Nov 9, 2022 | Volume 12 - Issue 3
Melissa J. Fickling, Matthew Graden, Jodi L. Tangen
The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore how feminist-identified counselor educators understand and experience power in counselor education. Thirteen feminist women were interviewed. We utilized a loosely structured interview protocol to elicit participant experiences with the phenomenon of power in the context of counselor education. From these data, we identified an essential theme of analysis of power. Within this theme, we identified five categories: (a) definitions and descriptions of power, (b) higher education context and culture, (c) uses and misuses of power, (d) personal development around power, and (e) considerations of potential backlash. These categories and their subcategories are illustrated through narrative synthesis and participant quotations. Findings point to a pressing need for more rigorous self-reflection among counselor educators and counseling leadership, as well as greater accountability for using power ethically.
Keywords: counselor education, power, phenomenological, feminist, women
The American Counseling Association (ACA; 2014) defined counseling, in part, as “a professional relationship that empowers” (p. 20). Empowerment is a process that begins with awareness of power dynamics (McWhirter, 1994). Power is widely recognized in counseling’s professional standards, competencies, and best practices (ACA, 2014; Association for Counselor Education and Supervision [ACES], 2011; Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs [CACREP], 2015) as something about which counselors, supervisors, counselor educators, and researchers should be aware (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). However, little is known about how power is perceived by counselor educators who, by necessity, operate in many different professional roles with their students
(e.g., teacher, supervisor, mentor).
In public discourse, power may carry different meaning when associated with men or women. According to a Pew Research Center poll (K. Walker et al., 2018) of 4,573 Americans, people are much more likely to use the word “powerful” in a positive way to describe men (67% positive) than women (8% positive). It is possible that these associations are also present among counselors-in-training, professional counselors, and counselor educators.
Dickens and colleagues (2016) found that doctoral students in counselor education are aware of power dynamics and the role of power in their relationships with faculty. Marginalized counselor educators, too, experienced a lack of power in certain academic contexts and noted the salience of their intersecting identities as relevant to the experience of power (Thacker et al., 2021). Thus, faculty members in counselor education may have a large role to play in socializing new professional counselors in awareness of power and positive uses of power, and thus could benefit from openly exploring uses of power in their academic lives.
Feminist Theory and Power in Counseling and Counselor Education
The concept of power is explored most consistently in feminist literature (Brown, 1994; Miller, 2008). Although power is understood differently in different feminist spaces and disciplinary contexts (Lloyd, 2013), it is prominent, particularly in intersectional feminist work (Davis, 2008). In addition to examining and challenging hegemonic power structures, feminist theory also centers egalitarianism in relationships, attends to privilege and oppression along multiple axes of identity and culture, and promotes engagement in activism for social justice (Evans et al., 2005).
Most research about power in the helping professions to date has been focused on its use in clinical supervision. Green and Dekkers (2010) found discrepancies between supervisors’ and supervisees’ perceptions of power and the degree to which supervisors attend to power in supervision. Similarly, Mangione and colleagues (2011) found another discrepancy in that power was discussed by all the supervisees they interviewed, but it was mentioned by only half of the supervisors. They noted that supervisors tended to minimize the significance of power or express discomfort with the existence of power in supervision.
Whereas most researchers of power and supervision have acknowledged the supervisor’s power, Murphy and Wright (2005) found that both supervisors and supervisees have power in supervision and that when it is used appropriately and positively, power contributed to clinical growth and enhanced the supervisory relationship. Later, in an examination of self-identified feminist multicultural supervisors, Arczynski and Morrow (2017) found that anticipating and managing power was the core organizing category of their participants’ practice. All other emergent categories in their study were different strategies by which supervisors anticipated and managed power, revealing the centrality of power in feminist supervision practice. Given the utility of these findings, it seems important to extend this line of research from clinical supervision to counselor education more broadly because counselor educators can serve as models to students regarding clinical and professional behavior. Thus, understanding the nuances of power could have implications for both pedagogy and clinical practice.
Purpose of the Present Study
Given the gendered nature of perceptions of power (Rudman & Glick, 2021; K. Walker et al., 2018), and the centrality of power in feminist scholarship (Brown, 1994; Lloyd, 2013; Miller, 2008), we decided to utilize a feminist framework in the design and execution of the present study. Because power appears to be a construct that is widely acknowledged in the helping professions but rarely discussed, we hope to shed light on the meaning and experience of power for counselor educators who identify as feminist. We utilized feminist self-identification as an eligibility criterion with the intention of producing a somewhat homogenous sample of counselor educators who were likely to have thought critically about the construct of power because it figures prominently in feminist theories and models of counseling and pedagogy (Brown, 1994; Lloyd, 2013; Miller, 2008).
We used a descriptive phenomenological methodology to help generate an understanding of feminist faculty members’ lived experiences of power in the context of counselor education (Moustakas, 1994; Padilla-Díaz, 2015). Phenomenological analysis examines the individual experiences of participants and derives from them, via phenomenological reduction, the most meaningful shared elements to paint a portrait of the phenomenon for a group of people (Moustakas, 1994; Starks & Trinidad, 2007). Thus, we share our findings by telling a cohesive narrative derived from the data via themes and subthemes identified by the researchers.
After receiving IRB approval, we recruited counselor educators via the CESNET listserv who were full-time faculty members (e.g., visiting, clinical, instructor, tenure-track, tenured) in a graduate-level counseling program. We asked for participants of any gender who self-reported that they integrated a feminist framework into their roles as counselor educators. Thirteen full-time counselor educators who self-identified as feminist agreed to be interviewed on the topic of power. All participants were women. Two feminist-identified men expressed initial interest in participating but did not respond to multiple requests to schedule an interview. The researchers did not systematically collect demographic data, relying instead on voluntary participant self-disclosure of relevant demographics during the interviews. All participants were tenured or tenure-track faculty members. Most were at the assistant professor rank (n = 9), a few were associate professors (n = 3), and one was a full professor who also held various administrative roles during her academic career (e.g., department chair, dean). During the interviews, several participants expressed concern over the high potential for their identification by readers due to their unique identities, locations, and experiences. Thus, participants will be described only in aggregate and only with the demographic identifiers volunteered by them during the interviews. The participants who disclosed their race all shared they were White. Nearly all participants disclosed holding at least one marginalized identity along the axes of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or geography.
Once participants gave informed consent, phone interviews were scheduled. After consent to record was obtained, interviewers began the interviews, which lasted between 45–75 minutes. We utilized an unstructured interview format to avoid biasing the data collection to specific domains of counselor education while also aiming to generate the most personal and nuanced understandings of power directly from the participants’ lived experiences (Englander, 2012). As experienced interviewers, we were confident in our ability to actively and meaningfully engage in discourse with participants via the following prompt: “We are interested in understanding power in counselor education. Specifically, please speak to your personal and/or professional development regarding how you think about and use power, and how you see power being used in counselor education.” After the interviews, we all shared the task of transcribing the recordings verbatim, each transcribing several interviews. All potentially identifying information (e.g., names, institutional affiliations) was excluded from the interview transcripts.
Data analysis began via horizontalization of two interview transcripts by each author (Moustakas, 1994; Starks & Trinidad, 2007). Next, we began clustering meaning units into potential categories (Moustakas, 1994). This initially revealed 21 potential categories, which we discussed in the first research team meeting. We kept research notes of our meetings, in which we summarized our ongoing data analysis processes (e.g., observations, wonderings, emerging themes). These notes helped us to revisit earlier thinking around thematic clustering and how categories interrelated. The notes did not themselves become raw data from which findings emerged. Through weekly discussions over the course of one year, the primary coders (Melissa Fickling and Matthew Graden) were able to refine the categories through dialoguing until consensus was reached, evidenced by verbal expression of mutual agreement. That is, the primary coders shared power in data analysis and sometimes tabled discussions when consensus was not reached so that each could reflect and rejoin the conversation later. As concepts were refined, early transcripts needed to be re-coded. Our attention was not on the quantification of participants or categories, but on understanding the essence of the experience of power (Englander, 2012; Moustakas, 1994). The themes and subthemes in the findings section below were a fit for all transcripts by the end of data analysis.
Researchers and Trustworthiness
Fickling and Jodi Tangen are White, cis-hetero women, and at the time of data analysis were pre-tenured counselor educators in their thirties who claimed a feminist approach in their work. Graden was a master’s student and research assistant with scholarly interests in student experiences related to gender in counseling and education. We each possess privileged and marginalized identities, which facilitate certain perspectives and blind spots when it comes to recognizing power. Thus, regular meetings before, during, and after data collection and analysis were crucial to the epoche and phenomenological reduction processes (Moustakas, 1994) in which we shared our assumptions and potential biases. Fickling and Graden met weekly throughout data collection, transcription, and analysis. After the initial research design and data collection, Tangen served primarily as auditor to the coding process by comparing raw data to emergent themes at multiple time points, reviewing the research notes written by Fickling and Graden and contributing to consensus-building dialogues when needed.
Besides remaining cognizant of the strengths and limitations of our individual positionalities with the topic and data, we shared questions and concerns with each other as they arose during data analysis. Relevant to the topic of this study, Fickling served as an administrative supervisor to Graden. This required acknowledgement of power dynamics inherent in that relationship. Graden had been a doctoral student in another discipline prior to this study and thus had firsthand context for much of what was learned about power and its presence in academia. Fickling and Graden’s relationship had not extended into the classroom or clinical supervision, providing a sort of boundary around potential complexities related to any dual relationships. To add additional trustworthiness to the findings below, we utilized thick descriptions to describe the phenomenon of interest while staying close to the data via quotations from participants. Finally, we discuss the impact and importance of the findings by highlighting implications for counselor educators.
Through the analysis process, we concluded that the essence (Moustakas, 1994)—or core theme—of the experience of power for the participants in this study is engagement in a near constant analysis of power—that of their colleagues, peers, students, as well as of their own power. Participants analyzed interactions of power within and between various contexts and roles. They shared many examples of uses of power—both observed and personally enacted—which influenced their development, as well as their teaching and supervision styles. Through the interviews, participants shared the following:
(a) definitions and descriptions of power, (b) higher education context and culture, (c) uses and misuses of power, (d) personal development around power, and (e) considerations of potential backlash. These five categories comprised the overarching theme of analysis of power and are described below with corresponding subcategories where applicable, identified in italics.
Definitions and Descriptions of Power
Participants spent much of their time defining and describing just what they meant when they discussed power. For the feminist counselor educators in this study, power is about helping. One participant, when describing power, captured this sentiment well when she said, “I think of the ability to affect change and the ability to have a meaningful impact.” Several participants shared this same idea by talking about power as the ability to have influence. Participants expressed a desire to use power to do good for others rather than to advance their personal aspirations or improve their positions. Use of power for self-promotion was referenced to a far lesser extent than using power to promote justice and equity, and any self-promotional use was generally in response to perceived personal injustice or exploitation. At times, participants described power by what it is not. One participant said, “I don’t see power as a negative. I think it can be used negatively.” Several others shared this sentiment and described power as a responsibility.
In describing power, participants identified feelings of empowerment/disempowerment (Table 1). Disempowerment was described with feeling words that captured a sense of separation and helplessness. Empowerment, on the other hand, was described as feeling energetic and connected. Not only was the language markedly different, but the shifts in vocal expression were also notable (nonverbals were not visible) when participants discussed empowerment versus disempowerment. Disempowerment sounded like defeat (e.g., breathy, monotone, low energy) whereas empowerment sounded like liveliness (e.g., resonant, full intonation, energetic).
Empowered and Disempowered Descriptors
Participants identified various types of power, including personal, positional, and institutional power. Personal power was seen as the source of the aspirational kinds of power these participants desired for themselves and others. It can exist regardless of positional or institutional power. Positional power provides the ability to influence decisions, and it is earned over time. The last type of power, institutional, is explored more through the next theme labeled higher education context and culture.
Higher Education Context and Culture
Because the focus of the study was power within counselor educators’ roles, it was impossible for participants not to discuss the context of their work environments. Thus, higher education context and culture became a salient subtheme in our findings. Higher education culture was described as “the way things are done in institutions of higher learning.” Participants referred to written/spoken and unwritten/silent rules, traditions, expectations, norms, and practices of the academic context as barriers to empowerment, though not insurmountable ones. Power was seen as intimately intertwined with difficult departmental relationships as well as the roles of rank and seniority for nearly all participants. Most also acknowledged the influence of broader sociocultural norms (i.e., local, state, national) on higher education in general, noting that institutions themselves are impacted by power dynamics.
One participant who said that untenured professors have much more power than they realize also said that “power in academia comes with rank.” This contradiction highlights the tension inherent in power, at least among those who wish to use it for the “greater good” (as stated by multiple participants) rather than for personal gain, as these participants expressed.
More than one participant described power as a form of currency in higher education. This shared experience of power as currency, either through having it or not having it, demonstrated that to gain power to do good, as described above, one must be willing or able to be seen as acceptable within the system that assigns power. Boldness was seen by participants as something that can happen once power is gained. Among non-tenured participants, this quote captures the common sentiment: “Now, once I get tenure, that can be a different conversation. I think I would feel more emboldened, more safe, if you will, to confront a colleague in that way.” The discussion of context and boldness led to the emergence of a third theme, which we titled uses and misuses of power.
Uses and Misuses of Power
Participants provided many examples of their perceptions of uses and misuses of power and linked these behaviors to their sense of ethics. Because many of the examples of uses of power were personal, unique, and potentially identifiable, participants asked that they not be shared individually in this manuscript. Ethical uses of power were described as specific ways in which participants remembered power being used for good such as intervention in unfair policies on behalf of students. Ethical uses of power shared the characteristics of being collaborative and aligned with the descriptors of “feeling empowered” (Table 1).
In contrast, misuses of power were described in terms of being unethical. These behaviors existed on a spectrum that ranged from a simple lack of awareness to a full-blown abuse of power on the most harmful end of the continuum. Lack of awareness of power, for these participants, was observed quite frequently among their counselor education colleagues and they noted that people can negatively affect others without realizing it. In some cases, they reported seeing colleagues lack cultural awareness, competence, or an awareness of privilege. Although many colleagues cognitively know about privilege and speak about it, the lack of awareness referred to here is in terms of the behavioral use of privilege to the detriment of those with less privilege. One example would be to call oneself an LGBTQ+ ally without actively demonstrating ally behavior like confronting homophobic or cis-sexist language in class. Moving along the spectrum, misuses of power were described as unfairly advantaging oneself, possibly at the expense or disadvantage of another. Misuses of power may or may not be directly or immediately harmful but still function to concentrate power rather than share it. An example shared was when faculty members insist that students behave in ways that are culturally inconsistent for that student. At the other end of the spectrum, abuses of power are those behaviors that directly cause harm. Even though abuses of power can be unintentional, participants emphasized that intentions matter less than effects. One participant described abuses of power she had observed as “people using power to make others feel small.” For example, a professor or instructor minimizing students’ knowledge or experiences serves to silence students and leads to a decreased likelihood the student shares, causing classmates to lose out on that connection and knowledge.
One participant shared a culture of ongoing misuses of power by a colleague: “And then they’re [students] all coming to me crying, you know, surreptitiously coming to me in my office, like, ‘Can I talk to you?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, shut the door. What’d he do now?’ I’m happy to be a safe person for them, it’s an honor, but this is ridiculous.” The irony of feeling powerless to stop another’s misuses of power was not lost on the participants. One participant expressed that she wished to see more colleagues ask questions about their use of power:
We have to ask the question, “What is the impact? What is happening, what are the patterns?” We have to ask questions about access and participation and equity. . . .
And from my perspective, we have to assume that things are jacked up because we know that any system is a microcosm of the outer world, and the outer world is jacked up. So, we have to ask these questions and understand if there’s an adverse impact. And a lot of time there is on marginalized or minoritized populations. So, what are we going to do about it? It’s all well and good to see it, but what are we doing about it, you know? . . . How are you using your power for good?
Personal Development Around Power
Participants reflected deeply on their own development of their thinking about and use of power. All participants spoke early in the interviews about their training as counselors and counselor educators. Their early training was often where they first fully realized their feminist orientation and recognized a need for greater feminist multicultural dialogue and action in counseling. Participants were all cognizant of their inherent personal power but still not immune to real and perceived attempts to limit their expression of it. In general, participants felt that over time they became more able and willing to use their power in ethical ways. One participant shared the following about her change in understanding power over time:
I’ve never really been a power-focused person, and so I just don’t know that I saw it around me much before that. Which now I realize is a total construct of my privilege—that I’ve never had to see it. Then I started realizing that “Oh, there’s power all around me.” And people obsessed with power all around me. And then once I saw it, I kind of couldn’t un-see it. I think for a long time I went through a process of disillusionment, and I think I still lapse back into that sometimes where I’ll realize like, a lot of the people in positions of power around me are power-hungry or power-obsessed, and they’re using power in all the wrong ways. And maybe they don’t even have an awareness of it. You know, I don’t think everybody who’s obsessed with power knows that about themselves. It almost seems like a compulsion more than anything. And I think that’s super dangerous.
Nearly all participants reflected on their experiences of powerlessness as students and how they now attempt to empower students as a result of their experiences. Working to build a sense of safety in the classroom was a major behavior that they endorsed, often because of their own feelings of a lack of safety in learning contexts at both master’s and doctoral levels. Vulnerability and risk-taking on the part of the counselor educator were seen as evidence that efforts to create safety in the classroom were successful. Speaking about this, one participant said:
I think it’s actually very unethical and irresponsible as a counselor educator to throw students in a situation where you expect them to take all these risks and not have worked to create community and environments that are conducive to that.
Participant feelings toward power varied considerably. One said, “I think overall I feel fairly powerful. But I don’t want a lot of power. I don’t like it.” One participant shared, “I am not shy, I am not afraid to speak and so sometimes maybe I do take up too much space, and there are probably times for whatever reason I don’t take up as much space as I should,” showing both humility and a comfort with her own power. These quotes show the care with which the participants came to think about their own power as they gained it through education, position, and rank. No participants claimed to feel total ease in their relationship with their own power, though most acknowledged that with time, they had become more comfortable with acknowledging and using their power when necessary.
One participant said of her ideal expression of power: “Part of feeling powerful is being able to do what I do reasonably well, not perfect, just reasonably well. But also helping to foster the empowerment of other people is just excellent. That’s where it’s at.” This developmental place with her own power aligns with the aspirational definitions and descriptions of power shared above.
Along with their personal development around power, participants shared how their awareness of privileged and marginalized statuses raised their understanding of power. Gender and age were cited by nearly all participants as being relevant to their personal experiences with power. Namely, participants identified the intersection of their gender and young age as being used as grounds for having their contributions or critiques dismissed by their male colleagues. Older age seemed to afford some participants the confidence and power needed to speak up. One participant said:
We are talking about a profession that is three-quarters women, and we are not socialized to grab power, to take power. And so, I think all of that sometimes is something we need to be mindful of and kind of keep stretching ourselves to address.
Yet when younger participants recalled finding the courage to address power imbalances with their colleagues, the outcome was almost always denial and continued disempowerment. To this point, one participant asked, “How do we get power to matter to people who are already in the positions where they hold power and aren’t interested in doing any self-examination or critical thinking about the subject?”
Finally, power was described as permeating every part of being an educator. To practice her use of power responsibly, one participant said, “I mean every decision I make has to, at some point, consider what my power is with them [the students].” Related to the educator role, in general, participants shared their personal development with gatekeeping, such as:
I think one of the areas that I often feel in my power is around gatekeeping. And I think that is also an area where power can be grossly abused. But I think it’s just such an important part of what we do. And I think one of the ways that I feel in my power around gatekeeping is because it’s something I don’t do alone. I make a point to consult a lot because I don’t want to misuse power, and I think gatekeeping—and, really, like any use of power I think—is stronger when it’s done with others.
Again, this quote reflects the definition of power that emerged in this study as ideally being “done with others.” Gatekeeping is where participants seemed to be most aware of power and to initially have had the most anxiety around power, but also the area in which they held the most conviction about the intentional use of power. The potential cost of not responsibly using their power in gatekeeping was to future clients, so participants pushed through their discomfort to ensure competent and ethical client care. However, in many cases, participants had to seriously weigh the pros and cons of asserting their personal or positional power, as described in the next and final category.
Considerations of Potential Backlash
Participants shared about the energy they spent in weighing the potential backlash to their expressions of power, or their calling out of unethical uses of power. Anticipated backlash often resulted in participants not doing or saying something for fear of “making waves” or being labeled a “troublemaker.” Participants described feeling a need to balance confrontations of perceived misuses of power with their desire not to be seen as combative. Those participants who felt most comfortable confronting problematic behaviors cited an open and respectful workplace and self-efficacy in their ability to influence change effectively. For those who did not describe their workplaces as safe and respectful, fear was a common emotion cited when considering whether to take action to challenge a student or colleague. Many described a lack of support from colleagues when they did speak up. Some described support behind the scenes but an unwillingness of peers to be more vocal and public in their opposition to a perceived wrong. Of this, one participant said, “And so getting those voices . . . to the table seems like an uphill battle. I feel like I’m stuck in middle management, in a way.”
For the participants in this study, analysis of power is a process of productive tension and fluidity. Participants acknowledged that power exists and a power differential in student–teacher and supervisee–supervisor relationships will almost certainly always be present. Power seemed to be described as an organizing principle in nearly all contexts—professionally, institutionally, departmentally, in the classroom, in supervision, and in personal relationships. Participants found power to be ever present but rarely named (Miller, 2008). Engaging with these data from these participants, it seems that noticing and naming power and its effects is key to facilitating personal and professional development in ways that are truly grounded in equity, multiculturalism, and social justice. Participants affirmed what is stated in guiding frameworks of counseling (ACA, 2014) and counselor education (ACES, 2011; CACREP, 2015) and went beyond a surface acknowledgement of power to a deeper and ongoing process of analysis, like Bernard and Goodyear’s (2014) treatment of power in the supervisory context.
Contemplating, reflecting on, and working with power are worthwhile efforts according to the participants in this study, which is supported by scholarly literature on the topic (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). Participants’ personal and professional growth seemed to be catalyzed by their awareness of gender and power dynamics. Participants expressed a desire for a greater recognition of the role of power and the ways in which it is distributed in our professional contexts. For example, although mentioned by only two participants, dissatisfaction in professional associations—national, regional, and state—was shared. Specifically, there was a desire to see counselor educators with positional power make deliberate and visible efforts to bring greater diversity into professional-level decisions and discussions in permanent, rather than tokenizing, ways.
The ongoing process of self-analysis that counselors and educators purport to practice seemed not to be enough to ensure that faculty will not misuse power. Though gender and age were highly salient aspects of perceptions of power for these women, neither were clear predictors of their colleagues’ ethical or unethical use of power. Women and/or self-identified feminist counselor educators can and do use power in problematic ways at times. In fact, most participants expressed disappointment in women colleagues and leaders who were unwilling to question power or critically examine their role in status quo power relations. This is consistent with research that indicates that as individual power and status are gained, awareness of power can diminish (Keltner, 2016).
These feminist counselor educators described feelings of empowerment as those that enhance connection and collaboration rather than positionality. In fact, participants’ reports of frustration with some uses of power seemed to be linked to people in leadership positions engaging in power-over moves (Miller, 2008). Participants reported spending a significant amount of energy in deciding whether and when to challenge perceived misuses of power. Confronting leaders seemed to be the riskiest possibility, but confronting peers was also a challenge for many participants. The acknowledgement of context emerged in these data, including a recognition that power works within and between multiple socioecological levels (e.g., microsystems, mesosystems, macrosystems; Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The culture of academia and higher education also contributed to unique considerations of power in the present study, which aligns with the findings of Thacker and colleagues (2021), who noted counselor educator experiences of entrenched power norms are resistant to change.
Contextualizing these findings in current literature is difficult given the lack of work on this topic in counselor education. However, our themes are similar to those found in the supervision literature (Arczynski & Morrow, 2017; Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). The participants in our study were acutely aware of power in their relationships; however, they appeared to feel it even more when in a power-down position. This finding is similar to research in the supervision context in which supervisees felt as though power was not being addressed by their supervisors (Green & Dekkers, 2010). Further, just as the supervisors researched in Mangione et al.’s (2011) study attended to power analysis, our participants strived to examine their power with students. The distinction between positive and negative uses of power was consistent with Murphy and Wright (2005). Participants conceptualized power on a continuum, attended to the power inherent in gatekeeping decisions, managed the tension between collaboration and direction, engaged in reflection around use and misuse of power, and sought transparency in discussions around power. More than anything, though, our participants seemed to continually wrestle with the inherent complexity of power, similarly to what Arczynski and Morrow (2017) found, and how to address, manage, and work with it in a respectful, ethical manner. As opposed to these studies, though, our research addresses a gap between the profession’s acknowledgement of power as a phenomenon and actual lived experiences of power by counselor educators who claim a feminist lens in their work.
The implications of our findings are relevant across multiple roles (e.g., faculty, administration, supervision) and levels (e.g., institution, department, program) in counselor education. Power analysis at each level and each role in which counselor educators find themselves could help to uncover issues of power and its uses, both ethical and problematic. The considerable effort that participants described in weighing whether to challenge perceived misuses of power indicates the level of work needed to make power something emotionally and professionally safe to address. Thus, those who find themselves in positions of power or having earned power through tenure and seniority are potentially better situated to invite discussions of power in relatively safe settings such as program meetings or in one-on-one conversations with colleagues. Further, at each hierarchical level, individuals can engage in critical self-reflection while groups can elicit external, independent feedback from people trained to observe and name unjust power structures. Counselor educators should not assume that because they identify as feminist, social justice–oriented, or egalitarian that their professional behavior is always reflective of their aspirations. It is not enough to claim an identity; one must work to let one’s actions and words demonstrate one’s commitment to inclusion through sensitivity to and awareness of power.
Additionally, we encourage counselor educators to ask for feedback from people who will challenge them because self-identification of uses or misuses of power is likely not sufficient to create systemic or even individual change. It is important to acknowledge that power is differentially assigned but can be used well in a culture of collaboration and support. Just as we ask our students to be honest and compassionately critical of their own development, as individuals and as a profession, it seems we could be doing more to foster empowerment through support, collaboration, and honest feedback.
Limitations and Future Directions
Although not all participants disclosed all their demographic identifiers, one limitation to the current study is the relative homogeneity of the sample across racial and gender lines. The predominance of White women in the present study is of concern, and there are a few possible reasons for this. One is that White women are generally overrepresented in the counseling profession. Baggerly and colleagues (2017) found that women comprised 85% of the student body in CACREP-accredited programs but only 60% of the faculty. These numbers indicate both the high representation of women seeking counseling degrees, but also the degree to which men approach, but do not reach, parity with women in holding faculty positions. Further, in Baggerly et al.’s study, about 88% of faculty members in CACREP-accredited programs were White.
Another potential reason for the apparent racial homogeneity in the present sample is that people of color may not identify with a feminist orientation because of the racist history of feminist movements and so would not have volunteered to participate. Thus, findings must be considered in this context. Future researchers should be vocally inclusive of Black feminist thought (Collins, 1990) and Womanism (A. Walker, 1983) in their research design and recruitment processes to communicate to potential participants an awareness of the intersections of race and gender. Further, future research should explicitly invite those underrepresented here—namely, women of color and men faculty members—to share their experiences with and conceptualizations of power. This will be extremely important as counselor educators work to continue to diversify the profession of counseling in ways that are affirming and supportive for all.
Another limitation is that participants may have utilized socially desirable responses when discussing power and their own behavior. Indeed, the participants identified a lack of self-awareness as common among those who misused power. At the same time, however, the participants in this study readily shared their own missteps, lending credibility to their self-assessments. Future research that asks participants to track their interactions with power in real time via journals or repeated quantitative measures could be useful in eliciting more embodied experiences of power as they arise in vivo. Likewise, students’ experiences of power in their interactions with counselor educators would be useful, particularly as they relate to teaching or gatekeeping, because some research already exists examining power in the context of clinical supervision (Arczynski & Morrow, 2017; Green & Dekkers, 2010; Mangione et al., 2011; Murphy & Wright, 2005).
We initially embarked upon this study with a simple inquiry, wondering about others’ invisible experiences around what felt like a formidable topic. More than anything, our discussions with our participants seemed to indicate a critical need for further exploration of power across hierarchical levels and institutions. We are grateful for our participants’ willingness to share their stories, and we hope that this is just the beginning of a greater dialogue.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.
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Melissa J. Fickling, PhD, ACS, BC-TMH, LCPC, is an associate professor at Northern Illinois University. Matthew Graden, MSEd, is a professional school counselor. Jodi L. Tangen is an associate professor at North Dakota State University. Correspondence may be addressed to Melissa J. Fickling, 1425 W. Lincoln Hwy, Gabel 200, DeKalb, IL 60115, email@example.com.
Nov 9, 2022 | Volume 12 - Issue 3
Krystle Himmelberger, James Ikonomopoulos, Javier Cavazos Vela
We implemented a single-case research design (SCRD) with a small sample (N = 2) to assess the effectiveness of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) for Latine clients experiencing mental health concerns. Analysis of participants’ scores on the Dispositional Hope Scale (DHS) and Outcome Questionnaire (OQ-45.2) using split-middle line of progress visual trend analysis, statistical process control charting, percentage of non-overlapping data points procedure, percent improvement, and Tau-U yielded treatment effects indicating that SFBT may be effective for improving hope and mental health symptoms for Latine clients. Based on these findings, we discuss implications for counselor educators, counselors-in-training, and practitioners, which include integrating SFBT principles into the counselor education curriculum, teaching counselors-in-training how to use SCRDs to evaluate counseling effectiveness, and using the DHS and OQ-45.2 to measure hope and clinical symptoms.
Keywords: solution-focused brief therapy, single-case research design, hope, counselor education, clinical symptoms
Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is a strength-based and evidence-based intervention that helps clients focus on personal strengths, identify exceptions to problems, and highlight small successes (Berg, 1994; Gonzalez Suitt et al., 2016; Schmit et al., 2016). Schmit et al. (2016) conducted a meta-analysis of SFBT for treating symptoms of internalizing disorders and identified that SFBT might be effective in creating short-term changes in clients’ functioning. Other researchers (e.g., Gonzalez Suitt et al., 2016; Novella et al., 2020) also found that SFBT can be helpful with clients from various cultural backgrounds and with different presenting symptoms such as anxiety. Yet, there is scant research evaluating the efficacy of SFBT on subjective well-being with Latine (a gender-neutral term that is more consistent with Spanish language and grammar than Latinx) populations. Additionally, there is not a lot of research that investigates the effectiveness of counseling practices among counselors-in-training (CITs) at community counseling clinics with culturally diverse clients. Although the costs are relatively low, the type of supervision, training, and feedback given to CITs provides community clients with the potential for effective counseling services. However, only a few researchers (e.g., Schuermann et al., 2018) have explored the efficacy of counseling services within a community counseling training clinic. Therefore, empirical research is needed regarding the efficacy of SFBT with Latine populations in a counseling training clinic at a Hispanic Serving Institution.
The Latine population is a fast-growing group in the United States and makes up approximately 19% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). Despite this growth, members of this culturally diverse population continue to face individual, interpersonal, and institutional challenges (Ponciano et al., 2020; Vela, Lu, et al., 2014). Because Latine individuals experience discrimination and negative environments (Cheng & Mallinckrodt, 2015; Ponciano et al., 2020; Ramos et al., 2021), perceive lack of support from counselors and teachers in K–12 school environments (A. G. Cavazos, 2009; Vela-Gude et al., 2009), and experience microaggressions (Sanchez, 2019), they are likely to experience greater mental health challenges. Researchers have identified numerous internalizing and externalizing symptoms that represent Latine individuals’ mental health experiences, likely putting them at greater risk for mental health impairment and poor psychological functioning (Cheng et al., 2016). Researchers also detected that Latine youth had similar or higher prevalence rates of internalizing disorders (e.g., anxiety and depression) when compared with their White counterparts (Merikangas et al., 2010; Ramos et al., 2021). Given that Latine individuals might be at greater risk for psychopathology and their mental health needs are often unaddressed because they do not seek mental health services (Mendoza et al., 2015; Sáenz et al., 2013), further evaluation of the effectiveness of counseling practices for this population is necessary.
Fundamental Principles of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy
Developed from the clinical practice of Steven de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, SFBT is a future-focused and goal-directed approach that focuses on searching for solutions and is created on the belief that clients have knowledge and resources to resolve their problems (Kim, 2008). Counselors’ therapeutic task is to help clients imagine how they would like things to be different and what it will take to facilitate small changes. Counselors take active roles by asking questions to help clients look at the situation from different perspectives and use techniques to identify where the solution occurs (de Shazer, 1991; Proudlock & Wellman, 2011).
In SFBT, counselors amplify positive constructs and solutions by using specific strategies and techniques to build on positive factors (Tambling, 2012). Common techniques include the miracle question, scaling questions, exceptions, experiments, and compliments, which are designed to help clients identify personal strengths and cultivate what works (de Shazer, 1991; Proudlock & Wellman, 2011). We agree with Vela, Lerma, et al. (2014) that counselors can use postmodern and strength-based theories (e.g., SFBT) to develop positive psychology constructs such as hope, positive emotions, and subjective well-being. SFBT might be useful to help Latine clients identify strengths, build on what works, and reconstruct a positive future outcome.
Several researchers have indicated the efficacy of SFBT for treating various issues with different populations (Bavelas et al., 2013; Kim, 2008). Schmit et al. (2016) conducted a meta-analysis with 26 studies examining the effectiveness of SFBT for treating symptoms of depression and anxiety. They found that SFBT resulted in moderately successful treatment; however, adults’ treatment effects were 5 times larger when compared to those of youth and adolescents. One possible explanation was that SFBT may require clients’ maturity to integrate and understand SFBT concepts and techniques. Researchers also concluded that the impact of SFBT may be effective in producing short-term changes that will lead to further gains in symptom relief as well as psychological functioning (Schmit et al., 2016).
Brogan et al. (2020) commented that “there are limited studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of this method with the Latine . . . population” (p. 3). However, we postulate that SFBT principles are compatible with Latine cultural and family characteristics (Lerma et al., 2015; Oliver et al., 2011). There are several reasons that make SFBT an appropriate fit for working with the Latine population. For instance, researchers suggest that understanding family dynamics or familismo when evaluating mental health and overall well-being with the Latine population is important (Ayón et al., 2010). Familismo is strong family ties to immediate and extended families in the Latine culture.
In a study investigating Latine families, Priest and Denton (2012) found that family cohesion and family discord were associated with anxiety. Calzada et al. (2013) also highlighted that although family support can positively impact mental health, family can also become a source of conflict and stress, which might result in poor mental health. By using SFBT principles, counselors can help Latine clients identify how familismo is a source of strength through sense of loyalty and cooperation among family members (Oliver et al., 2011).
Another emphasis with SFBT that aligns with the Latine culture is the focus on personal and family resiliency. Because Latine individuals must navigate individual, interpersonal, and institutional challenges (Vela et al., 2015), they have natural resilience and coping skills that align with an SFBT approach. Counselors can use exceptions, scaling questions, and compliments to help Latine individuals discover their inherent resilience and continue to persevere through personal adversity.
Constructs: Hope and Clinical Symptoms
Consistent with a dual-factor model of mental health (Suldo & Shaffer, 2008), we focused on two outcomes: hope and clinical symptoms. First, hope, which has been associated with subjective well-being among Latine populations (Vela, Lu, et al., 2014), refers to a pattern of thinking regarding goals (Snyder et al., 2002). Snyder et al. (1991) proposed Hope Theory with pathways thinking and agency thinking. Pathways thinking refers to individuals’ plans to pursue desired objectives (Feldman & Dreher, 2012), while agency thinking refers to perceptions of ability to make progress toward goals (Snyder et al., 1999). Researchers found that hope was positively related to meaning in life, grit, and subjective happiness among Latine populations (e.g., Vela, Lerma, et al., 2014; Vela et al., 2015). Other researchers (e.g., Vela, Ikonomopoulos, et al., 2016) have explored the impact of counseling interventions on hope among Latine adolescents and survivors of intimate partner violence. Given the association between hope and other positive developmental outcomes among Latine populations, examining this construct as an outcome in clinical mental health counseling services is important.
In addition to hope as an indicator of subjective well-being, we used the Outcome Questionnaire (OQ-45.2; Lambert et al., 1996) to measure clinical symptoms in the current study for several reasons, including its strong psychometric properties, its use in the counseling training clinic where this study took place, and its use in other studies that evaluate the efficacy of counseling or psychotherapy and show evidence based on relation to other variables such as depression and clinical symptoms (Ekroll & Rønnestad, 2017; Ikonomopoulos et al., 2017; Soares et al., 2018). The OQ-45.2 measures three areas that are central to individual psychological functioning: Symptom Distress, Interpersonal Relations, and Social Role Performance.
Purpose of Study and Rationale
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of SFBT for increasing hope and decreasing clinical symptoms among Latine clients. We implemented an SCRD (Lenz et al., 2012) to identify and explore changes in hope and clinical symptoms as a result of participation in SFBT. We evaluated the following research question: To what extent is SFBT effective for increasing hope and decreasing clinical symptoms among Latine clients who receive services at a community counseling clinic?
We implemented a small-series (N = 2) AB SCRD with Latine clients admitted into treatment at an outpatient community counseling clinic to evaluate the treatment effect associated with SFBT for increasing hope and reducing clinical symptoms. The rationale for using an SCRD was to explore the impact of an intervention that might help Latine clients at a community counseling training clinic. We used criterion sampling to recruit participants who (a) sought counseling services at a community counseling clinic, (b) had internalizing symptoms related to anxiety and depression, and (c) worked with a CIT who was supervised by faculty in a clinical mental health counseling program.
Participants in this study were two adults admitted into treatment at an outpatient community counseling clinic in the Southern region of the United States. Both participants identified as Hispanic; one identified as a female and the other identified as a male. During informed consent, we explained to participants that they would be assigned pseudonyms to protect their identity. The participants consented to both treatment and inclusion in the research study.
The two participants for this study were selected to participate in this study because of their presenting internalizing symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety) and fit for SFBT principles. Because we wanted to increase hope among these Latine clients, we felt that SFBT was an appropriate approach. The fundamental principles of SFBT align with attempting to facilitate hope among clients with various symptoms because it helps clients view mental health challenges as opportunities to cultivate strengths, explore solutions, and identify new skills (Bannik, 2008; Joubert & Guse, 2021). SFBT practitioners also posit that clients can recreate their future, cultivate resilience, and construct solutions, which aligns well with tenets of the Latine culture (J. Cavazos et al., 2010). In the first session prior to treatment, both clients indicated that they believed they were in control of their future mental health and that they could construct solutions. We also informed them that SFBT focuses on future solutions as opposed to focusing on problems and the past. Because these clients indicated a willingness to explore their future through co-constructing solutions, they were a good fit for SFBT principles in counseling.
“Mary” was a 31-year-old Latine female with a history of receiving student mental health services at a university counseling clinic. Mary sought individual counseling services because of a recent separation with the father of her three children who was emotionally abusive. Anxiety associated with this separation was compounded by traumatic experiences from 5 years prior. Mary stated that her Latine culture generated greater symptoms of anxiety while recognizing her new role as a single mother. Mary’s therapeutic goals and focus of treatment were to reduce clinical symptoms of anxiety as well as improve self-identity and self-esteem.
“Joel” was a 20-year-old Latine male with a history of receiving mental health services for symptoms of depression. Joel’s therapeutic goals and focus of treatment were to reduce clinical symptoms of anxiety and associated anger as well as improve self-esteem. Joel reported being a victim of domestic violence and child abuse. Additionally, Joel expressed distress with revealing his sexual identity because of patriarchal roles in the Latine culture that may result in rejection.
Outcome Questionnaire (OQ-45.2)
The OQ-45.2 is a 45-item self-report outcome questionnaire (Lambert et al., 1996) for adults 18 years of age and older. Each item is associated with a 5-point Likert scale with responses ranging from never (1) to almost always (5). We used the total score for the OQ-45, which was calculated by summing the three subscale scores with a possible total score ranging from 0–180. Higher scores are reflective of more severe distress and impairment. Sample response items include “I feel worthless” and “I have trouble getting along with friends and close acquaintances.” This assessment was designed to include items relevant to three domains central to mental health: Symptom Distress, Interpersonal Relations, and Social Role Performance (Lambert et al., 1996).
Researchers have examined structural validity and reliability. Coco et al. (2008) used a confirmatory factor analysis to test various models of the factorial structure. They found support for the four-factor, bi-level model, which means that each survey item relates to a subscale as well as an overall maladjustment score. Amble et al. (2014) also examined psychometric properties using confirmatory factor analysis, concluding that “the total score of the OQ-45 is a reliable and valid measure for assessing therapy progress” (p. 511). Their findings are like Boswell et al.’s (2013) findings that found support for the validity of the total OQ-45 score. There is also evidence based on relation to other clinical outcomes measured by the General Severity Index from the Symptom Checklist 90-Revised, the Beck Depression Inventory, and Social Adjustment Scale (Lambert et al., 1996). Additionally, previous psychometric evaluations have revealed evidence of reliability through reliability indices such as Cronbach’s alpha (Ikonomopoulos et al., 2017; Kadera et al., 1996; Umphress et al., 1997). Internal consistency estimates through Cronbach’s alpha range from .71 to .92 (Ikonomopoulos et al., 2017; Lambert et al., 1996).
The Dispositional Hope Scale (DHS; Snyder et al., 1991) is a self-report inventory to measure participants’ attitudes toward goals and objectives. Participants responded to eight statements evaluated on an 8-point Likert scale ranging from definitely false (1) to definitely true (8). We used the total Hope score, which was obtained by summing scores for both Agency and Pathways subscales. Total scores range from 8–64, with higher scores indicating greater levels of hope. Sample response items include “I can think of many ways to get the things in life that are important to me” and “I can think of many ways to get out of a jam.”
Researchers have examined structural validity and reliability. Galiana et al. (2015) used confirmatory factor analysis to identify that a one-factor structure was the best fit. There is also evidence of validity with other theoretically relevant constructs such as meaning in life (Vela et al., 2017) as well as evidence of concurrent and discriminant validity with other measures related to self-esteem, state hope, and state positive and negative affect (Snyder et al., 1996). There is also evidence of factorial invariance (Nel & Boshoff, 2014), suggesting that factor structure is similar across gender and racial ethnic groups. Additionally, there is evidence of reliability (e.g., internal consistency) as indicated through Cronbach’s alpha coefficients ranging from .85 to .86 (Snyder et al., 2002; Vela et al., 2015).
During the present study, each participant was involved in individual counseling at a community counseling clinic. The facility, located in the Southern region of the United States, provides free counseling services to community members. Individual and group sessions are free and last approximately 45 to 50 minutes. The community counseling clinic offers preventive and early treatment for developmental, emotional, and interpersonal difficulties for community members. CITs at the community counseling clinic are graduate counseling students enrolled in practicum or internship.
Krystle Himmelberger, who was the CIT in the current study, adapted strength-based interventions designed to facilitate positive feelings by helping clients set goals, focus on the future, and find solutions rather than problems. She was a CIT in a clinical mental health counseling program. Prior to the study, she selected and designed interventions and activities according to specific guidelines from SFBT manuals and sources (Buchholz Holland, 2013; de Shazer et al., 2007; Trepper et al., 2010).
James Ikonomopoulos and Javier Cavazos Vela were faculty counseling supervisors who monitored sessions and provided weekly supervision to maintain fidelity of SFBT interventions. Bavelas et al. (2013) suggested that live supervision may provide a second set of clinical eyes to help CITs. Himmelberger received weekly supervision to ensure procedural and treatment adherence (Liu et al., 2020). Furthermore, videotaped supervision and transcriptions provided her with the ability to communicate between sessions. These measures were used to enhance treatment fidelity by focusing on quality and competency.
SFBT Principles and Intervention
Participants received six to nine sessions of individual SFBT using the description of techniques and activities in the following resources: More Than Miracles: The State of the Art of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (de Shazer et al., 2007), Solution-Focused Therapy Treatment Manual for Working With Individuals (Trepper et al., 2010), and “The Lifeline Activity With a ‘Solution-Focused Twist’” (Buchholz Holland, 2013). We used the following SFBT principles to guide the intervention: focus on specific topics, a positive and co-constructed therapeutic relationship, and questioning techniques (Trepper et al., 2010). First, Himmelberger focused on specific topics such as preferred future, strengths, confidence in finding solutions, and exceptions. She used future-specific and solution-focused language in each session to help clients focus on their preferred futures. Second, she developed a positive therapeutic relationship with clients through shared trust and co-construction of counseling experiences. She was positive and helpful, and she helped instill optimism and hope in her clients. A positive therapeutic relationship was evidenced based on her report as well as live supervision and reviews of session recordings. Finally, Himmelberger used questioning techniques that focused on clients’ strengths, exceptions, and coping skills. She used questioning techniques that helped clients focus on progress toward their preferred future and future-oriented solutions.
The techniques she used included looking for previous solutions, exceptions, the miracle question, scaling questions, compliments, future-oriented questions, and “so what is better” questions. Himmelberger used looking for previous solutions to help clients identify their previous coping strategies to cope with the problem. Based on Himmelberger’s report in supervision sessions, both clients commented that they were surprised that they had been successful in the past when the problem did not exist. She also used exceptions to help clients identify what was different when the problem did not exist. Additionally, she used present- and future-oriented questions to help clients focus on future solutions. This was an important technique as clients were not used to ignoring the problem. When clients provided updates on their progress toward their goals, Himmelberger used compliments to validate what clients were doing well. Using compliments helped cultivate a positive therapeutic relationship with these clients.
Finally, with the miracle question, she asked clients to provide details about their preferred future and what that would look like. She followed up with a question about constructing solutions regarding what work it would take to make that preferred future happen. Then in each session, she conducted progress checks toward that preferred future by asking scaling questions (On a scale from 1–10, where are you now with progress toward your preferred future?) and questions about “what is better” (What is better now when compared to last week?). She complimented clients’ progress toward that preferred future.
We used AB SCRD to determine the effectiveness of an SFBT treatment program (Lundervold & Belwood, 2000; Sharpley, 2007) using scores on the DHS and OQ-45.2 total scale as outcome measures (Lambert et al., 1996). The two participants who were assigned to Himmelberger did not begin counseling until they consented to treatment and the research study. In other words, they did not receive counseling services prior to participation in this study. After 4 weeks of data collection, the baseline phase of data collection was completed. Participants did not receive counseling services during the baseline period.
The treatment phase began after the fourth baseline measure. At the conclusion of each individual session, participants completed the DHS and OQ-45.2. Himmelberger collected and stored the measures in each participant’s folder in a locked cabinet in the clinic. After the 12th week of data collection, the treatment phase of data collection was completed, at which point the SFBT intervention was withdrawn.
A percentage of non-overlapping data (PND) procedure was used to analyze quantitative data (Scruggs et al., 1987). A visual representation of change over time is graphically represented with a split-middle line of progress visual trend analysis showing data points from each phase (Lenz, 2015). Statistical process control charting was used to determine whether the characteristics of treatment phase data were beyond the realm of random occurrence with 99% confidence (Lenz, 2015). An interpretation of effect size was estimated using Tau-U to complement PND analysis (Lenz, 2015; Sharpley, 2007).
Data Collection and Analysis
We implemented the PND (Scruggs et al., 1987) to analyze scores on the Hope and OQ-45.2 scales across phases of treatment. The PND procedure yields a proportion of data in the treatment phase that overlaps with the most conservative data point in the baseline phase. PND calculations are expressed in a decimal format that ranges between 0 and 1, with higher scores representing greater treatment effects (Lenz, 2013).
Upon considering the percentage of data exceeding the median procedure (Ma, 2006), we selected the PND because it is considered a robust method of calculating treatment effectiveness (Lenz, 2013). This metric is conceptualized as the percentage of treatment phase data that exceeds a single noteworthy point within the baseline phase. Because we aimed for an increase in DHS scores, the highest data point in the baseline phase was used. Finally, given that we aimed for a decrease in OQ-45.2 total scale scores, the lowest data point in the baseline was used (Lenz, 2013). To calculate the PND statistic, data points in the treatment phase on the therapeutic side of the baseline are counted and then divided by the total number of points in the treatment phase (Ikonomopoulos et al., 2016).
Estimates of Effect Size and Clinical Significance
PND values are typically interpreted using the estimation of treatment effect provided by Scruggs and Mastropieri (1998) wherein values of .90 and greater are indicative of very effective treatments, those ranging from .70 to .89 represent moderate effectiveness, those between .50 to .69 are debatably effective, and scores less than .50 are regarded as not effective (Ikonomopoulos et al., 2015, 2016). Tau-U values are typically interpreted using the estimation of treatment effect provided by Vannest and Ninci (2015) wherein Tau-U magnitudes can be interpreted as small (≤ .20), moderate (.20–.60), large (.60–.80), and very large (≥ .80). These procedures were completed for each participant’s scores on the Hope and OQ-45.2 scales.
Clinical significance was determined in accordance with Lenz’s (2020a, 2020b) calculations of percent improvement (PI) values. Percent improvement values greater than 50% were interpreted as representing clinically significant improvement with large effect sizes, 25% to 49% were interpreted as slightly improved without clinical significance, and less than 25% represented no clinical significance. Lenz (2021) also recommended for researchers to provide sufficient context and visual representation when interpreting and reporting clinical significance. As one example, without context and visual representation, researchers could interpret a PI value of 49% as not having clinical significance.
A detailed description of participants’ experiences is provided below. Figure 1 depicts estimates of treatment effect on the DHS; Figure 2 depicts estimates of treatment effect on the OQ-45.2 total scale.
Ratings for Hope by Participants With Split-Middle Line of Progress
Note. PND = Percentage of Non-overlapping Data.
Ratings for Mental Health Symptoms on OQ-45.2 by Participants with Statistical Process Control Charting
Note. PND = Percentage of Non-overlapping Data.
Data for Mary is represented in Figures 1 and 2 as well as Tables 1 and 2. A comparison of level of Hope across baseline (M = 56.00) and intervention phases (M = 63.50) indicated notable changes in participant scores evidenced by an increase in mean DHS scores over time. Variation between scores in baseline (SD = 3.50) and intervention (SD = 0.83) indicated differential range in scores before and after the intervention. Data in the baseline phase trended downward toward a contra-therapeutic effect over time. Dissimilarly, data in the intervention phase trended upward toward a therapeutic effect over time. Comparison of baseline level and trend data with the first three observations in the intervention phase did suggest immediacy of treatment response for the participant. Data in the intervention phase moved into the desired range of effect for scores representing Hope. Overall, visual inspection of Mary’s ratings on the DHS (see Figure 1) indicates that most of her scores in the treatment phase were higher than her scores in the baseline phase.
Mary’s ratings on the DHS illustrate that the treatment effect of SFBT was moderately effective for improving her DHS score. Evaluation of the PND statistic for the DHS score measure (0.83) indicated that five out of six scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (DHS score of 63). Mary successfully improved Hope during treatment as evidenced by improved scores on items such as “I can think of many ways to get out of a jam,” “I can think of ways to get the things in life that are important to me,” and “I meet the goals that I set for myself.” Scores above the PND line were within a 1-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. This finding is corroborated by the associated Tau-U value (τU = 0.92), which suggested a very large degree of change in which the null hypothesis about intervention efficacy for Mary could be rejected (p = .02). Also, interpretation of the clinical significance estimate of PI is that 13.39% improvement is not clinically significant (Lenz, 2020a, 2020b). See Table 1 for information regarding PND, Tau-U, and PI. Although the PI value is considered not clinically significant, it is important to contextualize this finding within visual inspection of Mary’s Hope scores in Figure 1. Because Mary had moderately high levels of Hope in the baseline phase, her room for improvement based on the ceiling effect as related to Hope was not high. In other words, in the context of Mary’s treatment and visual inspection of her scores, the SFBT intervention helped Mary move from good to better. In the context of Mary’s treatment and a visual representation of her scores on the DHS (see Figure 1), the SFBT intervention had some level of convincingness, which means that some amount of change in Hope occurred for Mary (Kendall et al., 1999; Lenz, 2021).
Ratings for Hope by Participants
Note. PND = Percentage of Non-overlapping Data.
Ratings for OQ-45.2 Total Scale Score by Participants
Note. PND = Percentage of Non-overlapping Data.
Before treatment began, one of Mary’s baseline measurements was above the cut-score guideline on the OQ-45.2 of a total scale score of 63, which indicates symptoms of clinical significance. Comparison of level of clinical symptoms across baseline (M = 45.25) and intervention phases (M = 17.67) indicated notable changes in participant scores evidenced by a decrease in mental health symptom scale scores over time. Variation between scores in baseline (SD = 16.25) and intervention (SD = 7.44) indicated differential range in scores before and after the intervention. Data in the baseline phase trended upward toward a contra-therapeutic effect over time. Dissimilarly, data in the intervention phase trended downward toward a therapeutic effect over time. Comparison of baseline level and trend data with the first three observations in the intervention phase did suggest immediacy of treatment response for the participant. Data in the intervention phase moved into the desired range of effect for scores representing mental health symptoms.
Mary’s ratings on the OQ-45.2 illustrate that the treatment effect of SFBT was very effective for decreasing her total scale score measuring mental health symptoms. Evaluation of the PND statistic for the OQ-45.2 total scale score measure (1.00) indicated that all six scores were on the therapeutic side below the baseline (total scale score of 26). Mary successfully reduced clinical symptoms during treatment as evidenced by improved scores on items such as “I am a happy person,” “I feel loved and wanted,” and “I find my work/school satisfying.” This contention became most apparent after the first treatment session when Mary continuously scored lower on a majority of symptom dimensions such as Symptom Distress, Interpersonal Relations, and Social Role Performance. Scores below the PND line were within a 24-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. This finding is corroborated by the associated Tau-U value (τU = −1.0), which suggested a very large degree of change in which the null hypothesis about intervention efficacy for Mary could be rejected (p = .01). An analysis of statistical process control charting revealed that one data point in the treatment phase was beyond the realm of random occurrence with 99% confidence. This finding also corresponds with interpretation of the clinical significance estimate of PI that 60.95% improvement is clinically significant (Lenz, 2020a, 2020b). See Table 2 for information regarding PND, Tau-U, and PI. In the context of Mary’s treatment and a visual representation of Mary’s scores on the OQ-45.2 (see Figure 2), the SFBT intervention had a high level of convincingness, which means that a considerable amount of change in clinical symptoms occurred for Mary (Kendall et al., 1999; Lenz, 2021).
Data for Joel is represented in Figures 1 and 2 as well as Tables 1 and 2. Comparison of level of Hope across baseline (M = 27.75) and intervention phases (M = 34.90) indicated notable changes in participant scores evidenced by an increase in mean DHS scores over time. Variation between scores in baseline (SD = 2.87) and intervention (SD = 5.26) indicated differential range in scores before and after the intervention. Data in the baseline phase trended downward toward a contra-therapeutic effect over time. Dissimilarly, data in the intervention phase trended upward toward a therapeutic effect over time. Comparison of baseline level and trend data with the first three observations in the intervention phase did suggest immediacy of treatment response for the participant. Data in the intervention phase moved into the desired range of effect for scores representing Hope.
Joel’s ratings on the DHS illustrate that the treatment effect of SFBT was debatably effective for improving his DHS score. Evaluation of the PND statistic for the DHS score measure (0.60) revealed that six out of ten scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (DHS score of 31). Joel successfully improved his Hope during treatment as evidenced by improved scores on items such as “I can think of many ways to get out of a jam,” “I can think of ways to get the things in life that are important to me,” and “I meet the goals that I set for myself.” Scores above the PND line were within an 18-point range. Trend analysis depicted a steady level of scores following the first treatment measure, with scores vacillating around the baseline score until the eighth treatment measure. This finding is corroborated by the associated Tau-U value (τU = 0.70), which suggested a large degree of change in which the null hypothesis about intervention efficacy for Joel could be rejected (p = .047). This finding also corresponds with interpretation of the clinical significance estimate of PI that 25.75% is slightly improved but not clinically significant (Lenz, 2020a, 2020b). One explanation for the lack of clinical significance and moderate effect size is the limited nature of the intervention. Based on results from visual depiction of Joel’s levels of Hope across treatment (see Figure 1), we suspect that this trend would have continued if he had received additional sessions of an SFBT intervention. His treatment was trending in a positive trajectory. In the context of Joel’s treatment and a visual representation of his scores on the DHS (see Figure 1), the SFBT intervention had a moderate level of convincingness, which means that a considerable amount of change in Hope occurred for Joel (Kendall et al., 1999; Lenz, 2021).
Before treatment began, all four of Joel’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the OQ-45.2 of a total scale score of 63, which indicates symptoms of clinical significance. Comparison of level of clinical symptoms across baseline (M = 84.00) and intervention phases (M = 47.10) indicated notable changes in participant scores evidenced by a decrease in mental health symptom scale scores over time. Variation between scores in baseline (SD = 6.00) and intervention (SD = 10.74) indicated differential range in scores before and after intervention. Data in the baseline phase trended upward toward a contra-therapeutic effect over time. Dissimilarly, data in the intervention phase trended downward toward a therapeutic effect over time. Comparison of baseline level and trend data with the first three observations in the intervention phase did suggest immediacy of treatment response for the participant. Data in the intervention phase moved into the desired range of effect for scores representing mental health symptoms.
Joel’s ratings on the OQ-45.2 illustrate that the treatment effect of SFBT was very effective for decreasing his total scale score measuring clinical symptoms. Evaluation of the PND statistic for the total scale score measure (1.00) indicated that all 10 scores were on the therapeutic side below the baseline (total scale score of 77). Joel successfully reduced clinical symptoms during treatment as evidenced by improved scores on items such as “I am a happy person,” “I feel loved and wanted,” and “I find my work/school satisfying.” This contention became most apparent after the first treatment session when Joel continuously scored lower on a majority of symptom dimensions such as Symptom Distress, Interpersonal Relations, and Social Role Performance. Scores below the PND line were within a 41-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. This finding is corroborated by the associated Tau-U value (τU = −1.0), which suggested a very large degree of change in which the null hypothesis about intervention efficacy for Joel can be rejected (p = .004). An analysis of statistical process control charting revealed that eight data points in the treatment phase were beyond the realm of random occurrence with 99% confidence. This finding also corresponds with interpretation of the clinical significance estimate that 43.93% of improvement is slightly improved but not clinically significant (Lenz, 2020a, 2020b). Considering contextual evidence from the intervention as well as data visualization of Figure 2, it was clear that Joel experienced a downward trajectory in clinical symptoms. If he had received additional SFBT sessions, we suspect that he would have continued to experience a reduction in clinical symptoms. In the context of Joel’s treatment and a visual representation of his scores on the OQ-45.2 (see Figure 2), the SFBT intervention had a high level of convincingness, which means that a considerable amount of change in Hope occurred for Joel (Kendall et al., 1999; Lenz, 2021).
The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the impact of SFBT on clinical symptoms and hope among Latine clients. The results yield promising findings and preliminary evidence about the efficacy of SFBT as an intervention for promoting positive change across two Latine clients’ clinical symptoms and hope. The scores varied for each outcome variable, and this is likely related to the length and duration of the intervention as well as each participant’s personal characteristics (Callender et al., 2021) and relationship to their counselor (Liu et al., 2020). Findings from the current study also lend further support regarding the efficacy among CITs who aim to impact clients’ psychological functioning at a community counseling training clinic.
The findings for clinical symptoms showed a trend toward reduction in clinical symptoms across 8 weeks of SFBT. Both participants reported statistically significant improvements (p < .05) in reductions of clinical symptoms on the OQ-45.2. In both cases, the SFBT intervention was within the range of very large treatment effectiveness and clinical significance for improving symptoms of psychopathology. Results from the PND and PI confirmed that these participants experienced reduced clinical symptoms. It appears that there was a steady progression of improvement for these participants after their second treatment session. During this phase of treatment, Himmelberger used techniques such as exceptions to the problem and scaling questions to help participants recognize inner resources and personal strengths, analyze current levels of functioning, and visualize their preferred future (de Shazer, 1991).
In review of counseling session recordings and in supervision, Himmelberger commented that both Joel and Mary provided feedback throughout SFBT that they appreciated the opportunity to focus on small successes, personal strengths, and exceptions to their problems, and the use of scaling questions to assess and track their progress. They also commented that they appreciated how they were able to conceptualize family as a source of strength and element of resiliency (J. Cavazos et al., 2010; Oliver et al., 2011). Researchers have found that using SFBT techniques such as miracle and exceptions questions can help clients reduce negative affect (Brogan et al., 2020; Neipp et al., 2021). Our findings also are like those of Schmit et al. (2016), who found that SFBT may be effective for treating symptoms of internalizing disorders, and Oliver et al. (2011), who commented that SFBT can help Mexican Americans cultivate familismo.
The findings for Hope showed a visual trend toward increased levels of Hope across 8 weeks of SFBT. Both participants reported statistically significant improvements (p < .05) in Hope on the DHS. In both cases, the SFBT intervention was within the range of debatable effectiveness and slight improvement without clinical significance for improving symptoms of Hope. Mary’s rating on the DHS indicates the treatment was moderately effective and PI was not clinically significant. When visualizing Mary’s rating on the DHS, we see that Mary had high levels of Hope in the baseline phase, which means that she did not have much room to improve in the treatment phase. Contextualizing Mary’s treatment and using a visual representation of her scores on the DHS (see Figure 1), we infer that the SFBT intervention had some level of convincingness, which means that some amount of change in Hope occurred for Mary (Kendall, 1999; Lenz, 2021). Additionally, Joel’s rating on the DHS indicate that the treatment effect was debatably effective with a PI that is slightly improved but not clinically significant. When looking closely at Joel’s scores, we see that Joel experienced trends in a positive trajectory. In the context of his treatment and a visual representation of his scores on the DHS (see Figure 1), the SFBT intervention had a moderate level of convincingness, which means that a considerable amount of change in Hope occurred (Kendall, 1999; Lenz, 2021).
Suldo and Shaffer (2008) argued that using a dual-factor model of mental health with indicators of subjective well-being (e.g., hope) and illness (e.g., clinical symptoms) allows researchers and practitioners to measure and understand complete mental health. Although a client’s psychopathology might decrease, subjective well-being might not improve with the same effect. Findings from SFBT treatment with Joel and Mary support a dual-factor model that suggests indicators of personal wellness and psychopathology are different parts of mental health and are important to consider in treatment (Vela, Lu, et al., 2016). For Joel and Mary, SFBT appeared to be efficacious for slightly increasing and maintaining scores on the DHS. Our findings support Joubert and Guse (2021), who recommended SFBT to facilitate hope and subjective well-being among clients. When clients can think about solutions, identify exceptions to their problems, and think about their preferred future, they might be more likely to develop hope for their future as well as improve subjective well-being (Joubert & Guse, 2021).
The findings from this study lend further support regarding the effectiveness of counseling services at a community counseling training clinic. Our findings are like Schuermann et al.’s (2018) findings that lend support for the efficacy of counseling services in a Hispanic-serving counselor training clinic and Dorais et al.’s (2020) findings of counseling students’ motivational interviewing techniques at a university addiction training clinic. Faculty supervision, group supervision, and live supervision have all been associated with increases in counseling interns’ self-efficacy to provide quality counseling services. Himmelberger received weekly supervision and consultation on SFBT principles as well as SCRD principles. It is possible that these forms of supervision helped her provide effective counseling services. Our findings also support the need to continue to design research studies to evaluate the impact of counseling services at community counseling training clinics with clients of different cultural backgrounds and different presenting symptoms.
Implications for Counselor Educators and Counselors-in-Training
Based on our findings, we propose a few recommendations for counselor educators, CITs, and practitioners. First, our study provides evidence that CITs at community counseling centers can provide effective treatments with culturally diverse clients with moderate internalized symptoms such as depression and anxiety. As a result, SFBT can be taught and infused into counselor education curricula and can be delivered by future licensed professional counselors, school counselors, or counseling interns.
Community agencies working with this client population should also consider providing counselors with professional development and training related to SFBT. It is important to mention that when two of us were in graduate programs, we did not receive formal SFBT instruction. This might be due to greater emphasis on humanistic and cognitive behavioral therapies in counseling curricula or among some counselor education faculty. As a result, counselor educators must make a cogent effort to promote and discuss postmodern theories such as SFBT. This is important because SFBT can be effective at improving internalizing disorders among clients (Schmit et al., 2016) and Latine populations (Gonzalez & Franklin, 2016).
Another implication for counselor educators is to consider teaching CITs how to use SCRDs to monitor and assess treatment effectiveness. All counseling interns who work in a community counseling clinic need to demonstrate the effectiveness of their services with clients. Therefore, CITs can learn how to use SCRDs or a single-group pretest/posttest with clinical significance (Ikonomopoulos et al., 2021; Lenz, 2020b) to determine the impact of counseling on client outcomes. Finally, community counseling clinics can consider using the DHS and OQ-45.2 to measure indicators of subjective well-being and clinical symptoms. CITs can use these instruments, which have evidence of reliability and validity with culturally diverse populations, to document the impact of their counseling services on clients’ hope and clinical symptoms.
Implications for Practitioners
There also are implications for practitioners. First, counselors can use SFBT principles and techniques to work with Latine clients. By using a positive and future-oriented framework, counselors can build a positive therapeutic relationship and help Latine clients construct a positive future. Counselors can use SFBT to help Latine clients identify how familismo is a source of strength (Oliver et al., 2011) and draw on their inner resiliency (Vela et al., 2015) to create their preferred future outcome. Practitioners can use SFBT techniques, including looking for previous solutions, exceptions, the miracle question, scaling questions, compliments, and future-oriented questions. SFBT principles and techniques can be used to facilitate hope by helping Latine clients view mental health challenges as opportunities to cultivate strengths and explore solutions (Bannik, 2008; Joubert & Guse, 2021).
Practitioners also can use SCRDs to evaluate the impact of their work with clients. Although most practitioners collect pre- and post-counseling intervention data, they typically use a single data point at pre-counseling and a single data point at post-counseling. Using an SCRD in which a baseline phase and weekly treatment points are collected can help analyze trends over time and identify clinical significance. Lenz (2015) described how practitioners can use SCRDs to make inferences—self as control, flexibility and responsiveness, small sample size, ease of data analysis, and type of data yielded from analyses. In other words, counseling practitioners can analyze data over time with a client and use the data collection and analysis methods in this study to evaluate the impact of their counseling services on client outcomes.
Implications and Limitations
There are several implications for future research. First, researchers can evaluate the impact of SFBT on other indicators related to subjective well-being and clinical symptoms among culturally diverse populations, including subjective happiness, resilience, grit, meaning in life, anxiety, and depression (Karaman et al., 2019). More research needs to explore how SFBT might enhance indicators of subjective well-being and decrease clinical symptoms as well as the intersection between recovery and psychopathology. Although researchers have explored the impact of SFBT on internalizing symptoms (Schmit et al., 2016), more research needs to examine the impact on subjective well-being, particularly among Latine populations and Latine adolescents at a community counseling clinic.
Researchers also should consider using qualitative methods to discover which SFBT techniques are most effective. In-depth interviews and focus groups with SFBT participants would provide insight and perspectives with the miracle question, scaling questions, and other SFBT techniques. Counselors could also collect clients’ journal entries to capture the impact of specific techniques on psychopathology or subjective well-being.
Additionally, using between-group designs to compare SFBT interventions with other evidence-based approaches such as cognitive behavior therapy could provide fruitful investigations. It is also possible to explore the impact of SFBT coupled with another approach such as positive psychology or cognitive behavior therapy with Latine populations. Finally, researchers can continue to explore the impact of CITs who work with clients in a community counseling clinic. Counseling interns can use SCRDs or single-group pretest/posttest designs to measure the impact of their counseling services.
The current study was exploratory in nature. Although both participants demonstrated improvement in measures related to subjective well-being and psychopathology, generalization to a larger Latine population is not appropriate. Because of the exploratory nature of this study, we cannot generate causal inferences regarding the relationship between SFBT and Hope as well as clinical symptoms. Second, we did not include withdrawal measures following completion of the treatment phase (Ikonomopoulos et al., 2016, 2017). Although some researchers use AB and ABA SCRDs to measure counseling effectiveness (Callender et al., 2021), we did not use an ABA design that would have provided stronger internal validity to evaluate changes of SFBT (Lenz et al., 2012). Because Himmelberger completed the academic semester and graduated from the clinical mental health counseling program, collecting withdrawal measures was not possible. Therefore, an AB SCRD was a more feasible approach.
To the best of our knowledge, this is one of the first exploratory studies to examine the impact of the effectiveness of SFBT with Latine clients at a community counseling training clinic. This exploratory SCRD serves as a foundation for future data collection and evaluation of CITs who work with culturally diverse clients at community counseling training clinics. Results support the potential of SFBT as an intervention for promoting positive change for Latine clients’ hope and clinical symptoms.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.
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Krystle Himmelberger, MS, LPC, is a doctoral candidate at St. Mary’s University. James Ikonomopoulos, PhD, LPC-S, is an assistant professor at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. Javier Cavazos Vela, PhD, LPC, is a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Correspondence may be addressed to James Ikonomopoulos, 6300 Ocean Drive, Unit 5834, Corpus Christi, TX 78412,
Aug 10, 2022 | Volume 12 - Issue 2
Phillip L. Waalkes, Daniel A. DeCino, Maribeth F. Jorgensen, Tiffany Somerville
Supportive relationships with counselor educators as dissertation chairs are valuable to doctoral students overcoming barriers to successful completion of their dissertations. Yet, few have examined the complex and mutually influenced dissertation-chairing relationships from the perspective of dissertation chairs. Using hermeneutic phenomenology, we interviewed counselor educators (N = 15) to identify how they experienced dissertation-chairing relationship dynamics with doctoral students. Counselor educators experienced relationships characterized by expansive connections, growth in student autonomy, authenticity, safety and trust, and adaptation to student needs. They viewed chairing relationships as fluid and non-compartmentalized, which cultivated mutual learning and existential fulfillment. Our findings provide counselor educators with examples of how empathy and encouragement may help doctoral students overcome insecurities and how authentic and honest conversations may help doctoral students overcome roadblocks. Counselor education programs can apply these findings by building structures to help facilitate safe and trusting relationships between doctoral students and counselor educators.
Keywords: dissertation-chairing relationships, hermeneutic phenomenology, counselor education, doctoral students, relationship dynamics
According to the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2015), doctoral students must develop research skills and complete counseling-focused dissertation research. Research mentorship is often important to counselor education doctoral students’ development as researchers (Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015). One of the central research mentoring relationships in doctoral programs is the dissertation-chairing relationship. Supportive research mentoring relationships in counselor education are invaluable to students (Lamar & Helm, 2017), are necessary to successful dissertation chairing (Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020), and are a central factor in high-quality doctoral programs (Preston et al., 2020). In fact, a meaningful connection between students and their dissertation chairperson predicts students’ successful completion of their dissertations (Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015; Rigler et al., 2017) and positive dissertation experiences (Burkard et al., 2014). Therefore, to help promote intentional and supportive dissertation-chairing relationships, we examined counselor educators’ experiences of relationship dynamics with doctoral students.
Challenges in Dissertation Completion
Across disciplines, doctoral students can struggle with isolation, motivation, time management, self-regulation, and self-efficacy (Pyhältö et al., 2012). In their development as researchers, doctoral students in counselor education can experience intense emotions, including excitement, exhaustion, frustration, distrust, confusion, disconnection, and pride (Lamar & Helm, 2017). Negative relationships with dissertation chairs can exacerbate challenges to dissertation completion. In one meta-analysis study examining doctoral student attrition across disciplines, doctoral students identified a problematic relationship with their dissertation chairperson as the most significant barrier to their completion of their degrees (Rigler et al., 2017). Doctoral students in counselor education have reported negative experiences when their dissertation chairs were unenthusiastic, unsupportive, and unavailable, and when their guidance was not concrete (Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017). In addition, counselor education doctoral students involved in negative dissertation-chairing relationships can feel like they are on their own in their dissertation journeys (Protivnak & Foss, 2009). This feeling of isolation can intensify existing barriers in completing dissertations, including struggles with motivation, self-regulation, self-criticism, and self-efficacy (Burkard et al., 2014; Pyhältö et al., 2012).
Power differentials between doctoral students and dissertation chairs also can serve as a barrier to supportive dissertation-chairing relationships and dissertation completion (Burkard et al., 2014). For example, doctoral students are likely to remain silent in difficult relationships with dissertation chairs unless students perceive there to be a strong relationship built on respect and open communication (Schlosser et al., 2003). Cultural differences and systemic oppression may also impact dissertation-chairing relationships. According to Brown and Grothaus (2019), Black counselor education students can experience overt racism, tokenism, isolation, and internalized racism, which can foster mistrust in cross-racial mentoring relationships. Numerous researchers in counselor education (Borders et al., 2012; Ghoston et al., 2020; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015; Purgason et al., 2018) have recommended mentors use transparent and honest dialogue with explicit attention to expectations, power dynamics, cultural differences, and potential conflicts.
Supportive Dissertation-Chairing Relationships
Dissertation-chairing relationships with individualized supports can help students overcome barriers to completing their dissertations (Ghoston et al., 2020; Purgason et al., 2018). According to Flynn and colleagues (2012), increased dissertation chairperson involvement can counteract counselor education students’ isolation, burnout, and perceptions of lacking support. Dissertation chairs can help doctoral students identify their low research self-efficacy and offer support, encouragement, and instruction to help address it (Burkard et al., 2014). According to Ghoston and colleagues (2020), a supportive relationship during the dissertation process can help doctoral students be more honest about when they are stuck, which, in turn, allows chairs to give more targeted direction and feedback.
Beginning counselor educators have reported faculty mentoring, care, and support were the most valuable components of their doctoral training (Perera-Diltz & Sauerheber, 2017). Specifically, doctoral students in counselor education value when faculty take time with them, express genuine caring, offer guidance, validate and believe in them, and celebrate their efforts and achievements (Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015; Protivnak & Foss, 2009; Purgason et al., 2018). Counselor education doctoral students also appreciate dissertation chairs who offer regular contact, timely support, and clear and authentic communication (Borders et al., 2012; Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020).
Despite the importance of supportive dissertation-chairing relationships in counselor education (Flynn et al., 2012; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015), little research exists on how counselor educators experience dissertation-chairing relationships with doctoral students. Although researchers have studied dissertation-chairing relationships from the perspectives of counselor education doctoral students (e.g., Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015) and examined relational strategies counselor educators use (e.g., Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020), few have examined counselor educators’ perceptions of the relationship as dynamic and mutually constructed. Given their role as faculty and their experiences in multiple dissertation-chairing relationships, dissertation chairs may have more awareness of and broader perspectives on the mutually influenced dissertation relationship and process. Understanding the complexities and nuances of dynamics in chairing relationships may help counselor educators develop more intentional dissertation-chairing practices, subsequently resulting in more successfully completed dissertations. Therefore, we asked the following research question in this hermeneutic phenomenological investigation: What are counselor educators’ lived experiences of dissertation-chairing relationship dynamics with doctoral students?
We utilized a hermeneutic perspective rooted in an interpretive paradigm to guide this study. This perspective aligns with the focus on relationships in our study and emphasizes how individuals make meaning in interaction with others (Heidegger, 1962). Anchored by the viewpoint that all knowledge is relative and based on cultural context, Heidegger’s (1962) hermeneutic phenomenology helped us to construct an evocative description of the essence of participants’ experiences of chairing dissertations in a multi-dimensional and multi-layered way (van Manen, 1990). Hermeneutic phenomenology focuses on uncovering the participants’ experiences of the lifeworld, or their experience of everyday situations and relations (van Manen, 1990). The concept of lifeworld in hermeneutic phenomenology allowed us to examine participants’ lived experiences of human relation, or how they maintain relationships in shared interpersonal space. Therefore, we utilized hermeneutic phenomenology (van Manen, 1990) to investigate counselor educators’ experiences of dissertation-chairing relationships.
Participants and Sampling Procedure
Of 15 participants in our study, eight self-identified as female and seven self-identified as male. Ten participants self-identified as White. Three self-identified with multiple racial and ethnic groups, and two self-identified as African American or Black. Seven participants worked as an associate professor, seven participants worked as a full professor, and one participant worked as an assistant professor. Participants’ ages ranged from 33 to 68 (M = 47.93, SD = 10.18). Years of experience working as a counselor educator ranged from 4 to 29 (M = 16.40, SD = 7.92). Participants reported a wide range of successful chairing experiences, with one to 40 (M = 10.47, SD = 10.39) of their doctoral student advisees defending their dissertations. Nine participants worked at institutions in the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) region, three participants worked at institutions in the Western ACES region, two participants worked at institutions in the North Central ACES region, and one participant worked at an institution in the Northeastern ACES region. Five participants worked at institutions with an R2 Carnegie classification (doctoral universities with high research activity). Five participants worked at institutions with an R1 Carnegie classification (doctoral universities with very high research activity). Three participants worked at institutions with an M1 Carnegie classification (master’s colleges and universities with larger programs). Two participants worked at an institution with a D/PU classification (doctoral/professional universities).
Participants qualified for inclusion in this study if they self-identified as a counselor educator working in a CACREP-accredited program and had chaired at least one counseling doctoral student through a successful dissertation defense. After compiling a list of all CACREP-accredited counselor education doctoral programs (N = 33) from information available through the CACREP website, we created a list of names and email addresses of all counselor education faculty (N = 330) working at each of these institutions based on information available on programs’ websites. After receiving IRB approval, we randomly selected 249 faculty members from this list and sent each person a recruitment email and one follow-up email about a week later. Fifteen counselor educators expressed interest, yielding a response rate of 6.05%.
After counselor educators expressed interest in the study, we emailed them a brief demographic data survey, the informed consent document, and the interview questions. We scheduled a time for a semi-structured interview with them and asked them to return their demographic data survey before their interviews. All interviews were conducted through Zoom and audio recorded. The interview protocol consisted of six main open-ended questions and two to four scripted probes for each main question (Patton, 2014). We developed interview questions based on themes within the literature on dissertations and research mentorship (e.g., Flynn et al., 2012; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015) as well as our own experiences chairing dissertations. Sample interview questions included “How would you describe the characteristics of relationships you want to foster with students?” and “What relational factors help students successfully complete their dissertations with you as a dissertation chair?” Interviews lasted between 38 and 64 minutes. After transcribing the interviews using Rev.com, we deleted the audio files. We determined that we reached saturation at our sample size of 15 participants as we observed the same themes repeatedly emerging in our coding process (Patton, 2014).
Our research team consisted of four members. Phillip Waalkes and Daniel DeCino served as the coding team. They both identify as White cisgender male counselor educators with experience chairing dissertations. Maribeth Jorgensen and Tiffany Somerville served as auditors. Jorgensen identifies as a White cisgender female counselor educator with experience chairing dissertations, while Somerville identifies as a White cisgender female counselor education doctoral student. Waalkes, DeCino, and Jorgensen developed the study after a conversation of their experiences chairing dissertations and conducting research in this topic area. We identified how we grew in our identities as dissertation chairs and how we adapted our mentoring styles to meet the needs of students. Considering our experiences as dissertation chairs and doctoral students, we wanted to know how counselor educators developed supportive dissertation-chairing relationships.
To promote reflexivity, the coding team, Waalkes and DeCino, used bridling throughout the data analysis process, utilizing written statements and discussion. Bridling is a process in which researchers actively wait for the phenomenon and its meaning to show itself while also scrutinizing their own involvement with the phenomenon. Bridling requires researchers to acknowledge their pre-understandings and loosen them to allow space for holistic understanding of the phenomenon without seeking to understand too quickly or too carelessly (Dahlberg, 2006). In his reflexivity statement, Waalkes wrote about the importance of timely and individualized feedback and the challenges of building relationships when taking over as dissertation chairperson in the middle of a student’s dissertation process. DeCino discussed his beliefs about the importance of individualized mentoring relationships and the impact of his dissertation experience as a doctoral student on his current dissertation-chairing identity. These reflexive conversations continued between Waalkes and DeCino throughout the data analysis process.
Based on van Manen’s (1990) inductive data analysis procedure for hermeneutic phenomenology, we coded our data with hermeneutic awareness, reflecting on the data in multidimensional context as opposed to accepting it at face value. Additionally, we designed our procedure to create a hermeneutic circle by shifting between examining parts of the text and reflecting on the interviews as a whole (van Manen, 1990). The development of a thematic structure and a holistic statement (a one-sentence summary of the essence of each participant’s experience) as products of our data analysis reflect our hermeneutic circle.
Our data analysis process consisted of four stages. First, for each interview, Waalkes and DeCino individually created initial holistic statements for each participant. Holistic statements summarized the central significance or fundamental meaning of the participant’s transcript (i.e., text) as a whole. For example, Participant 6’s holistic statement was “Structure, organization, following rules, empathy, scheduled standing meetings to check in personally and professionally, and constructive feedback tailored to students’ needs with an awareness of cultural differences are essential to their dissertation-chairing relationships.” Then, they met to discuss their individual holistic statements and reach consensus on the content of each holistic statement. Second, they individually reviewed each transcript and highlighted essential passages throughout each transcript. Waalkes and DeCino selected passages that were particularly essential or revealing (van Manen, 1990). After selecting a passage, they rewrote it with attention to the context of what was below or above each highlighted section. After rewriting a passage, they reviewed the participants’ holistic statement to ensure that the rewritten passage reflected the interview as a whole. They combined their summary statements of essential passages into a shared spreadsheet. Third, in a series of meetings, Waalkes and DeCino discussed their summary statements and coded each one with a possible theme name. Afterward, they looked for frequently reoccurring codes and combined similar codes to create an initial theme list. Then, they checked that their themes were essential and not incidental by assessing them against the holistic statements and using imaginative variation by asking: “Is this phenomenon still the same if we imaginatively change or delete this theme from the phenomenon?” (van Manen, 1990, p. 107). In conversation, Waalkes and DeCino revised the theme list and structure throughout the imaginative variation process. Finally, Jorgensen and Somerville reviewed the theme list and the holistic statements and offered suggestions that helped refine them.
We established trustworthiness in the present study through an iterative data analysis process with hermeneutic awareness and a hermeneutic circle, triangulation of investigators, and bridling through reflexive journaling (Dahlberg, 2006; Hays & Singh, 2012). First, our iterative data analysis process promoted hermeneutic awareness and helped us achieve a hermeneutic circle in checking our thematic structure and our holistic statements compared to each other (van Manen, 1990). Reflecting on the data in context involved approaching the data with an awareness that meaning is never simple or one-dimensional but rather multidimensional and multilayered (van Manen, 1990). To do this, we used individual and consensus coding, evaluation of the data in holistic context using holistic statements, and imaginative variation to summarize only essential parts of participants’ experiences (van Manen, 1990). Second, to achieve triangulation of investigators, Waalkes and DeCino reached consensus throughout the data analysis process (Hays & Singh, 2012). We also utilized two external auditors who read the interview transcripts and provided feedback on our thematic structure and holistic statements. Third, we engaged in reflexive journaling and bridling as described in the research team section above.
We arranged our findings into five themes: (a) expansive connections, (b) growth in student autonomy, (c) authenticity, (d) safety and trust, and (e) adaptation to student needs. We arrived at these five themes by using imaginative variation to determine which of our themes were essential to participants’ experiences. Each theme is described in the sections below.
In the expansive connections theme, participants (n = 11) described how chairing relationships defy compartmentalized definitions and can have wide-ranging and mutually beneficial impacts that extend beyond the dissertation project. For example, Participant 15 offered herself “as a person” to students:
When you sign on to . . . work with me on a dissertation, you don’t just get my technical expertise, you get me as a person . . . and that’s what you get first, actually. So again, it’s not a relationship that’s contained in a box. Hopefully, this is something that grows and actually is something we both are learning from and continues to sustain.
Similarly, Participant 9’s relationships with students extended beyond discussions of dissertations:
I try to talk to [the students I chair] about personal stuff as well as just the dissertation stuff. Because it’s not little neat cubby holes that they put their lives in. What’s going on in their personal life is what’s impacting their progress towards completion. Sometimes it’s just a sigh [of] relief when I ask them “How’s your wife doing? Is the baby walking?” And it gives them a chance to just decompress for a moment and regroup.
Participant 5 described a mutuality in learning through an intense working relationship:
It’s not really a top-down thing, but it’s about learning a craft, and intensely working together to learn that craft . . . it’s a formative process. We’re learning about ourselves as we’re going through it. And I learn from my students as well, while I’m chairing their projects . . . this is a career-building, life-extending experience.
Growth in Student Autonomy
Participants (n = 8) described the importance of using the dissertation relationship to help students take initiative and learn to conduct research on their own. Often participants set clear expectations and boundaries in their relationships to help students do this. For example, Participant 9 encouraged students to take accountability over maintaining momentum in the working alliance:
The student has to recognize this as a partnership, and I can’t react until the student acts. So to me, if I don’t see any action taking place, it’s much more difficult to give you feedback, to give you some kind of response. So that working alliance, I keep pushing that to a student. “What’s your responsibility. What’s my responsibility?”
Participant 2 talked about how he wanted students to be autonomous in planning their dissertations while offering resources:
I’m not the timekeeper. I’m not the helicopter parent. . . . “This is your dissertation, right? This is . . . your life. I will help get you resources, figure out what you need to do to get it done, you know? Beg, buy, borrow, and steal resources to get it done, but you gotta come to me with that.” I’m not gonna say, “Okay, you’re done with stuff a. Stuff b is this. Here’s what you need to do.”
Participant 8 did not want to micromanage students even if students expected that of her:
I don’t want to be your mother. . . he’s like this helpless person. So, I was a little worried that he was continuing to perpetuate these types of dynamics in his life where he was looking for maybe strong women to just come in and take care of things for him . . . I’ve had to be really, really clear about that.
In the authenticity theme, nearly all participants (n = 13) described valuing genuine conversations with students, in which there was a mutuality in sharing vulnerable parts of themselves. These conversations involved discussing both parties’ roles and responsibilities in the relationship. Participants co-constructed the dissertation process by inviting students into honest discussions of the abilities of both parties. For example, Participant 3 described facilitating authentic conversations:
It’s not a one-size-fits-all model . . . every student is different and . . . the process of having the conversation about what they need is a really good relationship-building conversation. And I’m quick to say, “There may be things you want that I can’t provide,” just because I don’t have this skill set or the capacity or the bandwidth in a given day . . . just having those conversations that start that co-constructed collaborative process and empowering them to do their work.
Additionally, participants transparently revealed vulnerable parts about themselves to help students overcome anxiety or other challenges. For example, Participant 12 described the importance of mutual authenticity to facilitate using immediacy to address issues that were causing students to get stuck:
I really need to be able to call out what I see if [the student] may be stuck . . . there needs to be that mutual authentic exchange too . . . authentic relating is my really being able [to feel] like there’s someone for me to call out when I noticed there might be something obstructing [the student’s] capacity to keep moving forward.
Participant 7 viewed being humble and inviting students to share their knowledge as part of being genuine:
I mentioned having that mutual learning attitude and when you do that, that’s being open and honest and genuine with them. Not acting like you know everything. I may be perceived as an expert in some areas, but I don’t want to come off that way actually sometimes. I’ve done a lot of this stuff, but I’m not an expert on this particular area. Tell me what you know. Tell me what you think you know. Tell me what you don’t know that you want to do and I will help you try to get there.
Safety and Trust
In the safety and trust theme, participants (n = 10) discussed how trust and safety served as the foundation for their chairing relationships. Participants acknowledged how mutual trust deepened their connections and helped students feel like their chairperson would help them grow without leaving them floundering. Participants believed safety and trust helped assure students they were going to complete their dissertation and they were not going to be abandoned. For example, Participant 7 discussed the importance of students’ trusting her to offer consistent support:
[Students should] trust me that we can work collaboratively together to make it a good study, that I have the background or I know where to get [help], if you don’t as a student, to help figure out methodology, how to write that prospectus, how to write period. . . . You have to trust me to know how to do that or at least have the resources to help you figure it out, and to trust me that we’re going to be in this together. I’m not going to leave you hanging.
Numerous participants conceptualized students’ needs for safety in terms of expressing and processing strong and often hidden emotions. For example, Participant 5 discussed how students coped with their vulnerability and shame of not feeling good enough:
They need to feel safe . . . I think there’s a lot of shame that goes into developing as a student and maybe even overt or covert. It’s just really tough. It’s such a vulnerable time in your life. I think that doc students, when you get them into groups, they just are very sure and confident. . . . I think that’s such a defensive mechanism to kind of bolster themselves and to kind of propel themselves forward because they’re really trying to, at times, step into these very big roles.
Similarly, Participant 3 conceptualized safety in terms of helping students of color feel like they could make mistakes with him as they navigate biased academic systems:
I really try to bring my years of experience, but I also try to diminish the hierarchy as much as I can. So we have conversations about why we might go this way or why we might go that way rather than it being an edict from me. And I think students appreciate that. I think they feel respected. I think they feel valued. One of the things that I feel very grateful for is that I’ve had the opportunity to have a lot of students of color select me as their dissertation chair. . . . And I think part of that, as they navigate a system that’s still kind of incredibly White and largely biased . . . they feel safe . . . it’s safe to make mistakes . . . They’re going to hand in some versions of drafts that are just not very good. And that’s part of the learning process.
Adaptation to Student Needs
In the adaptation to student needs theme, participants (n = 12) discussed assessing their students’ personalities and tailoring their approaches to meet unique student needs with a mix of support and challenge. For example, Participant 3 described making adjustments based on students’ levels of self-efficacy:
There are some students that I think have a lot of self-efficacy and don’t want me to sugar-coat anything. I can just be very direct and they want me to be direct. They tell me they want me to be direct, but I also recognize for some students, what they’re going to respond better to is more a carrot, less stick. And so, even how I language a comment or something, I’m paying attention to that based on my sense of the student and what they can navigate. If I have a draft of something that it feels like I’ve kind of bled all over and I’ve done a real hatchet job on . . . I’m going to make sure that in the body of the email . . . I’m encouraging.
Similarly, Participant 4 discussed how she personalized encouragement based on students’ needs:
I think of a student I had who needed a lot of validation in the moment, of, “Hey, you’re doing really well. You have all these strengths. These are all the things you’re doing well and I know you can do this. I believe in you.” And then, for others, I know that they needed to sit in the stress or the disappointment a little bit. So to say like, “I hear you. You are struggling right now and I’m going to give you the space for that. And when you’re ready, I’ve got a lot of positive things to say about you. So you let me know when you’re ready for that feedback. It doesn’t sound like you’re ready for it right now.”
Because developing as researchers is important for doctoral students (CACREP, 2015) and research mentorship is critical for this purpose (Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015), we investigated counselor educators’ experiences of relationship dynamics with doctoral students when chairing dissertations. Participants reported the complex and mutually influenced dynamics of expansive connections, growth in student autonomy, authenticity, safety and trust, and adaptation to student needs. Our finding of dissertation-chairing relationship dynamics as wide-reaching broadens the focus of previous researchers who have explored these relationships in terms of a series of strategies used by the chairperson (Ghoston et al., 2020) or a list of components contributing to successful dissertation completion (Jorgensen & Wester, 2020). Participants viewed chairing relationships as fluid, mutually influenced, and non-compartmentalized (Purgason et al., 2016), involving a blending of personal and collegial connection that could offer shared learning and fulfillment. Numerous researchers (e.g., Burkard et al., 2014; Flynn et al., 2012) have found that supportive dissertation-chairing relationships can have positive impacts on doctoral students. Yet, a unique finding of this study is that chairing relationships can also positively affect dissertation chairs. Participants discussed growing and experiencing feelings including pride, frustration, and fulfillment from their chairing relationships.
In the growth in student autonomy theme, numerous participants discussed helping students develop more independence and step into a more collegial role in their dissertation-chairing relationships. To a degree, this theme aligns with how Jorgensen and Wester (2020) and Ghoston and colleagues (2020) highlighted the need for accountability and developing doctoral students’ researcher identities in chairing relationships. However, our participants framed helping students become more autonomous as a mutually influenced working alliance that required doctoral student initiative and effort for their chairs to reciprocate. In other words, it seems that dissertation chairs believed doctoral students’ steady effort played a role in creating positive relational momentum throughout a consistent pattern of feedback and support. Additionally, for some participants, fostering student autonomy involved discussing boundaries and the navigation of transference and countertransference within the relationship dynamic. Completing a dissertation can be a challenging process in which students face numerous emotional roadblocks (Lamar & Helm, 2017; Pyhältö et al., 2012) and, for some participants, promoting student autonomy involved exploring and discussing how dependence may function as a defense mechanism for students to cover up their embarrassment, fear, or low self-efficacy.
Our findings also deepen the previous research on the importance of authenticity in dissertation-chairing relationships (Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020; Purgason et al., 2016). Many participants directed the relationship toward mutually vulnerable places relevant to students’ dissertations. For example, some participants initiated authentic conversations when students felt stuck. When conflict in a relationship is unacknowledged, the person with less power in the relationship often responds in inauthentic ways; therefore, chairs should take the lead in venturing into vulnerable areas to help move the dissertation forward (Jordan, 2000). For participants, vulnerability included helping students overcome roadblocks and honest discussions and broaching of relationship dynamics, emotions, life experiences, and culture (Jordan, 2010; Purgason et al., 2016).
Our theme of adaptation to student needs highlights the way feedback plays out in mutually impacted relationship dynamics (Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020). For example, numerous participants described how they adjusted their feedback styles to meet students’ sensitivity levels. In these cases, participants seemed to be using anticipatory empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to covert and contextual life circumstances that influence a person (Jordan, 2010). These individualized and emotionally aware strategies can help students overcome barriers in their dissertation processes (Purgason et al., 2018). Additionally, consistent with relational pedagogy (Noddings, 2003), participants viewed dissertation-chairing relationships characterized by trust and safety as critical for helping reduce students’ feelings of shame or inadequacy and helping them feel safe in making mistakes. For many participants, developing trust seemed intertwined with their consistent availability and responding to students with empathy instead of judgment (Purgason et al., 2016).
Interestingly, no participants discussed specific methods they used to evaluate their dissertation-chairing relationships despite previous researchers’ calls to strengthen evaluation of research mentoring relationships (Protivnak & Foss, 2009; Purgason et al., 2018). Utilizing evaluative instruments or conversations in combination with reflection of prior or current experiences with dissertation chairing may help chairs intentionally adjust their feedback and relational styles (Ghoston et al., 2020). The list of items contributing to dissertation chair success developed by Jorgensen and Wester (2020) in their Delphi study of expert dissertation chairpersons may serve as a starting point to develop of such an instrument or help facilitate authentic conversations of needs and expectations between chairs and students.
Because chairing relationships can have broad impacts and can evolve into other professional relationships after dissertation completion, doctoral students might recognize the importance of choosing a chairperson—if they have that luxury—with whom they see potential for deeper connection. Identifying their needs in a chairing relationship might help them choose a chair. To do this, doctoral students might reflect on questions such as: “Which characteristics of a dissertation chairperson are most important to me?” or “What do I need to feel safety and trust in a dissertation-chairing relationship?” Additionally, doctoral students may want to learn more about their program faculty before selecting a chairperson. Doctoral students might interview potential chairs and ask them questions about their relationship styles. Such questions might include: “What did being authentic look like for you in previous chairing relationships?” and “How do you adapt your dissertation chairing to meet student needs?” Doctoral students might also consider their feelings and intuitions about relationships with faculty by assessing the levels of safety, trust, and authenticity they experience with various faculty members.
Ideally, dissertation chairs should facilitate authentic conversations about roadblocks for doctoral students throughout the dissertation process. However, sometimes chairs might be unaware of these roadblocks and doctoral students might consider taking risks to share their insecurities and relational needs with their chairs. Depending on the relational dynamics and power differential, doctoral students might consider the potential benefits and downsides of sharing such information and gauge the level of trust and safety they feel in the relationship. If a dissertation-chairing relationship does not feel safe, a student may consider broaching the topic with their chairperson or, depending upon the culture and policies of their program, switching to another chairperson who feels safer. Alternatively, doctoral students could work on their insecurities and roadblocks with others in their lives, including possibly in their own personal counseling. Personal counseling may be a more appropriate venue to discuss some issues as opposed to the dissertation-chairing relationship. Finally, given the prevalence of intense feelings doctoral students can experience during the dissertation process (Lamar & Helm, 2017; Pyhältö et al., 2012), they might reflect on their insecurities related to their dissertations and the ways their insecurities might affect their dissertation-chairing relationships. As participants discussed in the growth in student autonomy theme, discussing these thoughts and feelings through open and honest dialogue within trusting and safe relationships with their dissertation chairs might help deepen relationships and allow for opportunities to receive more personalized support.
To help doctoral students overcome roadblocks and insecurities, dissertation chairs can help students feel more connected through intentional creation of mutually empathic, safe, trusting, and authentic relationships. As the individuals with more power in the relationship, chairs should be ready to initiate conversations that are authentic and help set expectations, including conversations where they broach culture (Jordan, 2010; Purgason et al., 2016). For example, dissertation chairs may consider sharing vulnerable stories from their dissertation journeys or their lives to validate and normalize students’ experiences. Similarly, they might demonstrate humility by admitting the limits of their knowledge and skills and apologizing to students for relational ruptures when appropriate. For instance, a chairperson might admit their lack of knowledge about the methodology a student is using in their dissertation while helping them develop autonomy to seek out resources (e.g., other faculty, books, videos) to get the support they need. Additionally, consistently responding to students with empathy and encouragement if they make mistakes or do not meet deadlines may help build trust and self-confidence for students, creating an environment where they feel safer taking risks interpersonally and with their research. A safe and supportive relational foundation is essential for the trust-building required for learning to take place (Noddings, 2003).
Finally, authentic conversations might also include using immediacy to talk about relationship and cultural dynamics. Utilizing relational-cultural theory (Jordan, 2010; Purgason et al., 2016) may help chairs develop skills for initiating authentic and culturally infused conversations with their students. These conversations might happen throughout the dissertation-chairing relationship. Toward the beginning of the relationship, chairs might ask: “What do you need to build trust and safety in a relationship?” or “How do our cultural differences impact our work together?” At this phase in the relationship, chairs may also openly share their cultural backgrounds and their dissertation styles, including strengths and areas for growth as a dissertation chairperson. Closer to the completion of the dissertation, counselor educators can facilitate discussions with students on the wide-reaching impact of their relationships given the non-compartmentalized nature of dissertation relationships. Chairs might ask students questions such as “How are you different because of our relationship?” or “In what ways has our relationship helped you overcome barriers in your dissertation process?” and be willing to share how the relationship has affected them as well. Acknowledging and reflecting on that shared growth in conversation together may help both parties learn and feel more connected (Purgason et al., 2016).
Counselor educators can use ongoing reflective practice to develop and hone intentional approaches to building dissertation-chairing relationships. Counselor educators might ask themselves, “What relational qualities do I have to offer that contribute to helpful dissertation-chairing relationships?”, “How do I believe that mentoring relationships impact mentees’ development as researchers?”, or “What theories drive my research mentorship philosophy?” As a tangible output for addressing these questions, counselor educators can write philosophy of research mentorship statements, similar to philosophy of teaching or supervision statements. These statements can help counselor educators comprehensively define their approaches to research mentoring relationships. Counselor educators might revisit these statements throughout their careers as research on mentoring and their beliefs about dissertation chairing evolve. Additionally, counselor educators might create and share advisor disclosure statements with doctoral students to help clarify roles and expectations (Sangganjanavanich & Magnuson, 2009). Advisor statements may help alleviate role confusion and emphasize to students early in the relationship that doctoral students should grow as autonomous researchers and contribute to building a working alliance.
Numerous researchers have called for doctoral counseling programs to integrate more purposeful research mentorship in structured and systematic ways that could help offer more supportive relationships for doctoral students (Lamar & Helm, 2017; Perera-Diltz & Sauerheber, 2017). Counseling programs could establish structures that allow counselor educators and doctoral students to build trust early on in students’ programs. Connections developed between dissertation chairs and students in research apprenticeships; research teams; and co-teaching, advising, and informal program gatherings may provide relationships space to grow before students start their dissertations. Counseling programs might also establish methods for helping counselor educators evaluate dissertation-chairing relationships (Protivnak & Foss, 2009). Gaining an understanding of how students internalize feedback may help dissertation chairs better adapt to student needs and intentionally build expansive relationships (Ghoston et al., 2020). In line with CACREP’s requirement that counseling programs comprehensively evaluate their effectiveness, programs could regularly send out surveys to doctoral students who have recently completed their dissertations or withdrew during the dissertation stage to seek feedback on former students’ experiences of dissertation-chairing relationships (CACREP, 2015, Section 4). Such surveys might ask former students about their experiences of receiving feedback, the impact of their dissertation-chairing relationship, time and resources their chairperson dedicated to them, and challenges and successes they faced during the dissertation process. Program faculty could then use this feedback to improve their research mentoring programs by developing strategic plans including both individual and programmatic concrete goals (Purgason et al., 2018). Alternatively, dissertation chairs could conduct exit interviews with students.
We identified several limitations in our study. First, all research team members identified as White, which may have limited our data analysis process based on our shared, privileged racial/ethnic identity. A coding team with different races and ethnicities may have arrived at a different thematic structure and may have more heavily emphasized cultural considerations in dissertation-chairing relationship dynamics. Second, in our interview protocol and demographic data survey, we did not ask many questions eliciting depth on the culture of participants’ institutions. Knowing more about the structures of participants’ programmatic and institutional supports and stressors for faculty members (e.g., teaching loads, policies that may contradict supporting student success) may have helped us analyze our data with a richer appreciation of contexts (van Manen, 1990; Hays & Singh, 2012). Third, our worldviews possibly influenced the questions we did not ask participants regarding how they navigated cultural differences with their students. Even though a few participants talked about navigating cultural differences, we do not have a clear sense of how cultural differences influenced participants’ chairing relationships. Cross-cultural mentorship relationships in counselor education are influenced by a myriad of complex relational and contextual factors related to racial/ethnic identity and White racism inherent in the field of counseling (Brown & Grothaus, 2019). These cross-cultural relationships warrant more focused investigation. Fourth, counselor educators who emphasized relationship-building in their dissertation chairing may have been more likely to participate in our study because they believed in the importance of our topic. Therefore, our findings may not reflect the relationships of those who do not emphasize relational approaches to dissertation chairing. Fifth, we did not explore dissertation relationships that took place in virtual programs. Chairs may experience relationship dynamics differently when interactions only occur virtually as opposed to mostly in person.
Directions for Future Research
First, future researchers might explore how counselor educators and doctoral students navigate power dynamics and cultural context in dissertation-chairing relationships (Borders et al., 2012; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015; Purgason et al., 2018). Fostering mutually fulfilling connections in dissertation-chairing relationships may help counselor educators attend to the unique needs of underrepresented students (Purgason et al., 2016) and help make research more accessible to doctoral students from more collectivist cultural backgrounds. Given the importance of authentic conversations and egalitarian relationships expressed by participants, further exploration of how counselor educators approach cultural, country of origin, worldview, gender, and other differences in dissertation-chairing relationships between themselves and students seems warranted. Second, participants in this study mostly talked about positive outcomes of dissertation-chairing relationships and helpful strategies they used to build relationships. Given the prevalence of negative dissertation relationships reported by doctoral students and their harmful impact on completion rates and mental health (Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Protivnak & Foss, 2009; Rigler et al., 2017), future researchers might examine ways that dissertation chairs can identify, navigate, and heal relational ruptures. Third, outcome research could illuminate the positive and negative impacts that dissertation-chairing relationships can have on students’ researcher self-efficacy, researcher identity development, and future research productivity. Because participants described tailoring their feedback styles to meet students’ unique needs but did not clearly describe evaluating the impact of their feedback, future researchers might examine the impact that different forms and styles of feedback have on students. Fourth, future researchers should explore institutional and programmatic factors that complicate chairs’ abilities to provide research mentorship to students. Finally, there are numerous theories of counseling supervision and adult learning that may apply to dissertation-chairing relationships but few theories specific to research mentorship or dissertation-chairing relationships in counselor education (Purgason et al., 2016). Future researchers might develop theories in this area by asking counselor educators about values, beliefs, and attitudes that drive their research mentorship philosophy and practice or by writing conceptual articles applying existing counseling theories to dissertation chairing.
Our research offers insights from counselor educators on how to foster supportive dissertation-chairing relationships. Counselor educators may utilize our findings to facilitate reflection regarding their relationship-building skills in dissertation-chairing relationships. Counselor educators intentionally build dissertation-chairing relationships to help their students overcome barriers to completing their dissertations and preparing them as future scholars.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.
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Phillip L. Waalkes, PhD, NCC, ACS, is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. Daniel A. DeCino, PhD, NCC, LPC, is an assistant professor at the University of South Dakota. Maribeth F. Jorgensen, PhD, NCC, LPC, LMHC, LIMHP, is an assistant professor at Central Washington University. Tiffany Somerville, MS, is a doctoral student at the University of Missouri – Saint Louis. Correspondence may be addressed to Phillip L. Waalkes, 415 Marillac Hall, 1 University Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63121, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feb 7, 2022 | Volume 12 - Issue 1
Clark D. Ausloos, Madeline Clark, Hansori Jang, Tahani Dari, Stacey Diane Arañez Litam
Trans youth experience discrimination and marginalization in their homes, communities, and schools. Professional school counselors (PSCs) are positioned to support and advocate for trans youth as dictated by professional standards. However, an extensive review of literature revealed a lack of confidence and competence in counselors working with trans youth and their families. Further, there is a dearth of literature that addresses factors leading to increased school counselor competence with trans students. The current study uses a cross-sectional survey design to contribute to the extant literature and explore how PSCs in the United States work with students in the K–12 public school system. Results from multiple regression analyses indicate that PSCs who have had postgraduate training and report personal and professional experiences with trans students are more competent in working with trans students. Implications for PSCs and school counselor education programs are discussed.
Keywords: trans youth, school counselors, competence, counselor education, multiple regression analysis
Trans people experience an incongruence between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity (GI; Ginicola et al., 2017; McBee, 2013). The term trans encompasses a wide range of gender-expansive identities, including trans (transgender), nonbinary (one who identifies outside the gender binary of male or female), genderqueer or gender-fluid (one who identifies with gender in a fluid, dynamic way) and agender (one who does not identify as having a gender). Trans people face pervasive discrimination and marginalization (Whitman & Han, 2017), leading to severe physical and mental health disparities, like depression, anxiety, and suicidality (James et al., 2016). In schools, trans students face 4 times higher rates of discrimination when compared with cisgender peers (Kosciw et al., 2020; Williams et al., 2021). Trans students are more vulnerable to mental health disorders, a lack of social support, and an increase in self-harm, suicidal ideations, and suicide attempts (Kosciw et al., 2020; Reisner et al., 2014), especially among transmale and nonbinary students (Toomey et al., 2018). These rates are increasing in national trends and are even higher among Black and Latinx trans students (Vance et al., 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated barriers and inequities for trans students, with increasing health concerns, isolation, economic hardships, issues with housing, and limited access to essential clinical care (Burgess et al., 2021).
Increasingly, trans students face systemic legal barriers to their health and well-being (Wang et al., 2016). States including Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, and Tennessee have introduced bills that ban trans students from participating in sports that are congruent with their GI (Transgender Law Center, 2021). In April of 2021, Arkansas banned medical gender-affirming services to students under 18 years of age (American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], 2021). New Hampshire’s House Bill 68 proposed adding gender-affirming treatments to the definition of child abuse (ACLU, 2021). Beyond political oppression, trans youth experience overt discrimination, verbal abuse, physical and sexual assault, and marginalization within their homes, schools, and places of employment (Human Rights Campaign [HRC], 2018; James et al., 2016). Trans youth additionally face disaffirming and incompetent teachers and medical professionals (Grant et al., 2011; James et al., 2016; Whitman & Han, 2017) and embedded systemic transmisia (the hatred of trans persons; Simmons University Library, 2019). Despite the pervasive mental health concerns faced by trans students (i.e., depression, anxiety, disordered eating, self-harm, suicide), professional school counselors (PSCs) continue to be ill equipped in supporting and advocating for this marginalized population within schools (Simons, 2021). Based upon an analysis of the extant body of research, we found that counselor education training programs lack rigor in working with trans students (O’Hara et al., 2013; Salpietro et al., 2019), counselor educators may hold biased views about trans students (Frank & Cannon, 2010), and there is an absence of quality professional development opportunities on trans issues (Salpietro et al., 2019; Shi & Doud, 2017). It is therefore of paramount importance for PSCs and counselor education programs to obtain a deeper understanding of how to better prepare for and support trans students in schools.
Professional School Counselors and Trans Students
PSCs focus on academic, career, and social-emotional growth and work as leaders alongside teachers, administration, families, and other stakeholders. PSCs are therefore well positioned to provide safety and support for trans students, promote change, and act as social justice advocates within schools (Bemak & Chung, 2008). The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) mandates that PSCs “promote affirmation, respect, and equal opportunity for all individuals regardless of . . . gender identity, or gender expression . . . and promote awareness of and education on issues related to LGBT students” (2016a, p. 37). PSCs who work with trans students may provide services through the Multitiered Systems of Support lens (MTSS; ASCA, 2019), through collaboration, by supporting school administration and staff (e.g., trainings, meetings, workshops), and through provision of direct student services (e.g., individual and group counseling, working with families). More specifically, PSCs advocate for and with students for name and pronoun changes within schools, trans-inclusive school policies, and increased visibility and normalization of trans people and issues.
ASCA (2016b) adopted a position that PSCs recognize that “the responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student rather than outside confirmation from medical practitioners . . . or documentation of legal changes” (p. 64). It is clear that PSCs should possess knowledge and skills in working with and advocating for trans youth through a range of services at various levels and in coordination with other stakeholders in schools, all while respecting students’ autonomy and authenticity (ASCA, 2016a, 2016b, 2019; Bemak & Chung, 2008).
Counselor Education Programs
Although professional standards provide best practices (ALGBTIC LGBQQIA Competencies Taskforce, 2013; ASCA, 2016a), many PSCs never receive the training necessary to effectively serve trans students (Bidell, 2012; O’Hara et al., 2013; Salpietro et al., 2019). Salpietro and colleagues (2019) reported that counselor incompetence was related to a lack of rigorous training that attends to family systems, intersectionality, and medical issues through gender-affirming therapies (i.e., blockers, hormones, or surgeries). These researchers indicated a need for comprehensive, standardized, and thorough formal training (i.e., graduate school) and informal professional development opportunities. These findings are consistent with Shi and Doud (2017), who recommended PSCs specifically take advantage of conferences and workshops to supplement formal educational curricula. The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) conducted a survey that reported about 81% of school mental health professionals received “little to no competency training in their graduate programs related to working with [trans] populations,” and about 74% of participants rated their graduate training programs as “fair or poor” in preparing them for work with trans students (GLSEN et al., 2019, p. xviii). GLSEN and other professional organizations additionally reported about two-thirds of school professionals do not feel prepared to work with trans students (GLSEN et al., 2019). Although there are some professional development opportunities, such as those offered through the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), the HRC, and the Society for Sexual, Affectional, Intersex, and Gender-Expansive Identities (SAIGE), there is still a lack of concrete training within graduate programs and through fieldwork experiences and an overall lack of accessible, professional trainings. There is a clear need for increased attention to trans issues in formal educational programs and professional development offerings.
Purpose of the Study and Research Questions
This study examines factors that contribute to PSC competence in working with trans students in K–12 public schools. We highlight the need for PSCs and counselor education training programs to better focus on and support trans students. More specifically, we examine the following PSC factors: (a) the PSC’s GI, (b) whether the PSC has received postgraduate training on trans issues or populations, (c) whether the PSC has worked with self-identified trans students, and (d) whether the PSC knows someone who identifies as trans outside of the school setting.
PSC Gender Identity
Researchers recommend that special attention is given within a category of interest (i.e., gender identity) to historically marginalized groups, encouraging counselor-researchers to view all samples “in terms of their particularity and to attend to diversity within samples” (Cole, 2009, p. 176). We were intentional in using PSC GI demographic factors in data analysis, attending to diversity among PSC gender identities, as research indicates there may be relationships between counselor GI, privilege and oppression, and multicultural counselor competence (Cole, 2009). Culturally competent counselors engage in self-reflection, examine their own biases and stereotypes, consider how their positions of privilege or oppression impact the therapeutic alliance, and deliver culturally responsive counseling interventions.
Postgraduate Training Addressing Trans Issues
Researchers note that graduate programs in counselor education are not adequately preparing school counseling students to work with trans students (Bidell, 2012; Farmer et al., 2013; Frank & Cannon, 2010; GLSEN et al., 2019; O’Hara et al., 2013) and that much of the awareness, knowledge, and skills gained in working with this population are result of counselors’ self-seeking professional trainings, education, and workshops that are focused on trans issues and students (Salpietro et al., 2019; Shi & Doud, 2017).
Professional Experiences With Trans Students
O’Hara and colleagues (2013) reported no significance on scores of competence in working with trans clients between counseling students who completed practicum or internship and those who did not. In the present study, our variable relates to PSCs who have already graduated, reflecting on their professional tenure as PSCs, and if these experiences provided opportunities to work with trans students.
Personal Relationships With Trans People
O’Hara and colleagues (2013) reported that participants in their study identified informal sources as necessary for gaining trans-affirming knowledge and skills, such as “exposure to or personally knowing someone who [is trans]” (p. 246). Research supports the concept that increasing affirming attitudes and mitigating negative attitudes and beliefs toward trans individuals can be accomplished by exposure and intentional engagement in fostering personal and professional relationships with trans people (Salpietro et al., 2019; Simons, 2021). In forming relationships with trans people, we can listen to and learn from the lived experiences of this community, examine our own biases, and position ourselves as supportive allies, personally and professionally.
With these factors in mind, the following research questions were identified:
- What is the relationship between PSC factors (GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personally knowing someone who is trans) and levels of PSC self-perceived competence in working with trans students in schools?
- What is the relationship between PSC factors (GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personally knowing someone who is trans) and PSC awareness in working with trans students in schools?
- What is the relationship between PSC factors (GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personally knowing someone who is trans) and PSC knowledge in working with trans students in schools?
- What is the relationship between PSC factors (GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personally knowing someone who is trans) and PSC skills in working with trans students in schools?
We hypothesized there would be a statistically significance difference (p > .05) between PSC factors (GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personally knowing someone who is trans) and levels of PSC self-perceived competence in working with trans students in schools. More specifically, we hypothesized that cisfemale PSCs who have had postgraduate training on trans issues, who have worked with trans students, and who personally know someone who is trans, would report higher scores in measures of awareness, knowledge, skills, and overall competence. Cisgender (cis) refers to someone who experiences congruence between their sex assigned at birth and their GI. Research demonstrates that cismales may express more negative attitudes and hold restrictive views toward queer and trans people when compared with cisfemales (Landén & Innala, 2000; Norton & Herek, 2012).
With an anticipated medium effect size of 0.15, a desired statistical power level of 0.95, and desired probability level of 0.05 (Israel, 2013), we determined an appropriate minimum sample size for the proposed study was 120 PSCs. Initially, 499 responses were recorded. Of those, 110 were incomplete or had missing data, yielding a total of 389 fully completed surveys. Participants in this study (N = 389) were PSCs with a valid school counseling license working in a public school setting, from kindergarten through 12th grade, in the United States. Participant demographic information can be found in Table 1.
Demographic Characteristics of Professional School Counselors (PSCs)
For ease of use and accuracy of representation, we used probability sampling, more specifically, a simple random sample selection process (Creswell, 2013). Upon approval by the IRB, we posted a series of three recruitment letters (with 2 weeks between each posting) to PSCs through an online professional forum, ASCA Scene. We also posted our recruitment letter on ASCA Aspects, a monthly e-newsletter. Data were collected over a period of 6 weeks. PSCs who elected to participate were directed to the electronic informed consent document and the survey.
Participants completed a questionnaire with write-in options for both age and gender and forced-choice responses to gather racial-ethnic identity, years working as a licensed school counselor, the region in which they practiced, and grade levels in which the participants worked. Our four independent variables were collected through the demographic questionnaire. Participants indicated their experiences, if any, with trans students, experiences with postgraduate training on trans issues, and personal relationships with trans people.
Gender Identity Counselor Competency Scale
The Gender Identity Counselor Competency Scale (GICCS), a revised version of the Sexual Orientation Counselor Competency Scale (Bidell, 2005), was used to assess PSC competence, the dependent variable in the study. This is the instrument best suited for intended measurement of self-perceived competence (Bidell, 2012; O’Hara et al., 2013). Bidell (2005) developed the instrument based on Sue and colleagues’ (1992) research of multicultural counseling competencies, with the domains of attitudinal awareness, knowledge, and skills. Bidell (2005) reported the Cronbach’s alpha of .90, with subscale scores for internal consistency of .88 for the Awareness subscale, .71 for the Knowledge subscale, and .91 for the Skills subscale (Bidell, 2005, 2012). Test-retest reliability for the overall instrument was found to be .84, with .85 for the Awareness subscale, .84 for the Knowledge subscale, and .83 for the Skills subscale (Bidell, 2005). The GICCS is a 29-item self-report assessment on a 7-point Likert scale (where 1 is not at all true and 7 is totally true). Examples of questions include: “I have received adequate clinical training and supervision to counsel transgender clients” and “The lifestyle of a transgender client is unnatural or immoral” (O’Hara et al., 2013, p. 242). Cronbach’s alpha in the present study was .70, adequate for our analysis.
Awareness Subscale. The Awareness subscale consists of 10 items focused on counselors’ attitudinal awareness and prejudice about trans clients, including statements like “It would be best if my clients viewed a [cisgender] lifestyle as ideal” and “I think that my clients should accept some degree of conformity to traditional [gender] values” (Bidell, 2005, p. 273). Cronbach’s alpha for the Awareness subscale has been reported as .88 (Bidell, 2005) and was .89 in the present sample. Self-awareness and reflection are critical skills for counselors in examining deeply held biases and beliefs and in asking culturally responsive questions to strengthen the therapeutic alliance.
Knowledge Subscale. This subscale of the GICCS consists of eight items focused on counselors’ experiences and skills with trans clients, including statements like “I am aware that counselors frequently impose their values concerning [gender] upon [trans] clients” and “I am aware of institutional barriers that may inhibit [trans] clients from using mental health services” (Bidell, 2005, p. 273). Cronbach’s alpha for the Knowledge subscale was reported as .76 (Bidell, 2005), and was .73 in the present sample. Counselors who impose their own values on a client may cause rifts in the therapeutic alliance and could potentially even harm clients.
Skills Subscale. This subscale of the GICCS consists of 11 items focused on counselors’ experiences and skills with trans clients, including statements like “I have experience counseling [trans male] clients” and “I have received adequate clinical training and supervision to counsel [trans] clients” (Bidell, 2005, p. 273). Cronbach’s alpha for the Skills subscale was reported as .91 (Bidell, 2005) but was .75 in the present sample. Counselors working with trans students need to understand the importance of evolving language and terminologies; utilize affirmative, celebratory, and liberating counseling; and have knowledge of and connection to medical providers who support gender-affirming interventions.
Data Analysis Procedures
We first screened the data to ensure it was usable, reliable, and valid to proceed with statistical analyses. We continued data cleaning by coding the demographic variable of GI 1 through 4: cisfemale (1); cismale (2); nonbinary, trans, and/or genderqueer (3); and agender (4). Racial-ethnic identities were coded 1 through 10: American Indian or Alaska Native (1); Asian or Asian American (2); Black or African American (3); Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin (4); Middle Eastern or North African (5); Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (6); White (7); Some Other Race, Ethnicity, or Origin (8); Prefer Not to Answer (9); and Multiracial Identity (10). PSC location was also coded 1 through 6: Midwest (1), Northeast (2), South (3), West (4), Puerto Rico or other U.S. Territories (5), and Other (6). Last of the demographic variables, we coded PSC School Level 1 through 4: Elementary (1), Middle School (2), High School (3), and Other (4). In addition, we cleaned variables highlighting PSC professional and personal training and experiences with trans persons. The first variable was dummy coded to reflect participants who had worked with trans students (1; n = 297, 76.3%) and participants who indicated not working with trans students (0; n = 92, 23.7%). The next variable, PSC postgraduate training, was dummy coded for use in data analyses, reflecting those who indicated they engaged in postgraduate training (1; n = 193, 49.6%) and participants who indicated they did not engage in postgraduate training (0; n = 196, 50.4%). The final variable was dummy coded to reflect participants who know someone who is trans outside of the school setting (1; n = 93, 23.9%) and those participants who do not know someone who is trans outside of the school setting (0; n = 296, 76.1%). Per Bidell (2005), we started by reverse scoring coded GICCS items and created new variables for the GICCS total mean score, attitudinal Awareness, Skills, and Knowledge subscales.
Post–data cleaning, we entered all the data from the demographic questionnaire and the GICCS into SPSS 26. To best answer the research questions, we used a series of standard multiple regression analyses to determine “the existence of a relationship and the extent to which variables are related, including statistical significance” (Sheperis et al., 2017, p. 131). Although multiple regression analysis can be used in prediction studies, it can also be used to determine how much of the variation in a dependent variable is explained by the independent variables, which is what we intended to measure (Johnson, 2001). Our independent variables were four categorical variables measured by our demographic questionnaire: PSC GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personal relationships with someone who is trans. Our dependent variable was school counselor competence in working with trans students, as measured by the GICCS (Bidell, 2005).
There are many assumptions to consider when conducting a multiple regression analysis, including (a) two or more continuous or categorical independent variables, (b) a continuous dependent variable, (c) independence of residuals (or observations), (d) linearity (both between dependent variable and each of the independent variables, and between the dependent variable and the independent variables as a whole), (e) homoscedasticity, (f) absence of multicollinearity, (g) no significant outliers, and (h) normally distributed residuals (Flatt & Jacobs, 2019). The research variables met assumptions (a) and (b) in conducting multiple regressions. In analyzing data in SPSS, independence of residuals was determined by using the Durbin-Watson statistic, which ranges in value from 0 to 4, with a value near 2 indicating no correlation between residuals. Assumption (c) was met, as the Durbin-Watson value found was 1.46 (Savin & White, 1977). Additionally, we plotted a scatterplot using variables, as well as a partial regression with each of the independent variables and the dependent variable, and observed linear relationships, attending to the assumptions of linearity (d; i.e., a linear relationship between dependent and independent variables) and homoscedasticity (e; i.e., residuals are equal for all values of the predicted dependent variable). Homoscedasticity was also assessed by visual inspection of a plot of studentized residuals versus unstandardized predicted values. To assess the absence of multicollinearity (f), we considered the variance inflation factors (VIF) indicated in the coefficients table (Flatt & Jacobs, 2019). We found VIF values ranging from 1.01 to 1.05, indicating an absence of multicollinearity (f). VIF is a measure of the amount of multicollinearity in a set of multiple regression variables (Flatt & Jacobs, 2019). We checked for unusual points (g): outliers, high leverage points, and highly influential points. We did identify a significant outlier (−3.10) in case number 133 by examining the range of standardized residuals ([−3.10 to 2.34]), which is outside the common cut-off range of three standard deviations (SD). We then inspected the studentized deleted residual values and found a value in case number 133 (−3.15), which falls outside the common cut-off range of 3 SD.
Additionally, we determined two cases of problematic leverage values that were greater than the safe value of 0.2 (0.36 and 0.23). The cases that violated assumptions were filtered out and the standard multiple regression analysis was run again. This time, the data did not violate assumptions (a) through (g). Last, we observed normally distributed standardized residuals (h). To determine if any cases were influential in the data, we examined the Cook’s Distance values, which ranged from .000 to .090. As there were no values above 1, there were no highly influential points. To answer the first research question (the relationship between PSC factors and levels of PSC self-perceived competence in working with trans students in schools as measured by total scores on the GICCS), we used a standard multiple regression analysis (Sheperis et al., 2017). To answer research questions 2 through 4, we conducted standard multiple regression analyses using the Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills subscales as the dependent variables, respectively.
Correlations Between Variables of Interest
Prior to the regression analysis, we examined correlations between the variables: PSC GI (cisfemale, cismale, trans, agender), having worked with trans students, postgraduate training experiences, personally knowing someone who is trans, the GICCS Awareness subscale, the GICCS Skills subscale, the GICCS Knowledge subscale, and the GICCS total score. Correlations of variables of interest are found in Table 2. There were multiple significant correlations as determined by Pearson product moment correlations (r). The GICCS total score was significantly correlated with the Awareness subscale (r = −.65, p < .001), the Skills subscale (r = .83, p < .001), and the Knowledge subscale (r = .66, p < .001). The Awareness subscale was significantly correlated with the Skills subscale (r = −.26, p < .001) and the Knowledge subscale (r = .30, p < .001). The Knowledge subscale was also significantly correlated with the Skills subscale (r = .30, p < .001). In examining demographic factors, cisfemale GI was significantly correlated with cismale GI (r = −.90, p < .001), trans GI (r = −.37, p < .001), and agender GI (r = −.21, p < .001). Additionally, cisfemale GI was significantly correlated with having worked with trans students (r = −.12, p = .036), as well as the GICCS total score (r = −.14, p = .005), the Skills subscale (r = −.14, p = .005), and the Knowledge subscale (r = −.15, p = .003). Cismale GI was significantly correlated with the GICCS total score (r = .11, p = .038), the Skills subscale (r = .12, p = .017), and the Knowledge subscale (r = .11, p = .003). Trans GI was significantly correlated with personally knowing someone who is trans (r = .12, p = .002), as well as with the GICCS total score (r = .12, p = .034). Having worked with trans students was significantly correlated with the GICCS total score (r = .41, p <.001), the Skills subscale (r = .55, p < .001), and the Awareness subscale (r = −.11,
p = .032). Postgraduate training was significantly correlated with many variables, including personally knowing someone who is trans (r = .14, p = .005), and with the GICCS total scores (r = .36, p < .001), the Skills subscale (r = .41, p < .001), the Knowledge subscale (r = .19, p < .001), and the Awareness subscale (r = −.10, p = .040). Last, personally knowing someone who is trans was significantly correlated with the GICCS total score (r = .35, p < .001), the Skills subscale (r = .29, p < .001), the Knowledge subscale
(r = .25, p < .001), and the Awareness subscale (r = −.22, p < .001).
Correlation Table for Variables of Interest
Model 1: PSC Competency
R² for the overall model was 35.2%, with an adjusted R² of 34.1%, a small to moderate size according to Cohen (1988). PSC factors significantly predicted levels of PSC self-perceived competence in working with trans students in schools, F(6, 381) = 34.430, p < .001. In examining beta weights (β), having worked with trans students received the strongest weight in the model (β = .35), followed by postgraduate training (β = .29) and personally knowing someone who is trans (β = .27). The variable with the most weight, having worked with trans students, had a structure coefficient (rs) of .67, and rs2 was 45.2%, meaning that of the 35.2% effect (R2), this variable accounts for 45.2% of the explained variance by itself. This shows that PSCs’ competence is increased by experiences with trans students, engaging in postgraduate trainings, and personally knowing someone who is trans. A summary of regression coefficients and standard errors can be found in Table 3.
Multiple Linear Regression Analyses Exploring Professional School Counselor Competence
Model 2: PSC Awareness
R² for the overall model was 5.8%, with an adjusted R² of 6.2%, a very small effect size (Cohen, 1988). PSC factors (GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personal relationship with someone who is trans) significantly predicted awareness of PSC self-perceived competence in working with trans students in schools, F(6, 380) = 3.873, p = .001. Personally knowing someone who is trans was the only significant predictor in this model. We examined the regression coefficients and corresponding data (β = −.20, rs = −0.90, rs2 = 80%). Of the 5.8% effect (R²), personally knowing someone who is trans accounted for 80% of the explained variance by itself.
Model 3: PSC Knowledge
R² for the overall model was 10.3%, with an adjusted R² of 8.9%, a small effect size (Cohen, 1988). PSC factors (GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personal relationship with someone who is trans) significantly predicted knowledge of PSC self-perceived competence in working with trans students in schools, F(6, 379) = 7.257, p < .001. Personally knowing someone who is trans, postgraduate training, and cismale GI were all significant in this model. Personally knowing someone who is trans received the strongest weight in the model (β = .20, rs = .76), followed by postgraduate training (β = .16, rs = .58) and cismale GI (β = .12, rs = .35). After examining regression coefficients and corresponding data, we determined that of the 10.3% effect (R2), personally knowing someone who is trans accounted for 58.3% of the explained variance by itself. These findings demonstrate that PSC knowledge is strongly supported through fostering personal relationships with trans people.
Model 4: PSC Skills
R² for the overall model was 50.2%, with an adjusted R² of 49.5%, a medium effect size according to Cohen (1988). PSC factors (GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personal relationship with someone who is trans) significantly predicted self-perceived PSC skills in working with trans students in schools, F(6, 380) = 63.945, p < .001. Having worked with trans students, postgraduate training, and personally knowing someone who is trans were all significant in this model. Having worked with trans students received the strongest weight in the model (β = .51), followed by postgraduate training (β = .35) and personally knowing someone who is trans (β = .20). After examining regression coefficients and corresponding data, we determined that of the 50.2% effect (R2), having worked with trans students accounted for 79% of the explained variance by itself. Counselors can augment their skills by staying updated on appropriate language and terminologies and by fostering relationships with affirming providers and medical professionals in the community.
The most salient finding in this model is that PSCs who worked with trans students were strongly positively correlated with GICCS total scores (r = .61, p < .001). This finding may indicate that increased exposure to trans students may subsequently increase competency in working with trans populations. Our research findings supplement existing studies that reported a relationship between affirming attitudes toward trans students and professional exposure to trans people (Salpietro et al., 2019; Simons, 2021). Avoidance of counseling trans students because of discomfort is not only unethical (ASCA, 2016b) but inhibits a PSC’s ability to develop their GI competence (Henry & Grubbs, 2017). Thus, it is imperative that PSCs receive opportunities to work with trans students (through practicum or internship experiences); consult with experienced, gender-affirming PSCs who have worked with trans students; and “expose themselves to published texts . . . films . . . [and] service-learning activities . . . to gain a better understanding of the experiences of [trans] persons” (O’Hara et al., 2013, p. 251). Additionally, PSCs must engage in constant self-reflection, introspection, and processing of biases and worldviews to provide culturally competent care to trans students.
Postgraduate training was moderately positively correlated with GICCS total score (r = .43, p < .001), indicating that additional postgraduate training in trans issues increased competence in the present sample (Model 1). This is consistent with extant literature, which demonstrated that PSCs who received postgraduate training were more competent in providing affirming services to trans students compared to PSCs who had not received the training (Salpietro et al., 2019; Shi & Doud, 2017). Finally, the presence of personal relationships with trans people was moderately positively correlated with GICCS total scores (r = .47, p < .001). These results support current literature in that PSCs who currently have or have had personal relationships with trans people were more competent in providing affirming services to trans students (GLSEN et al., 2019; O’Hara et al., 2013; Salpietro et al., 2019; Simons, 2021).
We explored the relationship between PSC factors on the Awareness subscale of the GICCS in the second research question (Model 2). In examining coefficients for the model, having personal relationships with trans people is associated with a decrease in GICCS Awareness subscale scores, a weak, negative correlation (r = −.19, p = .001). This finding may indicate that people who did not know someone personally who is trans would score slightly higher on the Awareness subscale. These unexpected findings are contrary to existing research, which reported that engaging in personal relationships with trans people increased affirming attitudes and mitigated negative attitudes (Henry & Grubbs, 2017; Salpietro et al., 2019). Because of the lack of practical significance of PSC factors (i.e., GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personal relationship with someone who is trans) on the Awareness subscale, these results should be considered with caution.
In the third research question, we explored the relationship between PSC factors on the Knowledge subscale of the GICCS (Model 3). In examining coefficients for the model, PSC cisgender male GI was moderately positively correlated with the Knowledge subscale scores (r = .476, p = .032), indicating that cismale PSCs scored moderately higher on the Knowledge subscale when compared with other PSC gender identities in the present sample. One possible explanation is the present study’s sample of cisfemales (N = 368, 94.6%) and cismales (N = 17, 4.4%). Within this sample, the ages of the cismale PSCs could reflect a time in which counselor education programs increased attention to diversity, whereas this was not always a main tenet in training among older PSCs (who may be more represented by cisfemale PSCs in this sample [Bemak & Chung, 2008]). Presently, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2015) requires accredited counselor education programs to deliver a counseling curriculum that includes specific attention to social and cultural diversity, an essential foundation of competent counselors. Additionally, PSC postgraduate training was weakly positively correlated with Knowledge subscale scores (r = .292, p = .002), which supports the literature that PSCs who engage in professional training opportunities outside of graduate school increase their knowledge of trans students and trans issues (Salpietro et al., 2019; Shi & Doud, 2017). Having personal experiences with trans people was moderately positively correlated with Knowledge subscale scores (r = .434, p < .001), indicating that those PSCs who personally knew a trans person felt more confident and competent in their knowledge about trans students and issues. This supports current literature (GLSEN et al., 2019; Henry & Grubbs, 2017; O’Hara et al., 2013; Salpietro et al., 2019) showing that PSCs who intentionally engaged in and fostered personal relationships with trans people reported greater competence.
Finally, we explored the relationship between PSC factors (GI, postgraduate training, PSC work with trans students, and PSC personal relationship with someone who is trans) on the Skills subscale of the GICCS in research question 4 (Model 4). In examining coefficients for the model, having worked with trans students was moderately positively correlated with Skills subscale scores (r = .545, p < .001), which may indicate that PSCs who work with trans students will be more likely to employ the necessary supports to ensure growth in “academic, career and social/emotional development” (ASCA, 2016a, para. 1). This is supported by literature in which researchers reported number of students worked with and “interpersonal contact” (personal exposure) as positive predictors of affirmative counselor competence (Bidell, 2012; Farmer et al., 2013). PSCs play an essential role in advocating for and removing barriers for trans students, which improves trans students’ well-being, academic success, and interpersonal growth. PSC postgraduate training was strongly positively correlated with Skills subscale scores (r = .845, p < .001), which may indicate that PSCs who engage in professional development opportunities and trainings gain essential skills for working with trans students. This finding is consistent with extant research that reported the importance of postgraduate training and professional development opportunities on trans topics (Bidell, 2012; Frank & Cannon, 2010; GLSEN et al., 2019; O’Hara et al., 2013). Finally, knowing someone personally who is trans was moderately positively correlated with Skills subscale scores (r = .576, p < .000), which may mean that having familiarity and exposure to trans folks increases PSC’s self-perceived skills.
Professional School Counselors
Based on the results of our study, PSCs who worked with trans students reported significantly higher scores of overall self-perceived competence compared to PSCs who had not worked with trans students. Specifically, our results indicate a link between PSCs having worked with trans students and higher scores on the Knowledge subscale. The GICCS Knowledge subscale addresses PSC knowledge of trans psychosocial issues (Bidell, 2005). This supports the idea that PSCs who work with self-identified trans students have a deeper understanding of the social and psychological challenges faced by trans people, and these experiences increase their comfort in working with trans students. All PSCs are required to protect and support the well-being of queer and trans youth and must have foundational knowledge and familiarity with trans students and issues (ASCA, 2016b). PSCs must attend professional development offerings on trans issues, and counselor education programs must provide increased time and attention to discussing trans issues, clients, and students.
PSC postgraduate training experiences are significantly linked to an overall increase in scores on the GICCS, indicating that PSC postgraduate experiences contribute to PSCs feeling more confident and competent in working with trans students. We conceptualized postgraduate training experiences as any training or education focused on trans persons or issues that a PSC received after their graduate program education. These results indicate that to increase competence and provide affirming, ethical care to trans students, PSCs should engage in some type of postgraduate training on trans issues and students, especially if they are unfamiliar with trans issues. These results are congruent with other studies, which found no significance in the relationship between groups on the Awareness subscale, but significant relationships on both the Knowledge and Skills subscales, with professional training experiences (Bidell, 2005; Rutter et al., 2008). PSCs are therefore encouraged to join professional organizations that promote best practices in working with trans students, like WPATH, the HRC, and SAIGE, as these organizations often offer professional development opportunities. It is essential that PSCs seek out trainings that are specific to trans students and issues, attend to unique psychosocial barriers, outline best practices, describe social/medical affirming care, and provide an overview of ethical and legal issues.
Of all the variables in the present study, PSCs knowing someone who identifies as trans was significantly linked to an increase in overall confidence and competence, as well as a significant increase in both Knowledge and Skills. Surprisingly, PSCs who indicated they did not know someone who identified as trans scored slightly higher on the Awareness subscale scores when compared with PSCs who did. The Awareness subscale of the GICCS examines a PSC’s self-awareness of anti-trans biases and stigmatization (Bidell, 2005). This result is contrary to existing research, which reported that engaging in personal relationships with trans folks increased affirming attitudes and mitigated negative attitudes (Henry & Grubbs, 2017; Salpietro et al., 2019). The link between a PSC personally knowing someone who is trans and a counselor’s competence in knowledge and skills supports extant literature that speaks to the importance of non–work-related experiences with trans people (e.g., personal, familial, social) and an increase in counselors’ competence in working with trans students (Whitman & Han, 2017). It is important that PSCs continue to monitor and increase their personal engagement with trans communities, as this significantly links to PSCs feeling more comfortable and more competent in working with trans students. Personal experiences may include fostering connections to trans family members, friends, and trans people through community organizations (GLSEN et al., 2019; Henry & Grubbs, 2017; Salpietro et al., 2019). Given the findings of our study, it is important for PSCs to connect to affirming resources in their communities. PSCs may consider exploring the multitude of resources offered by GLAAD (glaad.org), the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE; transequality.org), and PFLAG (pflag.org).
Counselor Education Programs
Our results indicate that those PSCs who engage in professional development are more competent than those who do not. Professional counseling organizations (i.e., ASCA) and accrediting bodies (i.e., CACREP) mandate that school counselors-in-training receive formal training in social and cultural diversity (F.2; CACREP, 2015), including multicultural counseling competencies (F.2.c.; CACREP, 2015), and deliver a comprehensive “counseling program that advocates for and affirms all students . . . including . . . gender, gender identity and expression” (ASCA, 2016a, para. 3). Although current standards call for the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ issues within counselor education curricula, the reality is that counselors-in-training receive minimal training in working with trans and gender-expansive students (Frank & Cannon, 2010; O’Hara et al., 2013). It is imperative that CE programs and counselor educators broaden the scope of learning about trans issues, going beyond the minimal requirements (CACREP, 2015) and providing depth and rigor in gender-related coursework in diversity courses. This research supports other emergent literature which recommends that counselor education programs offer additional, specific courses related to affectional and sexual identities (LGBQ+), and gender-expansive identities (trans, nonbinary), as covering specific issues and populations increases counselor competency (Bidell, 2012; Henry & Grubbs, 2017; O’Hara et al., 2013, Salpietro et al., 2019).
Limitations and Directions for Future Research
Limitations of the study include potential social desirability factors and inattentive responding, which may influence the quality of the data, as the study relied on self-report. Particularly, we note that the findings of higher self-awareness for PSCs who did not know someone who identified as trans could be a potential result of social desirability factors. Although the present study confirms that certain professional and personal factors contribute to PSCs increased competence in working with trans students in the present sample, additional research should be conducted. Also, much of our sample consisted of White ciswomen and, therefore, we caution readers about generalizing these findings to school counselors outside of those identities. The revised GICCS has not been used in many studies focusing on trans populations and additional research is needed to assess its validity with PSCs and trans youth (Bidell, 2005, 2012). Future researchers should consider additive studies that more deeply examine the types of professional development opportunities that promote PSC competency, including length, location, modality, themes, and expertise of presenter(s). Knowing these factors is important for crafting and delivering meaningful and competence-fostering professional development opportunities for PSCs. Also, future studies should examine unique nuances within trans groups, such as nonbinary and gender-fluid students (Toomey et al., 2018), and highlight the voices of trans students of color (Vance et al., 2021). Finally, future studies should also include demographic factors like religiosity and spirituality and their correlation to PSC GI competence, building on the work of Farmer and colleagues (2013).
This study highlights the need for increased attention to trans issues in many domains: among PSCs, within school counseling training programs, and in existing professional development offerings. ASCA mandates that PSCs be advocates for trans students, but there is a lack of attention to trans issues in school counseling training programs, leading PSCs to feel unprepared and to seek outside professional development offerings. The study also highlights the importance of building community and connections with trans people in and outside of professional settings, leading to increased PSC competence in professional settings. PSCs should continue to learn about the evolving language, trends, and needs of the trans community, ideally from those who are part of that community. Additionally, PSCs should engage with and use resources from professional trans-affirming organizations, such as WPATH, HRC, SAIGE, GLAAD, NCTE, and PFLAG.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.
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Clark D. Ausloos, PhD, NCC, LPC, LPSC, is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Denver. Madeline Clark, PhD, NCC, ACS, LPC (VA), LPCC (OH), is an associate professor at the University of Toledo. Hansori Jang, PhD, NCC, is an assistant professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Tahani Dari, PhD, NCC, LPC (MI), LPSC, is an assistant professor at the University of Toledo. Stacey Diane Arañez Litam, PhD, NCC, CCMHC, LPCC-S, is an assistant professor at Cleveland State University. Correspondence may be addressed to Clark D. Ausloos, 15578 John F. McCarthy Way, Perrysburg, OH 43551, email@example.com.
Aug 20, 2021 | Volume 11 - Issue 3
Eric G. Suddeath, Eric R. Baltrinic, Heather J. Fye, Ksenia Zhbanova, Suzanne M. Dugger,
This study examined differences in 149 counselor education doctoral students’ self-efficacy toward teaching related to their number of experiences with fieldwork in teaching (FiT). Results showed counselor education doctoral students began FiT experiences with high levels of self-efficacy, which decreased after one to two FiT experiences, increased slightly after three to four FiT experiences, and increased significantly after five or more FiT experiences. We discuss implications for how counselor education doctoral programs can implement and supervise FiT experiences as part of their teaching preparation practices. Finally, we identify limitations of the study and offer future research suggestions for investigating FiT experiences in counselor education.
Keywords: teaching preparation, self-efficacy, fieldwork in teaching, counselor education, doctoral students
Counselor education doctoral students (CEDS) need to engage in actual teaching experiences as part of their teaching preparation (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Barrio Minton, 2020; Swank & Houseknecht, 2019), yet inconsistencies remain in defining what constitutes actual teaching experience. Fortunately, several researchers (e.g., Association for Counselor Education and Supervision [ACES], 2016; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Suddeath et al., 2020) have identified examples of teaching experiences, which we aggregated and defined as fieldwork in teaching (FiT). FiT includes the (a) presence of experiential training components such as co-teaching, formal teaching practicums and/or internships, and teaching assistantships (ACES, 2016); (b) variance in amount of responsibility granted to CEDS (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Barrio Minton & Price, 2015; Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020); and (c) use of regular supervision of teaching (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Suddeath et al., 2020). Findings from several studies suggested that a lack of FiT experience can thwart CEDS’ teaching competency development (Swank & Houseknecht, 2019), contribute to CEDS’ feelings of insufficient preparation for future teaching roles (Davis et al., 2006), create unnecessary feelings of stress and burnout for first-year faculty (Magnuson et al., 2004), and lead to feelings of inadequacy among new counselor educators (Waalkes et al., 2018). Counselor education (CE) researchers reference FiT experiences (Suddeath et al., 2020) among a variety of teaching preparation practices, such as co-teaching (Baltrinic et al., 2016), supervision of teaching (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a), collaborative teaching teams (CTT; Orr et al., 2008), teaching practicums (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Hall & Hulse, 2010), teaching internships (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011), teaching to peers within teaching instruction courses (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020b; Elliot et al., 2019), and instructor of record (IOR) experiences (Moore, 2019).
Participants across studies emphasized the importance of including FiT experiences within teaching preparation practices. Both CEDS and new faculty members reported that engaging in actual teaching (e.g., FiT) as part of their teaching preparation buffered against lower teaching self-efficacy (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Elliot et al., 2019; Suddeath et al., 2020). These findings are important because high levels of teaching self-efficacy are associated with increased student engagement (Gibson & Dembo, 1984), positive learning outcomes (Goddard et al., 2000), greater job satisfaction, reduced stress and emotional exhaustion, longevity in the profession (Klassen & Chiu, 2010; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2014), and flexibility and persistence during perceived setbacks in the classroom (Elliot et al., 2019; Gibson & Dembo, 1984).
FiT Within Counselor Education
Existing CE teaching literature supports the presence and use of FiT within a larger framework of teaching preparation. Despite existing findings, variability exists in how FiT is both conceptualized and implemented among doctoral programs and in how doctoral students specifically engage in FiT during their program training. Current literature supporting FiT suggests several themes, which are outlined below, to support our gap in understanding of (a) whether FiT experiences are required, (b) the number of FiT experiences in which CEDS participate, (c) the level and type of student responsibility, and (d) the supervision and mentoring practices that support student autonomy within FiT experiences (e.g., Baltrinic et al., 2016, 2018; Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020).
Teaching Internships and Fieldwork
Teaching internships are curricular teaching experiences in which CEDS co-teach (most often) a master’s-level course with a program faculty member or with peers while receiving regular supervision (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011). These experiences are offered concurrently with pedagogy or adult learning courses (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011) or after taking a course (Waalkes et al., 2018). Teaching internships typically include group supervision (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a), though the frequency and structure of supervision varies greatly (Suddeath et al., 2020). Participants in Baltrinic and Suddeath’s (2020a) study reported that teaching practicum and internship experiences are often included alongside multiple types of internships (e.g., clinical, supervision, and research), which led to less time to process their own teaching experiences. The level of responsibility within FiT experiences also varies. Specifically, CEDS may take on minor roles, including “observing faculty members’ teaching and . . . contributing anecdotes from their counseling experiences to class discussion” (Baltrinic et al., 2016, p. 38), providing the occasional lecture or facilitating a class discussion, or engaging in administrative duties such as grading and making copies of course materials (Hall & Hulse, 2010; Orr et al., 2008). Research also suggests that CEDS may share the responsibility for designing, delivering, and evaluating the course (Baltrinic et al., 2016). Finally, CEDS may take on sole/primary responsibility, including the design and delivery of all aspects of a course (Orr et al., 2008).
Co-Teaching and CTT
It is important to distinguish formal curricular FiT experiences such as teaching practicums and internships from informal co-curricular co-teaching experiences. For example, Baltrinic et al. (2016) identified co-teaching as a process of pairing experienced faculty members with CEDS for the purpose of increasing their knowledge and skill in teaching through supervised teaching experiences. CEDS often receive more individual supervision and mentoring in these informal experiences based on individual agreements between the CEDS and willing faculty members (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a). One example of a formal co-teaching experience (i.e., CTT) comes from Orr et al. (2008). In this model, CEDS initially observe a course or courses while occasionally presenting on course topics. The CEDS then take the lead for designing and delivering the course while under the direct supervision (both live in the classroom and post-instruction) of counseling faculty members.
Instructor of Record
At times, CEDS have the opportunity to teach a course as the sole instructor, what Moore (2019) and Orr et al. (2008) defined as an instructor of record (IOR). In these cases, IORs are fully responsible for the delivery and evaluation components of the course, including determining students’ final grades. CEDS may take on IOR roles after completing a progression of teaching responsibilities over time under supervision (Moore, 2019; Orr et al., 2008). In some instances, CEDS who serve as IORs are hired as adjunct or part-time instructors (Hebbani & Hendrix, 2014). Ultimately, it seems like a respectable outcome of teaching preparation in general, and specifically FiT, to prepare CEDS to transition into IOR roles. CEDS who attain the responsibility of IOR for one class are partially prepared for managing a larger teaching workload as a faculty member (i.e., teaching three classes per semester; 3:3 load).
Impact of Teaching Fieldwork
Overall, researchers identified FiT experiences as essential for strengthening CEDS’ feelings of preparedness to teach (Hall & Hulse, 2010), for fostering their teaching identities (Limberg et al., 2013; Waalkes et al., 2018), and for supporting their perceived confidence and competence to teach (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Orr et al., 2008). CE research suggests several factors that contribute to the relative success of the FiT experience. For example, Hall and Hulse (2010) found fieldwork most helpful when the experiences mimicked the actual roles and responsibilities of a counselor educator rather than guest lecturing or providing the occasional lecture. Participants in Hunt and Weber Gilmore’s (2011) study echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of experiences related to the design, delivery, and evaluation of a course. Important experiences included developing or co-developing course curriculum and materials (e.g., exams, syllabi, grading rubrics), facilitating class discussions, lecturing, and evaluating student learning. Additionally, these experiences helped CEDS to translate adult learning theories and pedagogy into teaching practice, which is an essential process for strengthening CEDS’ teaching identity (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Waalkes et al., 2018). CE literature also points to the importance of providing CEDS with multiple supervised, developmentally structured (Orr et al., 2008) FiT experiences to increase levels of autonomy and responsibility with teaching and related duties (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Orr et al., 2008). Hall and Hulse found that teaching a course from start to finish contributed most to CEDS’ perceived preparedness to teach. The CTT approach (Orr et al., 2008) is one example of how CE programs developmentally structure FiT experiences.
Research affirms the integration of supervision across CEDS’ FiT experiences (e.g., Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Elliot et al., 2019; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011). CEDS receive the essential support, feedback, and oversight during supervision that helps them make sense of teaching experiences and identify gaps in teaching knowledge and skills (Waalkes et al., 2018). Research suggests that structured, weekly supervision is most helpful in strengthening CEDS’ perceived confidence (Suddeath et al., 2020) and competence in teaching (Orr et al., 2008). Baltrinic and Suddeath (2020a) and Elliot et al. (2019) also identified supervision of FiT as an essential experience for buffering against CEDS’ fear and anxiety associated with initial teaching experiences. Both studies found that supervision led to fewer feelings of discouragement and perceived failures related to teaching, as well as increased confidence in their capabilities, even when teaching unfamiliar material. Elliot et al. attributed this to supervisors normalizing CEDS’ teaching experiences as a part of the developmental process, which helped them to push through the initial discomfort and fear in teaching and reframe it as an opportunity for growth.
Self-Efficacy Toward Teaching
Broadly defined, self-efficacy is the future-oriented “belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1997, p. 3). Applied to teaching, it is confidence in one’s ability to select and utilize appropriate teaching behaviors effectively to accomplish a specific teaching task (Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998). Research in CE has outlined the importance of teaching self-efficacy on CEDS’ teaching development, including its relationship to a strengthened sense of identity as a counselor educator (Limberg et al., 2013); increased autonomy in the classroom (Baltrinic et al., 2016); greater flexibility in the application of learning theory; increased focus on the teaching experience and students’ learning needs instead of one’s own anxiety; and pushing through feelings of fear, self-doubt, and incompetence associated with initial teaching experiences (Elliot et al., 2019). Previous research affirms FiT as a significant predictor of teaching self-efficacy (Olguin, 2004; Suddeath et al., 2020; Tollerud, 1990). Recently, Suddeath et al. (2020) found that students participating in more FiT experiences also reported higher levels of teaching self-efficacy.
Purpose of the Present Study
In general, research supports the benefits of FiT experiences (e.g., increased self-efficacy, strengthened teaching identity, and a better supported transition to the professoriate) and ways in which FiT experiences (e.g., multiple, developmentally structured, supervised) should be provided as part of CE programs’ teaching preparation practices. Past and current research supports a general trend regarding the relationship between CE teaching preparation, including FiT experiences, and teaching self-efficacy (Suddeath et al., 2020). However, we know very little about how the number of FiT experiences, specifically, differentially impacts CEDS’ teaching self-efficacy. To address this gap, we examined the relationship between the number of CEDS’ FiT experiences and their reported self-efficacy in teaching. Accordingly, we proceeded in the present study guided by the following research question: How does CEDS’ self-efficacy toward teaching differ depending on amount of FiT experience gained (i.e., no experience in teaching, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, five or more experiences)? This research question was prompted by the work of Olguin (2004) and Tollerud (1990), who investigated CEDS’ reported differences in self-efficacy toward teaching across similarly grouped teaching experiences. We wanted to better understand the impact of FiT experiences on CEDS’ teaching self-efficacy given the prevalence of teaching preparation practices used in CE doctoral programs.
A total of 171 individuals responded to the survey. Participants who did not finish the survey or did not satisfy inclusionary criteria (i.e., 18 years or older and currently enrolled in a doctoral-level CACREP-accredited CE program) were excluded from the sample, leaving 149 usable surveys. Of these 149 participants, 117 (79%) were female and 32 (21%) were male. CEDS ranged in age from 23–59 years with a mean age of 34.73. Regarding race, 116 CEDS (73%) identified as White, 25 (17%) as Black, six (4%) as Asian, one (0.7%) as American Indian or Alaskan Native, and one (0.7%) as multiracial. Fifteen participants (10%) indicated a Hispanic/Latino ethnicity. Of the 149 participants, 108 provided their geographic region, with 59 (39%) reportedly living in the Southern United States, 32 (21%) in the Midwest, 10 (7%) in the West, and eight (5%) in the Northeast. Participants’ time enrolled in a CE program ranged from zero semesters (i.e., they were in their first semester) to 16 semesters (M = 6.20).
After obtaining IRB approval, we recruited participants using two convenience sampling strategies. First, we sent counselor education and supervision doctoral program liaisons working in CACREP-accredited universities a pre-notification email (Creswell & Guetterman, 2019), which contained an explanation and rationale for this proposed study; a statement about informed consent and approval; a link to the composite survey, which included the demographic questionnaire; a question regarding FiT experiences; the Self-Efficacy Toward Teaching Inventory (SETI; Tollerud, 1990); and a request to forward the recruitment email (which was copied below the pre-notification text) to all eligible doctoral students. Next, we solicited CEDS’ participation through the Counselor Education and Supervision Network Listserv (CESNET-L), which is a professional listserv of counselors, counselor educators, and master’s- and doctoral-level CE students. We sent two follow-up participation requests, one through CESNET-L and the other to doctoral program liaisons (Creswell & Guetterman, 2019) to improve response rates. We further incentivized participation through offering participants a chance to win one of five $20 gift cards through an optional drawing.
We collected all research data through the survey software Qualtrics. CEDS who agreed to participate clicked the survey link at the bottom of the recruitment email, which took them to an informed consent information and agreement page. Participants meeting inclusionary criteria then completed the basic demographic questionnaire, a question regarding their FiT experiences, and the SETI.
We used a composite survey that included a demographic questionnaire, a question regarding FiT experiences, and a modified version of the SETI. To strengthen the content validity of the composite survey, we selected a panel of three nationally recognized experts known for their research on CEDS teaching preparation to provide feedback on the survey items’ “relevance, representativeness, specificity, and clarity” as well as “suggested additions, deletions, and modifications” of items (Haynes et al., 1995, pp. 244, 247). We incorporated feedback from these experts and then piloted the survey using seven recent graduates (i.e., within 4 years) from CACREP-accredited CE doctoral programs. Feedback from the pilot group influenced final modifications of the survey.
The demographic questionnaire included questions regarding CEDS’ sex, age, race/ethnicity, geographic region, and time in program. Example items included: “Age in years?,” “What is your racial background?,” “Are you Hispanic or Latino?,” and “In which state do you live?”
We used CE literature (e.g., ACES, 2016; Baltrinic et al., 2016; Orr et al., 2008) as a guide for defining and constructing the item to inquire about CEDS’ FiT experiences, which served as the independent variable in this study. In the survey, FiT was defined as teaching experiences within the context of formal teaching internships, informal co-teaching opportunities, graduate teaching assistantships, or independent teaching of graduate or undergraduate courses. Using this definition, participants then indicated “the total number of course sections they had taught or cotaught.” Following Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004), we also grouped participants’ FiT experiences into four groups (i.e., no experience, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, five or more experiences) to extend their findings.
Self-Efficacy Toward Teaching
To measure self-efficacy toward teaching, the dependent variable in this study, we used a modified version of the SETI. The original SETI is a 35-item self-report measure in which participants indicate their confidence to implement specific teaching skills and behaviors in five teaching domains within CE: course preparation, instructor behavior, materials, evaluation and examination, and clinical skills training. We modified the SETI according to the expert panel’s recommendations, which included creating 12 new items related to using technology in the classroom and teaching adult learners, as well as modifying the wording of several items to match CACREP 2016 teaching standards. This modified version of the SETI contained 47 items. Examples of new and modified items in each of the domains included: “Incorporate models of adult learning” (Course Preparation), “Attend to issues of social and cultural diversity” (Instructor Behavior), “Utilize technological resources to enhance learning” (Materials), “Construct multiple choice exams” (Evaluation and Examination), and “Provide supportive feedback for counseling skills” (Clinical Skills Training). The original SETI produced a Cronbach’s alpha of .94, suggesting strong internal consistency. Other researchers using the SETI reported similar findings regarding the internal consistency including Richardson and Miller (2011), who reported alphas of .96, and Prieto et al. (2007), who reported alphas of .94. The internal consistency for the modified SETI in this study produced a Cronbach’s alpha of .97, also suggesting strong internal consistency of items.
This study used a cross-sectional survey design to investigate group differences in CEDS’ self-efficacy toward teaching by how many FiT experiences students had acquired (Creswell & Guetterman, 2019). Cross-sectional research allows researchers to better understand current beliefs, attitudes, or practices at a single point in time for a target population. This approach allowed us to gather information related to current FiT trends and teaching self-efficacy beliefs across CE doctoral programs.
Data Preparation and Analytic Strategy
After receiving the participant responses, we coded and entered them into SPSS (Version 27) for conducting all descriptive and inferential statistical analyses. Based upon previous research by Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004), we then grouped participants according to the number of experiences reported: no fieldwork experience, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, and five or more experiences. We then ran a one-way ANOVA to determine if CEDS’ self-efficacy significantly (p < .05) differed according to the number of teaching experiences accrued, followed by post hoc analyses to determine which groups differed significantly.
We sought to determine whether CEDS with no experience in teaching, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, or five or more experiences differed in terms of their self-efficacy toward teaching scores. Overall, individuals in this study who reported no FiT experience indicated higher mean SETI scores (n = 10, M = 161.00, SD = 16.19) than those with one to two fieldwork experiences (n = 37, M = 145.59, SD = 21.41) and three to four fieldwork experiences (n = 32, M = 148.41, SD = 20.90). Once participants accumulated five or more fieldwork experiences (n = 70, M = 161.06, SD = 19.17), the mean SETI score rose above that of those with no, one to two, and three to four FiT experiences. The results also indicated an overall mean of 5.51 FiT experiences (SD = 4.63, range = 0–21).
As shown in Table 1, a one-way ANOVA revealed a statistically significant difference between the scores of the four FiT groups, F (3, 145) = 6.321, p < .001, and a medium large effect size (h2 = .12; Cohen, 1992). Levene’s test revealed no violation of homogeneity of variance (p = .763). A post hoc Tukey Honest Significant Difference test allowed for a more detailed understanding of which groups significantly differed. Findings revealed a statistically significant difference between the mean SETI scores for those with one to two fieldwork experiences and five or more experiences (mean difference = −15.46, p = .001) and for those with three to four and five or more experiences (mean difference = −12.65, p = .018). There was no significant difference between those with no FiT experience and those with five or more experiences, and in fact, these groups had nearly identical mean scores (i.e., 161.00 and 161.06, respectively). Although the drop is not significant, there is a mean difference of 15.40 from no FiT experience to one to two experiences. These results suggest that perceived confidence in teaching, as measured by the SETI, began high, dropped off after one to two experiences, slightly rose after three to four, and then increased significantly from 148.41 to 161.06 after five or more experiences, returning to pre-FiT levels.
Means, Standard Deviations, and One-Way Analysis of Variance for Study Variables
||5 or More FiT
||F (3, 145)
Note. SETI = Self-Efficacy Toward Teaching Inventory; FiT = fieldwork in teaching.
*p < .001.
The purpose of this study was to investigate whether CEDS with no experience in teaching, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, or five or more experiences differed in terms of their self-efficacy toward teaching scores. Overall, one-way ANOVA results revealed a significant difference in SETI scores by FiT experiences. Post hoc analyses revealed an initial substantial drop from no experience to one to two experiences and a significant increase in self-efficacy toward teaching between one to two FiT experiences and five or more experiences as well as between three to four FiT experiences and five or more experiences.
The CE literature supports the general trend observed in this study, that as the number of FiT experiences increases, so does CEDS’ teaching self-efficacy (e.g., Baltrinic & Suddeath 2020a; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Suddeath et al., 2020). Many authors have articulated the importance of multiple fieldwork experiences for preparing CEDS to confidently transition to the professoriate (e.g., Hall & Hulse, 2010; Orr et al., 2008). Participants in a study by Hunt and Weber Gilmore (2011) identified engagement in multiple supervised teaching opportunities that mimicked the actual teaching responsibilities required of a counselor educator as particularly helpful. Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004) found that the more teaching experiences individuals acquired during their doctoral programs, the higher their self-efficacy toward teaching. Encouragingly, nearly half of CEDS in this study (47%) indicated that participating in five or more teaching experiences increased their teaching self-efficacy. This increase in teaching self-efficacy may be due to expanded use of teaching preparation practices within CE doctoral programs (ACES, 2016).
Participants in the current study reported an initial drop in self-efficacy after their initial FiT experiences, which warrants explanation. Specifically, the initial drop in CEDS’ self-efficacy could be due to discrepancies between their estimation of teaching ability and their actual capability, further supporting the idea of including actual FiT earlier in teaching preparation practices, albeit titrated in complexity. Though one might assume that as participants acquired additional teaching experience their SETI scores would have increased, the initial pattern from no experience to one to two FiT experiences did not support this. However, self-efficacy is not necessarily a measure of actual capability, but rather one’s confidence to engage in certain behaviors to achieve a certain task (Bandura, 1997). It is plausible that participants may have initially overestimated their own abilities and level of control over the new complex task of teaching, which may explain the initial drop in self-efficacy among participants. For participants lacking FiT experience, social comparison may have led them to “gauge their expected and actual performance by comparison with that of others” (Stone, 1994, p. 453)—in this case, with other CEDS with more FiT experiences.
Social comparisons used to generate appraisals of teaching self-efficacy beliefs may be taken from “previous educational experiences, tradition, [or] the opinion of experienced practitioners” (Groccia & Buskist, 2011, p. 5). Thus, participants in this study who lacked prior teaching experience may have initially overestimated their capability as a result of previous educational experiences. When individuals initially overestimate their abilities to perform a new task, they may not put in the time or effort needed to succeed at a given task. Tollerud (1990) suggested that those without any actual prior teaching experience may not realize the complexity of the task, the effort required, or what skills are needed to teach effectively. In the current study, this realization may be reflected in participants’ initial drop in mean SETI scores from no teaching experiences to one to two teaching experiences.
The CE literature offers clues for how to buffer against this initial drop in self-efficacy. For example, CE teaching preparation research suggests the importance of engaging in multiple teaching experiences (Suddeath et al., 2020) with a gradual increase in responsibility (Baltrinic et al., 2016) and frequent (i.e., weekly) supervision from CE faculty supervisors, as well as feedback and support from peers (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a, 2020b; Elliot et al., 2019). These authors’ findings reportedly support students’ ability to normalize their initial anxiety, fears, and self-doubts; conceptualize their struggle and discomfort as a part of the developmental process; push through perceived failings; and reflect on and grow from initial teaching experiences. Elliot et al. (2019) noted specifically that supervision with peer support increased participants’ (a) ability to access an optimistic mindset amidst self-doubt, (b) self-efficacy in teaching, (c) authenticity in subsequent teaching experiences, and (d) facility with integrating theory into teaching practice. Overall, the current findings add to the CE literature by suggesting CE programs increase the number of FiT experiences (to at least five, preferably) for CEDS.
Our findings also reflect similarities in CEDS’ self-efficacy patterns to those of Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004). Similar to Tollerud and Olguin, we grouped participants according to the number of FiT experiences: no fieldwork experience, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, and five or more experiences. This study identified the same pattern in teaching self-efficacy as observed by Tollerud and Olguin, with those who reported no FiT experience indicating higher mean SETI scores than those with one to two FiT experiences and three to four FiT experiences. Although scores slightly increased from one to two FiT experiences to three to four FiT experiences, it was not until CEDS accumulated five or more FiT experiences that the mean SETI score rose above that of those with no FiT experiences. The consistency of this pattern over the span of 30 years seems to confirm the importance of providing CEDS several FiT opportunities (i.e., at least five) to strengthen their self-efficacy in teaching. Though responsibility within FiT experiences was aggregated in this study as it was in Tollerud and Olguin, research (e.g., Baltrinic et al., 2016; Orr et al., 2008) and common sense would suggest that CEDS need multiple supervised teaching opportunities with progressively greater responsibility and autonomy. However, future research is needed to examine how CEDS’ self-efficacy toward teaching changes over time as they move from having no actual teaching experience, to beginning their FiT, to accruing substantial experiences with FiT.
For many counselor educators, teaching and related responsibilities consume the greatest proportion of their time (Davis et al., 2006). As such, providing CEDS multiple supervised opportunities (Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020) to apply theory, knowledge, and skills in the classroom before they transition to the professoriate seems important for fostering teaching competency (Swank & Houseknecht, 2019) and, ideally, mitigating against feelings of stress and burnout that some first-year counselor educators experience as a result of poor teaching preparation (Magnuson et al., 2006). Given the initial drop in self-efficacy toward teaching as identified in this study and the relationship between higher levels of self-efficacy and increased student engagement (Gibson & Dembo, 1984) and learning outcomes (Goddard et al., 2000), greater job satisfaction, reduced stress and emotional exhaustion (Klassen & Chiu, 2010; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2014), and flexibility and persistence during perceived setbacks in the classroom (Elliot et al., 2019), several suggestions are offered.
Although it is an option in many CE doctoral programs, some CEDS may graduate without any significant FiT experiences (Barrio Minton & Price, 2015; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Suddeath et al., 2020). Although not all CEDS want to go into the professoriate, for those interested in working in academia, it is our hope that programs will provide students with multiple—and preferably at least five—developmentally structured supervised teaching opportunities. Whether these are formal curricular FiT experiences such as teaching practicums and internships or informal co-curricular co-teaching or IOR experiences (and likely a combination of the two), CE literature suggests that these experiences should include frequent and ongoing supervision (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a) and progress from lesser to greater responsibility and autonomy within the teaching role (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Hall & Hulse, 2010; Orr et al., 2008). These recommendations for the structuring of FiT are important given the incredible variation in this aspect of training (e.g., Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020) and the consistency in the observed pattern of self-efficacy toward teaching and the number of FiT experiences (Olguin, 2004; Tollerud, 1990).
To help buffer against the initial drop in self-efficacy toward teaching scores from zero to one to two teaching experiences in this study and previous research (Olguin, 2004; Tollerud, 1990), research emphasizes the importance of increased oversight and support of CEDS before and during their first teaching experiences (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Elliot et al., 2019; Stone, 1994). CE faculty members who teach coursework in college teaching, are instructors for teaching internships, and/or are providing supervision of teaching for FiT experiences should normalize initial anxiety and self-doubt (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Elliot et al., 2019) and encourage realistic expectations for students’ first teaching experiences (Stone, 1994). Stone (1994) suggested that fostering realistic expectations in those engaging in a new task may actually “increase effort, attention to strategy, and performance by increasing the perceived challenge of tasks” (p. 459). This was evident in Elliot et al.’s (2019) study in which CEDS reframed the initial struggles with teaching experiences as opportunities for growth and development. On the other hand, individuals who overestimate or strongly underestimate self-efficacy may not put in the time or effort needed to succeed at a given task. For example, those who overestimate their capabilities may not increase their effort, as they already believe they are going to perform well (Stone, 1994). Similarly, those who underestimate their ability may not increase effort or give sufficient attention to strategy, as they perceive that doing so would not improve their performance anyway. These findings support the need for CE programs to provide oversight and support and engender realistic expectations before or during students’ first FiT experiences.
Limitations and Future Research
Limitations existed related to the sample and survey. Representativeness of the sample, and thus generalizability of findings, is limited by the voluntary nature of the study (i.e., self-selection), cross-sectional design (i.e., tracking efficacy beliefs over time), and solicitation of participants via CESNET-L (i.e., potential for CEDS to miss the invitation to participate) and doctoral program liaisons (i.e., unclear how many forwarded the invitation). Another limitation relates to the variability in participants’ FiT experiences, such as the assigned role and responsibility within FiT, frequency and quality of supervision, and whether and how experiences were developmentally structured. Additionally, self-report measures were used, which are prone to issues of self-knowledge (e.g., over- or underestimation of capability with self-efficacy, accurate recall of FiT experiences) and social desirability.
Future research could utilize qualitative methods to investigate what components of FiT experiences (e.g., quality, type of responsibility) prove most helpful in strengthening CEDS’ self-efficacy and how it changes with increased experience. Given the limitations of self-efficacy, researchers could also investigate other outcomes (e.g., test scores, student evaluations) instead of or alongside self-efficacy. Although this study identified the importance of acquiring at least five FiT experiences for strengthening SETI scores, little is known about how to developmentally structure FiT experiences so as to best strengthen self-efficacy toward teaching. Researchers could use quantitative approaches to investigate the relationship between various aspects of CEDS’ FiT experiences (e.g., level of responsibility and role, frequency and quality of supervision) and SETI scores. Researchers could also develop a comprehensive model for providing FiT that includes recommendations as supported by CE research (e.g., Baltrinic et al., 2016; Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a, 2020b; Elliot et al., 2019; Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020; Swank & Houseknecht, 2019). Finally, instead of investigating FiT experiences of CEDS and their impact on teaching self-efficacy, future research could investigate first-year counselor educators to determine if and how their experience differs.
Investigating teaching preparation practices within CE doctoral programs is essential for understanding and improving training for future counselor educators. Although research already supports the inclusion of multiple supervised teaching experiences within CE doctoral programs (Suddeath et al., 2020), the results of this study provide greater clarity to the differential impact of FiT experiences on CEDS’ teaching self-efficacy. Given the consistently observed pattern of teaching self-efficacy and FiT experiences from this and other studies over the last 30 years, doctoral training programs should thoughtfully consider how to support students through their first FiT experiences, and ideally, offer students multiple opportunities to teach.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.
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Eric G. Suddeath, PhD, LPC-S (MS), is an associate professor at Denver Seminary. Eric R. Baltrinic, PhD, LPCC-S (OH), is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Heather J. Fye, PhD, NCC, LPC (OH), is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Ksenia Zhbanova, EdD, is an assistant professor at Mississippi State University-Meridian. Suzanne M. Dugger, EdD, NCC, ACS, LPC (MI), SC (MI, FL), is a professor and department chair at Florida Gulf Coast University. Sumedha Therthani, PhD, NCC, is an assistant professor at Mississippi State University. Correspondence may be addressed to Eric G. Suddeath, 6399 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton, CO 80120, firstname.lastname@example.org.