conditions of success in different industries. (Parsons, 1909, p. 3)

Young people exploring career decisions are often left to their own searches to find direction in this complex process. Ninety-five percent of high school seniors expect to attain some form of college education, yet more and more are delaying entry after high school, frequently changing colleges or majors when they do enter, or taking time off throughout their programs (Altbach, Gumport, & Berdahl, 2011). According to The College Board National Office for School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA), professional school counselors need to better support students during the decision-making process in order to streamline their progress toward postsecondary education and career readiness (Barker & Satcher, 2000; Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014). School counselors must balance this heady task with accountability in other areas, such as academic achievement, social and emotional development, and related administrative duties.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model for School Counseling (ASCA Model) was developed and recently updated by the Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP), which supports school counselors and counselor educators by standardizing and enhancing the practices of these professionals (ASCA, 2012). With the release of NOSCA’s survey results, a new movement in school counselor reform emerged, which calls for standardization of practices involving college access for all students. According to The College Board (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014), this reform is necessary to highlight the lack of support students receive in their pursuit of higher educational goal attainment.

School counselors have historically lacked a clear identity in role and function (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014; Clemens, Milsom, & Cashwell, 2009; Dodson, 2009; Johnson, Rochkind, & Ott, 2010; Reiner, Colbert, & Pérusse, 2009), and in response, many states have adopted the use of some form of the ASCA Model as a guide for practicing school counselors (Martin & Carey, 2012; Martin, Carey, & DeCoster, 2009). Not all states provide such guidance for their school counselors and, as a result, some school counselors are left with little continuity among schools, even within the same school district. Some counselor educators have called for more support and supervision for school counselors (Brott, 2006; DeVoss & Andrews, 2006; Somody, Henderson, Cook, & Zambrano, 2008); however, a gap between education and professional responsibility, and consequently liability, has remained apparent (Foster, Young, & Hermann, 2005; Pérusse & Goodnough, 2005). It is important to note that the aforementioned reform is linked directly to the roles and functions of school counselors (Clemens, Milsom, & Cashwell, 2009; Pérusse & Goodnough, 2005). According to NOSCA, 71% of school counselors surveyed stated that they believed academic planning related to college and career readiness was important, but only 31% believed their school was successful in fulfilling students’ needs in that area (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014). The gap between what they believe to be important and how they deliver information and assist students in using the information is critical.

To successfully bridge the gap and provide students with a consistent avenue for college and career readiness, more attention must be directed toward training school counselors and clearly defining the roles and functions of school counselors to other school professionals (Dodson, 2009; Mason & McMahon, 2009; McMahon, Mason, & Paisley, 2009; Reiner, Colbert, & Pérusse, 2009). Further inquiry is necessary to determine the possible impact of revised training and practice on the profession as well as on school counselors’ relationships with students, parents and the school community stakeholders. Counselor educators are not solely responsible for the role development of the school counselors they train; however, they have an increased personal responsibility as well (Paisley & Milsom, 2007; Pérusse & Goodnough, 2005). Consistent dialogue between counselor educators and school counselors-in-training regarding role competence in career development may provide an avenue to overall effectiveness.

Currently, professional school counselors are expected to offer comprehensive, well-balanced, developmental, evidence-based school counseling programs that target social and emotional supportive services, educational and academic planning, and vocational education for all students (ASCA, 2003; Campbell & Dahir, 1997; Dugger & Boshoven, 2010; Foster et al., 2005; Martin & Carey, 2012; Martin et al., 2009; Pérusse & Goodnough, 2005). However, high school counselors continue to be scrutinized in light of the poor marks they receive from high school students and graduates regarding the counselors’ involvement in their respective postsecondary planning processes (Gibbons, Borders, Wiles, Stephan, & Davis, 2006; Johnson et al., 2010).

School counselors serve in multiple­—and often demanding—educational and counseling roles. In addition, school counselors are asked to further the academic and educational missions of the school, seek teacher and administrator buy-in to an integrated comprehensive guidance program, and act in a proactive manner that will enhance collaboration among all facets of the school and community (Brown, 2006; Dodson, 2009; Green & Keys, 2001; Walsh, Barrett, & DePaul, 2007). Keeping these functions in mind, one can see how critical it is for school counselors to develop particular skills in order to provide services, to promote a strong professional identity, and to obtain regular supervision and consultation (McMahon et al., 2009).

In many cases, school counselors develop competencies in their roles while performing the duties assigned by their administrators or counseling supervisors; however, the basic educational training that occurs preservice can vary dramatically. In the field of counselor education, many issues impact the curriculum and philosophy of school counselor training programs including (a) the accreditation of the program by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and (b) the degree to which programs offer training in how to utilize the ASCA Model (ASCA, 2003). The CACREP training standards have gained popularity among state certification and licensure boards (such as those in Louisiana and New Jersey), and some boards now require all candidates seeking certification or licensure to have completed CACREP-accredited counseling programs in order to be eligible for professional certification or licensure. Certainly, not all counselor training programs are CACREP-accredited, and those that are CACREP-accredited likely vary in how they address the standards. Yet, many school counselor trainees will encounter similar standards presented in the newly revised ASCA Model as they pursue state certification or become involved in ASCA as a student or professional member (ASCA, 2012).

The ASCA Model provides a tool for school counselors to design, coordinate, implement, manage and evaluate school counseling programs, but the specifics on how school counselors address each area varies (ASCA, 2012). School counselors are expected to demonstrate competency in the areas of academic achievement, social and emotional development, and career counseling. However, career counseling competency is often minimized in relation to other areas because the accountability measures are not fully developed. Also, the results cannot be determined until years after students leave high school (Belasco, 2013; McDonough, 2005), and due to so many commitments falling upon school counselors, their time to provide specific career interventions can be limited (Bryan, Moore-Thomas, Day-Vines, & Holcomb-McCoy, 2011; Deil-Amen & Tevis, 2010).

The leaders of ASCA (2012) have encouraged secondary school counselors to spend at least 40% of their day conducting career assessment, engaging in development and planning postsecondary activities with students (e.g., individual student responsive services, group guidance activities, college and career indirect services); yet, according to Clinedinst, Hurley, and Hawkins (2011), high school counselors devote only 23% of their time to this cause. School counselor education programs minimally address this disparity (Foster et al., 2005). Most programs offer one course in general career development theory, assessment and counseling, which would translate to roughly 6% of students’ training within a 48-hour program, and only 5% for programs requiring 60 credit hours of graduate work. Although CACREP (2009) has called for counselor educators to infuse career development throughout the program curricula, school counselors have reported they did not feel competent in the delivery of career programs (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014).

Given the convergence of an increased number of school counselor education programs seeking accreditation (Urofsky, personal communication, March 28, 2014), increased calls for accountability in school counseling programs (Wilkerson, Pérusse, & Hughes, 2013), and the growing influence of the ASCA Model (Martin et al., 2009), it seems imperative that school counselors be prepared to address the vocational and transitional needs of the secondary student. A gap exists between what is expected and suggested by the national standards for a comprehensive guidance program and what is actually being taught in school counselor preparation programs, specifically in the area of college and career readiness (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014; Clinedinst et al., 2011; Engberg & Gilbert, 2014; McDonough, 2005). School counselors must have an appropriate cache of career counseling techniques in order to be effective leaders, not just possess a basic understanding of career development theories (Zunker, 2012). Osborn and Baggerly (2004) suggested the following:

High school is a crucial time for students to make career and/or postsecondary training decisions. If there were any group of school counselors who needed to have a large proportion of their time devoted to career counseling, it would be high school counselors. (p. 55)

Bridgeland and Bruce (2014) stated in the NOSCA report that “counselors are also largely enthusiastic about supporting college and career readiness initiatives, but here again, do not think they have the support and resources to successfully promote their students’ postsecondary achievement” (p. 12).

Hines & Lemons (2011) proposed refocusing university training programs for school counselors to emphasize educational access, opportunity and equity in college, and career readiness, with an increased focus on interns utilizing college and career readiness curricula with students in their schools. They also recommended the revision of school counselor job descriptions to focus on postsecondary planning, the use of performance evaluations connected to student academic outcomes and college and career readiness standards, and the need for persistent professional development in order to cultivate effective college and career readiness counseling programs.

By continuing to examine school counselor training and consequent job competency standards, it may be possible to determine gaps in training and how counselors compensate for their lack of knowledge in serving their students. Career counseling theory and application play a role in how school counselors work with students in postsecondary planning, and where a lack of knowledge exists, a lack of services exists as well (Perrone, Perrone, Chan, & Thomas, 2000). The rising costs of higher education, paired with students’ lack of concise college and career planning, make the school counselor’s role more important than in past decades.


School Counseling

Borders and Drury (1992) determined that “school counseling interventions have a substantial impact on students’ educational and personal development. Individual and small-group counseling, classroom guidance, and consultation activities seem to contribute directly to students’ success in the classroom and beyond” (p. 495). School counselors have shared responsibility for students acquiring knowledge necessary for successful mastery of essential developmental skills at the secondary level (Myrick, 1987; Sears, 1999). The need for appropriate and relevant training of secondary school counselors is critical to ensure that the students they serve receive challenging academic paths that will impact their quality of life long after they leave high school (Erford, 2010).

The CACREP standards for counselor training serve as a guide for counselor education programs to include when determining elements and experiences essential for training competent school counselors. However, the standards were not established to provide any support or structure for the postgraduate professional working in the schools (Campbell & Dahir, 1997; Pérusse, Goodnough, & Noel, 2001). ASCA provides professional school counselors with support through the National Model to administer appropriate programming to students at the secondary level, including career planning. The question remains whether counselors-in-training receive access to the appropriate coursework and relevant experiences to adequately prepare them to fulfill their role in the schools, as suggested by historical perspectives (e.g., the vocational needs of students) and the current national standards for the profession.

The area of career development and postsecondary planning is one in which counselors-in-training may not receive adequate instruction or supervision (Barker & Satcher, 2000; Foster et al., 2005). With the acceptance of the 2016 CACREP standards revisions, counselor education programs would be required to demonstrate how they assess students’ competencies using data “gathered at multiple points and using multiple measures” (CACREP, 2014, p. 6). Counselor educators must determine how to measure competency in career development throughout their programs. Some programs offer one course in career counseling, development or assessment, while other programs may choose to meet the standards in other ways. While students may gain training experience in career counseling through internship hours at the master’s level, career development is not a required part of the internship experience. Through the use of standardized tests that measure students’ knowledge of career counseling theory (e.g., Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination, National Counselor Examination), counselor education programs would be partially meeting the requirements for CACREP accreditation under the new standards. Testing graduate students on their knowledge of career counseling theory, however, does not provide an indicator of the students’ ability to provide comprehensive career counseling programs upon graduation. Using multiple measures of competency throughout the program may be a more effective way to accurately measure professional skill and readiness to provide career services to students.

A recent review of the counseling and education literature yielded several articles confirming the deficiencies in school counselor training and the increased need for additional competence among school counselors to provide college and career readiness programming to students, including information on financial literacy and the cost of higher education (Belasco, 2013; Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014; Engberg & Gilbert, 2014). Some educators may argue that the standards have been infused throughout their school counselor training program curriculum, yet there is no evidence within the professional literature of a consistent standard of practice. As a result, the question remains: Can counselor educators provide the necessary curriculum and expect that counselors-in-training will retain enough information to be able to provide services competently to students?

The educational recommendations versus the professional expectations imposed upon the school counselor may seem unrealistic, and at times, inappropriate (Brott, 2006; Clinedinst et al., 2011; Foster et al., 2005). An inconsistency between the amount of preparation and the expectations of school counselors’ work roles is apparent (Dodson, 2009; Reiner, Colbert, & Pérusse, 2009) and is highlighted in the NOSCA report (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014). One might wonder how and where school counselors obtain adequate preparation for their professional roles. The authors in this study attempted to explore and document this information within the context of the schools in which the participants worked. Once again, the need to reform school counselor education programs is evident, and the voices of these counselors may help identify the specific areas in which to begin.



The research questions proposed in this study were addressed using a qualitative research design. A phenomenological research inquiry (Creswell, 2013) was used to assess participants’ experiences, preparedness and perceptions of competency related to career counseling with high school students. The goals of using this approach stem from the core ideals of phenomenological research (Colaizzi, 1978; Osborne, 1990; Wertz, 2005), which seeks to understand “how human beings make sense of experience and transform experience into consciousness, both individually and as shared meaning” (Patton, 1990, p. 104). Based on the premise that human beings by nature strive for a sense of self in the world of work and the knowledge that they have to use in their work (Crotty, 1998), it was imperative to develop an awareness of the relationship between the data and the participants within the context of the study (McCroskey, 1997; Merriam, 1998). With this goal in mind, participant responses were assessed using the methodological processes of grounded theory, and shared meanings grounded in the data were further derived (Corbin & Strauss, 2008).


Participants were chosen using a purposeful and convenience criteria sampling method (Collins, Onwuegbuzie, & Jiao, 2007), and identified from the first author’s community network of school counselor colleagues located in two Midwestern states. These counselors referred other secondary school counselors in their communities to the current authors for potential participation in the study. To select the participants, the authors previewed a convenience sample of 18 secondary school counselors from urban, suburban and rural public schools. They chose specific participants based on differences in age, ethnicity, gender, number of years of experience as a high school counselor, and those who hold master’s degrees from both CACREP and non-CACREP programs. In an effort to diversify the sample, the authors did not select participants with similar characteristics. The authors directly contacted the identified school counselors, and the nine participants agreed to participate in the study (see Table 1 for identifying characteristics). Each participant and school name was changed to protect identity.


Table 1

School Counselor Participant Information and School Information

Participant Name

Participant Description

Graduate Program

Years of Experience

School Description


White female in her late 20s



Shermer High School: urban; public; 2000 students; 45% F/R lunch*; 41% White, 31.8% Asian, 18.8% Hispanic, 7.4% Black, .8% American Indian; 6 other counselors

White female in her mid-40s



Shermer High School: urban; public; 2000 students; 45% F/R lunch*; 41% White, 31.8% Asian, 18.8% Hispanic, 7.4% Black, .8% American Indian; 6 other counselors

White male in his late 50s



High Bridge High School: suburban; public; 2301 students; 18.4% F/R lunch*; 65.7% White, 16.3% Hispanic, 10.3% Asian, 5.7% Black, 1.8% Multiracial, .1% American Indian, .1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; 11 other counselors

White female in her early 50s



High Bridge High School: suburban; public; 2301 students; 18.4% F/R lunch*; 65.7% White, 16.3% Hispanic, 10.3% Asian, 5.7% Black, 1.8% Multiracial, .1% American Indian, .1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; 11 other counselors

White male in his early 30s



High Bridge High School: suburban; public; 2301 students; 18.4% F/R lunch*; 65.7% White, 16.3% Hispanic, 10.3% Asian, 5.7% Black, 1.8% Multiracial, .1% American Indian, .1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; 11 other counselors

White male in his early 60s



Mayfield High School: urban; public; 2058 students; 27% F/R lunch*; 45% White, 39% Black, 12% Hispanic, 2% Asian, 2% American Indian; 5 other counselors

Hispanic female in her late 30s



Ridgemont Jr./Sr. High School: rural; public; 222 students; 54% F/R lunch*; 65% Hispanic, 31% White, 3% Asian, 1% American Indian, 0% Black; no other school counselors in building

White female in her early 30s



Bedford High school: rural; public; 645 students; 10% F/R lunch*, 85% White, 12% Hispanic, 2% Asian, 1% American Indian, 0% Black; one other counselor

Hispanic female in her early 30s



Hill Valley High School: rural; public; 401 students; 52% Hispanic, 45% White, 2% American Indian, 1% Black, 0% Asian/Pacific Islander; no other counselor in building

 Note. All participant and school information has been changed to protect identities.

*Students receive free or reduced-fee lunch based on household income.


Procedures and Data Collection

As part of the data collection process, a personal audit trail (Merriam, 1998) was utilized to minimize and account for specific feelings or opinions formed by the primary investigator. As a former school counselor, the first author had areas of training, and professional and personal experiences that were similar to, or different from those of the research participants. The journal served as an appropriate place for the primary investigator to document feelings regarding these issues and issues of counselor training.

Merriam (1998) suggested that researchers share a common language with the participants of the study; to that end, in-depth, face-to-face, semi-structured interviews lasting 45–55 minutes were completed. The following nine research questions were asked:

Tell me about your overall experience in your counselor training program.

Tell me about your experiences in that program with regard to instruction you received in career development delivery models with high school students.

How has the training you received in career development prepared you for your work with students?

What type of continuing education training have you received in the area of career development since finishing your degree program?

Describe your level of confidence in your ability to provide students with career development information and guidance.

In what areas, if any, do you feel unsure (or less sure) of the information you are providing?

What would have aided you in attaining competency in career development and postsecondary planning?

How much career counseling did you do during your internship?

How did you see your preparedness in career development in relation to your colleagues’ preparedness?

The first author for the study recorded the interviews electronically and then transcribed or typed the interviews using a traditional word processing program. The information obtained from the transcripts was compiled into one data set, which represents the voices of all nine participants. This author also obtained official transcripts from the participants’ master’s degree programs in school counseling to track the number of courses they took in career counseling and development. The participants provided information regarding the accreditation status of their training program as CACREP or non-CACREP at the time they obtained their degrees. At the conclusion of each interview, the first author immediately moved to another location in order to write initial thoughts (i.e., field notes) regarding any physical or nonverbal responses of the participants. The first author wrote notes in a research journal regarding any personal researcher biases that emerged (Creswell, 2013). The field notes, transcript and program accreditation status served as additional data that were shared with the research team for triangulation purposes, specifically to enrich the data collected during each interview.



Interview data were subjected to a rigorous phenomenological reduction. Also known as bracketing (Husserl, 1977), this is the process of extracting significant statements from the actual, transcribed interviews with the participants. The authors utilized Denzin’s (1989) suggestions to extract statements, including (a) locating the key phrases and statements that speak directly to the phenomenon in question; (b) interpreting the meanings of these phrases as an informed reader; (c) obtaining the subjects’ interpretations of these phrases; (d) inspecting the meanings for what they reveal about the essential, recurring features of the phenomenon being studied; and (e) offering a tentative statement, or definition, of the phenomenon in terms of the essential recurring features (see Figure 1 for steps in analysis process).                    

Figure 1. Interview data steps

A total of 543 significant statements were analyzed and coded for inclusion in the theme-building process (Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Curry & Bickmore, 2012). The nine counselors’ statements were then grouped into categories as similarities emerged among them. This process gave each statement equal weight in contributing to the final analysis, regardless of which participant made the statement (Patton, 1990). New categories were formed until each statement had been grouped, totaling 17 in all. At the conclusion, the sample was determined rich enough to reach saturation. According to Creswell (2013), saturation occurs when pieces of information are put into categories and the researcher begins to see repetition among the data being categorized.



Once saturation was reached, the first author’s epoche (journal) was utilized to control for bias, and member checking was used to confirm the trustworthiness of the data. The act of member checking includes obtaining confirmation from the participants that the extracted statements from the interviews were accurate and inclusive (Creswell, 2013). Each of the nine participants reviewed their statements via e-mail and confirmed the accuracy and true representation of their thoughts and feelings. Triangulation of the data (i.e., comparing the researcher’s journal to the participants’ verified statements) further confirmed the results. At that point, imaginative variation and thematic reduction were employed to provide an organized, rich description of the participants’ experiences (Creswell, 2013).

Imaginative variation. The process of imaginative variation (Denzin, 1989) asks the researcher to horizontalize the data, or place the extracted significant statements of each participant side by side to compare, group and organize the statements into comprehensive ideas. The first author collected overall themes by physically cutting the statements out and dividing them into groups of similar statements. This process gave “each statement equal weight” in contributing to the final analysis, regardless of which participant made a particular statement (Patton, 1990). The deconstructed data set made the meanings of the participants’ stories clearer.

Thematic reduction: School counselor themes. The meanings derived from the counselors’ statements were grouped into common themes. The authors read and examined the counselors’ statements until words or phrases surfaced that represented patterns of feelings or thoughts that were repeated consistently throughout. These common words or phrases were grouped into major thematic areas that represented the collective voice of the participants.



Four themes emerged that indicated school counselors experienced feelings of under-preparedness in helping students plan for postsecondary pursuits, including (a) awareness (subtheme: feelings of incompetence), (b) theory versus reality (subtheme: disconnect of formal education), (c) acquiring competence (subthemes: colleague networks and technology), and (d) training needs (counselor education programs).

Awareness: Incompetence versus competence. Positive or desirable characteristics of a competent school counselor, particularly in the area of career development, were compiled to create a textural portrayal that illustrated the picture of a highly competent school counselor. Collectively, the participants indicated that a competent school counselor would have the following characteristics: (a) the ability to secure accurate information and provide it to students quickly, (b) active membership in state or national school counseling organizations, (c) use of professional networks for professional development, (d) well-maintained connections with students in spite of large caseloads, (e) outreach to marginalized student populations, and (f) personal respect and reflection of the role of a professional school counselor.

When the more specific themes were examined, the counselors described characteristics of the competency levels they possessed; however, they believed they were not living up to self-imposed standards. Most of the counselors’ statements referred to their perceived lack of competency in performing their roles in the schools, as opposed to positive feelings of competency. One of the participants, Vivian, stated, “A kid would come in and I would think, please, let’s talk about suicide or something because I am not so hot in this [career counseling] area.” This counselor considered herself more prepared to assess a student’s risk for self-harm than to help guide him or her toward a career path. Vivian believed that her training had inadequately prepared her, and did not remember what she was supposed to do to help students look beyond high school. She expressed frustration and the need for more tailored training, specifically on how to deliver comprehensive career and postsecondary planning curricula. Another participant, Noah, stated, “I am sure those kids know way more what their plans are going to be and what their options are than I do, and that is not the way it is supposed to work. It is something that I should know.” This counselor had become aware that he lacked the skills necessary to work with students, and his perceived helplessness prevented him from being engaged in the process. This school counselor needed resources to fill the gap and help him reach his students.

Theory versus reality. Throughout the dialogue with the participants, one common thread was that the formal instruction and implementation suggestions from their graduate training were inadequate. One participant, Noah, strongly voiced his concern with these training deficiencies by stating, “I don’t feel like I had enough [career training], it goes back to . . . well, they gave us theories. I did not get any specifics on how to use them.” Another counselor, Alan, stated, “We had a very good understanding of the theoretical [career counseling] model. It was very lacking in how to convey it to the kids or how you work with kids. This is where I think it came up short.” The voices of all the participants reflected this type of statement. Some of the participants believed that they had been introduced to career counseling theory and some assessment tools; however, they noted that they had not received sufficient instruction on how to apply these concepts when working with students. In addition, none of the participants were able to recall a particular standard for career assessment or planning for secondary school counseling that they might use as a guide when working in the schools.

Colleague networks. In order to combat the noted deficiencies, participants reported forming both formal and informal networks with other colleagues to gain competence in the area of career development. Noah stated, “Luckily I had a friend or two . . . who were good counselors and . . . I learned a lot from them.” The idea of learning how to create and implement career development programming on the job resonated throughout the participants. Diane stated, “I still know that at any time I can call somebody who will know something,” and Vivian said, “Thank God for other counselors because I wouldn’t know where to start.” The importance of colleague networks to the perceived competency of each counselor was made apparent by all the participants, not just the ones represented here. They seemed to rely on one another most often to supplement the gaps in information, more so than consulting other resources available to them.

Utilizing technology. The school counselors made numerous statements regarding the use of technology at their jobs. They mentioned the use of specific programs, and the consensus seemed to reflect that everyone used computer technology in some capacity. Some counselors believed that particular programs purchased by their districts were not useful to them, while others pointed to the use of computers as a resource for gaining competency in providing career development counseling to their students. Vivian stated, “We finally decided to go with the . . . [career development online program], which now has been probably the most used resource by our kids, by our staff, and by the counseling office simply because it is so easily accessible.” Alan also noted the following:

We got it [the online career development program] not only for the kids . . . but for the parents, the community, PR, and making ourselves a viable part of their development. . . . This has been a big plus for us because it forces contact with every kid in an easy, very positive type conference.

A third participant, Kimberly, recalled, “I can point them in the right direction now. The computer is so much easier and the students respond to it.”

The technology-based career development programs appeared to be used more readily by the counselors than any other counseling tool. Some of the benefits of technology-based programs include the following: Students can access information independently (autonomy), students can access career information from any computer at the school or from their homes (accessibility), and counselors can provide answers to students’ questions quickly (time-sensitivity). The computer-based, Internet programs gave confidence to the counselors that the information was up-to-date and accurate. They used the computer and Internet-based programs to work more efficiently and provide students with consistent, research-based career development programming. This resource provided school counselors with confidence where they lacked it prior to using these tools.

Training needs. Participants were forthcoming about what they needed; for example, they would have benefited from specialized training prior to starting their roles as professional school counselors. Throughout the interviews, the counselors interjected their dissatisfaction with their preparedness upon completing their master’s degree programs, to varying degrees. Interestingly, the statements grouped into the training needs category were not gathered in response to a particular question, but rather as they naturally occurred throughout the interviews. Even the participants who stated they were satisfied with their training overall offered suggestions for improving school counselor training programs based on their unique experiences in the field.

Vanessa stated the following:

I think as school counselors, the counseling part one-on-one we see once [in] awhile, but it is geared more towards career and preparing the kids. . . . I think one thing that would have helped me a lot was maybe having college recruiters or admission counselors come into the class and talk about what they look for on an application or in essay questions. I think that would have helped me help my seniors this year.

Similarly, Diane said that it would have been helpful to know “just the day-to-day what does a career counseling program look like or what does a career counseling program in a high school look like?” Other participants did not identify specific training areas that would have helped them; but they acknowledged that continuing education was necessary based on what was provided in their graduate programs. Kimberly reflected, “I would say that out of the 75 kids that we have [grades] 9–12, I would say maybe 20% have a skill that they can use if they were to drop out of school. It is one area that I am really not comfortable in right now.” School counselors carry the responsibility to prepare students for post-graduation, but how they accomplish this task is left to the specific counselor, school or school district.

Jane’s statement reflects her desire for more specific training curricula:

I think that training programs hopefully will evolve and will begin to become more specialized . . . it [career development] is definitely an area that needs more than one class. Three credit hours when 55 are required? It is probably one of the most important things for school counselors to know.

Few counselors echoed this call for more coursework, but specialized training in and out of the classroom was seen as a necessary part of gaining competency for all participants. While a number of the participants were passionate about the idea of increasing training in career development within counseling training programs, the collective voice of the counselors’ statements demonstrated the variety of struggles and frustrations the participants encountered, and still encounter, along the way.



The purpose of this study was to understand how school counselors view their roles, and how they understand and deliver career counseling curricula to students. Nine counselors made statements consistent with feelings of inadequacy and incompetence in their ability to provide adequate career development programming to their students, as well as unpreparedness upon completion of their counselor education programs. The findings are consistent with the reviewed literature, given that even those counselors who made positive statements regarding their overall experiences in their programs clearly reflected uncertainty regarding their competence level in career development in general (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014; McDonough, 2005), but especially in how to deliver useful career programs to students (Clinedinst et al., 2011; Johnson et al., 2010). The particular training programs that these counselors completed to obtain licensure differed. Additionally, the secondary data collected from participants (i.e., CACREP vs. non-CACREP degree programs) indicate that accreditation and the completion of a course in career theory and application appear irrelevant regarding the participants’ perceptions of overall competency.

The authors noticed that the agitation in the counselors’ voices subsided when they discussed the steps they took to gain competency in this area. For some participants, it was a friendly colleague who showed them the way it had always been done, or the discovery of a new online resource that helped them quickly provide answers to their students’ questions. The counselors identified specific strategies that they used to improve their competency, but said that they relied heavily on their professional networks for support.

The three urban counselors reported that they were more prepared than their colleagues were in terms of providing career development programming that utilized technology. The three rural and three suburban counselors believed that they were close to or at the same level of competency as their colleagues. Additionally, all three urban counselors believed that funding or political obstacles within their respective districts prevented their success. Some participants also noted that they relied on technology because it had been purchased by their schools and was the only resource available. For a number of the participants, the isolation and lack of connection to other counselors furthered their sense of frustration and disconnectedness.

Participants employed professional mentoring and consultation in some cases; however, these counselors reported that they utilized informal, personal networking extensively. They described these relationships as casual, question-and-answer partnerships. These relationships were not formally structured with specific goals as in mentoring relationships, but rather were formed out of necessity for team building and information sharing among colleagues. The counselors valued these contacts more than any other resource they had acquired since completion of their degree programs.

The big picture of what it means to be a competent school counselor resonated loudly through the voices of the participants. They uniformly reported that despite their struggle to achieve competency, there was an overarching sense that their efforts were not enough. The counselors’ feelings of incompetence in the area of career development significantly impacted their ability to address the needs of students. The quiet desperation resonating in their statements magnified their perceptions of how they lacked what they needed to help prepare students for life after high school. School counselors have an understanding of who they would like to be in the schools, but oftentimes they believe they fall short (Scarborough & Culbreth, 2008). Many school counselors lack the confidence or competence to navigate the college counseling process effectively, thus leading to overall perceptions of incompetence in career development (Clinedinst et al., 2011; Engberg & Gilbert 2014).

The lack of competency in career development that these school counselors expressed may imply that a certain degree of insecurity and real or perceived incompetence are expected when one starts out in the field. However, if the degree of preparedness among these participants is at all representative, it may indicate that more focus on career development practice is needed in counselor education programs. According to Hill (2012), it is important to emphasize counselor-initiated strategies for college and career readiness interventions­­—something this group of school counselors found challenging. Addressing this need is a critical issue for school counselor educators as they design training curricula and experiences. Again, participants stated that they had received valuable information in their programs regarding the specifics of what career development is, but not how to use it with students. The missing link between knowledge and know-how for these counselors is palpable. School counselor educators and supervisors must take note and develop career counseling curricula that address the needs of their counselors-in-training, as well as the needs of the future students they will serve.



As a result of the information obtained from this study and with the support of the NOSCA report and other studies published in recent years, a need clearly exists for career development training standards to be integrated into graduate programs for school counselors (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014; Clinedinst et al., 2011; Engberg & Gilbert, 2014). Specifically, counselor educators may adequately identify deficiencies in the overall training model by isolating the differences between anticipated transitions, role adoption and professional development. Participants in the present study believe that they and future school counselors would benefit from a more applied, community-based experience, much like the professional development schools model suggested by Clark and Horton-Parker (2002), and a standard of practice to better serve their students.

The plan outlined by NOSCA includes implementing a process by which all secondary school counselors follow a set of standards while working with students on college readiness from academic, social and career perspectives (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014). Ideally, these standards would be consistent among school counselors across the country to ensure all students access to adequate college preparation and postsecondary planning. Graduate-level courses offered in the form of additional electives, such as counseling the college-bound student or career and technical education, would provide opportunities for growth in areas not currently available in most graduate counseling programs. In response to the growing need for high school counselor competency in postsecondary planning, some states are now offering an additional licensure endorsement for school counselors; for example, in Colorado, school counselors complete two graduate-level courses already offered within CACREP programs (i.e., individual counseling, career development) and one additional two-credit course in career and technical education, offered through the Colorado Community College System. Upon completion of the three courses, school counselors may then apply for the additional endorsement in career and technical education (Colorado Department of Education, 2014). This effort supports the Common Core Curriculum implementation in Colorado and many other states where school counselors are now expected to provide academic advising to directly reflect their students’ career cluster interests.

With the recent passing of the Langevin-Thompson Amendment to the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10, 2014), school counselors working in charter schools will now be asked to provide documentation of their comprehensive career counseling programs in order for schools to obtain priority status when applying for federal funding. This movement, which currently applies only to charter schools, may begin to find its way into all public school funding requests, thus making career counseling curriculum development and implementation a priority for all school counselors. With the support of ASCA, the Association for Career and Technical Education, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, this movement will continue to grow, and the need for well-trained school counselors who are able to provide comprehensive career counseling programs will increase.



In this study, the authors used several measures in order to preserve the internal validity of the study, such as researcher epoche, triangulation and member checking. In keeping with the tradition of qualitative research, the participants were not studied in isolation but in environments in which the studied phenomenon continues to occur. It is safe to assume that the participants’ statements were not without bias, because few inquiries involving human interactions and perceptions are without bias. The authors selected nine participants from a convenience sample of high school counselors from rural, suburban and urban areas within two Midwestern states in the United States. The relationship of the counselors to the first author, although limited, may have reflected a need to please or demonstrate competency where little may have existed. Despite the limitations of the study, the findings contribute to the literature regarding school counselors’ perceptions of their abilities to effectively deliver career counseling programs. Also, the findings further emphasize the need to reform the training methods through which school counselors provide college and career readiness services to students.



Given the results of this study, it would be negligent to ignore the possibility that school counselors may be placed in positions with less than adequate training in career development. Counselor education programs have an obligation to prepare school counselors in more role-specific areas (e.g., college and career readiness), given that the national average ratio of students to school counselor is 471:1, which is well above ASCA’s recommended ratio of 250:1 ( Doing more with less has always been a challenge for school leaders, and preparing school counselors more effectively to meet the needs of their students may empower a new generation of counselors to lead students into the 21st century workforce.

The authors acknowledge that this particular study includes only the voices of nine school counselors; however, their voices loudly echo NOSCA’s findings and support the need for school counselor standardization of practice in promoting, teaching and facilitating career and postsecondary planning for all students (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2014). Currently, most school counselor education programs do not highlight this area, yet this area represents the very heart of school counseling services at the secondary level. ASCA (2012) has deemed this area important enough to provide school counselors with standards with which to guide their daily activities, but training programs offer limited exposure to actual planning and implementation of career services. This study exposes a disconnection between training and practice standards in school counselor education, which has led to feelings of incompetence and discouragement in these nine school counselors. Regardless of how the counselors compensate for this lack of training, this phenomenon exists. Whether they graduated from CACREP or non-CACREP programs, all of the participants in this study believed that they were equally incompetent in providing career development programming to students. Therefore, future CACREP standards and ASCA Model revisions, as well as state credentialing boards, must include guidelines by which school counselors are trained, specifically reflecting their appropriate job duties and responsibilities in college and career readiness programming. Future school counselors may be better equipped to address the needs of their students, parents and communities if this area of training is expanded and integrated as an essential component of counselor education programs.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of  interest or funding contributions for the development of this manuscript.



Altbach, P. G., Gumport, P. J., & Berdahl, R. O. (2011). American higher education in the 21st century: Social, political and economic challenges. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

American School Counselor Association. (2003). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: Author.

American School Counselor Association. (2012). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.

Barker, J., & Satcher, J. (2000). School counselors’ perceptions of required workplace skills and career development competencies. Professional School Counseling, 4, 134­–139.

Belasco, A. S. (2013). Creating college opportunity: School counselors and their influence on postsecondary enrollment. Research in Higher Education, 54, 781–804.

Borders, L. D., & Drury, S. M. (1992). Comprehensive school counseling programs: A review for policymakers and practitioners. Journal of Counseling & Development, 70, 487–498. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.1992.tb01643.x

Bridgeland, J., & Bruce, M. (2014). 2011 national survey of school counselors. College Board National Office for School Counselor Advocacy. Retrieved from

Brott, P. E. (2006). Counselor education accountability: Training the effective professional school counselor. Professional School Counseling, 10, 179–188.

Brown, D. (2006). Career information, career counseling, and career development (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Bryan, J., Moore-Thomas, C., Day-Vines, N. L., & Holcomb-McCoy, C. (2011). School counselors as social capital: The effects of high school college counseling on college application rates. Journal of Counseling and Development, 89, 190–199. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2011.tb00077.x

Campbell, C. A., & Dahir, C. A. (1997). Sharing the vision: The national standards for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: American School Counselor Association.

Clark, M. A., & Horton-Parker, R. (2002). Professional development schools: New opportunities for training school counselors. Counselor Education and Supervision, 42, 58–75. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2002.tb01303.x

Clemens, E. V., Milsom, A., & Cashwell, C. S. (2009). Using leader–member exchange theory to examine principal–school counselor relationships, school counselors’ roles, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions. Professional School Counseling, 13, 75–85.

Clinedinst, M. E., Hurley, S. F., & Hawkins, D. A. (2011). State of college admission 2011. Alexandria, VA: National Association for College Admissions Counseling. Retrieved from

Colaizzi, P. F. (1978). Psychological research as the phenomenologist views it. In R. S. Valle & M. King (Eds.), Existential-phenomenological alternatives for psychology (pp. 48­–71). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Collins, K. M. T., Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Jiao, Q. G. (2007). A mixed methods investigation of mixed methods sampling designs in social and health science research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1, 267–294. doi:10.1177/1558689807299526

Colorado Department of Education. (2014). Secondary CTE Specialist Credential. Retrieved from

Corbin J., & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2009). 2009 standards. Retrieved from

Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2014). Draft #2 of the 2016 CACREP standards. Retrieved from

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

I. Curry, J. R., & Bickmore, D. (2012). School counselor induction and the importance of mattering. Professional School Counseling, 15,110–122.

Deil-Amen, R., & Tevis, T. L. (2010). Circumscribed agency: The relevance of standardized college entrance exams for low-SES high school students. The Review of Higher Education, 33, 141–175. doi:10.1353/rhe.0.0125

Denzin, N. (1989). Interpretive interactionism. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

DeVoss, J. A., & Andrews, M. F. (2006). School counselors as educational leaders. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Dodson, T. (2009). Advocacy and impact: A comparison of administrators’ perceptions of the high school counselor role. Professional School Counseling, 12, 480–487. doi:10.5330/PSC.n.2010-12.480

Engberg, M. E., & Gilbert, A. J. (2014). The counseling opportunity structure: Examining correlates of four-year college-going rates. Research in Higher Education, 55, 219–244. doi:10.1007/s11162-013-9309-4

Erford, B. T. (2010). Transforming the school counseling profession (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Foster, L. H., Young, J. S., & Hermann, M. (2005). The work activities of professional school counselors: Are the national standards being addressed? Professional School Counseling, 8, 313–321.

Gibbons, M. M., Borders, L. D., Wiles, M. E., Stephan, J. B., & Davis, P. E. (2006). Career and college planning needs of ninth graders—as reported by ninth graders. Professional School Counseling, 10, 168–178.

Green, A., & Keys, S. (2001). Expanding the developmental school counseling paradigm: Meeting the needs of the 21st century student. Professional School Counseling, 5, 84–95.

Hill, L. D. (2012). Environmental threats to college counseling strategies in urban high schools: Implications for student preparation for college transitions. The Urban Review, 44, 36–59. doi:10.1007/s11256-011-0181-2

Hines, P. L., & Lemons, R. W. (2011). Poised to lead: How school counselors can drive college and career readiness. Washington, DC: Education Trust.

Dugger, S. M., & Boshoven, J. B. (2010). Secondary and postsecondary educational planning. In B. T. Erford (Ed.), Professional school counseling: A handbook of theories, programs & practices (2nd ed., pp. 274–294). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Husserl, E. (1977). Phenomenological Psychology: Lectures, Summer Semester; 1925 (J. Scanlon, Trans.). The Hague, Netherlands: Nijhoff.

Johnson, J., Rochkind, J., & Ott, A. (2010). Why guidance counseling needs to change. Educational Leadership, 67(7), 74–79.

Martin, I., & Carey, J. C. (2012). Evaluation capacity within state-level school counseling programs: A cross-case analysis. Professional School Counseling, 15, 132–143.

Martin, I., Carey, J., & DeCoster, K. (2009). A national study of the current status of state school counseling models. Professional School Counseling, 12, 378–386.

Mason, E. C. M., & McMahon, H. G. (2009). Leadership practices of school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 13, 107–115.

McCroskey, M. L. (1997). Montana school counselors: A voice from the field (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Montana State University, Bozeman, MN.

McDonough, P. M. (2005). Counseling and college counseling in America’s high schools. In D.A. Hawkins & J. Lautz (Eds.), State of college admission (pp. 107–124). Alexandria, VA: National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

McMahon, H. G., Mason, E. C. M., & Paisley, P. O. (2009). School counselors as educational leaders promoting systemic change. Professional School Counseling, 13, 116–124.

Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Myrick, R. D. (1987). Developmental guidance and counseling: A practical approach. Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media.

Osborn, D. S., & Baggerly, J. N. (2004). School counselors’ perceptions of career counseling and career testing: Preferences, priorities, and predictors. Journal of Career Development, 31, 45–59. doi:10.1023/B:JOCD.0000036705.02911.df

Osborne, J. W. (1990). Some basic existential-phenomenological research methodology for counsellors. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 24, 79–91.

Paisley, P. O., & Milsom, A. (2007). Group work as an essential contribution to transforming school counseling. Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 32, 9–17. doi:10.1080/01933920600977465

Parsons, F. (1909). Choosing a vocation. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Perrone, K. M., Perrone, P. A., Chan, F., & Thomas, K. R. (2000). Assessing efficacy and importance of career counseling competencies. Career Development Quarterly, 48, 212–225. doi:10.1002/j.2161-0045.2000.tb00287.x

Pérusse, R., & Goodnough, G. E. (2005). Elementary and secondary school counselors’ perceptions of graduate preparation programs: A national study. Counselor Education & Supervision, 45, 109–118. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2005.tb00134.x

Pérusse, R., Goodnough, G. E., & Noel, C. J. (2001). Use of the national standards for school counseling programs in preparing school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 5, 49.

Reiner, S. M., Colbert, R. D., & Pérusse, R. (2009). Teacher perceptions of the professional school counselor role: A national study. Professional School Counseling, 12, 324­–332.

Scarborough, J. L., & Culbreth, J. R. (2008). Examining discrepancies between actual and preferred practice of school counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86, 446–459. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2008.tb00533.x

Sears, S. (1999). Transforming school counseling: Making a difference for students. NASSP Bulletin, 83(603), 47–53.

Somody, C., Henderson, P., Cook, K., & Zambrano, E. (2008). A working system of school counselor supervision. Professional School Counseling, 12, 22–33.

Success and opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, H.R. 10, 113th Cong. (2013–2014).

Walsh, M. E., Barrett, J. G., & DePaul, J. (2007). Day-to-day activities of school counselors: Alignment with new directions in the field and the ASCA National Model®. Professional School Counseling, 10, 370–378.

Wertz, F. J. (2005). Phenomenological research methods for counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 167–177. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.52.2.167

Wilkerson, K., Pérusse, R., & Hughes, A. (2013). Comprehensive school counseling programs and student achievement outcomes: A comparative analysis of RAMP versus non-RAMP schools. Professional School Counseling, 16, 172–184.

Zunker, V. G. (2012). Career counseling: A holistic approach (8th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.


Leann Wyrick Morgan is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Mary Ellen Greenwaldt is a family case worker for Licking County Job and Family Services, Children Services Division, in Newark, OH. Kevin P. Gosselin is an associate professor and assistant dean of research at Texas A&M Health Sciences Center. Correspondence can be addressed to Leann Wyrick Morgan, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, College of Education, 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway, Colorado Springs, CO 80918,

Understanding Military Culture: A Guide for Professional School Counselors

Rebekah F. Cole

School counselors must be knowledgeable about military culture in order to help military students and their families in a culturally competent manner. This article explores the nature of this unique culture, which is often unfamiliar to educators, including its language, hierarchy, sense of rules and regulations, self-expectations and self-sacrifice. Specific suggestions, such as professional development, self-examination and cultural immersion experiences, are provided so that professional school counselors can increase their multicultural competence when working with this population. Finally, a case study illustrates the challenges associated with this culture and implications for school counselors in regard to increasing cultural competence when working with military families are discussed. 

Keywords: military, school counselors, families, culture, cultural competence

The professional school counselor is called to be a culturally competent practitioner (Holcomb-McCoy & Chen-Hayes, 2011). The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) position statement on cultural diversity emphasizes that school counselors should work for the success of all students from all cultures (ASCA, 2009). Overall, school counselors should work to develop their self-awareness, knowledge and skills when it comes to working with students from diverse cultures (Remley & Herlihy, 2014).

While other cultures have been explored in-depth in the professional school counseling literature (Bradley, Johnson, Rawls, & Dodson-Sims, 2005; Byrd & Hays, 2012; Smith-Adcock, Daniels, Lee, Villalba, & Indelicato, 2006; Yeh, 2001), military culture has not. Military culture is often unfamiliar to educators (Atuel, Esqueda, & Jacobson, 2011) who encounter military students and their families regularly. Every school district in the United States has a child who is in some way connected with the military, and 80% of all military children attend public schools (Military Child Education Coalition, 2014). Therefore, it is essential for school counselors to be knowledgeable in navigating military culture in order to support military students and their family members in their schools (Luby, 2012; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014).

Overall, military culture is a unique one (Luby, 2012) that presents distinctive challenges for its service members and their family members (Brown & Lettieri, 2008; Gooddale, Abb, & Moyer, 2012). While the military itself can be viewed as a profession, the military extends into the service members’ personal realms as well, affecting everyday lifestyle as well as the lifestyle of family members (Cozza & Lerner, 2013).


Visible and Invisible Aspects of Culture

While strategies for working with military children and their families during deployments have been investigated in the professional literature (Allen & Staley, 2007; Cole, 2012; Robertson, 2007), this article explores military culture in order to help increase the school counselor’s knowledge and awareness. McAuliffe (2013), citing the metaphor of an iceberg, encouraged counselors to explore both the visible (above water) and invisible (below water) aspects of culture. Culture that is most easily observed by outsiders, like the tip of an iceberg above water, is considered surface culture (McAuliffe, 2013). Culture which is not observed by outsiders, like the larger part of the iceberg under the water, is considered either shallow culture or deep culture (McAuliffe, 2013). Shallow and deep culture correspond to more intense emotional experiences that may require extensive counseling services and support from the school counselor (The Iceberg Concept of Culture, n.d.; McAuliffe, 2013).

The present author seeks to inform the school counselor about the nature of surface, shallow and deep cultural aspects of the military and provide implications for school counselor practice. In order to fully describe the nature of military culture and its meaning for military students and their family members, this article begins with an exploration of the surface-level aspects of military culture (language, hierarchy, sense of rules and regulations) and then progressively explores the more emotionally intense shallow and deep aspects of military culture (self-expectations and self-sacrifice). Finally, this article presents a case study that illustrates a professional school counselor’s culturally competent approach to working with a military student.



The first area of military culture explored in this article is language, which is a visible, surface-level aspect of the military lifestyle. Encountering military culture has been compared to navigating a foreign country, with its language an important aspect of this navigation (Huebner, 2013; National Military Family Association, 2014). Each of the five military branches has its own set of terms and acronyms that relate to job title, position, location, services, time and resources for military service members and their families (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014). Each military branch also has its own set of moral codes (Kuehner, 2013) such as honor, courage and strength, which affect the service member’s personal and professional outlook (Luby, 2012). Learning and understanding the language embedded in military culture is essential for professional school counselors in order to remove any communication barriers between the school counselor and family members (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014).



Hierarchy is another important visible, surface-level cultural aspect of the military community. Rank and order are rigid in the military, with service members expected to show respect for and compliance with their superiors (Martins & Lopes, 2012). This authoritarian structure may be mimicked in the military family’s home life as well (Hall, 2008). Overall, a service member’s rank determines how much is earned financially (Huebner, 2013; Luby, 2012), how much education is provided, the level of access to resources (Hall, 2008) and the expected amount of responsibility (U.S. Department of Defense, 2014). The service member’s rank impacts the family members’ identity and sense of self, as the family identifies with their position in the military community (Drummet, Coleman, & Cable, 2003). School counselors should be aware that rank may influence not only the family’s economic level, but their stress level as well, as it may determine the length and frequency of the service member’s deployments (Luby, 2012).


Sense of Rules and Regulations

Moving deeper beyond the visible culture, military culture embodies a strong sense of rules and restrictions, as there are clearly defined rules and expectations for military service members and their families, including etiquette guidelines for spouses and children regarding dress, mannerisms and behavior in public (U.S. Army War College, 2011). Military families are directed where to live, when they can travel and with whom they can socialize. Additionally, higher ranking service members receive authority over the family’s personal life. For example, if a child is misbehaving in school or if the family is experiencing financial difficulties, the service member’s superiors may become involved (Gooddale et al., 2012). Failure to abide by rules and expectations may result in expulsion from the military (Kuehner, 2013).



Another invisible aspect of military culture on a more intense emotional level are the expectations that military service members and their families hold for themselves. Today’s military is a volunteer force, and service members freely join the military lifestyle (Hall, 2008). For these military members willingly serving their country, the concept of warrior ethos is prevalent in the military community, as both military members and family members take a sense of pride in their ability to overcome challenges on their own (Hall, 2008; Huebner, 2013). Military culture also promotes the notion of strength and emotional control (Halvorson, 2010), which in turn propels a fear of appearing weak (Huebner, 2013), especially in regard to mental health (Danish & Antonides, 2013; Dingfelder, 2009). School counselors should recognize that this pride may impede the military family members’ sense of comfort seeking assistance.



Imbedded deeper within military culture is the notion of self-sacrifice. Guided by the ideal that the individual is secondary to the unit (Hickman, n.d.), military family members face numerous deployments, relocations and separation from each other (Park, 2011). These challenges are expected and anticipated, as they are a constant reality for military families (Military One Source, 2014) in times of war and peace (Park, 2011). For example, the deployment cycle is continuous, affecting family members as they prepare for, experience and reunite after the deployment (Military One Source, 2014). In the midst of these challenges, over half of military family members have reported that they are satisfied with the military lifestyle (U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center, 2005), emphasizing their commitment to routinely facing and overcoming challenges.


Cultural Implications for School Counselors


Self-awareness is an important aspect of increasing one’s multicultural competence and knowledge (Holcomb-McCoy & Chen-Hayes, 2011; Remley & Herlihy, 2014). School counselors should first explore their own perceptions and experiences related to the military in order to become more aware of any biases or preconceptions that may affect their work with military families. Questions for reflection might include: What are my perceptions of war? What are my own political beliefs regarding the military and war? Who in my family has served in the military and what is my relationship like with this person.

Professional Development

Seeking ongoing education is essential for school counselors to become multiculturally knowledgeable and competent as they work with military students and their families (Holcomb-McCoy, 2005; Holcomb-McCoy & Chen-Hayes, 2011). This education might come in the form of workshops or seminars regarding best practices for working with military families (Holcomb-McCoy & Chen-Hayes, 2011). If these opportunities are not easily accessible, school counselors might utilize educational resources through organizations such as The National Military Family Association or Military Families United, or through webinars focused specifically on counseling knowledge and techniques related to working with military families (ASCA, 2014). School counselors should be familiar with current professional literature related to best practices in working with military families so that they can understand and adapt these practices in their work with military families (Holcomb-McCoy & Chen-Hayes, 2011).

Cultural Immersion

In order for a school counselor to learn more about the nature of military culture, especially in regard to its language, the counselor might more fully encounter the military community (Alexander, Kruczek, & Ponterotto, 2005; Díaz-Lázaro & Cohen, 2001). For example, the counselor could volunteer on a military base and interact with military families, thereby gaining a better understanding of the challenges they face related to their culture. The school counselor also might partner with a military organization such as a Fleet and Family Support Center or the United Service Organization in order to experience military culture and lifestyle. Finally, a school counselor could attend military ceremonies or events that are open to the public in order to experience the rituals and to hear the language associated with military culture.

Culturally Competent Practice

Having acquired knowledge of military culture, school counselors should focus on culturally relevant interventions for working with military family members. School counselors might capitalize on the collective, teamwork mindset of military family members and build partnerships with them to enhance their child’s success in school, working to break down resistance that the family may feel toward receiving counseling services and support (Bryan, 2005; Cole, 2012). Learning the military language and becoming familiar with the military’s visible and invisible cultural norms constitute an important aspect of unconditional positive regard and support. School counselors also should focus on the strengths of military families as they affirm their potential to overcome challenges in their daily lives (Myers & Sweeney, 2008). Culturally competent school counselors likewise work to promote the sense of self-efficacy in military students and family members, equipping them with the tools and resources they need to be successful academically, socially and emotionally (Zimmerman, 2000). Finally, school counselors should support military family members in their choice of and commitment to making sacrifices, providing them with needed emotional support as they work to overcome the challenges of the military lifestyle.

Case Study

The following case study provides an example of a military child who is struggling emotionally, socially and academically in a school setting. This student’s challenges reflect the stressors that military students and their families experience within military culture and lifestyle. Following the case study, the author will provide suggestions for how a professional school counselor might approach this student and his family in a culturally competent manner.

Justin was a 9-year-old elementary school student at Freedom Elementary School. This school was located next to a large military base and mainly served military students who lived in nearby base housing complexes. Justin’s father was in the Navy and had recently left for a 9-month deployment. Justin lived with his mother and two younger sisters, ages 2 and 3. Justin’s father was a high-ranking sailor who would be considered for promotion the next year. He had served in the Navy for 15 years and was eager to advance to a higher rank.

Justin’s teachers referred him to the school counselor because his grades had dropped. They reported that Justin appeared to become easily and visibly frustrated during math class, so much so that he often broke his pencil and began to cry. When Justin’s teachers tried to help him, he assured them that nothing was wrong and denied any feelings of anger or frustration. Justin’s teachers reported that socially, Justin was friendly with several of his classmates who lived in his neighborhood, but seemed aloof during lunchtime and recess. He preferred to work individually in the classroom and showed signs of resistance when assigned group tasks. Justin’s teachers contacted his mother, but she assured them that he was doing fine at home and would be “a good kid” at school as well.

When the school counselor invited Justin into her office to assess his situation, Justin proudly reported that his father had left him “in charge” of the family while he was away. Justin told her about his father’s ship and his important job in keeping the other sailors safe during the deployment. When the school counselor gently inquired about Justin’s frustration in the classroom, he stated that he wanted to do well in school to please his father, who expected him to receive good grades. When he did not know the answers to his math problems, he became angry with himself. Justin then asked the school counselor not to tell his mother about his feelings of frustration and anger because he did not want to “bother” her with his problems. He was accustomed to hearing her crying at night and sometimes slept with her so that she would not have to be alone. Justin also worried about appearing strong to his classmates, many of whom had parents who worked with and for his father.

A culturally competent school counselor should recognize several cultural factors affecting Justin’s well-being related to his family’s military lifestyle. First, even at this young age, Justin carried a strong sense of duty and self-sacrifice, seeing himself as a warrior in battle (Hickman, n.d.). Like many service members and their families, Justin also had high self-expectations (Halvorson, 2010), as he wanted to perform academically to please his father. Another military cultural factor affecting his well-being is that Justin seemed to resist help from his teachers, asserting his independence and attempting to demonstrate an appearance of wellness for his classmates and his mother, for whom he assumed emotional responsibility (Hall, 2008; Huebner, 2013). Even in the midst of these struggles, similar to other service members and their families who proudly persist in the midst of challenges, Justin professed pride in his father’s work and role in the military and hoped to see his father continue successfully in his career path (U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center, 2005).

After listening to Justin talk about his self-expectations and the emotional and social challenges he faced, the school counselor asked Justin if he would like to meet with her each week to talk more about these issues. The school counselor told Justin that she also would observe him in his classroom to check on his progress and to see how she can better help him. However, she would do so under the premise that she was observing the class as a whole, so that his classmates would be unaware of her true purpose there. She explained to Justin the tenet of confidentiality and how his classmates would be unaware that he was visiting her office on a regular basis (Linde, 2011). Justin seemed relieved at her suggestion and eagerly agreed to talk with her further.


Suggestions for School Counselors

When counseling Justin individually, using appropriate military terminology (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014), a professional school counselor should first work to build rapport in order to explore his feelings. As a military child, Justin should be affirmed and thanked for his role in his father’s deployment and his efforts to comfort his mother.

In order to address his difficulties in the classroom, the school counselor can equip Justin with anger management or self-soothing techniques to use when frustrated. In addition, the school counselor can focus on increasing Justin’s leadership qualities and abilities, which are a key aspect of military culture. This focus on leadership development has been found to help in building anger management skills and behavioral self-efficacy in children and adolescents (Burt, Patel, & Lewis, 2012). In order to further decrease his frustration in the classroom, the school counselor can provide areas of academic support for Justin, such as a tutor in the community (Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2007). The school counselor should finally explore Justin’s feelings of missing his father as the family progresses through the stages of deployment, as well as his feelings of worry about his mother (Cole, 2012). Throughout these conversations, the school counselor can show respect for the military ideals that Justin professes, encouraging him to hold reasonable self-expectations and to take pride in his desire to succeed in school.

The school counselor also can partner with Justin’s mother during the deployment. Affirming her strengths and the warrior ethos that she too may carry, the school counselor might offer Justin’s mother support in terms of resources in the community that she might find helpful during this time (Bryan, 2005). After building rapport with her, the school counselor can encourage the mother to seek individual counseling or support groups to help with any emotional issues related to the absence of her husband, explaining the importance of her social and emotional functioning to the social and emotional functioning of her children (Chandra et al., 2010; Gibbs, Martin, Kupper, & Johnson, 2007). If Justin’s mother expresses concerns over confidentiality and fears endangering her husband’s upcoming promotion due to the appearance of weakness within the family, a common concern in the military community, the school counselor can work with Justin’s mother to find resources outside the military community or in a geographically remote area (Danish & Antonides, 2013; Dingfelder, 2009).

In addition to supporting her emotionally, the school counselor might consider empowering Justin’s mother’s role as a parent as she cares for her young children during the deployment. She might educate Justin’s mother on the stages of deployment and how she might best help her children move through each of these stages (Cole, 2012). Finally, the school counselor might encourage and facilitate open communication between Justin and his mother so that they can express their feelings to one another. Justin’s mother should be aware of his struggles so that she can work to support him during the time of separation from his father (Dollarhide & Saginak, 2012).



As seen in Justin’s case, a great need exists for culturally competent school counselors to support our military families (Brown & Lettieri, 2008; Gooddale et al., 2012). School counselors should be knowledgeable about military culture so that they can successfully support military families in overcoming the challenges that they face (Luby, 2012; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014). Once school counselors are able to understand and navigate this unique culture, both the visible and invisible aspects, they will heed the call of providing equitable services to all students and their families (ASCA, 2009).



Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of  interest or funding contributions for the development of this manuscript.




Alexander, C. M., Kruczek, T., & Ponterotto, J. G. (2005). Building multicultural competencies in school counselor trainees: An international immersion experience. Counselor Education and Supervision, 44, 255–266. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2005.tb01754.x

Allen, M., & Staley, L. (2007). Helping children cope when a loved one is on military deployment. Young Children, 62, 82–87.

American School Counselor Association. (2009). The professional counselor and cultural diversity. Retrieved from

American School Counselor Association. (2014). Online professional development. Retrieved from

Atuel, H. R., Esqueda, M. C., & Jacobson, L. (2011). The military child within the public school system. Policy Brief. Retrieved from

Bradley, C., Johnson, P., Rawls, G., & Dodson-Sims, A. (2005). School counselors collaborating with African American parents. Professional School Counseling, 8, 424–427.

Brown, M., & Lettieri, C. (2008). State policymakers: Military families. Retrieved from

Bryan, J. (2005). Fostering educational resilience and achievement in urban schools through school-family-community partnerships. Professional School Counseling, 8, 219–228.

Bryan, J., & Holcomb-McCoy, C. (2007). An examination of school counselor involvement in school-family-community partnerships. Professional School Counseling, 10, 441–454.

Burt, I., Patel, S. H., & Lewis, S. V. (2012). Anger management leadership groups: A creative intervention for increasing relational and social competencies with aggressive youth. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 7, 249–261. doi:10.1080/15401383.2012.710168

Byrd, R., & Hays, D. G. (2012). School counselor competency and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Journal of School Counseling, 10(3). Retrieved from

Chandra, A., Lara-Cinisomo, S., Jaycox, L. H., Tanielian, T., Burns, R. M., Ruder, T., & Han, B. (2010). Children on the homefront: The experience of children from military families. Pediatrics, 125, 16–25. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-1180

Cole, R. F. (2012). Professional school counselors’ role in partnering with military families during the stages of deployment. Journal of School Counseling, 10(7). Retrieved from

Cozza, S. J., & Lerner, R. M. (2013). Military children and families: Introducing the issue. Military Children and Families, 23(2), 3–11.

Danish, S. J., & Antonides, B. J. (2013). The challenges of reintegration for service members and their families. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83, 550–558. doi:10.1111/ajop.12054

Díaz-Lázaro, C. M., & Cohen, B. B. (2001). Cross-cultural contact in counseling training. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 29, 41–56. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1912.2001.tb00502.x

Dingfelder, S. F. (2009). The military’s war on stigma. Retrieved from

Dollarhide, C. T., & Saginak, K. A. (2012). Comprehensive school counseling programs: K–12 delivery systems in action (2nded.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Drummet, A. R., Coleman, M., & Cable, S. (2003). Military families under stress: Implications for family life education. Family Relations, 52, 279–287. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2003.00279.x

Gibbs, D. A., Martin, S. L., Kupper, L. L., & Johnson, R. E. (2007). Child maltreatment in enlisted soldiers’ families during combat-related deployments. Journal of the American Medical Association, 298, 528–535. doi:10.1001/jama.298.5.528

Gooddale, R., Abb, W. R., & Moyer, B. A. (2012). Military culture 101: Not one culture, but many cultures. Retrieved from

Hall, L. K. (2008). Counseling military families: What mental health professionals need to know. New York, NY: Routledge.

Halvorson, A. (2010). Understanding the military: The institution, the culture, and the people. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from

Hickman, G. D. (n.d.). Military culture and the culture of warriors: From Vietnam to Afghanistan. Retrieved from

Holcomb-McCoy, C. C. (2005). Investigating school counselors’ perceived multicultural competence. Professional School Counseling, 8, 414–423.

Holcomb-McCoy, C., & Chen-Hayes, S. F. (2011). Culturally competent school counselors: Affirming diversity by challenging oppression. In B. T. Erford (Ed.), Transforming the school counseling profession (3rd ed., pp. 222–244). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Huebner, A. J. (2013). Advice to the therapists working with military families. National Council on Family Relations. Retrieved from

The iceberg concept of culture. (n.d.). Retrieved from In G. McAuliffe (Ed.), Culturally alert counseling: A comprehensive introduction (2nd ed., pp. 25–44). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kuehner, C. A. (2013). My military: A Navy nurse practitioner’s perspective on military culture and joining forces for veteran health. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 25, 77–83. doi:10.1111/j.1745-7599.2012.00810.x

Linde, L. (2011). Ethical, legal, and professional issues in school counseling. In B. T. Erford (Ed.), Transforming the school counseling profession (3rd ed., pp. 70–89). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Luby, C. D. (2012). Promoting military cultural awareness in an off-post community of behavioral health and social support service providers. Advances in Social Work, 13, 67–82.

Martins, L. C. X., & Lopes, C. S. (2012). Military hierarchy, job stress and mental health in peacetime. Occupational Medicine, 62, 182–187. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqs006

McAuliffe, G. (2013). Culture: Clarifications and complications. In G. McAuliffe (Ed.), Culturally alert counseling: A comprehensive introduction (2nd ed., pp. 25–44). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Military Child Education Coalition. (2014). Guiding principles for preparing educators to meet the needs of military-connected students. Retrieved from

Military One Source. (2014). Military deployment guide. Retrieved from

Myers, J. E., & Sweeney, T. J. (2008). Wellness counseling: The evidence base for practice. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86, 482–493. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2008.tb00536.x

National Military Family Association. (2014). Get info. Retrieved from

Park, N. (2011). Military children and families: Strengths and challenges during peace and war. American Psychologist, 66, 65–72. doi:10.1037/a0021249

Remley, T. P., Jr., & Herlihy, B. P. (2014). Ethical, legal, and professional issues in counseling (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Robertson, R. (2007). Supporting children and families throughout military deployment. Exchange: The Early Childhood Leaders’ Magazine, 178, 88–91.

Smith-Adcock, S., Daniels, M. H., Lee, S. M., Villalba, J. A., & Indelicato, N. A. (2006). Culturally responsive school counseling for Hispanic/Latino students and families: The need for bilingual school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 10, 92–101.

U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center. (2005). Highlights: Survey of Army families V. Retrieved from

U.S. Army War College. (2011). Basics from the barracks: Military etiquette and protocol. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Defense. (2014). Rank insignia. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2014). Understanding military culture. Retrieved from

Yeh, C. J. (2001). An exploratory study of school counselors’ experiences with and perceptions of Asian-American students. Professional School Counseling, 4, 349–56.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Self-efficacy: An essential motive to learn. Contemporary Educational Philosophy, 25, 82–91. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1016


Rebekah F. Cole, NCC, is a core faculty member in the school counseling program at Capella University. Correspondence may be addressed to PSC 809 Box 2515 FPO, AE 09626-0026,

Group Counseling with South Asian Immigrant High School Girls: Reflections and Commentary of a Group Facilitator

Ulash Thakore-Dunlap, Patricia Van Velsor

The diversity of the U.S. school population speaks to a need to provide support for youth from various backgrounds. As a school-based mental health counselor, the first author observed that the South Asian immigrant students at her school did not utilize any of the counseling services provided. Because South Asians are typically collectivistic, the counselor chose group counseling as a potential intervention and hoped to provide a place for the students to address issues related to orienting to a new school in a new country. In this article, the authors weave information about the South Asian population into the first author’s reflections and commentary on initiating and conducting a group with South Asian high school girls. Recommendations for group counseling in schools with South Asian immigrants are provided.

Keywords: South Asian, immigrant, youth, schools, group counseling


The United States has seen a marked increase in the number of children who have at least one parent born outside the United States (Capps et al., 2005). Between 1995 and 2012, the population of first- and second-generation immigrant children in the United States increased by 66% (Child Trends Data Bank, 2013). This sharp rise is important for American cities because 95% of all children of immigrants attend urban schools (Fix & Capps, 2005). Furthermore, according to a recent update from the Asian American Federation and South Asian Americans Leading Together (2012), the South Asian American population was the fastest growing major ethnic group in the United States from 2000–2010. Relationship building is part of acclimatizing to a new country for immigrant youth, and it is in the schools that these youth build new friendships and create social networks (Suárez-Orozco, Suárez-Orozco, & Todorova, 2008). For South Asian youth in American schools, group counseling can provide a setting for students to connect to others who share similar stories and experiences. Groups can offer a safe place for them to discuss their cultural norms, exchange stories of challenges and hope, and enhance their social development in a new country as they form emerging adult identities.


As a school-based mental health counselor in a public urban high school on the northern California coast, the first author’s responsibility is to provide overall behavioral health support through assessments, counseling (short- and long-term, individual, group, crisis), staff and teacher consultations, and presentations on mental health issues to students, parents and teachers. When two South Asian students were referred for individual counseling, the first author wondered if other South Asian students might be experiencing challenges associated with adjusting to a new school in a new country. She also was personally aware of difficulties associated with identity development for adolescents negotiating different home and school cultures. She decided that counseling focused on prevention of problems related to acculturation and identity could be helpful to the South Asian students in her school. Because the South Asian collectivistic orientation is consistent with the goals of group counseling (Sharma, 2001), she chose this approach. As a South Asian herself, the first author believed that her understanding of South Asian culture could contribute to her effectiveness as facilitator of a group with this population. Thus, the first author developed a simple strategy for recruitment and set out to create a group for South Asian immigrant high school students.


Although in many cases the first author’s expectations about the group were met, she also confronted surprises and challenges. This article is the result of discussions with the second author in which the first author shared her reflections and commentary on the facilitation of students’ exploration of issues in the group. The goal is to impart the first author’s personal knowledge and perceptions, so that counselors working with South Asian youth may consider how her experience might inform their group work with this population. A secondary goal is to inspire other counselors to find ways to meet the needs of immigrant youth in their own schools and clinics through group counseling. A very brief overview of South Asian culture will provide a context for understanding these reflections.


South Asian Culture


This section provides information about South Asian culture as it relates to the first author’s personal experience facilitating a group with South Asian immigrant girls; the authors do not intend stereotypical representation of South Asian adolescents or their families. The girls with whom the first author worked had both similarities and differences based on their cultural backgrounds, level of acculturation and individual personalities.


The term South Asian is used to describe people of various religions and nationalities who trace their cultural origins to the Indian subcontinent (Assanand, Dias, Richardson, & Waxler-Morrison, 1990; Ibrahim, Ohnishi, & Sandhu, 1997). Countries of South Asia include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (The World Bank, 2011). According to 2010 estimates (Pew Research Center, 2012), the majority of South Asians practice Hinduism or Islam, but there also are South Asians who practice Buddhism (the majority religion in Bhutan and Sri Lanka), Christianity or other religions. Overall, there is great diversity within this population with regard to religious affiliation, language, immigration history, socioeconomic status and education (Inman & Tewari, 2003). Despite their differences, South Asians generally share some common characteristics including customs, values, family expectations and beliefs that relate to mental health (Maker, Mittal, & Rastogi, 2005). Specific values include formality in interpersonal relationships, inhibition of strong feelings, respect of elders, primary allegiance to the family and deep respect for religion (Kim, Atkinson, & Yang, 1999).


Unlike other Asian American groups, South Asian immigrants have not been studied by social scientists to any appreciable degree (Maker et al., 2005). Existing research on South Asian individuals and counseling suggests that South Asian Americans have neutral or positive perceptions of mental health care, but infrequently use mental health services (Panganamala & Plummer; 1998; Sue & Sue, 2008). This reality may be due to South Asians’ lack of awareness of available services, cultural and language barriers, or fear of confidentiality breaches. Another reason for this infrequent use of mental health services may relate to the South Asian belief that disclosing mental problems or mental illness brings shame and stigma to the entire family (Atkinson, 2004). Moreover, research suggests that South Asians are likely to make external attributions and spiritualize emotional problems while emphasizing somatic complaints and academic or career concerns (Sandhu & Madathil, 2007). The first author used her personal understanding of South Asian culture to help inform recruitment and facilitation of the group.

Recruiting Participants for the Group


Recruiting immigrant and minority populations for counseling services involves providing an accessible service delivery location (Yuen, 1999). Recommended approaches for attracting group members include advertisements (e.g., hallways posters), referral networks (e.g., teachers) and announcements (e.g., classroom presentations; Gladding, 2008; Kline, 2003). The first author decided to take a straightforward approach by putting up posters and flyers around the school—in hallways and homerooms, and on bulletin boards. Because it was important to use language that lacked stigmatization, she carefully planned the posters. She used a term familiar to South Asians, Desi, which describes individuals who identify themselves as South Asian or with South Asian culture (e.g., music, traditions, films, food). The flyers read, “Come and meet other Desi’s in the school! Want to learn more? Come to room 200.” That approach, however, proved ineffective; after two months not a single student had inquired about the group. Next she asked teachers for referrals, approached the identified students during their homeroom period and described the group. Again, she used terms such as support group, sharing, confidential place and time to meet others in lieu of the more stigmatized language of mental health counseling. Although most students showed interest, they communicated skepticism about joining a group.


Refusing to give up, she pondered Yuen and Nakano-Matsumoto’s (1998) suggestion highlighting the importance of finding an appropriate point of entry for recruiting immigrant populations. She walked around campus targeting the places where South Asians congregated during passing hall periods and lunchtimes. She introduced herself, discussed her role at the school, disclosed her own ethnic identity as a South Asian and invited students to drop by her office at lunchtime. After an entire semester of drop-in encounters, a group of girls agreed to participate and the idea of a group for South Asian students became a reality.


Background of the Group Facilitator and Participants

When contemplating recruitment for the group, the first author believed that her background would be advantageous. Born in London, England, she was raised in an Asian Indian family; she speaks Hindi and Gujerati (Asian Indian languages) in addition to English. It seemed intuitive that her commonalities of background and language with the students would facilitate initial recruitment as well as rapport building. (As she learned, however, this was only partially true).


The group participants were first-generation immigrants, born outside the United States, or second-generation immigrants, born in the United States. All group members identified culturally as South Asian, but came from different countries in South Asia. They shared similar customs, food, clothing and popular culture (film and music). However, because the students’ home countries were different, the students spoke various languages. Moreover, as the group progressed, distinct cultural traditions (e.g., age of marriage) and values (e.g., definitions of beauty) emerged, along with differences in the girls’ perspectives on those beliefs and values. As the authors describe the first author’s reflections of the group, they carefully maintain the anonymity of the girls’ disclosures and share only overall themes and activities in the context of South Asian culture in general.


Reflections on Facilitating the Group


When the first author chose group work for the South Asian girls, she identified the counseling group as the most appropriate type of group. The counseling group utilizes members’ interactive feedback and support to help address problems of living, which may be related to transitions or development (Corey, Corey, & Corey, 2010). For adolescent immigrant students, these everyday problems often involve the challenges of adjusting to a new culture and developing a cultural identity (Ahmad-Stout & Nath, 2013; Shariff, 2009). The first author sought to provide a safe place for the South Asian girls to explore these issues of acculturation and identity. She presented topics at each session designed to encourage this exploration.


The first author’s approach to counseling this group was integrative; she borrowed concepts from relational-cultural theory as well as multicultural counseling. Relational-cultural theory is based on the idea that psychological growth takes place in the context of relationships characterized by empathy, mutuality and empowerment (Comstock et al., 2008; Jordan, 2000). Multicultural counselors also promote empowerment by helping clients develop strategies for exercising control in their lives (Crethar, Rivera, & Nash, 2008; Toporek, Lewis, & Crethar, 2009). Based on these concepts, the first author’s goal was to provide a safe space in which the South Asian girls could build mutually supportive relationships and where she could help promote the girls’ self-confidence as South Asian females.


Consistent with the beginning stage of a group, the members were initially reluctant to disclose information (Corey et al., 2010). Despite the first author’s similarity in background to the South Asian girls in her school, it still took time for them to perceive her as a safe person with whom they could share. She allowed time to build rapport and trust to aid the girls in overcoming their reluctance about help seeking. Openly discussing the expectations and goals of the group was helpful in creating safety and served to ease student anxieties about committing to a weekly group. The first author clearly laid out group expectations in the first session, invited input from all group members and highlighted confidentiality. Although members initially avoided sharing personal experiences about family, boyfriends and sexuality, two girls were very vocal about less intimate issues. After approximately 12 sessions (halfway through the group), there was a noticeable shift as all members began to disclose their experiences. At this point, the level of trust in the group allowed the girls to explore issues at a deeper level, which is one characteristic of a working stage (Corey et al., 2010). Two outcomes of the group suggested movement toward the relational-cultural theory and multicultural counseling goals of relationship building and empowerment. About midway through the group, the girls began socializing at school; and later, toward the end of the group, they continued to build relationships by spending time at each other’s homes. Additionally, the girls’ confidence showed at termination when they asked to form their own South Asian group, which the first author helped them create.


The topics presented for discussion in the group involved asking the girls to answer a list of questions that the first author formulated: “What does it mean to be a South Asian female in our school?,” “What is it like to navigate dissimilar home and school cultures?,” “What gender messages do you receive as a South Asian girl?” and “How do media messages shape your identity as a South Asian female?” The following discussion provides additional information about South Asian culture as a backdrop for the first author’s reflections on the girls’ exploration of these topics.


South Asian Lifestyle in a U.S. School


Asian Indian immigrants in Western cultures often continue to base their lifestyle on traditional values, beliefs and expectations (Farver, Bhadha, & Narang, 2002). This includes unwritten rules, such as respecting adults, so adults do not tolerate rude or disrespectful speech from children. South Asian girls must heed strict family rules regarding girls’ roles (which may include caring for younger siblings), respect for elders and male members of the family, and choices related to school and college. For example, family rules often prohibit dating, having male friends and being out after school. In group sessions, these topics permeated the discussion, as expected.


Also guiding South Asian lifestyle is collectivism. South Asian girls are taught to respect the importance of community as part of what it means to be South Asian. In the context of the group and their collectivistic orientation, it was especially important for the girls to feel connected and understood by the other girls. Sharing enjoyment of similar foods (e.g., roti, samosas), conversing in English and Hindi, and exploring what it is like to be a South Asian girl in the United States created a sense of group cohesion. This cohesion established an environment in which the girls could feel emotionally supported and empowered in an unfamiliar school environment.


Despite the apparent safety of the group environment, however, the first author noticed that the girls were sensitive to feedback and needed to consult with each other on decisions (e.g., what school clubs to join). The power of group decision making became significant in the group. When the first author initially asked for individual opinions (i.e., “What do you think?”), the girls were reticent. This restraint reminded the first author of her own upbringing, in which older members of the family made decisions jointly, and the message she internalized was that she was not supposed to offer a viewpoint. The first author felt an urge to overcome any sensitivity a girl might have to rejection or shame due to expressing ideas different from those of other group members. She found herself helping the girls to express their own thoughts and opinions, even if they differed from those of the other girls. When the first author explained that the group was a place to express thoughts and feelings that they were unable to express at home, many of the girls began to open up.


South Asian Girls’ Challenges in Negotiating Dissimilar Cultures

The dialogue around navigating home and school cultures was not surprising. The first author expected identity development to be a major issue, along with struggles to integrate South Asian cultural identity with mainstream American norms, expectations and culture. Facilitating the group brought up memories of negotiating home and school cultures in the first author’s own adolescence in London. As an Indian/South Asian in an urban high school that was over 90% Caucasian, she often felt different from others not only in terms of physical appearance (e.g., skin and hair color), but also because of family cultural activities. She felt embarrassed explaining her Indian/South Asian cultural beliefs and values to peers. Her role as a teenager was to follow family rules, respect elders and play a traditional female role (e.g., learning to cook, taking care of siblings). Her non-Asian school friends could not understand this cultural dilemma or the cultural restrictions placed on her behaviors (e.g., not going out after school). She was forced to adopt a dual identity—at home, the traditional Indian/South Asian girl, and at school, a more stereotypically British teenager. The girls’ dilemmas mirrored the first author’s experience as a teenager and she was able to understand their disclosures in a personal way. She was sometimes viewed as didi (“sister” in Hindi). It seemed advantageous to be perceived as a family member, yet this was only partially true (and explained later).


Within the context of navigating two cultures, the theme of academics came up frequently. Because a primary motivation for the immigration of South Asian parents is educational opportunity, high aspirations for their children are common (Ghuman, 2003). It did not surprise the first author that the girls had internalized messages from parents and put pressure on themselves to succeed in school. However, South Asian immigrant youth have an added pressure that stems from the fact that they must contend with schools that differ from those in their native countries. Immigrant students may come from South Asian schools that have very strict rules with rigid guidelines regarding teacher–student interaction, but they must adapt to the less formal educational approach in U.S. high schools. U.S. teachers often encourage students to express their thoughts and feelings, while South Asian parents instill in their children that openly expressing their opinions to adults shows disrespect. The first author supported the education of the girls in their U.S. school by helping them build self-confidence in expressing their viewpoints. She initiated discussion about ways for the girls to voice their opinions in the classroom to help them succeed in U.S. schools and provided an opportunity for them to practice these strategies.


In addition to these internal struggles, attempting to fit into a mainstream American school often comes with other costs for a South Asian girl. Because of the differences between Western and South Asian traditional value systems, adolescence can be a difficult time for South Asian immigrant families (Ranganath & Ranganath, 1997). An exacerbating factor borne out in research is that “children of immigrants adapt more quickly to the new culture than do their parents” (Farver et al., 2002, p. 13). These circumstances can create conflicts with parents around issues such as choice of friendships, dating and education. South Asian immigrant girls may observe their mainstream American peers having different adolescent experiences (e.g., spending time with boys) and may want to have the same experiences. In doing so, or even considering doing so, they may deal with anxiety and helplessness as well as fears of parents finding out. Although the girls’ dilemmas were similar to those in the first author’s experience as an adolescent, she was nonplussed at times by the depth of the struggles of the first-generation girls in negotiating the two cultures. As a second-generation South Asian, the first author was born and raised in London. In contrast, many of these girls were born in their home countries and immigrated to the United States, some of them as teenagers. Thus, the first author was sometimes challenged to grasp their difficulties in comprehending American culture, and she had to work assiduously to facilitate their understanding of foreign ideas and practices. She was sometimes unnerved by the intensity of the girls’ internal struggles to process the conflicts between the values and beliefs of their home and school cultures. Therefore, she realized the critical importance of giving careful attention to providing a nonjudgmental space for the expression of the girls’ frustrations related to these differences.


Gender Messages Received by South Asian Girls

Within traditional societies such as India, there are different expectations for male and female behavior (Farver et al., 2002). In traditional South Asian families, males are permitted greater independence, personal autonomy and educational opportunities, whereas females are restrained (Dasgupta, 1998; Ghuman, 1997). For example, females are expected to perform household chores and take care of younger siblings, while boys are allowed more freedom (e.g., going out after school). According to Ghuman (2003), South Asian families in the West also tend to be more lenient with boys, even overlooking breaking of social and family rules, precipitating distress for many South Asian girls. In particular, exposure to mainstream American culture may further increase girls’ distress in response to South Asian culture’s seemingly unfair expectations of girls and boys. Girls may feel overprotected by their parents, inferior to their male counterparts and envious of American-born South Asian girls who follow less traditional roles. It is important to remember, however, that there is variation in the messages that South Asian youth receive depending on a number of factors including socioeconomic status. In her middle-class family, the first author was socialized on how to behave (e.g., what to say, how to dress) as a female in order to obtain a husband. Coming from a high Hindu caste family, however, afforded more privileges such as access to education and social connections, which can result in opportunities outside the home.


Media Messages and South Asian Girls’ Identity Development


Youth often look to role models in identity development, and there are few South Asian public figures and role models in the media to whom South Asian youth can relate. Research in which Asian American children reported admiring Black figures first and White figures next (entirely overlooking Asian and Latino figures) supports this idea (Cortés as cited in Aoki & Mio, 2009). In the group, the first author helped the girls examine how South Asians are viewed in American media and discussed Bollywood (i.e., Indian film industry) movies, which present current Hindi film stars. In the film Om Shanti Om (Khan & Khan, 2007) the heroine, Shanti, is a beautiful, tall, slender Indian woman who has an unfulfilled relationship with a man because of her parents’ disapproval. Role models such as Shanti represent beauty in South Asian culture, and exposure to standards of beauty that differ from Western beauty ideals is helpful for young South Asian females’ self-image. Additionally, however, South Asian girls need exposure to a broader range of role models to enhance their development. Currently, there are many successful South Asian American individuals who integrate South Asian and American identities in the worlds of academia, business, entertainment, politics, media and the sciences, and the first author deemed it important to expose the girls to the accomplishments of these people. An array of examples includes Sri Srinivasan (judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit), Anita Desai (novelist), Sanjay Gupta (neurosurgeon & CNN chief medical correspondent) and Norah Jones (singer). The author’s hope was that exposure to this diverse range of role models might motivate the girls to explore different careers and inspire them to consider nontraditional career tracks. Moreover, a future goal was to bring in local South Asian role models from the surrounding community.


South Asian youth also draw from traditional Hindi music to shape their identity and represent a sort of new ethnicity (Dawson, 2005). In the group, listening to traditional South Asian music supported the South Asian girls’ roots, and listening to music such as Indian music with hip-hop and rap fusion represented a blending of the girls’ American and South Asian cultural identities. Sharing music provided a sense of group connectedness, while analyzing lyrics led to fruitful discussions about characteristic gender themes related to being South Asian.


 Common Adolescent Issues Among South Asian Immigrants


In addition to the previous topics, the group discussed other issues that are typically important to adolescents. Though South Asian girls tend not to date and often struggle to follow rigid and unyielding norms around relationships (Ayyub, 2000; Durham, 2004), immigrant girls in American schools may want to explore the topic of dating and relationships. In the first author’s experience, some South Asian girls may never date, while others may simply refrain from informing their parents that they are involved in relationships. Fear of being caught by parents, family members and friends may precipitate girls’ avoidance of dating or permeate the experiences of girls who date.


Related to dating is the topic of ideal partners for relationships. South Asian girls from traditional families are expected to marry a person from the same cultural background (Bhatia & Ram, 2004). For example, families would not accept a union between a Pakistani girl and an Indian boy, even though both individuals are South Asian. For some girls, even thoughts of relationships with boys from different cultural backgrounds may result in sentiments about conflict as well as feelings of shame and guilt about disrespecting the family. Having a space in a school group to discuss these feelings was particularly important because South Asian girls often cannot discuss these topics with family members; and even girls who have no desire to be in a relationship in high school may be curious about such topics. The first author presented the topic of what relationships might look like for the girls in a South Asian community as well as what relationships might look like for their non-South Asian peers. She wondered about the value of disclosing that her spouse was non-South Asian, and decided to do so to address the girls’ curiosity about her non-South Asian last name. This information provided a space for the girls to process fantasies they might have about marrying a non-South Asian or someone outside their identified community.


Recommendations for Counseling Practice


From reflections and discussion of the group experience, the authors have developed recommendations for counselors serving South Asian girls in their schools. A primary component in this group counseling experience is the provision of a safe space within which South Asian students can discuss salient issues with other South Asian youth. Equally important, as authors (e.g., Shariff, 2009; Sue & Sue, 2008) have explained, is the counselor’s ability to employ culturally appropriate helping skills and interventions. Counselors must pair these skills and interventions with knowledge of topics that are relevant to the particular youth they are serving. Because identity development is a significant issue for adolescents in general and a more challenging task for South Asian girls who must straddle two cultures, it is critical to focus on this issue.


Creating A Safe Space at School

A primary goal of a group for South Asian girls is to provide a space for them to interact with students from similar backgrounds. Due to size of the student population and variety of schedules in urban schools, it may prove difficult for South Asian adolescents to connect with each other in classes. Moreover, cultural mores may make it prohibitive to meet other students after school, excluding another avenue for interaction. Therefore, group counseling offers a social sphere for interaction, but must of course be a safe space. Moreover, as Chung (2004) explains, a focus on confidentiality is critical in working with any Asian American group because disclosing family matters to outsiders is frowned upon.


Providing a safe psychological space depends not only on sensitive recruitment and open communication, but also on the counselor’s ability to analyze personal racial/ethnic beliefs and values in relation to those of South Asians. As part of this self-examination, non-South Asian counselors must explore any preconceived notions based on the portrayal of South Asians in the American media. Additionally, White European-American counselors who seek to develop groups with South Asian youth must carefully and continually explore their willingness to confront their level of privilege. In a study of graduate students in clinical psychology and social work, findings showed a correlation between White privilege attitudes and multicultural counseling competencies (Mindrup, Spray, & Lamberghini-West, 2011). Counselors committed to working with South Asian immigrants should be ready to accept responsibility for change at not only the personal level to better meet the needs of South Asian students in group counseling, but also at the institutional (i.e., school) level to enhance the experience of South Asian students in the school.


Counselors can broaden their knowledge of the South Asian culture by reading as well as watching films about South Asian life. Some recommended films for counselors include The Namesake (Pilcher & Nair, 2006) and Monsoon Wedding (Baron & Nair, 2001). Suggested books are Brick Lane: A Novel (Ali, 2004), Fasting, Feasting (Desai, 1999) and Indivisible (Banerjee, Kaipa, & Sundaralingam, 2010), an anthology of South Asian American poets who trace their roots to Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Another way to learn is by going to a South Asian neighborhood and immersing oneself. The counselor might observe the interactions between parents and their children, as well as how teens interact among their peer groups. Familiarity with the latest fashion trends in clothes, food, music and films can further help counselors to understand the commonalities and differences within the South Asian population, and in particular with South Asian adolescents. Moreover, community leaders can serve as valuable resources in understanding Asian American populations (Chung, 2004). For example, counselors can build relationships with persons who run community centers and organizations that serve South Asians or with faith-based leaders in the South Asian community.


Counselors who are South Asian may have an easier experience initiating a South Asian group. However, it seems important for the first author to share an observation she has made in her 13 years of working with South Asian students: First-generation students have been more likely to seek her out than to approach her non-South Asian colleagues. However, as students have become more acculturated to mainstream American schools, they seem to be more wary of this student–counselor shared ethnic background. Some students have disclosed concerns about possible connections with the South Asian community in which they live (e.g.,“Will you tell my auntie about my activities?”). In those instances, the students seem to seek out counselors who are not South Asian. (Although this cannot be generalized to all South Asian populations, it suggests an interesting area for exploration).


Creating Culturally Appropriate Counseling Interventions

The importance of knowing the backgrounds of the particular members of a group in order to design culturally appropriate interventions cannot be overstated. As many authors have asserted, not all Asians are alike (e.g., DeLucia-Waack & Donigian, 2004; Sue & Sue, 2008), and within-group differences among Asian groups is often overlooked (Sandhu, 2004). This idea holds true for South Asians who may come from a variety of different countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. In addition to within-group differences, counselors must consider each adolescent’s level of acculturation when identifying counseling strategies.


When designing interventions for group counseling, counselors may look to focus on individual disclosure, individuation and autonomy, and direct types of communication (e.g., confrontation; Corey et al., 2010)—ideals based firmly in Western culture. These goals, however, might not apply to Asians who value humility and modesty (rather than open sharing) as well as group harmony (instead of individual goals), and who might be uncomfortable with direct communication (Chung, 2004; Sue & Sue, 2008). In light of this situation, there are several issues that the counselor must keep in mind when designing interventions.


     Personal disclosure. Even within a safe environment, South Asian students may still exhibit a disinclination to share personal information. Counselors can model disclosure by sharing their own family experiences, which can prove beneficial in getting youth comfortable and involved in a group (Sandhu, 2004). However, it is still important that counselors are sensitive to any member’s reluctance (communicated either verbally or nonverbally) to disclose, especially because of the cultural value of respect for authority figures (i.e., the counselor), which could precipitate member disclosure and subsequent shame over exposing family information.


     Goal setting. Individual goal setting is consistent with Western culture and is often encouraged in group counseling literature (Corey et al., 2010; Gladding, 2008). Because of their collective orientation, South Asians may be reluctant to set individual goals and may want to focus on group goals. Potential goals may involve achieving academic success, exploring family pressures, examining gender roles and discussing taboo topics such as sexuality. The counselor must not, however, overlook a member’s desire to set individual goals. (Over time, certain members in this South Asian girls’ group did set personal goals.)


     Direct leadership. Asians’ values related to respect for adults/elders and authority figures (DeLucia-Waack & Donigian, 2004) suggest that a direct leadership role within a structured group format might work best. Initially, the first author provided a structure for the group sessions using expressive art media through which the girls could explore. For example, having the girls create individual collages from magazine cuttings helped them to share about their lives (e.g., favorite foods, clothing, places), and using South Asian and non-South Asian films and books offered metaphors that helped the girls explore their identity. After a few months of leader direction, the first author was surprised to find that the girls felt comfortable setting the group’s agenda and openly suggesting session activities. Therefore, counselors should be aware of any indication on the part of the group members that they want to self-direct.


Topics for Exploration

Through group counseling, the first author was able to identify topics that were particularly important to these high school South Asian girls; these areas could serve as a starting point for other counselors working with South Asian immigrant girls. Although the topics were often consistent with salient adolescent issues (e.g., dating, relationships), they were shaped by the girls’ South Asian backgrounds. The girls discussed the often contradictory values and beliefs of home and school culture. They explored dual identities related to being South Asian and American as well as multiple identities related to culture and gender.


  Examining values and beliefs. Family and culture are important topics for South Asians, but telling stories of family and culture in mainstream American culture may raise challenges. Especially significant is the discomfort adolescents may experience when sharing their cultural stressors with non-Asian peers. A group with peers from similar backgrounds can facilitate open sharing of cultural stories that would be difficult to disclose to those who could not identify with their experiences. In this group, the first author followed Sue and Sue’s (2008) recommendation and facilitated discussions about values, beliefs and behaviors characteristic of both the home culture and host culture, so the girls could discover those that fit for them, those with which they identified and those about which they were ambivalent. These discussions pervaded the group sessions, and counselors are advised to explore these topics in depth.


When examining values and beliefs, South Asian girls may broach topics that are unacceptable for discussion with their own families and community members. Because they are often expected to adhere strictly to the role of the “perfect” South Asian girl (e.g., attaining good grades and following family rules), girls may feel judged by family and community members when expressing curiosity about issues such as love, sexuality and relationships. A counselor can help girls examine their roles within their families and explore unique circumstances of developing peer relationships as a South Asian female growing up in mainstream American culture.


An issue that may arise with South Asian girls as they explore behaviors related to values and beliefs involves being under the watchful eyes of other South Asian immigrants. Girls might dwell in a neighborhood where they are in close proximity to local mosques, temples and community centers as well as businesses owned by South Asians. In addition to close and extended family members, they may interact frequently with South Asian peers and neighbors. This can present challenges related to the different values and beliefs of the two cultures the girls are negotiating. For example, some girls may want to talk to boys in the neighborhoods, but fear that South Asian community members might tell their parents. This anxiety underscores the girls’ need for support from trusted adults and peers both at school and in their communities as they grapple with these issues.


     Coping with dual identities. Because immigrant students are straddling home and school cultures, it is important to explore ways to cope and deal with multiple identities. One goal of a discussion of values and beliefs involves supporting girls’ positive connections to their home and community culture. According to Farver et al. (2002), several studies of adolescents from a variety of ethnic backgrounds showed a positive connection between commitment to/identification with ethnic group and self-esteem. A counselor must encourage discussion around cultural topics, emphasize the importance of family traditions and help foster pride in South Asian identity. For example, it is important to recognize religious holidays and explore the meaning of the holidays and their significance in girls’ lives.


The group setting can provide a safe environment for girls to explore challenges and voice frustrations related to dual identity. A counselor can help girls deal with the conflict of self versus collective identity through using culturally appropriate self-empowerment and self-esteem exercises. For example, the first author offered the girls an activity in which they made a collective collage (using magazine cutouts, drawings and words) of what it means to be a South Asian female. After the activity, they processed the meanings of the images on the paper, the role of women in South Asian society and school, and the similarities and differences between group members. The activity highlighted the girls’ cultural commonalities and differences as well as their shared challenges of dual identities.


An important discussion may involve decision making around behaviors that diverge from home cultural norms, because South Asian youth may choose to deviate from parental and cultural expectations in spite of the consequences. The counselor’s responsibility is to help girls explore the pros and cons of pursuing their personal happiness at the expense of their parents’ wishes or demands (Segal, 1991). For example, if the topic of dating (an area of conflict between home and school culture) arises, the counselor must help girls explore what it means to them to date, their reasons for wanting to date, and if they are dating, issues related to dating without family permission.


     Addressing racism. Racism is an important topic for South Asian immigrants, especially due to the impact of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 (9/11). In the aftermath of 9/11, a climate of racial profiling emerged in the United States, and South Asians have been subjected to prejudicial attitudes affecting both personal autonomy and group identity (Inman, Yeh, Madan-Bahel, & Nath, 2007). In the first author’s experience, as well as that of many of her South Asian colleagues, racial profiling is not uncommon when traveling, even for professional women. It also is not atypical for South Asians to experience microaggressions, such as being stared at or asked personal questions about ethnicity by strangers. Racism has psychological impacts (Astell-Burt, Maynard, Lenguerrand, & Harding, 2012) and also can create fear. South Asians wearing traditional dress may be subjected to name calling, racial slurs and even physical violence. Adolescents with whom the first author has worked report experiencing teasing or bullying at school as well as other forms of racism when walking with a family member wearing traditional dress (e.g., headscarves, turbans). In a study of South Asian women in Canada, Beharry and Crozier (2008) found that racism in youth had a more marked effect on self-esteem and self-efficacy than that in adulthood. Moreover, social support networks were critical in helping women address negative experiences. A counseling group offers a space for South Asian girls to share their experiences, express their fears and devise ways of coping with racism in a supportive environment.


Reaching Beyond the Girls’ Counseling Group


The one challenge that eluded the first author during her recruitment of South Asian adolescents was how to meet the needs of boys. Although it made sense because of gender roles to have an all-girl group, she also recognized the need to address issues for South Asian boys. When the girls’ group terminated, she helped them form a South Asian student club within the school. All the girls from the group were members of the wider South Asian club, but in addition to girls, a number of South Asian boys joined. The cosponsor of the South Asian club is a male teacher who, although not South Asian, is Latino and well-liked and respected by students, including South Asians. In addition to finding ways to unite the group, the cosponsor and the first author have supported the boys and girls in working together to explore issues that South Asian students encounter in the school and to develop strategies to help the wider school community understand what it means to be South Asian.


An additional way for counselors to reach beyond the group is to identify any needs of the South Asian families in the school community. One way that the first author has supported parents of South Asian students is by helping them understand the school system (e.g., how grades are interpreted). Parental support is significant in light of findings that suggest parental difficulties in adjustment to a new culture may result in adolescents with more psychological problems (Farver et al., 2002). Thus, support and advocacy for families may in turn reap benefits for adolescents. A significant way to identify needs and issues of families is to connect with community leaders, who can “act as a cultural bridge” to developing relationships with parents and other community members (Chung, 2004, p. 206).





There is a need for research focusing on South Asian American families and a further need for research focused specifically on the issues of South Asian immigrant youth. As the population of South Asian immigrant youth in U.S. communities and schools increases, it is critical to understand the unique needs of these youth who are learning to forge an identity based on their home cultures and mainstream American culture. Because there are differences in the U.S. communities in which South Asians live, researchers also must explore the differences in identity development of South Asian immigrant youth living close to a South Asian community versus those who live in a heterogeneous (non-South Asian) environment. Understanding the South Asian experience in the United States will pave the way for developing culturally appropriate interventions for working with South Asian immigrant youth.


Growing diversity in American schools demands that counselors develop culturally appropriate strategies for working with youth from a wide variety of cultures, including those individuals who come from immigrant families. Today’s immigrant families struggle with cultural differences, racism and oppression of earlier generations, but do so in the context of easier access to transatlantic travel and global communication technology (Bhatia & Ram, 2004). Practically speaking, these closer family connections with the home country may create more challenges for adolescents forging an identity while balancing the demands of home and school. The responsibility of helping to enhance the development of these youth falls to counselors along with other school and community personnel, and group counseling is one useful strategy for meeting student needs. Before initiating a group, counselors must explore their own cultural background and biases, understand the culture of the students in the group and, from this knowledge, develop culturally appropriate interventions that highlight culturally relevant and adolescent-specific topics. Through the group described here, the first author attempted to promote the positive development of South Asian girls in her school. The authors’ hope is that these efforts will challenge other counselors to find ways to do the same with the immigrant youth in their schools and clinics.




Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of

interest or funding contributions for

the development of this manuscript.






Ahmad-Stout, D. J., & Nath, S. R. (2013). South Asians in college counseling. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 27, 43–61. doi:10.1080/87568225.2013.739028

Ali, M. (2004). Brick lane: A novel. New York, NY: Scribner.

Aoki, G., & Mio, J. S. (2009). Stereotypes and media images. In N. Tewari & A. N. Alvarez (Eds.), Asian American psychology: Current perspectives (pp. 421–439). New York, NY: Erlbaum.

Asian American Federation/South Asian Americans Leading Together. (2012). A demographic snapshot of South Asians in the United States: July 2012 update. Retrieved from

Assanand, S., Dias, M., Richardson, E., & Waxler-Morrison, N. (1990). The South Asians. In N. Waxler-Morrison, J. M. Anderson, & E. Richardson (Eds.), Cross-cultural caring: A handbook for health professionals (pp. 141–180). Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia.

Astell-Burt, T., Maynard, M. J., Lenguerrand, E., & Harding, S. (2012). Racism, ethnic density and psychological well-being through adolescence: Evidence from the determinants of adolescent social well-being and health longitudinal study. Ethnicity & Health, 17, 71–87. doi:10.1080/13557858.2011.645153

Atkinson, D. R. (2004). Counseling American minorities (6th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Ayyub, R. (2000). Domestic violence in the South Asian immigrant population in the United States. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, 9, 237–248. doi:10.1023/A:1009412119016

Banerjee, N., Kaipa, S., & Sundaralingam, P. (Eds.). (2010). Indivisible: An anthology of contemporary South Asian American poetry. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press.

Baron, C., & Nair, M. (Producers), & Nair, M. (Director). (2001). Monsoon wedding [Motion picture]. India: IFC Productions.

Beharry, P., & Crozier, S. (2008). Using phenomenology to understand experiences of racism for second-generation South Asian women. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 42, 262–277.

Bhatia, S., & Ram, A. (2004). Culture, hybridity, and the dialogical self: Cases from the South Asian diaspora. Mind,  Culture and Activity, 11, 224–240. doi:10.1207/s15327884mca1103_4

Capps, R., Fix, M. E., Murray, J., Ost, J., Passel, J. S., & Hernandez, S. H. (2005). The new demography of America’s schools: Immigration and the No Child Left Behind Act. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. Retrieved from

Child Trends Data Bank. (2013). Immigrant children. Retrieved from

Chung, R. C. Y. (2004). Group counseling with Asians. In J. L. DeLucia-Waack, D. A. Gerrity, C. R. Kalodner, & M. T. Riva (Eds.), Handbook of group counseling and psychotherapy (pp. 200–212). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Comstock, D. L., Hammer, T. R., Strentzsch, J., Cannon, K., Parsons, J., & Salazar, G., II. (2008). Relational-cultural theory: A framework for bridging relational, multicultural, and social justice competencies. Journal of Counseling & Development. 86, 279–287. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2008.tb00510.x

Corey, M. S., Corey, G., & Corey, C. (2010). Groups: Process and practice (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Crethar, H. C., Rivera, E. T., & Nash, S. (2008). In search of common threads: Linking multicultural, feminist, and social justice counseling paradigms. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86, 269–278. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2008.tb00509.x

Dasgupta, S. D. (1998). Gender roles and cultural continuity in the Asian Indian immigrant community in the U.S. Sex Roles, 38, 953–974. doi:10.1023/A:1018822525427

Dawson, A. (2005). ‘Bollywood Flashback:’ Hindi film music and the negotiation of identity among British Asian youth. South Asian Popular Culture, 3, 161–176. doi:10.1080/14746680500234462

DeLucia-Waack, J. L., & Donigian, J. (2004). The practice of multicultural group work: Visions and perspectives from the field. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Desai, A. (1999). Fasting, feasting. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Durham, M. G. (2004). Constructing the “new ethnicities”: Media, sexuality, and diaspora identity in the lives of South Asian immigrant girls. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21, 140–161. doi:10.1080/07393180410001688047

Farver, J. A. M., Bhadha, B. R., & Narang, S. K. (2002). Acculturation and psychological functioning in Asian Indian adolescents. Social Development, 11(1), 11–29. doi:10.1111/1467-9507.00184

Fix, M., & Capps, R. (2005). Immigrant children, urban schools, and the No Child Left Behind Act. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from

Ghuman, P. A. S. (1997). Assimilation or integration? A study of Asian adolescents. Educational Research, 39, 23–35.                doi:10.1080/0013188970390102

Ghuman, P. A. S. (2003). Double loyalties: South Asian adolescents in the west. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press.

Gladding, S. T. (2008). Groups: A counseling specialty (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Ibrahim, F., Ohnishi, H., & Sandhu, D. S. (1997). Asian American identity development: A culture specific model for South Asian Americans. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 25, 34–50. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1912.1997.tb00314.x

Inman, A. G., & Tewari, N. (2003). The power of context: Counseling South Asians within a family context. In G. Roysircar, D. S. Sandhu, & V. E. Bibbins, Sr. (Eds.), Counseling within a family context: A guidebook of practices (pp. 97–107). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Inman, A. G., Yeh, C. J., Madan-Behel, A., & Nath, S. (2007). Bereavement and coping of South Asian families post 9/11. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 35, 101–115. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1912.2007.tb00053.x

Jordan, J. V. (2000). The role of mutual empathy in relational/cultural therapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 1005–1016. doi:10.1002/1097-4679(200008)56:8<1005::AID-JCLP2>3.0.CO;2-L

Khan, G. (Producer), & Khan, F. (Director). (2007). Om shanti om [Motion picture]. India: Red Chillies Entertainment.

Kim, B. S. K., Atkinson, D. R., & Yang, P. H. (1999). The Asian values scale: Development, factor analysis, validation, and reliability. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 46, 342–352. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.46.3.342

Kline, W. B. (2003). Interactive group counseling and therapy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Maker, A. H., Mittal, M., & Rastogi, M. (2005). South Asians in the United States: Developing a systemic and empirically based mental health assessment model. In M. Rastogi & E. Wieling (Eds.), Voices of color: First person accounts of ethnic minority therapists (pp. 233–254). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Mindrup, R. M., Spray, B. J., & Lamberghini-West, A. (2011). White privilege and multicultural counseling competence: The influence of field of study, sex, and racial/ethnic exposure. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work: Innovation in Theory, Research & Practice, 20, 20–38. doi:10.1080/15313204.2011.545942

Panganamala, N. R., & Plummer, D. L. (1998). Attitudes toward counseling among Asian Indians in the United States. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4, 55–63. doi:10.1037/1099-9809.4.1.55

Pew Research Center. (2012). Religions and public life project: Religious composition by country. Retrieved from

Pilcher, L. D., & Nair, M. (Producers), & Nair, M. (Director). (2006). The namesake [Motion picture]. Los Angeles, CA: Fox Searchlight.

Ranganath, V. M., & Ranganath, V. K. (1997). Asian Indian children. In G. Johnson-Powell, J. Yamamoto, G. Wyatt, & W. Arroyo (Eds.), Transcultural child development: Psychological assessment and treatment (pp. 103–125). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.

Sandhu, D. S. (2004). Daya Sandhu’s reaction as a leader of this psychoeducational group. In J. L. DeLucia-Waack & J. Donigian, The practice of multicultural group work: Visions and perspectives from the field (pp. 175–178). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Sandhu, D. S., & Madathil, J. (2007). South Asian Americans. In G. J. McAuliffe (Ed.) Culturally alert counseling: A comprehensive introduction (pp. 353–387). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Segal, U. A. (1991). Cultural variables in Asian Indian families. Families in Society, 72, 233–242.

Shariff, A. (2009). Ethnic identity and parenting stress in South Asian families: Implications for culturally sensitive counselling. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 43, 35–46.

Sharma, A. (2001). Healing the wounds of domestic abuse: Improving the effectiveness of feminist therapeutic interventions with immigrant and racially visible women who have been abused. Violence Against Women, 7, 1405–1428. doi:10.1177/10778010122183928

Suárez-Orozco, C., Suárez-Orozco, M., & Todorova, I. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (5th ed.) New York, NY: Wiley & Sons.

The World Bank. (2011). South Asia: Countries. Retrieved from

Toporek, R. L., Lewis, J. A., & Crethar, H. C. (2009). Promoting systemic change through the ACA Advocacy Competencies. Journal of Counseling & Development, 87, 260–268.

Yuen, F. K. O. (1999). Family health and cultural diversity. In J. T. Pardeck & F. K. O. Yuen (Eds.), Family health: A holistic approach to social work practice (pp. 101–114). Westport, CT: Auburn House.

Yuen, F. K. O., & Nakano-Matsumoto, N. (1998). Effective substance abuse treatment for Asian American adolescents. Early Child Development and Care, 147, 43–54. doi:10.1080/0300443981470106


 Ulash Thakore-Dunlap is a licensed marriage and family therapist at Richmond Area Multi-Services, San Francisco. Patricia Van Velsor, NCC, is an associate professor at San Francisco State University. Correspondence can be addressed to Patricia Van Velsor, Department of Counseling, BH 524, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132,



Students’ Perceptions of School Counselors: An Investigation of Two High Schools in Beijing, China

Qi Shi, Xi Liu, Wade Leuwerke

This study sought to examine students’ perceptions of their school counselors in two high schools in Beijing, China. Independent t tests found that female students rated school counselors’ availability significantly higher than male students did. Also, students who had received prior counseling services rated counselors significantly higher in the following areas than did students who had never received counseling services: knowledge of achievement tests, friendliness and approachability, understanding students’ point of view, advocating for students, promptness in responding to requests, ability to explain things clearly, reliability to keep promises, availability, and overall effectiveness. A 2 × 2 between-subjects ANOVA found an interaction effect between gender and use or nonuse of counseling services. In general, students gave positive evaluations of school counselors and were satisfied with counseling services.


Keywords: school counselors; counseling services; students’ perceptions; high schools; Beijing, China



China has been experiencing dramatic economic and social changes in the past 3 decades (Guthrie, 2012). During this time there has been increased attention to both mental health problems and student development (Cyranoski, 2010; Lim, Lim, Michael, Cai, & Schock, 2010; Xin & Zhang, 2009). It has been estimated that at least 17.5% of the Chinese population has some form of mental illness, one of the highest rates in the world (Phillips et al., 2009), accounting for about 20% of hospitalizations in the country (Fei, 2006). Facing significant mental health challenges, several authors have noted the need for more counseling professionals and mental health service providers (Cook, Lei, & Chiang, 2010; Davey & Zhao, 2012). In rural areas with fewer resources, the demand for mental health care is even greater (Ji, 2000).


Given such great needs for mental health services, China has been making tremendous efforts in reforming its mental health service system (Tse, Ran, Huang, & Zhu, 2013). In 2004, China launched the 686 Project, a mental health reform initiative modeled on the World Health Organization’s recommended framework for integrating hospital-based services with a community mental health service system (Ma, 2012). By the end of 2011, 1.83 million Chinese people with severe mental illness had been treated as a result of the project.


While China has witnessed growth in the counseling profession, at the same time it has struggled to build national certification and licensing standards, and create comprehensive counselor training (Chang & Kleinman, 2002; Cook et al., 2010; Davey & Zhao, 2012; Ding, Kuo, & Van Dyke, 2008; Hou & Zhang, 2007). In 2002, China’s National Counseling Licensing Board was formed, and there is currently a three-tier national licensing program. More than 30 locations throughout China offer the qualification exams for counselors, and recently a national exam to license school counselors was instituted (Lim et al., 2010). Results from a nationwide survey of professional training of mental health practitioners in China showed that quality of training and supervision were among common concerns (Gao et al., 2010). Also, more accredited professional training programs at the university or college level must be designed and established. Beijing Normal University, in collaboration with Rowan University in the United States, was reported to be the first university in China to offer a school counseling training program (Lim et al., 2010).


Mental Health of Students in China


Increased attention to student well-being has shown high prevalence of mental health problems among Chinese students (Cook et al., 2010; Wang & Miao, 2001). Common psychological problems among students included test anxiety, academic pressure, loneliness, social discomfort, video game addiction (Thomason & Qiong, 2008), Internet addiction, child obesity, self-centeredness and reclusion (Worrell, 2008). A study from a metropolitan area in southeastern China showed that 10.8% of high school students had mental health concerns including hostility, compulsions, depression and interpersonal relationship sensitivity (Hu, 1994). A more recent survey conducted by Wu et al. (2012) among 1,891 high school students in a southern city in China showed that 25% of the adolescents reported a perceived need for mental health services, while only 5% of the sample had used school-based mental health services, and 4% had used non-school-based services.


Researchers are starting to identify factors that contribute to Chinese students’ mental health problems, including the pressure to achieve academic success (Corbin Dwyer & McNaughton, 2004; Thomason & Qiong, 2008; Worrell, 2008), being an only child (Liu, Munakata, & Onuoha, 2005; Thomason & Qiong, 2008; Worrell, 2008), prevalence of physical abuse (Wong, Chen, Goggins, Tang, & Leung, 2009), inability to cope with multiple expectations and requirements (Tang, 2006), increased attention to personal and social development (Corbin Dwyer & McNaughton, 2004), and the generation gap between children and their parents (Thomason & Qiong, 2008). Zheng, Zhang, Li, and Zhang (1997) suggested that parents and teachers who did not attend to students’ psychological problems contributed to the high rates of mental health problems among students. Because they have the most direct interaction with students, homeroom teachers and subject teachers in China are well-positioned to help students address their mental health concerns. In fact, Chinese homeroom teachers perform a wide variety of counseling tasks (Shi & Leuwerke, 2010). However, teachers do not receive sufficient training in providing counseling services.


School Counseling in China


     School counselors are uniquely positioned to impact the mental health and academic success of students in China. As would be expected with developing professions, there are numerous challenges to school counseling in China: (a) a tremendous shortage of qualified school counselors (Cook et al., 2010; Shi & Leuwerke, 2010; Thomason & Qiong, 2008; Yan, 2003; Zheng et al., 1997), (b) an urgent need for more accredited training programs (Gao et al., 2010; Leuwerke & Shi, 2010; Lim et al., 2010) and (c) a lack of support and respect from teachers and other school staff (Jiang, 2005; Leuwerke & Shi, 2010). Although many schools in China, especially in urban areas, have begun to establish counseling offices and hire school counselors, this profession is still in its primitive developmental stage (Leuwerke & Shi, 2010). Moreover, school counselors themselves have expressed great need for more training and standard education to better serve their students (Leuwerke & Shi, 2010). A standardized training system is imperative to provide training, assessment, issuance of licenses and continued education (Cook et al., 2010; Davey & Zhao, 2012; Yan, 2003; Zheng et al., 1997).
Facing the serious situation of Chinese students’ mental health concerns and school counseling challenges, the Chinese government has turned greater attention to advanced mental health education in K–12 schools. Government policies on education reform have put more emphasis on students’ mental health and the availability of psychological services (Ding et al., 2008). The Ministry of Education in China has published two important government guidelines in the past 2 decades. “Several Suggestions on Improving Mental Health Education in Elementary & Secondary Schools” (Zhong guo jiao yu bu, 1999) identified moral and politics teachers, homeroom teachers, Communist Youth League cadres, and school counselors as the personnel in schools responsible for the mental health needs of students. K–12 schools with available resources and funding were required to establish counseling offices, and school counselors were identified as the leaders of this system (Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 1999). In 2012, the Ministry of Education released the updated version of “Guideline of Mental Health Education in Elementary & Secondary Schools.” This guideline described the goals, content and methods of mental health education as well as the personnel responsible for delivery. The report specifically called for educating students about basic knowledge and skills regarding interpersonal relationships, career development, and living and socialization (Zhong guo jiao yu bu, 2012).


As required by the Chinese government, schools in large cities have begun to hire school counselors to provide counseling for their students (Jiang, 2005). In K–12 schools in China, school counseling is called school guidance or mental health education, which is actually a part of political and moral education (Jiang, 2005). School guidance in K–12 school settings has been taught as a subject course like math or science (Hou & Zhang, 2007). In addition to school counselors, homeroom teachers also play an important role in mental health services for students by performing a large range of counseling tasks (Shi & Leuwerke, 2010; Wang, 1997). Chinese students access psychological services in schools through a variety of channels: individual counseling, group activities, lectures on common psychological concerns, parent and teacher consultation, and classroom guidance (Leuwerke & Shi, 2010).


The expansion of services in the Chinese school system has made counseling more accessible than ever to students (Thomason & Qiong, 2008). However, empirically based literature examining the role, function and scope of school counseling in China is virtually nonexistent (Jiang, 2005; Leuwerke & Shi, 2010; Shi & Leuwerke, 2010; Thomason & Qiong, 2008). Very little is known about the amount of counseling that students actually receive at school, let alone how students perceive school counselors and the school counseling services they receive (Leuwerke & Shi, 2010). The present study sought to examine some of these questions. Through surveys of students at two high schools in Beijing, the authors explored students’ use of counseling in school as well as their perceptions of the school counselors. The authors also examined possible differences among students who sought services or not, as well as any differences across gender. Correspondingly, the research questions in this study were as follows: (a) How many students seek counseling services and how often do they meet their school counselors in these two high schools in Beijing? (b) Do students’ perceptions of the school counselors differ across gender? (c) Do students’ perceptions of the school counselors differ depending on whether or not they seek counseling services? (d) Do male and female students’ perceptions differ depending on whether or not they seek counseling services?





A total of 137 (47 male, 90 female) students from two high schools in Beijing completed questionnaires; 293 surveys were distributed, resulting in a return rate of 46.76%. The sample was recruited through the first author’s contacts in Beijing. Among the students who completed the survey, 126 were from a high school affiliated with Beijing Normal University and 11 were from a high school affiliated with Beijing Renmin University. The sample consisted of 12.4% (n = 17) senior 1 students (equivalent to 10thgraders in the United States), 78.8% (n = 108) senior 2 students (equivalent to 11th graders in the United States) and 8.8% (n = 12) senior 3 students (equivalent to 12th graders in the United States). The two high schools recruited for the study are among the top ranked high schools in Beijing. The school counselors being evaluated in these two high schools had an average of 8 years of experience working as professional school counselors. Students from these schools typically perform very well in academics and gain admission to universities after high school. As for plans after high school, 97.8% (n = 134) of the students surveyed stated that the plan was a 4-year college, with only three students indicating “other plans.” No student indicated planning to attend a 2-year college or vocational training school or get a job right after graduating from high school.



Participants completed a brief demographic questionnaire as well as the Chinese High School Students’ Perceptions of School Counselors Survey. All information students provided in the survey was anonymous. The demographic questionnaire included items such as students’ grade level, gender and postsecondary plans. The Chinese High School Students’ Perceptions of School Counselors Survey used in this study was adapted from McCullough’s (1973) survey that was originally designed to determine high school students’ perceptions of school counselors’ services in the United States. Some changes were made to adapt to Chinese students’ cultural background, including adding two questions about the number of times that students had tried to see the school counselor and the actual number of times that they had met with the school counselor. After indicating the number of times they had tried and actually met with a school counselor, participants rated their counselor’s ability and effectiveness on a four-point Likert scale (4 = excellent, 3 = good, 2 = fair, 1 = poor) in the following 11 areas: knowledge of college admission, knowledge of vocational information, knowledge of achievement tests, friendliness and approachability, understanding students’ point of view, advocate for students, promptness in responding to requests, ability to explain things clearly, reliability to keep promises, availability to students, and overall effectiveness.



The authors created all materials utilized in this study in English, and the first author then translated the documents into Mandarin Chinese. To examine translation quality, a bilingual, native Chinese speaker who was not part of the research team subsequently translated all documents back into English. The authors evaluated and considered these translated documents equivalent. This approach is consistent with common practice in research requiring translation of documents (Larkin, de Casterlé, & Schotsmans, 2007; Liu et al., 2005).



Data analyses were conducted based on the four research questions in this study. First, descriptive statistical analysis was conducted to learn the number of students who had sought counseling services and the frequency of their meetings with a counselor. Second, an independent t test was conducted to determine the differences between male and female students’ perceptions of their school counselors’ services. Third, another independent t test was performed to examine the differences between students’ perceptions of their school counselors’ services depending on whether or not the students had sought prior counseling services. Finally, a 2 × 2 between-subjects ANOVA was done to determine whether there was a statistically significant interaction effect between gender and whether or not students sought prior counseling services.


The data from students who had never had individual meetings with counselors were included in these analyses. These data were included because these students had had contact with school counselors in other circumstances (e.g., lectures, classroom guidance, school-wide gathering), even though they had not met with school counselors individually (Leuwerke & Shi, 2010).



Five teachers at the two high schools assisted with data collection. Since research participation and the protocol were new to most of the teachers, explanation of the confidential and voluntary nature of the project was provided through teleconference. Questions from the teachers were answered via e-mail. One of the teachers in Beijing was in charge of the informed consent forms and data storage. Parents of the students in the classrooms of all five teachers received one copy of the informed consent and all granted consent for their child to participate in the research. Students then received e-mails. An online survey tool ( was used to administer the questionnaire.




The first goal of this study was to examine how many students had sought services from school counselors and the number of meetings they had had with their school counselors since they entered high school. Descriptive statistics were obtained in order to achieve this goal. Nearly half of the participants (48.9%, n = 67) reported having seen counselors at least once. Among these 67 students, the majority (n = 41) had met once individually with a school counselor, 22 had seen a school counselor individually two to three times, and four students had talked with school counselors four to five times. No student reported having met with a school counselor more than five times. Information on the length of these individual counseling sessions was not obtained in the survey.


The second goal of this study was to examine the students’ perceptions of their school counselors. Fifty-three students provided a complete evaluation of their school counselors in the survey. Among these 53 students, 36 had used counseling services before, whereas 17 reported no individual meetings with a counselor. As shown in Table 1, students’ most positive ratings of their school counselors were for friendliness and approachability (M = 3.20, SD = 1.25) and ability to explain things clearly (M = 2.99, SD = 1.33). The lowest rated attributes were knowledge of college admission (M = 1.30, SD = 1.42) and knowledge of vocational information (M = 1.10, SD = 1.30).



Table 1


Descriptive Statistics on Students’ Evaluations of School Counseling Services


School counseling services evaluated






Friendliness and approachability






Ability to explain things clearly






Availability to students






Understanding students’ points of view






Promptness in responding to requests






Reliability to keep promises






Advocate for students






Knowledge of achievement tests






Knowledge of college admission






Knowledge of vocational information






Overall effectiveness






Valid N (listwise)




Furthermore, independent t tests were conducted to determine whether students’ ratings of counseling services differed significantly between genders and between students who had or had not sought counseling services. A statistically significant result was found in students’ ratings of school counselors’ availability in the independent t test based on gender. Female students rated school counselors’ availability significantly higher than male students did (F = 4.196, p < .05). Statistically significant results also were found based on whether or not the students had sought counseling services. As shown in Table 2, students who had received prior counseling services rated counselors significantly higher in the following areas than did students who had never received counseling services: knowledge of achievement tests, friendliness and approachability, understanding students’ point of view, advocate for students, promptness in responding to requests, ability to explain things clearly, reliability to keep promises, availability, and overall effectiveness.



Table 2


Students’ Evaluations of School Counselors Depending on Whether or Not They Seek Services


School counseling services evaluated

Levene’s testa

t testb










Knowledge of college admission








Knowledge of vocational information








Knowledge of achievement tests








Friendliness and approachability








Understanding students’ points of view








Advocate for students’








Promptness in responding to requests








Ability to explain things clearly








Reliability to keep promises








Availability to students








Overall effectiveness









 aLevene’s test for equality of variances. bt test for equality of means.



A 2 × 2 between-subjects ANOVA was conducted to evaluate the effects that gender and students’ experiences with counseling services had on students’ perceptions of counseling services. Levene’s test and Fmax indicated that the homogeneity of variances assumption was met. A statistically significant interaction effect was found between gender and whether or not the students had received counseling services, F(1, 133) = 5.923, p = .016. As shown in Figure 1, the relationship between whether or not students had received counseling services and their perceptions of school counselors differed depending on gender. Among students who had had individual meetings with their counselors, males rated the counselors higher than females did, while females rated the counselors higher than males did if they had never received counseling services.




















Figure 1. Mean differences on gender and whether or not students received counseling services.





     In this study, almost half of the participants reported seeking help from a school counselor at least once. Interestingly, over 60% of the students who had met with a counselor had not returned for a subsequent meeting. Although China has seen the presence of school counselors increase in urban schools, it is still not common for students to seek counseling services (Thomason & Qiong, 2008). While the specific reasons why the students discontinued meeting with school counselors in this study are not clear, the following factors might help explain this phenomenon: (a) students have been found to be most concerned with physical health and to have failed to consider other aspects of health such as mental/psychological, behavioral and social (Wang, Zou, Gifford, & Dalal, 2014); (b) stigma toward mental illness exists among Chinese students (Thomason & Qiong, 2008; Wang, Huang, Jackson, Chen, & Laks, 2012); (3) Chinese cultural beliefs promote solving family-related issues inside one’s own family (Cook et al., 2010); and (4) students spend the majority of their time preparing for the National College Entrance Exam (NCEE), which Chinese school counselors perceived as an impediment to students’ utilization of school counseling services and future school counseling development in China (Leuwerke & Shi, 2010).


As for the modal number of counseling sessions that school counselors hold in secondary schools in China and the United States, little is presented in the current literature. More research has been conducted on college students’ attendance of counseling sessions offered by university counseling centers. For example, Draper, Jennings, Baron, Erdur, and Shankar (2002) found that, on average, college students met with counselors only three times. A number of studies have confirmed that most college students attend only a few sessions and that 50% terminate counseling prematurely (Ledsky et al., 2000; Renk, Dinger, & Bjugstad, 2000; Whipple et al., 2003). The number of counseling sessions that school counselors have with high school students could be likewise related. Students who visit school counselors by referral normally do not return for a second session, even though more sessions are indicated (E. Zhang, personal communication, June 5, 2007).


In China’s current school system, homeroom teachers have close, day-to-day interaction with students in their own homerooms; these teachers are responsible for students’ behavior, academic performance, mental health and all-around development (Lim et al., 2010; Shi & Leuwerke, 2010). Homeroom teachers may refer students to school counselors if they feel that students’ problems are beyond the teachers’ ability to solve (E. Zhang, personal communication, June 5, 2007). Future research could help explain why students tend to meet with their counselor only one time, and could explore the factors associated with students’ premature termination. It might be that Chinese counselors are giving an intentional or unintentional message that only one session is appropriate. Additional research is necessary to explore how school counselors could reach out to more students and reduce the stigma attached to mental problems, which might encourage more students to utilize individual counseling in school settings.


The descriptive results of this study provide some preliminary information about the level of students’ satisfaction with particular areas. Based on the students’ perceptions in two high schools in Beijing, it appears that school counselors are doing quite well in many different areas, such as friendliness and approachability to students, ability to explain things clearly, and availability. However, there are some areas in which school counselors must improve their knowledge and skills (e.g., college admission, vocational information and opportunities, achievement tests). When interpreting the results of this study, it is important to keep in mind that participants in this study are all from top-ranking high schools in Beijing, where students have a general college-going mindset and therefore place significant emphasis on academic achievement; in addition, these students have a higher expectation and interest in seeking counseling services related to applying for college. Also, in the current school systems in China, homeroom teachers are normally in charge of handling students’ academic testing, disseminating college-related information and helping students prepare for college (Shi & Leuwerke, 2010). Therefore, school counselors might not be as prepared as homeroom teachers to provide information regarding college admission and achievement tests.


As for the low ratings in the area of vocational information and opportunities, it is critical to consider the fact that the practice and profession of career counseling is still in the developmental stage in China (Leuwerke & Shi, 2010; Zhang, Hu, & Pope, 2002). Unfortunately, a thorough literature search revealed no information on the current conditions of school counselors’ training in China. However, a few studies have briefly mentioned the training or education that school counselors receive. For example, Gao et al. (2010) conducted a national survey on professional training experience among mental health practitioners in China, with only half of their sample working in educational settings such as high schools and universities. The researchers found that mental health practitioners reported receiving only short-term training and continuing education that focused on theories; a majority reported receiving no supervision or case consultation (Gao et al., 2010). Although there is a lack of literature on school counselors’ training in particular, several authors have indicated an urgent need for a more regulated, comprehensive and standardized training and qualification system for school counselors in China (Cook et al., 2010; Leuwerke & Shi, 2010; Lim et al., 2010; Thomason & Qiong, 2008).


It was expected that students who had had individual meetings with school counselors would rate counseling services differently than the students who had never seen school counselors individually. Students who had received counseling services before rated school counselors at a significantly higher level than students who had never had counseling services in many different areas, including the school counselors’ test skills, approachability, understanding, advocacy, promptness, ability, reliability, availability and overall effectiveness in providing counseling services. This finding is not surprising, considering that students who have had personal contact with the school counselors might have a better understanding of the role of school counselors and the services they provide, and therefore are more likely to give a higher rating of school counseling services. In a study conducted in Turkey, Yüksel-Şahin (2008) also found that the factor of whether students had met with school counselors was a significant predictor of students’ evaluations of counseling guidance service.


Similarly, gender differences were expected in students’ rating of school counselors. The results show significantly higher ratings from female students than male students of school counselors’ availability. From the descriptive results of this study, one can see that female students reported more contact with school counselors than male students did; this finding might help explain female students’ higher rating of school counselors’ availability.


Finally, an interaction effect was found in students’ ratings of the effectiveness of their counselors in the 2 × 2 between-subjects ANOVA based on gender and whether or not students seek counseling services. In a 2009 study, Hou, Zhou, and Ma examined high school and university students’ expectations of counseling in China. Results of their study showed that female students had significantly higher scores than males in terms of their own openness and counselors’ acceptance. Meanwhile, the researchers also found that students who did not have counseling experience had significantly lower scores on their motivation compared to their counterparts. These trends continued in the current study, which further supports the idea that students’ previous counseling experiences and gender relate closely to their expectations and perceptions of counselors and counseling services in general.


As a developing profession facing a huge student population, school counselors in China are doing a more than adequate job with limited resources. In the current study, most high school students reported seeking counseling services from their school counselors more than once, and they reported having generally positive experiences in counseling. Meanwhile, these students also had positive perceptions of their school counselors’ services; however, they reported the need for more vocational guidance or more knowledge of achievement tests from their counselors. An interaction effect was found in students’ perceptions of school counseling services based on students’ gender and whether they had met with school counselors before.



This study contributes to the literature by filling a research gap in Chinese students’ utilization and perceptions of school counseling. This line of inquiry is very important for the future development of the school counseling profession in China in that it provides implications for researchers and school counseling practitioners, as well as counselor educators. Future researchers could further investigate factors that might predict students’ utilization of school counseling services and what students need the most from counseling. More efforts need to be made in both conducting empirical research in the school counseling field and in exploring ways to improve the profession that will suit China’s cultural and social situations (Jiang, 2005; Thomason & Qiong, 2008). Moreover, the findings from this research are informative for school counseling practitioners in China. Chinese school counselors may want to self-evaluate their services and seek further training and education to improve their services in the areas that students rated lower. School counselors also could explore ways to make their services more accessible for students. Finally, the results of this research can be beneficial for counselor educators, who could contribute to improving the quality of school counselors’ training and education by providing opportunities for supervision, practice and professional development courses targeting the knowledge and skills that school counselors need most.



     There were a number of limitations in this study that limit generalization and call for additional research. First, the sample in this study was a convenience sample; the majority of the participants were from one high school, also limiting the generalizability of the results. Second, the two high schools are similar to each other in that they are top-ranking high schools in Beijing, and their students have similar future plans. Therefore, the results of this study may not apply to other geographic areas in China, especially rural areas, because a difference exists in educational conditions between economically developed areas (e.g., Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) and underdeveloped areas (e.g., rural areas in West China). Students from different geographical areas in China may encounter different mental health problems, and the development of school counseling in urban and rural China may be different (Yan, 2003). The position of school counselor may not even exist in some areas in China. Third, the sample lacks diversity in terms of gender and grade level. Most of the participants in this study were female students and senior 2 students. Gender may be a variable that influences how students perceive counseling and school counselors. Future research utilizing more diverse and larger samples from across the country will be able to provide a more detailed and general picture of school counseling in high schools across China. Lastly, the instrument used in this study was adapted from an instrument that was developed several decades ago. Although some modifications were made, the validity and reliability of the scale used for Chinese students are not clear at this time. Future studies may investigate the validity and reliability of this instrument and also develop new instruments that are specially designed to measure students’ perceptions of Chinese school counselors’ effectiveness, competence, expertise and contributions.




Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of

interest or funding contributions for

the development of this manuscript.






Chang, D. F., & Kleinman, A. (2002). Growing pains: Mental health care in developing China. Yale-China Health Studies Journal, 1, 85–98.

Cook, A. L., Lei, A., & Chiang, D. (2010). Counseling in China: Implications for counselor education preparation and distance learning instruction. Journal for International Counselor Education, 2, 60–73.

Corbin Dwyer, S., & McNaughton, K. (2004). Perceived needs of educational administrators for student services offices in a Chinese context: School counselling programs addressing the needs of children and teachers. School Psychology International, 25, 373–382. doi:10.1177/0143034304046908

Cyranoski, D. (2010). China tackles surge in mental illness. Nature, 468, 145. doi:10.1038/468145a

Davey, G., & Zhao, X. (2012, November). Counseling in China. Therapy Today, 23(9), 12–17.

Ding, Y., Kuo, Y.-L., & Van Dyke, D. C. (2008). School psychology in China (PRC), Hong Kong, and Taiwan: A cross-regional perspective. School Psychology International, 29, 529–548. doi:10.1177/0143034308099200

Draper, M. R., Jennings, J., Baron, A., Erdur, O., & Shankar, L. (2002). Time-limited counseling outcome in a nationwide college counseling center sample. Journal of College Counseling, 5, 26–38. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1882.2002.tb00204.x

Fei, X. (2006, October 16). The cause of and solution for mental diseases in China. The Epoch Times. Retrieved from

Gao, X., Jackson, T., Chen, H., Liu, Y., Wang, R., Qian, M., & Huang, X. (2010). There is a long way to go: A nationwide survey of professional training for mental health practitioners in China. Health Policy, 95, 74–81. doi:10.1016/j.healthpol.2009.11.004

Guthrie, D. (2012). China and globalization: The social, economic and political transformation of Chinese society (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Hou, Z.-J., & Zhang, N. (2007). Counseling psychology in China. Applied Psychology, 56, 33–50. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2007.00274.x

Hou, Z.-J., Zhou, S.-L., & Ma, C. (2009). Preliminary research on high school and university students’ expectation about counseling. Chinese Journal of Clinical Psychology, 17, 503, 515–517.

Hu, S. (1994). Gao zhong sheng xin li jian kang shui ping ji qi ying xiang yin su de yan jiu [A study of the mental health level and its influencing factors of senior middle school students]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 26, 153–160.

Ji, J. (2000). Suicide rates and mental health services in modern China. Crisis, 21, 118–121.

Jiang, G. (2005). Zhong guo da lu zhong xiao xue xin li fu dao fa zhan ping su [The development of school counseling in the Chinese mainland: A review]. Journal of Basic Education, 14, 65–82.

Larkin, P. J., de Casterlé, B. D., & Schotsmans, P. (2007). Multilingual translation issues in qualitative research: Reflection on a metaphorical process. Qualitative Health Research, 17, 468–476. doi:10.1177/1049732307299258

Ledsky, K. M., Reynolds, E. V., III, Weissman, M. S., Ball, J. D., Rabinowitz, M., Collins, C., . . . Mansheim, P. (2000). Practice patterns for the outpatient treatment of depression in a case-managed delivery system: A utilization study. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 31, 543–546.

Leuwerke, W., & Shi, Q. (2010). The practice and perceptions of school counsellors: A view from urban China. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 32, 75–89. doi:10.1007/s10447-009-9091-3

Lim, S.-L., Lim, B. K. H., Michael, R., Cai, R., & Schock, C. K. (2010). The trajectory of counseling in China: Past, present and future trends. Journal of Counseling and Development, 88, 4–8.

Liu, C., Munakata, T., & Onuoha, F. N. (2005). Mental health condition of the only-child: A study of urban and rural high school students in China. Adolescence, 40, 831–845.

Ma, H. (2012). Integration of hospital and community services—the “686 Project”—is a crucial component in the reform of China’s mental health services. Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry, 24, 172–174.

McCullough, C. W. (1973). Student perceptions of counselor services in junior and senior public high schools of Montgomery County, Maryland. Dissertation Abstracts International, 34(5A), 2308.

Phillips, M. R., Zhang, J., Shi, Q., Song, Z., Ding, Z., Pang, S., . . . Wang, Z. (2009). Prevalence, treatment, and associated disability of mental disorders in four provinces in China during 2001–05: An epidemiological survey. The Lancet, 373, 2041–2053. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60660-7

Renk, K., Dinger, T. M., & Bjugstad, K. (2000). Predicting therapy duration from therapist experience and client psychopathology. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 1609–1614.

Shi, Q., & Leuwerke, W. C. (2010). Examination of Chinese homeroom teachers’ performance of professional school counselors’ activities. Asia Pacific Education Review, 11, 515–523. doi:10.1007/s12564-010-9099-8

Tang, Y. (2006, June 8). Children at risk. Beijing Review, 49(23), 25–27.

Thomason, T. C., & Qiong, X. (2008). School counseling in China today. Journal of School Counseling, 6.

Tse, S., Ran, M. S., Huang, Y., & Zhu, S. (2013). The urgency of now: Building a recovery-oriented, community mental health service in China. Psychiatric Services, 64, 613–616.

Wang, G. (1997). The homeroom teacher’s role in psychological counseling at school. Proceedings of the International Conference on Counseling in the 21st Century. China, 6, 87–92. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED439325)

Wang, S. M., Zou, J. L., Gifford, M., & Dalal, K. (2014). Young students’ knowledge and perception of health and fitness: A study in Shanghai, China. Health Education Journal, 73, 20–27. doi:10.1177/0017896912469565

Wang, W., & Miao, X. (2001). Chinese students’ concept of mental health. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 23, 255–268.

Wang, X., Huang, X., Jackson, T., Chen, R., & Laks, J. (2012). Components of implicit stigma against mental illness among Chinese students. PLoS ONE, 7, e46016.

Whipple, J. L., Lambert, M. J., Vermeersch, D. A., Smart, D. W., Nielsen, S. L., & Hawkins, E. J. (2003). Improving the effects of psychotherapy: The use of early identification of treatment and problem-solving strategies in routine practice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 50, 59–68. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.50.1.59

Wong, W. C., Chen, W. Q., Goggins, W. B., Tang, C. S., & Leung, P. W. (2009). Individual, familial and community determinants of child physical abuse among high-school students in China. Social Science & Medicine, 68, 1819–1825. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.03.001.

Worrell, B. J. (2008, February 15). Mental health master plan. China Daily. Retrieved from

Wu, P., Li, L. P., Jin, J., Yuan, X. H., Liu, X., Fan, B., . . . Hoven, C. W. (2012). Need for mental health services and service use among high school students in China. Psychiatric Services, 63, 1026–1031.

Xin, Z., & Zhang, M. (2009). Changes in Chinese middle school students’ mental health, 1992–2005: A cross-temporal meta-analysis. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 41, 69–78.

Yan, H. (2003). Wo guo zhong xiao xue xin li jian kan jiao yu jiao shi de xian zhuang ji qi dui ce [Current status and strategies of elementary and secondary mental health education teachers in our country]. Jianghan Da Xue Xue Bao-Ren Wen Ke Xue Ban, 22(5), 77–80.

Yüksel-Şahin, F. (2008). Evaluation of school counseling and guidance services based on views of high school students. International Journal of Human Sciences, 5(2), 1–26.

Zhang, W., Hu, X., & Pope, M. (2002). The evolution of career guidance and counseling in the People’s Republic of China. The Career Development Quarterly, 50, 226–236. doi:10.1002/j.2161-0045.2002.tb00898.x

Zheng, R., Zhang, W., Li, T., & Zhang, S. (1997, May). The development of counseling and psychotherapy in China. In The International Conference on Counseling in the 21st Century. Retrieved from

Zhong guo jiao yu bu (1999). Guan yu gai shan zhong xiao xue xin li jian kang jiao yu de ji dian yi jian [Several suggestions on improving mental health education in elementary & secondary schools]. Retrieved from

Zhong guo jiao yu bu . (2012). Zhong xiao xue xin li jiang kang jiao yu zhi dao gang yao (2012 xiu ding) [The guideline of mental health education in elementary & secondary schools (2012 Ed)]. Retrieved from



Qi Shi is an assistant professor at Loyola University Maryland. Xi Liu is a doctoral student at George Washington University. Wade Leuwerke is an associate professor at Drake University. Correspondence can be addressed to Qi Shi, 2034 Greenspring Drive, Timonium, Maryland 21093,


Identifying Gender Differences in Male and Female Anger Among an Adolescent Population

Isaac Burt

This pilot study explored differences between the levels of anger expression and anger control by adolescent males and females. Eighteen participants (9 males and 9 females) completed a strength-based anger management group promoting wellness. Anger management group counseling consisted of a 10-week continuous intervention emphasizing anger reduction, anger control and appropriate anger expression. Results indicated gender differences in that females exhibited more anger expression, as well as less anger control. However, females had higher levels of overall improvement. The article concludes with limitations and implications for mental health counseling with adolescent populations.

Keywords: mental health counseling, group counseling, anger management, adolescent, gender differences


The profession of mental health counseling serves a diverse population with a variety of needs, including substance abuse and anger management issues (Gutierrez & Hagedorn, 2013). In order to provide services to clients, mental health counselors use a number of modalities, such as individual and group counseling. Research indicates that group counseling in particular can be useful with certain populations, such as excessively angry clients (Burt, Patel, Butler, & Gonzalez, 2013; Fleckenstein & Horne, 2004). Traditionally, anger management groups have focused on dealing with anger after it occurs. Recent developments in the field of counseling, however, suggest that a number of new trends are developing with mental health and anger management groups (Burt & Butler, 2011).


One of these trends focuses on early prevention with mental health counselors either providing facilitation or training others to facilitate anger management groups in schools (Curtis, Van Horne, Robertson, & Karvonen, 2010). The targeted clients of most of the early prevention interventions are middle and high school populations (Parker & Bickmore, 2012). Burt and Butler (2011) contended, however, that many early prevention and anger management groups are gender biased and focus excessively on adolescent males. The researchers suggested that while adolescent females experience anger as well, they often do not receive counseling services (Burt & Butler, 2011). As a result, a growing population with similar needs is potentially neglected. While numerous differences do exist between genders, anger is a common emotion experienced by both (Karreman & Bekker, 2012).


Research indicates that differences exist between adolescent males and females with regard to behavioral decision-making processes and expression of emotions (Brandts & Garofalo, 2012). Although research depicts females as more emotionally expressive, males have a reputation of being more predisposed to anger. According to Sadeh, Javdani, Finy, and Verona (2011), females experience anger, but may express it differently than males. For example, instead of expressing anger by striking objects, adolescent females may talk to friends or peers (Fischer & Evers, 2011). Conversely, other studies purport that females express anger similarly to males, but experience difficulty recognizing and admitting the emotion due to social expectations and constraints (Karreman & Bekker, 2012). Males, on the other hand, tend to display anger more commonly and comfortably (Fischer & Evers, 2011). One of the many reasons that adolescent males may feel comfortable expressing anger is because it is socially acceptable (Burt et al., 2013).


An extensive number of studies have investigated anger; however, there appears to be a lack of studies exploring anger differences between genders. Karreman and Bekker (2012) conducted a study on gender differences, investigating autonomy-connectedness between genders. Their study indicated differences related to anger and sensitivity between genders. However, the study did not attempt to determine whether males and females were equal in anger at the beginning or end of the study. Similarly, Burt, Patel, and Lewis (2012) reported that incorporating social and relational competencies into anger management groups reduced anger, but there was no discussion of anger differences between genders. Sadeh et al. (2011) indicated that women expressed more self-anger (i.e., anger directed internally toward themselves) than males, but did not investigate whether differences existed between genders before the study.


Although limited, a small number of studies have attempted to examine anger differences between genders. Similar to Sadeh et al. (2011), Fischer & Evers (2011) found that females expressed subjective anger, or self-anger, more often than males. Buntaine and Costenbader (1997) found that both genders’ self-reports (assessments) indicated no significant differences. Upon further examination of their data, however, they concluded that although self-reports specified no differences, males verbally reported higher responses of anger. In contrast, Zimprich and Mascherek (2012) determined that no anger differences existed between males and females. They declared that although genders may express anger and respond to situations differently, they generally experience similar levels of anger. As can be seen from the preceding studies, inconsistences exist in the literature. Contradicting studies indicate that researchers are unclear as to whether differences in anger exist between genders. As such, a research gap has emerged that needs to be filled (Zimprich & Mascherek, 2012). In order to understand how this research gap developed, it is necessary to examine cultural influences.


Cultural Influences and Misconceptions in Society


According to Carney, Buttell, and Dutton (2007), a misconception exists in Western society that women are less aggressive than men and do not express excessive anger. This fallacy persisted in Western culture until a report from the U.S. National Family Violence Survey of 1975 (as cited in Carney et al., 2007) found a disturbing trend: Females were just as angry as males and expressed excessive anger the same amount that men did. At the time, feminist theory and the feminist movement were developing and stood in stark contrast to these findings. Carney et al. (2007) stated that as such, the National Family Violence Survey findings were largely unreported, and in extreme situations, people reinterpreted or repudiated the survey’s findings. In either case, more misconceptions began to develop in Western culture (Carney et al., 2007), such as the idea that when females experience anger, it is always appropriate to the situation (i.e., anger is permissible). A second mistaken belief is that anger from females is less serious and not as negative. For example, the expression “you look so cute when you’re angry” portrays this biased and potentially chauvinistic thought. A third misconception is that females are more credible in reporting their emotions and, as such, females are more reliable when they state that they are not angry.


Western society has acted upon these cultural misconceptions. For example, certain myths in society (and mental health counseling) persist, declaring the following: (a) only males have angry feelings, (b) all male-comprised counseling groups are anger management groups, (c) males have a limited repertoire of emotions to express, (d) males are too angry and competitive to support one another in groups, and (e) males are not interested in meeting with other males (Andronico & Horne, 2004). Myths about female groups are that they are high functioning, conflicts are resolved faster, and a fair amount of reflection and processing exists (Gladding, 2012). According to researchers, these misconceptions can bias the truth regarding people’s beliefs. For example, Winstok (2011) stated that rates of excessive anger and intimate partner physical abuse among females equal or surpass those of males.


Clearly, cultural misconceptions of gender differences in excessive anger can lead mental health counselors to do a disservice to males and females alike. For example, culture can influence mental health and group counseling by causing a type to develop. This type is defined as best suited to be in anger management groups. As a result, mental health counselors may unconsciously choose more males than females to be members of anger management groups. Thus, a population that desperately needs services can go without an intervention (Carney et al., 2007). Mental health counselors need to reevaluate their thinking in order to avoid overlooking a population needing services due to implicit social misconceptions.


Bandura (2008a) believed that excessive anger was not sudden, but gradually manifested over time. His studies with youth corroborated this idea, as he observed modeling and negative behavioral patterns leads to excessive anger (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963). Supporting Bandura’s work, Burt and Butler (2011) asserted that excessive anger begins in childhood and adolescence. They reinforced the notion that mental health counselors must be aware that both genders have common needs and issues. For females, not receiving services or having services denied, and being told that the emotion they feel is inappropriate, could cause personal damage (Gottfredson, 2002). For instance, society and mental health counselors often depict males as more in need of anger management (Burt & Butler, 2011). Conversely, mental health counselors sometimes neglect and ignore what females need (West-Olatunji et al., 2010). Stated succinctly, a gap exists between what clients need and the options mental health counseling interventions offer to both genders. It is the author’s contention that this gap is an unfair practice, as both genders have similar needs. Research has shown that males and females experience anger equally; as a result, both need anger management groups.


To determine whether both genders expressed anger similarly, the author implemented a pilot study with adolescents to explore the topic before proceeding with a full investigation. As Bandura (2008b) pointed out, anger begins early in life and timely prevention is critical. Provision of early services for children and adolescents can help to prevent issues later in life.





Participants in this study were male and female middle school students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Thirty potential participants (15 males and 15 females) received invitations for participation, and 20 returned signed parental informed consent forms (10 males and 10 females). Ages of participants ranged from 11–14 years and consisted of 75% Latino/Hispanic (15), 15% Black (3), and 10% White (2). Two participants did not complete the study.



This pilot study used the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2 Child and Adolescent (STAXI-2 C/A). A well-known and highly used instrument, the STAXI-2 C/A is a self-report assessment that indicates youths’ (ages 9–18) control and expression of their anger (Spielberger, 1999). The STAXI-2 C/A has provided reliable and consistent results across diverse cultures and settings (Chirichella-Besemer & Motta, 2008). The STAXI-2 C/A contains four scales assessing excessive anger in youths. The four scales are as follows: Anger State (S-Ang), Anger Trait (T-Ang), Anger Control (AC) and Anger Expression (AX). Each of the four scales measures a different indicator of anger, in order to provide counselors with a multifaceted perspective of the client’s anger behavior.


Past studies that utilized the STAXI-2 C/A focused on AC and AX because of the strong validity these scales have with other anger assessments (Freeman, 2004); thus, the AC and AX scales were used in this pilot study. Cronbach’s alphas were .92 and .67 for AC and AX respectively (Freeman, 2004). Barrio, Aluja, and Spielberger (2004) stated that Cronbach’s alphas demonstrated by the STAXI-2 C/A indicated a high degree of reliability. Additionally, Barrio et al. (2004) also exhibited high construct validity by correlating the STAXI-2 C/A with the Verbal and Physical Aggressiveness Scale (AFV; Caprara & Pastorelli, 1993). A significant correlation of .43 existed between the two assessments. According to Gladding (2012), numerous counselors fail to measure the successfulness of their groups accurately because of errors in measurement and evaluation. In groups, a large number of therapeutic factors are occurring, which affect members in varying ways (Corey, 2011). Focusing on too many factors can overwhelm counselors and undermine evaluation, which is critically important (Gladding, 2012). In order to avoid this potential problem, this pilot study focused on a limited number of factors.



A large, urban public middle school in a metropolitan area provided the setting and participants for this pilot study. Serving 2,000 students in grades 6–8, the school has a standardized documentation system that keeps track of behavioral disruptions. The documentation system records in-school suspensions (ISS), out-of-school suspensions (OSS) and behavioral infractions for students (Burt, 2010). Each student has a personal identification number; the administration connects student infractions to these numbers in order to identify any student. The documentation system also contains a small description of what caused the issue. For instance, some students have behavioral outbursts of anger, while others have infractions for tardiness. Since the focus of this pilot was to determine anger differences between genders, it was imperative for the study to have participants who displayed excessive anger. To increase validity and correctly identify participants, the author used school administration recommendations.


The author conducted interviews with school staff to gather information as suggested by Bryan, Day-Vines, Griffin, and Moore-Thomas (2012). For example, the author asked school deans, teachers and professional school counselors (PSC) for recommendations about students. Many students had a high overall number of OSS and ISS, including a large number of behavioral infractions. However, some infractions were due to nonexcessive anger problems (e.g., tardiness). School staff could provide a safeguard against the author inappropriately recruiting a student who did not truly require services. The author asked school staff if a student’s number of OSS, ISS and infractions corresponded with actual behavior (i.e., excessive anger). Thus, the goal was to eliminate as much bias as possible to ensure the most appropriate candidates.


After interviewing school staff, a pool of candidates emerged, consisting of individuals with documentation of excessive anger, fights and legal procedures in the court system (Burt, 2010). School staff considered these candidates to be at high risk for excessive anger, and candidates’ records of OSS, ISS and behavioral infractions corroborated this belief. According to Burt et al. (2013), more than eight occurrences in a 12-week period constitute a high number of anger issues; thus, this study held the same parameters advocated by Burt et al. (2013). Once a list of eligible candidates emerged, the author interviewed school staff a second time. This second short interview was a safeguard measure before actually contacting candidates. The author wanted to meet with school staff again to reduce potential staff bias and ensure that candidates were still having anger issues. After the last interview, school staff explained the study to candidates in detail.


In order to increase client buy-in, school staff introduced the author of this article (who was also the group facilitator) to candidates. The author met with candidates and explained the study in more detail, in addition to answering any questions. If the candidates were interested in participating, the author gave them informed consent forms to have their parents sign. To increase the likelihood of the candidates returning the informed consent forms, candidates received tokens from the school, which allowed them to buy goods in the school store. If candidates returned signed informed consent forms, they received five tokens, comparable to five U.S. dollars. Out of 30 candidates, 20 returned signed informed consent forms. Although this is a small number, this quantity is permissible for pilot studies (Heppner, Wampold, & Kivlighan, 2008). The author split the participants in half based on gender (10 males and 10 females). One participant dropped out of each group, leaving 18 who completed the study. Each group met at a different time and was not aware of the existence of the other group (Burt, 2010). This pilot study assessed participants’ behavior via the STAXI-2 C/A, given pre- and post-intervention.


     Structure of the intervention/anger management group used in the pilot study. The anger management group consisted of eight counseling sessions and two assessment sessions (pretest and posttest assessment; Burt, 2010). Program duration was 10 weeks, and the author of this article conducted each session weekly. Corresponding with Blanton, Christensen, and Shakir (2006), each counseling session contained the following four essential components: an opening question (such as an icebreaker or introductory segment), a behavioral lesson (information gathering and learning), a behavioral activity (an experiential segment in which learned information is applied), and an appreciations and closings segment ending the group (a bonding piece for group members). Counseling sessions concluded after 60 minutes, with opening questions lasting approximately 5–10 minutes. Behavioral lessons took between 10 and 25 minutes and behavioral activities lasted 15–30 minutes. Appreciations and closing concluded after 5–10 minutes. Pre- and post-group paperwork sessions took approximately 15–30 minutes (Burt, 2010). As Burt et al. (2012) suggested, groups must be strength-based (i.e., accentuating members’ strong points), and incorporate collaboration and teamwork. The group was prosocial in nature, emphasized clients’ strengths and developed social bonding. Topics for the eight sessions included the following: improving communication skills, recognizing personal emotions, identifying emotions within others, improving observational skills, advanced detection of emotions in others, noticing anger cues in others, understanding personal anger cues, strategies for calming down, and problem-solving.


     Mental health counselor for the intervention. The mental health counselor for both groups was this author, who has experience as a group facilitator and counselor educator. Additionally, the author worked as a training liaison for anger management groups in the school system, teaching conflict resolution and peer mediation. He also has experience working with groups for adults and children with oppositional defiance disorder and anger management issues. The group facilitator used an integrative orientation, utilizing social cognitive theory (SCT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT; Burt, 2010).




The focus of the study was to determine whether differences existed between male and female levels of excessive aggression. Table 1 displays descriptive statistics and indicates results from the one-way repeated measures ANOVA for AC and AX. Results for youths’ overall AC levels pre- and post-intervention indicated the following, F1, 8 = 6.36, p = .003, ES = .44. Thus, the pilot study showed preliminary findings that a significant difference existed between genders on AC. For the scale of AX, results indicated a statistically significant difference between genders pre- and post-intervention (F1, 8 = 4.06, p = .018, ES = .34). Although repeated measures indicated a statistically significant difference between genders, pair-wise comparisons allowed examination of exactly where differences lay between genders on AC and AX. Thus, a significant difference existed between gender on AC (p = .04), and on AX (.03; Table 1). At the beginning of the pilot study, males had less AC, but females had more AX. However, females had the larger increase in AC post-intervention, as well as the greatest reduction in AX between genders. Hence, females had the greater overall gains and improvement pre- and post-intervention as opposed to males.


Table 1

Outcome results for Anger Control and Anger Expression








M (SD)

M (SD)





M (SD)

M (SD)



Repeated Measures ANOVA a
      Anger Control











63.33 (7.85)


     Anger Expression














Pair-Wise Comparisons b




Note. a N = 9 b N = 18





Females had more AX than males, a finding which corresponds with Cross and Campbell (2011). Males appeared to have less AC and were somewhat less angry than females. A number of studies support the preceding findings, most notably Winstok (2011) and Carney et al. (2007). Further, this pilot’s findings corroborate the idea that both genders have equal problems with excessive anger (Carney et al., 2007). The results from this study also suggest that both genders can improve with interventions designed to address anger. According to Winstok (2011), a common misconception is that males have greater need for excessive anger interventions than females. However, in this pilot study, females responded better to the treatment than males did. This responsiveness to treatment is interesting in that few studies have directly compared sensitivity to interventions by gender. While sensitivity to treatment was not a focal point of this pilot, it is interesting to note and direct attention to this unexpected outcome.


The author believes that the primary underlying reason females responded better to the treatment is that they are an underserved population (West-Olatunji et al., 2010). This is not to say that other explanations are not contributing factors, but because the females in this study possibly represent an underserved population, the aforementioned factor likely has more influence. According to West-Olatunji (2010), an underserved population is one that needs services, but does not have access to help. In addition, a number of the females in this pilot qualify as an underserved population as defined by Burt and Butler (2011). For instance, background information provided by the school indicated that approximately 85% of males in this pilot study received prior services (e.g., counseling) before participating. Conversely, 40% of females in this pilot study received prior services. Although the purpose of this study was not to detail what causes an underserved population to develop, research indicates that it can be due to institutional, social or cultural constraints (West-Olatunji et al., 2010).


While this study did not use qualitative measures as advocated by McCarthy (2012), females verbally disclosed that the school rarely offers them anger management services. Female participants further stated that if those services were more readily available, they would use them. Conversely, males indicated being overwhelmed with staff attempting to persuade them to participate in anger management services. This dichotomy in access to treatment clearly marks the identification of an underserved population. Thus, the females’ higher responsiveness to the intervention is potentially due to the following: Perhaps this study was a first intervention for many of the female participants. For females who did receive prior services, it may have been the first intervention directly dealing with anger.


Day (2008) indicated three characteristics that clients need to increase the likelihood of a successful outcome: the client must be in distress, must actively seek help and must have high expectations for counseling. The female participants (as opposed to the majority of the males) in this study met the preceding three criteria. Members of both genders were in a state of distress (as evidenced by the school’s documentation system). However, females verbally admitted to wanting help and had higher expectations. Consequently, females in the pilot had larger, more consistent gains. As evidenced by West-Olatunji et al. (2010), when underserved populations receive desired treatments, the change is normally larger than average. Thus, the findings in this pilot study connect to previous research and provide a plausible reason for the differences between genders.



This pilot study had limitations stemming from research methods. First, the groups were limited to one school, as well as to selection from a standardized school documentation system (Burt, 2010). The documentation system compiled an objective list of behavior issues in school, but did not differentiate between excessively angry and nonexcessively angry behaviors. For example, documented behaviors could range from threatening school staff to not returning school forms promptly. To account for this issue, this study included school staff and administration’s professional suggestions for possible candidates. However, school staff may have had subtle biases for or against certain students. There are limitations to each method of selection, including both the standardized documentation system and the school staff. An additional limitation is that the same mental health counselor (the author of this article) conducted the groups. Due to this limitation, some participants’ changes may be due to the facilitator’s style or personality. More importantly, this study lacked a control group and had a small number of participants. The lack of a control group makes generalizations difficult in that it is uncertain whether other extraneous variables influenced the results. Having a small number of participants decreases the power of the pilot study and makes it difficult to generalize results. However, the fact that a significant finding occurred with a small sample size indicates the strong influence of the intervention (Gay & Airasian, 2003). In schools, it is difficult to conduct full-scale studies due to a number of preexisting conditions, such as high-stakes testing (Burt et al., 2013). Therefore, having a study without a control group and with a small number of participants may be the most appropriate method if investigators are to conduct research in schools (Heppner et al., 2008).


Implications and Future Directions for Research


Implications for mental health counselors stemming from this pilot study are numerous. First, mental health counselors must be aware that both genders need services for excessive anger. Mental health counselors should not allow personal biases and media influences to sway professional opinion (Gladding, 2012). In addition, mental health counselors must advocate for fairness and oppose stereotyped biases and ideologies pushed by society (Burt et al., 2012). According to Gray and Rose (2012), discrimination and internalized oppression begin by ignoring discriminatory societal practices. Only by remaining reflective and cognizant of personal biases can mental health counselors reduce problematic issues and model appropriate behaviors (Young, 2012).


A second implication for mental health counselors is to understand that a strength-based model promoting wellness is critically important for clients (Hagedorn & Hirshhorn, 2009). Specific populations, such as youth, respond better to models incorporating empowerment, which can lead to increased behavioral self-efficacy (Bandura, 2008a). Furthermore, positive modeling by mental health counselors also increases growth and behavioral self-efficacy (Bandura, 2008a). A combination of strength-based approaches, empowerment and modeling improve groups’ interpersonal, intrapersonal and extrapersonal functioning (Gladding, 2012). Third, mental health counselors should seek to improve delivery of services and outcomes by evaluating the group process (Steen, 2011). For instance, Gladding (2012) and McCarthy (2012) reinforced the notion of improving counseling services through research and evaluation. This study provided a formal assessment of a group that could have otherwise gone unreported.


Future researchers may want to improve the overall research design. For example, researchers could include a larger number of participants, groups and multiple facilitators. Moreover, future studies must have a true experimental design, such as a control group with random assignment. Including participants’ personal perspectives and phenomenological views not only increases the validity of research, it improves mental health counselors’ skill levels as well (Gladding, 2012). Qualitative measures improve skill level by giving mental health counselors a clear idea of what actually worked and what did not (Burt & Butler, 2011). Lastly, future researchers may want to pay more attention to gender responsiveness (sensitivity) to treatments, to determine if males or females respond better to specific treatments.




The purpose of this pilot study was to determine whether gender differences existed among adolescents for excessive anger. Preliminary results indicate that differences existed, but that there also were distinctions between genders regarding the intervention itself. Females had better AC, but also had more AX compared to their male counterparts. However, females seemed to respond better to the intervention, as shown by their larger gains and improvement. Males improved as well, but did not have the substantial progress observed in females. While past research may not have lent strong support for gender differences, this author hoped to reinvigorate interest in gender discrepancies. Females are an underserved population with regard to anger management; research has indicated that they experience anger sometimes at a rate paralleling or surpassing males (Cross & Campbell, 2011). However, due to societal stigma and cultural biases, many females do not receive anger management services. Therefore, only rigorous research can determine whether these problems truly exist by improving group research and outcomes (McCarthy, 2012).



Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The author reported no conflict of

interest or funding contributions for

the development of this manuscript.





Andronico, M. P., & Horne, A. M. (2004). Counseling men in groups: The role of myths, therapeutic factors, leadership, and rituals. In J. L. Delucia-Waack, D. A. Gerrity, C. R. Kalodner, & M. T. Riva (Eds.), Handbook of group counseling and psychotherapy (pp. 456–468). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Bandura, A. (2008a). Reconstrual of “free will” from the agentic perspective of social cognitive theory. In J. Baer, J. C. Kaufman, & R. F. Baumeister (Eds.), Are we free? Psychology and free will (pp. 86–127). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Bandura, A. (2008b). Toward an agentic theory of the self. In H. W. Marsh, R. G. Craven, & D. M. McInerney (Eds.), Self-processes, learning, and enabling human potential: Dynamic new approaches (pp. 15–49). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66, 3–11.

Barrio, V. D., Aluja, A., & Spielberger, C. (2004). Anger assessment with the STAXI-CA: Psychometric properties of a new instrument for children and adolescents. Personality and Individual Differences, 37, 227–244. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2003.08.014

Blanton, E., Christensen, C., & Shakir, J. (2006). Empowering the angry child for positive leadership. Louisville, KY: Peace Education Program.

Brandts, J., & Garofalo, O. (2012). Gender pairings and accountability effects. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 83, 31–41. doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2011.06.023

Bryan, J., Day-Vines, N. L., Griffin, D., & Moore-Thomas, C. (2012). The disproportionality dilemma: Patterns of teacher referrals to school counselors for disruptive behavior. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90, 177–­190. doi:10.1111/j.1556-6676.2012.00023.x

Buntaine, R. L., & Costenbader, V. K. (1997). Self-reported differences in the experience and expression of anger between girls and boys. Sex Roles, 36, 625–637. doi:10.1023/A:1025670008765

Burt, I. (2010). Addressing anger management in a middle school setting: Initiating a leadership driven anger management group (Doctoral dissertation, University of Central Florida). Retrieved from

Burt, I., & Butler, S. K. (2011). Capoeira as a clinical intervention: Addressing adolescent aggression with Brazilian martial arts. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 39, 48–57. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1912.2011.tb00139.x

Burt, I., Patel, S. H., Butler, S. K., & Gonzalez, T. (2013). Integrating leadership skills into anger management groups to reduce aggressive behaviors: The LIT model. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 35,124–141.

Burt, I., Patel, S. H., & Lewis, S. V. (2012). Anger management leadership groups: A creative intervention for increasing relational and social competencies with aggressive youth. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 7, 249–261.

Caprara, G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (1993). Early emotional instability, prosocial behaviour, and aggression: Some methodological aspects. European Journal of Personality, 7, 19–36. doi:10.1002/per.2410070103

Carney, M., Buttell, F., & Dutton, D. (2007). Women who perpetrate intimate partner violence: A review of the literature with recommendations for treatment. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 12, 108–115. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2006.05.002

Chirichella-Besemer, D., & Motta, R. W. (2008). Psychological maltreatment and its relationship with negative affect in men and women. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 8, 423–445. doi:10.1080/10926790802480380

Corey, G. (2011). Theory and practice of group counseling (8th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Cross, C. P., & Campbell, A. (2011). Women’s aggression. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16, 390–398. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2011.02.012

Curtis, R., Van Horne, J. W., Robertson, P., & Karvonen, M. (2010). Outcomes of a school-wide positive behavioral support program. Professional School Counseling, 13, 159–164.

Day, S. X. (2008). Theory and design in counseling and psychotherapy (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Fischer, A. H., & Evers, C. (2011). The social costs and benefits of anger as a function of gender and relationship context. Sex Roles, 65, 23–34. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-9956-x

Fleckenstein, L., & Horne, A. M. (2004). Anger management groups. In J. L. Delucia-Waack, D. A. Gerrity, C. R. Kalodner, & M. T. Riva (Eds.), Handbook of group counseling and psychotherapy (pp. 547–562). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Freeman, S. J. (2004). Review of the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2. In B. S. Plake, J. C. Impara, & R. A. Spies (Eds.), The fifteenth mental measurements yearbook (pp. 1182–1183). Lincoln, NE: Buros Center for Testing.

Gay, L. R., & Airasian, P. (2003). Educational research: Competencies for analysis and applications (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Gladding, S. T. (2012). Groups: A counseling specialty (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Gottfredson, L. S. (2002). Gottfredson’s theory of circumscription, compromise, and self-creation. In D. Brown, & Associates (Eds.), Career choice and development (4th ed., pp. 85–148). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gray, J. S., & Rose, W. J. (2012). Cultural adaptation for therapy with American Indians and Alaska Natives. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 40, 82–92. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1912.2012.00008.x

Gutierrez, D., & Hagedorn, W. B. (2013). The toxicity of shame: Applications for acceptance and commitment therapy. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 35, 43–59.

Hagedorn, W. B., & Hirshhorn, M. A. (2009). When talking won’t work: Implementing experiential group activities with addicted clients. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 34, 43–67. doi:10.1080/01933920802600832

Heppner, P. P., Wampold, B. E., & Kivlighan, D. M. (2008). Research design in counseling (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Karreman, A., & Bekker, M. H. J. (2012). Feeling angry and acting angry: Different effects of autonomy-connectedness in boys and girls. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 407–415. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2011.07.016

McCarthy, C. J. (2012). Developing best practices for researching group work. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 37, 93–94. doi:10.1080/01933922.2012.666445

Parker, C. A., & Bickmore, K. (2012). Conflict management and dialogue with diverse students: Novice teachers’ approaches and concerns. Journal of Teaching and Learning, 8(2), 47–64.

Sadeh, N., Javdani, S., Finy, M. S., & Verona, E. (2011). Gender differences in emotional risk for self- and other-directed violence among externalizing adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 79, 106–117. doi:10.1037/a0022197

Spielberger, C. D. (1999). State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2 (STAXI-2). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Steen, S. (2011). Academic and personal development through group work: An exploratory study. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 36, 129–143. doi:10.1080/01933922.2011.562747

West-Olatunji, C., Shure, L., Pringle, R., Adams, T., Lewis, D., & Cholewa, B. (2010). Exploring how school counselors position low-income African American girls as mathematics and science learners. Professional School Counseling, 13, 184–195.

Winstok, Z. (2011). The paradigmatic cleavage on gender differences in partner violence perpetration and victimization. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16, 303–311. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2011.04.004

Young, M. E. (2012). Learning the art of helping: Building blocks and techniques (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Zimprich, D., & Mascherek, A. (2012). Anger expression in Swiss adolescents: Establishing measurement invariance across gender in the AX scales. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 1013–1022. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.02.008




Isaac Burt is an assistant professor at Florida International University. Correspondence can be addressed to College of Education, 11200 SW 8th Street, ZEB Building Room 236, Miami, FL 33199,


Convergent and Divergent Validity of the Student Engagement in School Success Skills Survey

Elizabeth Villares, Kimberly Colvin, John Carey, Linda Webb, Greg Brigman, Karen Harrington

This study examines the convergent validity and divergent validity of the Student Engagement in School Success Skills (SESSS) survey. The SESSS is easy to administer (it takes fewer than 15 minutes to complete) and is used in schools to provide educators with useful information about students’ use of skills and strategies related to school success. A total of 4,342 fifth graders completed the SESSS; the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) Cognitive Strategy Use, Self-Regulation, Self-Efficacy and Test Anxiety subscales; and the Self-Efficacy for Self-Regulated Learning (SESRL). The three subscales of the SESSS (Self-Direction of Learning, Support of Classmates’ Learning and Self-Regulation of Arousal) correlated highly with the MSLQ Cognitive Strategy Use and Self-Regulation subscales, moderately correlated with the Self-Efficacy subscale and the SESRL, and did not correlate with the MSLQ Test Anxiety subscale. Future research is needed to use the SESSS subscales as discriminable dimensions.

Keywords: school success, convergent validity, divergent validity, Student Engagement in School Success Skills survey, educators

For more than a decade, researchers have placed increased emphasis on evidence-based practice and a programmatic approach to school counseling (Carey, 2004; Green & Keys, 2001; Gysbers, 2004; Lapan, 2005; Myrick, 2003; Paisley & Hayes, 2003; Whiston, 2002, 2011). This emphasis from the school counseling profession reflects national initiatives. In 2001, the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, was established to determine, through rigorous and relevant research, what interventions are effective and ineffective for improving student achievement and education outcomes. The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), an initiative of the Institute of Education Sciences, was created in 2002 to identify studies that provide credible and reliable evidence of the effectiveness of education interventions. The purpose of WWC is to inform researchers, educators and policymakers of interventions designed to improve student outcomes.


The American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA, 2005) response to emerging national policy and initiatives included a call for school counselor-led interventions that contribute to increased student achievement as part of a comprehensive school counseling program. The need for more research to identify evidence-based interventions tying school counselors to improved student academic performance also surfaced in a school counseling Delphi study, which identified the most pressing research questions in the profession (Dimmitt, Carey, McGannon, & Henningson, 2005). The top priority cited by this Delphi study was the need to determine which school counseling interventions resulted in the greatest student achievement gains. In addition, five major reviews of school counseling research all discussed the need for more research to strengthen the link between school counselor interventions and student achievement (Brown & Trusty, 2005; Dimmitt, Carey, & Hatch, 2007; Whiston & Quinby, 2009; Whiston & Sexton, 1998; Whiston, Tai, Rahardja, & Eder, 2011). However, researchers continue to report limitations in the school counseling outcome research. Among the limitations are conclusions drawn from studies based on nonstandardized outcome assessments. For instance, in a review of school counseling studies, Brown and Trusty (2005) concluded that school counseling research has been limited by the lack of valid and reliable instruments that measure the skills, strategies and personal attributes associated with academic and social/relationship success. More recently, Whiston et al. (2011) completed a meta-analytic examination of school counseling interventions and also determined the dominance of nonstandardized outcome assessments in school counseling research as a significant limitation. These limitations continue to be a hindrance for the school counseling profession, given the goal of establishing evidence-based practices that link school counselor interventions to improved student outcomes. The current WWC’s Procedures and Standards Handbook (WWC, 2011) includes review procedures for evaluating studies that determine a particular intervention to be effective in improving student outcomes. The handbook provides nine reasons why a study under review would fail to meet WWC standards for rigorous research. Among the reasons is a failure to use reliable and valid outcome measures.


While a few valid instruments have recently been developed to measure school counseling outcomes (Scarborough, 2005; Sink & Spencer, 2007; Whiston & Aricak, 2008), they do not measure student changes in knowledge and skills related to academic achievement. The Student Engagement in School Success Skills survey (SESSS; Carey, Brigman, Webb, Villares, & Harrington, 2013) was developed to measure student use of the skills and strategies that were (a) identified as most critical for long-term school success and (b) could be taught by school counselors within the scope of the ASCA National Model, through classroom guidance. The importance of continuing to evaluate the psychometric properties of the SESSS lies in the fact that, for school counselors, there has typically been no standardized way to measure these types of outcomes and tie them directly to school counselor interventions. Previous studies on self-report measures of student metacognition indicate that it is feasible to develop such a measure for elementary-level students (Sperling, Howard, Miller, & Murphy, 2002; Yildiz, Akpinar, Tatar, & Ergin, 2009). The foundational concepts, skills and strategies of metacognition as well as the social skills and self-management skills taught in the Student Success Skills (SSS) program are developmentally appropriate for grades 4–10. The questions for the SESSS were developed to parallel these key strategies and skills taught in the SSS program. The instrument was tested for readability and is appropriate for grade 4 and above.


The SESSS is a self-report measure of students’ use of key skills and strategies that have been identified consistently over several decades as critically important to student success in school, as noted in large reviews of educational research literature (Hattie, Biggs, & Purdie, 1996; Masten & Coatsworth, 1998; Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1994a). Three skill sets have emerged from this research literature as common threads in contributing to student academic success and social competence: (a) cognitive and metacognitive skills such as goal setting, progress monitoring and memory skills; (b) social skills such as interpersonal skills, social problem solving, listening and teamwork skills; and (c) self-management skills such as managing attention, motivation and anger (Villares, Frain, Brigman, Webb, & Peluso, 2012). Additional research in support of these skills and strategies continues to weave a coherent research tapestry that is useful in separating successful students from students at risk of academic failure (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Greenberg et al., 2003; Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001; Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004).


Linking school counseling programs and interventions to improved student outcomes has become increasingly important (Carey et al., 2013). One way for school counselors to demonstrate the impact of classroom guidance and small group counseling on achievement is by measuring the impact of their interventions on intermediate variables associated with achievement. These intermediate variables include the previously mentioned skills and strategies involving cognitive, social and self-management. Instruments that measure these critically important fundamental learning skills and strategies are limited.


The present article explores the convergent and divergent validity of the SESSS (Carey et al., 2013). The article builds upon previous research describing the item development of the SESSS and exploratory factor analysis (Carey et al., 2013) and a recently completed confirmatory factor analysis (Brigman et al., 2014). The current findings contribute to the establishment of the SESSS as a valid instrument for measuring the impact of school counselor-led interventions on intermediate variables associated with improved student achievement.




The data collected on the SESSS occurred within the context of a multiyear, large-scale, randomized control trial funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. The purpose of the grant was to investigate the effectiveness of the SSS program (Brigman & Webb, 2010) with fifth graders from two large school districts (Webb, Brigman, Carey, & Villares, 2011). In order to guard against researcher bias, the authors hired data collectors to administer the SESSS, Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) and Self-Efficacy for Self-Regulated Learning (SESRL), and standardized the training and data collection process. The authors selected these particular surveys because they reflected factors known to be related to effective learning in different ways and because they provided a range of measures, some of which were theoretically related to the SESSS and some of which were not.



During the 2011–2012 academic year, graduate students who were enrolled in master’s-level Counselor Education programs at two universities were hired and trained in a one-day workshop to administer the SESSS, MSLQ and SESRL and handle data collection materials. At the training, each data collector was assigned to five of the 60 schools across two school districts. After obtaining approvals from the university institutional review board and school district, the research team members notified parents of fifth-grade students of the study via district call-home systems and sent a letter home explaining the study, risks, benefits, voluntary nature of the study and directions on how to decline participation. One month later, data collectors entered their assigned schools and participating classrooms to administer the study instruments. Prior to administering the instruments, each data collector read aloud the student assent. Students who gave their assent were instructed to place a precoded generic label at the top of their instrument, and then each data collector read aloud the directions, along with each item and possible response choice on the SESSS, MSLQ and SESRL. Each assigned data collector was responsible for distributing, collecting and returning all the completed instruments to a district project coordinator once the data collector left the school building according to the Survey Data Collection Manual. In addition, the data collector noted any student absences and/or irregularities, and confirmed that all procedures were followed.


The district project coordinators were responsible for verifying that all materials were returned and secured in a locked cabinet until they were ready to be shipped to a partner university for data analysis. The coordinators gathered demographic information from the district databases and matched it to the participating fifth-grade students and the precoded instrument labels through a generic coding system (district #1–2, school #1–30, classroom #1–6, student #1–25). The coordinators then saved the demographic information in a password-protected and encrypted Excel spreadsheet on an external device and shipped it to a partner university for data analysis.


A total of 4,342 fifth-grade students in two large school districts completed the SESSS. The following is the demographic profile of the total participants: (a) gender = 2,150 (49.52%) female and 2,192 (50.48%) male; (b) ethnicity = 149 (3.43%) Asian, 1,502 (34.59%) Black, 865 (19.92%) Hispanic, 18 (.42%) Native American, 125 (2.88%) Multiracial, 1,682 (38.74%) White, and 1 (.02%) no response; (c) socioeconomic status = 1,999 (46.04%) noneconomically disadvantaged and 2,343 (53.96%) economically disadvantaged; (d) disability = 3,677 (84.68%) nondisabled and 665 (15.32%) disabled; (e) 504 status = 4,155 (95.70%) non-504 and 187 504 (4.3%); and (f) English language learners (ELL) = 3,999 (92.1%) non-ELL and 343 (7.9%) ELL students. Demographic information for fifth-grade students in each school district is reported in Table 1.


Table 1


Fifth-Grade Student Participant Demographics by School District


Demographic Characteristics

District 1

(n = 2,162)

District 2

(n = 2,180)

Gender FemaleMale

1,080    (49.90%)

1,082    (50.10%)

1,070    (49.10%)

1,110    (50.90%)

Ethnicity AsianBlack


Native American



No response

     89    (04.12%)

   899    (41.58%)

   165    (07.63%)

       7    (00.32%)

     64    (02.95%)

   938    (43.40%)


     60    (02.75%)

   603    (27.66%)

   700    (32.11%)

     11    (00.50%)

     61    (02.80%)

   744    (34.13%)

       1    (00.05%)

SES Non-economically disadvantagedEconomically disadvantaged

1,118    (51.71%)

1,044    (48.29%)

    881   (40.41%)

 1,299   (59.59%)

Disability NondisabledDisabled

1,847    (85.43%)

   315    (14.57%)

 1,830   (83.94%)

    350   (16.06%)

504 Status Non-504504

2,108    (97.50%)

     54    (02.50%)

 2,047   (93.90%)

    133   (06.10%)

English language learners Non-ELLELL

1,968    (91.03%)

   194    (08.97%)

  2,031   (93.17%)

     149   (06.83%)


Note. n = number of students enrolled in the district; SES = socioeconomic status; ELL = English language learners.




     Student Engagement in School Success Skills. The SESSS (Carey et al., 2013) was developed to measure the extent to which students use the specific strategies that researchers have shown relate to enhanced academic achievement (Hattie et al., 1996; Masten & Coatsworth, 1998; Wang et al., 1994b). Survey items were written to assess students’ cognitive and metacognitive skills (e.g., goal setting, progress monitoring, memory skills), social skills (e.g., communication skills, social problem solving, listening, teamwork skills) and self-management skills (e.g., managing attention, motivation, anger). After the initial pool of items was developed, items were reviewed by an expert panel of elementary educators and school counselors and subjected to a readability analysis using the Lexile Framework for Reading system (MetaMetrics, 2012). At each stage of review, minor changes were made to improve clarity on several items.

Twenty-seven self-report items (plus six additional items used to control for response set) were assembled into a scale with the following directions: “Below is a list of things that some students do to help themselves do better in school. No one does all these things. No one does any of these things all the time. Please think back over the last two weeks and indicate how often you did each of these things in the last two weeks. Please follow along as each statement is read and circle the answer that indicates what you really did. Please do your best to be as accurate as possible. There are no right or wrong answers. We will not share your answers with your parents or teachers. We will not grade your answers.”


The response format included four options that reflected frequency of strategy use in the last two weeks: “I didn’t do this at all,” “I did this once,” “I did this two times” and “I did this three or more times.” This response format was not conducive to writing clear negatively worded items; therefore, six additional items were developed to help control for response set. Three of these additional items reflected strategies that elementary students were unlikely to use (e.g., searching the Internet for additional math problems to complete). Three items reflected strategies that elementary students were likely to use (e.g., asking a friend when homework was due), but they were not covered in the SSS program.


Based on a previous administration of the SESSS to 262 elementary students in the fourth through eighth grades, Carey et al. (2013) reported an overall alpha coefficient for reliability for the 27-item scale to be .91, and coefficient alphas for each grade ranged between .87 (for fifth grade) and .95 (for seventh grade). All items correlated well with the total scale (ranging between .34 and .63). Scores on the total scale were distributed approximately normally: M =65.83, SD = 15.44.


In addition, Carey et al., (2013) found in an exploratory factor analysis of the SESSS scores of 402 fourth through sixth graders that a four-factor solution provided the best model of scale dimensionality, considering both the solution’s clean factor structure and the interpretability of these factors. These four factors reflected students’ Self-Management of Learning, Application of Learning Strategies, Support of Classmates’ Learning and Self-Regulation of Arousal. Regarding the SESSS factors, Self-Management of Learning and Application of Learning Strategies related closely to the categories of cognitive skills, metacognitive skills and the intentional self-regulation of cognitive processes. Support of Classmates’ Learning related closely to social skills that support classroom learning. Self-Regulation of Arousal related to the self-management of arousal and emotion that can interfere with effective learning. While determining the actual associations of SESSS factors with specific, previously established constructs requires empirical study, it is encouraging that the factor structure determined in this research corresponded with previous research.


In a confirmatory factor analysis study (Brigman et al., 2014), using SESSS scores from a diverse sample of almost 4,000 fifth-grade students, who found that while a four-factor model fit the data well, the scales associated with Self-Management of Learning and Application of Learning Strategies correlated so highly (r = .90) as to be indiscriminate. These items associated with the two factors were combined, and the subsequent three-factor model also proved to better fit the data. Brigman et al. (2014) suggested that the SESSS is best thought of as having three underlying factors corresponding to Self-Direction of Learning (which represents the combination of the original Management of Learning and Application of Learning Strategies factors), Support of Classmates’ Learning and Self-Regulation of Arousal.


Based on factor loadings, Brigman et al. (2014) created three SESSS subscales. The Self-Direction of Learning subscale (19 items) reflects the students’ intentional use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies to promote their own learning. Typical items include the following: “After I failed to reach a goal, I told myself to try a new strategy and not to doubt my ability,” and “I tried to keep myself motivated by imagining what it would be like to achieve an important goal.” The Support of Classmates’ Learning subscale (six items) reflects the students’ intentional use of strategies to help classmates learn effectively. Typical items include the following: “I tried to help a classmate learn how to do something that was difficult for them to do,” and “I tried to encourage a classmate who was having a hard time doing something.” Finally, the Self-Regulation of Arousal subscale (three items) reflects students’ intentional use of strategies to control disabling anxiety and cope with stress. Typical items include the following: “I focused on slowing my breathing so I would feel less stressed,” and “I imagined being in a calm place in order to feel less stressed.”


     Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire. The MSLQ is a 55-item, student self-report instrument with five subscales that measure different aspects of students’ motivation, emotion, effort and strategy use (Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990). The different subscales of the MSLQ are designed to be used singly or in combination to fit the needs of a researcher (Duncan & McKeachie, 2005). Items were adapted from various instruments used to assess student motivation, cognitive strategy use and metacognition (e.g., Eccles, 1983; Harter, 1981; Weinstein, Schulte, & Palmer, 1987). The present study used the following four subscales of the MSLQ: Cognitive Strategy Use, Self-Regulation, Self-Efficacy and Test Anxiety.


The Cognitive Strategy Use subscale is composed of 13 items that reflect the use of different types of cognitive strategies (e.g., rehearsal, elaboration, organizational strategies) to support learning. Typical items include the following: “When I read material for class, I say the words over and over to myself to help me remember,” “When I study, I put important ideas into my own words” and “I outline the chapters in my book to help me study.” Pintrich and DeGroot (1990) reported that the Cognitive Strategy Use subscale is reliable (Cronbach’s alpha = .83).


The Self-Regulation subscale includes nine items that reflect metacognitive and effort management strategies that support learning. Typical items include the following: “I ask myself questions to make sure I know the material I have been studying” and “Even when study materials are boring I keep working until I finish.” Pintrich and DeGroot (1990) reported that the Self-Regulation subscale is reliable (Cronbach’s alpha = .74).


The Self-Efficacy subscale is composed of nine items that reflect students’ ratings of their level of confidence in their ability to do well in classroom work. Typical items include the following: “Compared with others in this class, I think I’m a good student” and “I know that I will be able to learn the material for this class.” Pintrich and DeGroot (1990) reported that the Self-Efficacy subscale is reliable (Cronbach’s alpha = .89).


The Test Anxiety subscale includes four items that reflect students’ ratings of their experience of disabling levels of anxiety associated with classroom tests and examinations. Typical items include the following: “I am so nervous during a test that I cannot remember facts I have learned” and “I worry a great deal about tests.” Pintrich and DeGroot (1990) reported that the Self-Efficacy subscale is reliable (Cronbach’s alpha = .75).


Factor analyses indicated that these MSLQ subscales are related to different latent factors. Scores on the Cognitive Strategy Use subscale have been demonstrated to be related to grades on quizzes and examinations, grades on essays and reports, and overall class grades. Scores on the Self-Regulation subscale have been shown to be related to the above measures plus student performance on classroom seatwork assignments. Scores on the Self-Efficacy subscale have been demonstrated to be related to students’ grades on quizzes and examinations, grades for classroom seatwork assignments, grades on essays and reports, and overall class grades. Scores on the Test Anxiety subscale proved to be associated with lower levels of performance on classroom examinations and quizzes, as well as course grades (Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990).


Duncan and McKeachie (2005) reviewed the extensive research on the psychometric properties and research uses of the MSLQ. They concluded that the subscales are reliable, measure their target constructs and have been successfully used in numerous studies to measure student change after educational interventions targeting these constructs.


     Self-Efficacy for Self-Regulated Learning scale. The SESRL was designed to measure students’ confidence in their abilities to perform self-regulatory strategies. It is a seven-item self-report instrument based on the Children’s Self-Efficacy Scale (Bandura, 2006; Usher & Pajares, 2008). Items (e.g., “How well can you motivate yourself to do schoolwork?”) reflect students’ judgments about their abilities to perform self-regulation strategies identified by teachers as being frequently used by students (Pajares & Valiante, 1999). The scale has been used successfully with older elementary students in a self-read format and with fourth graders in a read aloud administration format (Usher & Pajares, 2006). Cronbach’s alpha estimates of reliability have ranged between .78 and .84 (Britner & Pajares, 2006; Pajares & Valiante, 2002; Usher & Pajares, 2008). Factor analysis has suggested that the scale is unidimensional. Concurrent validity studies have indicated that the scale is related to measures of self-efficacy, task orientation and achievement (Usher & Pajares, 2006).


Data Analysis

In the initial analysis of the three SESSS subscales, the present authors used mean imputation to replace missing survey responses, by replacing a missing response with the overall mean for that survey item. For each of the 33 SESSS items, only 8.3%–9.1% of the responses were missing. Mean imputation is appropriate when the percentage of missing data is less than 10% and can be considered to be missing at random (Longford, 2005). In the current study, the students with missing survey data had an average SESSS score equal to that of the students with a complete response set, thus supporting the notion that the data were missing at random. Coefficient alpha, used as a measure of reliability, was calculated for each of the subscales before missing values were replaced.


Both convergent and discriminant evidence is needed in the validation process (Campbell & Fiske, 1959; Messick, 1993). Messick (1993) argued that while convergent evidence is important, it can mask certain problems. For example, if all tests of a construct do not measure a particular facet of that construct, the tests could all correlate highly. Likewise, if all tests of a construct include some particular form of construct-irrelevant variance, then the tests may correlate even more strongly because of that fact. Due to these possible shortcomings of convergent evidence, discriminant evidence is needed to ensure that the test is not correlated with another construct that could account for the misleading convergent evidence.


To determine the validity of the three SESSS subscales, the authors examined the correlations between each of the subscales with five other measures: four subscales of the MSLQ (Self-Efficacy, Cognitive Strategy Use, Self-Regulation and Test Anxiety), and the SESRL. Specifically, the authors considered the strength and direction of the SESSS subscales’ correlations with these other measures.




Descriptive statistics and reliability estimates for the instruments used in this study are contained in Table 2. Coefficient alphas for the three SESSS subscales (Self-Direction of Learning, Support of Classmates’ Learning and Self-Regulation of Arousal), were 0.89, 0.79 and 0.68, respectively, and 0.90 for the SESSS as a whole. These results indicate good internal consistency (i.e., that the items within each instrument measure the same construct).


All correlations between pairs of subscales appear in Table 3. Because of the large sample size in this study, statistical significance by itself could be misleading, so the authors used the magnitude and direction of the correlations for their interpretations. Correlation is an effect size reflecting the degree of association of two variables (Ellis, 2010). The correlations among the three SESSS subscales ranged between .47 and .70, which suggests that the subscales measured related but discriminable dimensions of students’ success skill use. In assessing the concurrent validity of these three subscales, it was helpful to first focus on the scales that correlated most highly with the three SESSS subscales. The three SESSS subscales followed the same pattern with respect to strength of correlation. All three correlated most highly with both the Cognitive Strategy Use and Self-Regulation subscales of the MSLQ. These two subscales measure the students’ reported use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies associated with effort management and effective learning.


Table 2


Descriptive Statistics and Reliability Estimates for the Study Scales

Scales Scales




SESSS Self-Direction of Learning




Support of Classmates’ Learning




Self-Regulation of Arousal




MSLQ Self-Efficacy




Cognitive Strategy Use








Test Anxiety




SESRL Self-Eff. for Self-Reg. Learning





Note. SESSS = Student Engagement in School Success Skills; MSLQ = Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire;            SESRL = Self-Efficacy for Self-Regulated Learning.



Table 3


Correlations Between Scales


























































Note. SESSS = Student Engagement in School Success Skills survey; MSLQ = Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire; SESRL = Self-Efficacy for Self-Regulated Learning scale; SDL = Self-Direction of Learning; SCL = Support of Classmates’ Learning; SRA = Self-Regulation of Arousal; SE = Self-Efficacy; CSU = Cognitive Strategy Use; SR = Self-Regulation; TA = Test Anxiety;
*p < .01


Next, the three SESSS subscales correlated with the SESRL, which measures students’ beliefs in their capability to engage in common effective self-regulation learning strategies. Again, all three SESSS subscales followed the same pattern, and had a considerable drop in magnitude of correlation with the MSLQ Self-Efficacy subscale, which measures students’ reports of general academic self-efficacy. While smaller, the correlations with the Self-Efficacy subscale (which ranged between .12 and .28) were practically different than 0. The Self-Direction of Learning subscale had the strongest correlations with the other measures, followed by the Support of Classmates’ Learning subscale and finally by the Self-Regulation of Arousal subscale. There is evidence that the three SESSS subscales, the Cognitive Strategy Use subscale and the Self-Regulation subscale of the MSLQ, and the SESRL all measure some common dimension of an underlying construct, probably relating to students’ intentional use of strategies to promote effective learning.


The Self-Regulation of Arousal subscale was the only one of the three SESSS subscales to be significantly correlated with the MSLQ Test Anxiety subscale. Conceptually, students’ abilities to self-regulate arousal should be related to their reported levels of test anxiety. However, given the weak relationship (r = 0.08) and the fact that this observed correlation was actually opposite in direction to the relationship that would be expected, this finding should not be given undue weight. The results of this study offer little to no evidence that the three SESSS subscales measure the same construct as the MSLQ Test Anxiety subscale. This weak or nonexistent relationship is discriminant evidence in that the other SESSS subscales did not correlate strongly or at all with the MSLQ Test Anxiety subscale. However, the three other MSLQ subscales and the SESRL all showed moderate, negative correlations with the MSLQ Test Anxiety subscale. These differing patterns of correlation with MSLQ Test Anxiety suggest that the SESSS subscales capture a different dimension than the common dimension of the underlying construct measured by the MSLQ subscales (including the Test Anxiety subscale) and the SESRL.



The observed pattern of results is very useful in determining the validity of inferences that currently can be made from SESSS scores. Based on prior factor analytic studies (Brigman et al., 2014; Carey et al., 2013), the present authors made an attempt to create three SESSS subscales based on the items that load most strongly on each of three underlying factors. These three SESSS subscales showed good internal consistency and moderate intercorrelations suggesting that the three subscales most probably measure related but discriminable dimensions of students’ success skill use. However, the three SESSS subscales showed essentially the same pattern of correlation with comparison scales. Similarly, the pattern of results suggests that there is little or no overlap between the construct measured by the three SESSS subscales and the construct measured by the Test Anxiety subscale of the MSLQ.


Unfortunately, these results do not shed much light on any differences among the SESSS subscales. Each subscale showed essentially the same pattern of correlations with the comparison scales even where differences would have been expected. For example, the authors would have expected the SESSS Self-Regulation of Arousal subscale to correlate significantly with the MSLQ Test Anxiety subscale, since individuals who are better able to regulate their levels of emotional arousal would be expected to experience less specific anxiety.


These results suggest that the SESSS as a whole represents a valid measure of students’ intentional use of strategies to promote academic success. While prior factor analytic studies (Brigman et al., 2014; Carey et al., 2013) have suggested that the SESSS has three related dimensions, making inferences based upon the three SESSS subscales related to these dimensions is not warranted. Instead, until evidence can be found that these three subscales measure discriminable dimensions of success skill use, the SESSS should be used as a unitary measure in research and practice. Future research in this area is necessary.



Researchers have thoroughly documented the need for school counselors to demonstrate their impact on student achievement (Brown & Trusty, 2005; Dimmitt et al., 2007; Whiston & Quinby, 2009; Whiston & Sexton, 1998; Whiston et al., 2011). School counselor-led interventions that provide evidence of improving student performance remain at the top of national initiatives and research agendas (ASCA, 2005; Dimmitt et al., 2005). However, there is a limited amount of standardized outcome assessments specifically tied to school counselor interventions available to evaluate changes in student knowledge, skills and attitudes related to academic achievement.


The SESSS is easy to administer (it takes fewer than 15 minutes to complete) and educators use it in schools to gain valuable information about students’ use of skills and strategies related to school success. Results on the SESSS may be used to improve the implementation of school counselor-led interventions and reinforcement of specific skills in school and home settings. Current findings indicate that SESSS results should be interpreted as a whole rather than by subscale. SESSS results can be used to monitor student progress, and identify gaps in learning as well as factors affecting student behavior.


The SESSS may be used as a screening tool to identify students in need of school counseling interventions and to evaluate student growth in the academic and behavioral domains. A review of SESSS student data may reveal gaps between student groups and identify the need for additional education opportunities, as well as lead to decisions about future goals of the school counseling program and discussions with administration and staff about program improvement (Carey et al., 2013). Finally, SESSS student data can be used to demonstrate how school counselors can impact student academic and personal/social development related to classroom learning and achievement. SESSS results can be shared with various stakeholders through a variety of report formats (e.g., Web sites, handouts, newsletters), publications, or presentations at the local, regional or national level to document the school counselor’s ability to affect student outcomes most related to parents, administrators and other staff (Carey et al., 2013).


There is one limitation in the study worth noting. While the sample size for the current analysis is considered large and diverse, all participates represented a single grade level, fifth grade, and two public school districts. Future analyses should include students from various elementary and secondary settings and grade levels.


Future research on the psychometric properties of the SESSS should include studies that address (a) the reliability and intercorrelations of the assessments corresponding to the three SESSS subscales and (b) the predictive validity that establishes the relationships between SESSS subscales and measures of academic success (e.g., achievement test scores, grades, teacher ratings). These additional studies are necessary to firmly establish the utility of the SESSS as a reliable and valid measure of student success skills.



Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of

interest or funding contributions for

the development of this manuscript.





American School Counselor Association. (2005). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.

Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.), Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents (pp. 307–337). Greenwich, CT: Information Age.

Brigman, G., & Webb, L. (2010). Student Success Skills: Classroom manual (3rd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: Atlantic Education Consultants.

Brigman, G., Wells, C., Webb, L., Villares, E., Carey, J. C., & Harrington, K. (2014). Psychometric properties and confirmatory factor analysis of the student engagement in school success skills. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0748175614544545

Britner, S. L., & Pajares, F. (2006). Sources of science self-efficacy beliefs of middle school

students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43, 485–499.

Brown, D., & Trusty, J. (2005). School counselors, comprehensive school counseling programs, and academic achievement: Are school counselors promising more than they can deliver? Professional School Counseling, 9, 1–8.

Campbell, D. T., & Fiske, D. W. (1959). Convergent and discriminant validation by the multitrait-multimethod matrix. Psychological Bulletin, 56, 81–105.

Carey, J. C. (2004). Does implementing a research-based school counseling curriculum enhance student achievement? Amherst, MA: Center for School Counseling Outcome Research. Retrieved from

Carey, J., Brigman, G., Webb, L., Villares, E., & Harrington, K. (2013). Development of an instrument to measure student use of academic success skills: An exploratory factor analysis. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 47, 171–180. doi:10.1177/0748175613505622

Dimmitt, C., Carey, J. C., & Hatch, T. (2007). Evidence-based school counseling: Making a difference with data-driven practices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Dimmitt, C., Carey, J. C., McGannon, W., & Henningson, I. (2005). Identifying a school counseling research agenda: A delphi study. Counselor Education and Supervision, 44, 214–228. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2005.tb01748.x

Duncan, T. G., & McKeachie, W. J. (2005). The making of the motivated strategies for learning questionnaire. Educational Psychologist, 40, 117–128.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405–432. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x

Eccles, J. (1983). Expectancies, values and academic behaviors. In J. T. Spence (Ed.), Achievement and achievement motives: Psychological and sociological approaches (pp. 75–146). San Francisco, CA: W.H. Freeman.

Ellis, P. D. (2010). The essential guide to effect sizes: Statistical power, meta-analysis, and the interpretation of research results. Leiden, Netherlands: Cambridge University Press.

Green, A., & Keys, S. (2001). Expanding the developmental school-counseling paradigm: Meeting the needs of the 21st century student. Professional School Counseling, 5, 84–95.

Greenberg, M. T., Weissberg, R. P., O’Brien, M. U., Zins, J. E., Fredericks, L., Resnik, H., & Elias, M. J. (2003). Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. American Psychologist. Special Issue: Prevention that Works for Children and Youth, 58, 466–474.

Gysbers, N. C. (2004). Comprehensive guidance and counseling programs: The evolution of accountability. Professional School Counseling, 8, 1–14.

Harter, S. (1981). A new self-report scale of intrinsic versus extrinsic orientation in the classroom: Motivational and informational components. Developmental Psychology, 17, 300–312.

Hattie, J., Biggs, J., & Purdie, N. (1996). Effects of learning skills interventions on student learning: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66(2), 99–136. doi:10.3102/00346543066002099

Lapan, R. (2005). Evaluating school counseling programs. In C. A. Sink (Ed.), Contemporary school counseling: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 257–293). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Longford, N. T. (2005). Missing data and small-area estimation: Modern analytical equipment for the survey statistician. New York, NY: Springer.

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Masten, A. S., & Coatsworth, J. D. (1998). The development of competence in favorable and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research on successful children. American Psychologist, 53, 205–220.

Messick, S. (1993). Validity. In R. L. Linn (Ed.), Educational measurement, (3rd ed., pp. 13–100). Phoenix, AZ: American Council on Education/Oryx.

MetaMetrics, Inc. (2012). The Lexile® framework for reading. Retrieved from

Myrick, R. D. (2003). Accountability: Counselors count. Professional School Counseling, 6, 174–179.

Paisley, P. O., & Hayes, R. L. (2003). School counseling in the academic domain: Transformations in preparation and practice. Professional School Counseling, 6, 198–204.

Pajares, F., & Valiante, G. (1999). Grade level and gender differences in the writing self-beliefs of middle school students. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 24, 390–405.doi:10.1006/ceps.1998.0995

Pajares, F., & Valiante, G. (2002). Students’ self-efficacy in their self-regulated learning strategies: A developmental perspective. Psychologia, 45, 211–221.

Pintrich, P. R., & De Groot, E. V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 33–40.

Scarborough, J. L. (2005). The school counselor activity rating scale: An instrument for gathering process data. Professional School Counseling, 8, 274–283.

Sink, C. A., & Spencer, L. R. (2007). Teacher version of the my class inventory-short form: An accountability tool for elementary school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 11, 129–139.

Sperling, R. A., Howard, B. C., Miller, L. A., & Murphy, C. (2002). Measures of children’s knowledge and regulation of cognition. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 27, 51–79. doi:10.1006/ceps.2001.1091

Usher, E. L., & Pajares, F. (2006). Sources of academic and self-regulatory efficacy beliefs of entering middle school students. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 31, 125–141. doi:10.1016/j.cedpsych.2005.03.002

Usher, E. L., & Pajares, F. (2008). Self-efficacy for self-regulated learning: A validation study. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 68, 443–463. doi:10.1177/0013164407308475

Villares, E., Frain, M., Brigman, G., Webb, L., & Peluso, P. (2012). The impact of student success skills on standardized test scores: A meta-analysis. Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation, 3, 3–16. doi:10.1177/2150137811434041

Wang, M. C., Haertel, G. D., & Walberg, H. J. (1994a). What helps students learn? Educational Leadership, 51(4), 74–79.

Wang, M. C., Haertel, G. D., & Walberg, H. J. (1994b). Educational resilience in inner cities. In M. C. Wang & E. W. Gordon (Eds.), Educational resilience in inner-city America: Challenges and prospects (pp. 45–72). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Webb, L., Brigman, G., Carey, J., & Villares, E. (2011). A randomized controlled trial of student success skills: A program to improve academic achievement for all students (Education Research Grant 84.305A). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Unpublished.

Weinstein, C. E., Schulte, A. C., & Palmer, D. R. (1987). LASSI: Learning and study strategies inventory. Clearwater, FL: H & H.

What Works Clearinghouse (2011). Procedures and standards handbook, version 2.1. Washington, DC: Author.

Whiston, S. C. (2002). Response to the past, present, and future of school counseling: Raising some issues. Professional School Counseling, 5, 148–155.

Whiston, S. C. (2011). Vocational counseling and interventions: An exploration of future “big” questions. Journal of Career Assessment, 19, 287–295. doi:10.1177/1069072710395535

Whiston, S. C., & Aricak, O. T. (2008). Development and initial investigation of the school counseling program evaluation scale. Professional School Counseling, 11, 253–261.

Whiston, S. C., & Quinby, R. F. (2009). Review of school counseling outcome research. Psychology in the Schools, 46, 267–272. doi:10.1002/pits.20372

Whiston, S. C., & Sexton, T. L. (1998). A review of school counseling outcome research: Implications for practice. Journal of Counseling & Development, 76, 412–426. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.1998.tb02700.x

Whiston, S. C., Tai, W. L., Rahardja, D., & Eder, K. (2011). School counseling outcome: A meta-analytic examination of interventions. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89, 37–55.

Yildiz, E., Akpinar, E., Tatar, N., & Ergin, O. (2009). Exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis of the metacognition scale for primary school students. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 9, 1591–1604.

Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Wang, M. C., & Walberg, H. J. (Eds.). (2004). Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What does the research say? New York, NY: Teachers College Press.




Elizabeth Villares is an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University. Kimberly Colvin is an assistant professor at the University at Albany, SUNY. John Carey is a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Linda Webb is a senior research associate at Florida State University. Greg Brigman, NCC, is a professor at Florida Atlantic University. Karen Harrington is assistant director at the Ronald H. Fredrickson Center for School Counseling Research and Evaluation at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Correspondence can be addressed to Elizabeth Villares, 5353 Parkside Drive, EC 202H, Jupiter, FL 33458,