Relational Cultural Theory–Informed Advising in Counselor Education

Kirsis A. Dipre, Melissa Luke

Relational cultural theory emerged in the 1970s as a reaction to the dominant view of women in psychology and continues to challenge societal values while promoting social justice. Key tenets of relational cultural theory are to promote growth-fostering relationships and move toward connection. These may be applied in a variety of contexts within higher education. This conceptual manuscript provides an overview of advising relationships, particularly within counselor education. A thorough review of relational cultural theory and its potential utility in advising is presented. Then a case conceptualization is provided to illustrate how faculty advisors can enhance their advising practices and better address interpersonal dynamics within the advising relationship. Implications for using this framework in multiple higher education settings are discussed.

Keywords: relational cultural theory, advising, counselor education, higher education, interpersonal dynamics

 

Advising is crucial in enhancing counseling students’ opportunities for success and for supporting their professional preparation as licensed counselors and/or counselor educators (Barbuto et al., 2011; Knox et al., 2006; Kuo et al., 2017; Mu & Fosnacht, 2019; Robbins, 2012). Yet advising is not always part of the doctoral preparation of faculty members (Ng et al., 2019) and not always adequately prioritized and supported within counselor education programs (Furr, 2018). Further, advising is considered part of teaching responsibilities at some institutions and part of service activities at others (Ng et al., 2019). Depending on the institution, advising may not be prioritized (He & Hutson, 2017). This is concerning considering the importance of advising for the academic success of students (Knox et al., 2006; Kuo et al., 2017) and their further development in the counseling profession (Ng et al., 2019; Sackett et al., 2015). According to the American Counseling Association’s ACA Code of Ethics (2014), counselor educators have a responsibility to deliver career advisement and expose their students to opportunities for supplementary development. Although faculty advising responsibilities are not clearly defined and remain woefully underexamined (Ng et al. 2019), this conceptualization extends consideration of advising beyond the formulaic tasks of providing course registration support and incorporates exploration of life goals.

Consistent with this new conceptualization, the counselor education advising role has shifted from a perfunctory extracurricular service to a more process-focused co-curricular relationship that can include a systemic approach (Ng et al., 2019). This conceptualization is representative of the functions of a faculty advisor in counselor education, as the profession requires students to consider their investment in being lifelong learners (Kuo et al., 2017; Sackett et al., 2015). Therefore, counselor education advisees are tasked with completing the curricular requirements in their program of study to develop the knowledge and skills needed for professional success in addition to continuing their education through engagement in authentic and developmentally appropriate activities.

Advisors are well positioned to assist in the foundational planning for students’ success within the counseling profession. To accomplish this, well-equipped advisors require a strong knowledge base predicated on theoretical foundations (Musser & Yoder, 2013; Sackett et al., 2015). Although no one advising approach is adequately situated to assist everyone optimally, it is the advisor’s ethical obligation to be well informed regarding their own approaches and ways to adjust to meet the individual and contextual needs of their advisees (Kimball & Campbell, 2013). Despite the growing differentiation of advising from mentoring, few theories or models have been purported to undergird the advising process in counselor education (Ng et al., 2019). The present manuscript aims to fill this gap by providing counseling advisors with a theoretically sound and research-grounded framework to enhance their advisory practice using relational cultural theory (RCT). In subsequent sections, the relevance of RCT for advising in counselor education and its central assumptions will be discussed, the current state of advising in counselor education will be described, and a relational cultural advising case conceptualization will be provided to assist counselor educators in better understanding and developing RCT-informed advising practices.

Relevance of RCT to Advising
     RCT originated as a developmental model for women; however, broader applicability was quickly recognized given the commonalities across people and the impact of societal values on people’s functioning (Jordan, 2018; Jordan et al., 1991; Walker, 2004). Presently, RCT is utilized across a variety of clinical populations as well as in non-clinical settings (Jordan, 2017, 2018; Robb, 2007). For example, Luke (2016) described the use of RCT with children experiencing gender dysphoria; Cannon et al. (2012) described its use in group treatment settings with adult women; and Fletcher and Ragins (2007), as well as Hammer et al. (2014), noted its utility in mentoring contexts. More recently, Schwartz (2019) described the utility of RCT within teaching across higher education contexts. Because RCT is predicated on the co-construction of knowledge both by individuals and groups, RCT is readily translated into new settings and contexts (Rogers & Stanciu, 2015), in this case advising within counselor education programs.

Relational Cultural Theory
     In its most basic form, RCT posits that humans need social connections throughout the life span, placing social connections at the center of human development. Both this basic postulate and the usefulness of RCT have been consistently supported in empirical studies (Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2005; Lenz, 2016; Schore, 2015). To gain an understanding of human development, RCT-oriented practitioners rely on several core assumptions. As outlined by Miller and Stiver (1997) and later Jordan and Dooley (2000), the eight core assumptions are as follows: (a) people grow through and toward relationship; (b) mature functioning is reflected in movement toward mutuality rather than separation; (c) growth is characterized by relationship differentiation and elaboration; (d) growth-fostering relationships are based on mutual empathy and empowerment; (e) authenticity is required for real engagement in growth-fostering relationships; (f) development is a mutual exchange through which all involved contribute, grow, and benefit; (g) the goal is to develop increased relational competence over one’s life span; and (h) mutual empathy and mutual empowerment are at the core of human development. Advisors can enhance their advising practices by enacting these eight tenets to provide advisees with opportunities to develop the intra- and interpersonal relational awareness and skills requisite in counseling and counselor education work contexts while also offering greater support for students in navigating graduate training programs within counselor education. The application of RCT tenets will be demonstrated in a later section using a case study.

Development
     During the 1970s, a time in which the helping professions were dominated by ideologies developed by White males and the United States was roaring with a desire for change, psychologist Jean Baker Miller transformed the way we think about human development (Cohn, 1997; Hartling, 2008; Robb, 2007). Rather than striving for independence, as posited by the leading psychotherapy theories, Miller (1976) argued that human beings grow through and toward relationship. Almost 20 years after the development of the initial relational model, it underwent a significant shift. As this model evolved and expanded into its current theory, the scope was broadened to include an exploration of power in relationships (Walker, 2004). To this day, the RCT-related literature continues to grow (Comstock et al., 2008; Hall et al., 2018; Hammer et al., 2014; Purgason et al., 2016; Rogers & Stanciu, 2015).

In addition to exploring gender, this work has also focused on understanding the connections of relationships across differences in race (Purgason et al., 2016; Walker, 2004), ethnicity (Hall et al., 2018), sexual/affectional orientation, and gender identity (Luke, 2016) in both counseling and in the workplace. Thus, the scope of RCT has widened from solely focusing on women to addressing identity and power structures within all relationships, and now includes considerable attention to populations of minority status across a variety of contexts (Cannon et al., 2012; Comstock et al., 2008; Hammer et al., 2016; Schwartz, 2019; Walker, 2004, 2010). Similarly, scholars have more recently applied RCT beyond the therapeutic relationship to various processes within academia, including mentorship (Gammel & Rutstein-Riley, 2016; Hammer et al., 2014), clinical supervision (Williams & Raney, 2020), pedagogy (Hall et al., 2018; Schwartz, 2019), and advising for doctoral students of color (Purgason et al., 2016).

Philosophical Underpinnings
     Since the inception of RCT, Miller and colleagues recognized the alignment of their observations of women’s experiences with the positivistic perspective (Robb, 2007; Rogers & Stanciu, 2015), in that the observable realities could be understood through reason and logic. At the same time, theorists also situated RCT within the postmodern perspective because the theory intentionally acknowledges the possibility for multiple truths (Hansen, 2004; Rigazio-DiGilio, 2001; Rogers & Stanciu, 2015). Epistemologically, the theorists positioned RCT from a social constructivist standpoint (Jordan, 2018), meaning that the theory emphasizes the individual’s unique phenomenological experiences in relation to the social systems in which they are embedded. Thus, through RCT, one takes into account historical and cultural contexts that inform one’s meaning-making systems. RCT is also grounded on the premise that social construction of identities and the significance of power and hierarchy within relationships limits relational images and expectations (Birrell & Bruns, 2016; Jordan, 2018; Jordan et al., 1991). Broadly, a constructivist theory assumes that reality is created by individuals (Hansen, 2004; Jaccard & Jacoby, 2010), making subjectivity essential in understanding a person’s experience of reality. In contrast, a social constructionist theory assumes that reality is constructed by groups and, therefore, subjectivity is removed (Hansen, 2004; Rigazio-DiGilio, 2001). Although these epistemic positions may seem inherently contradictory, they intersect to create an individual–systems dialect within RCT. According to Hansen (2004), the integration of epistemologies permits greater inclusivity, allowing for a more complex conceptualization of the relational processes, particularly those that are part of RCT-informed growth and development (Rogers & Stanciu, 2015), including those in advising (Purgason et al., 2016). Thus, we argue that RCT is well positioned to address the unique needs of advisees as individuals (constructivist) while also addressing these advising needs as they arise within counselor education graduate programs and as part of larger systems (social constructionist).

Advising in Counselor Education

For faculty members in counselor education, advising may not be prioritized in terms of responsibilities and may only be considered as part of courses they may be teaching, and/or as part of the tenure and promotion process (He & Hutson, 2017; Kuo et al., 2017). Yet, the advising relationship is one of the few structures in place to facilitate student success (Barbuto et al., 2011; Knox et al., 2006), and despite its centrality in counselor education (Purgason et al., 2016), the literature on advising and the advisory relationship is scarce within counselor education. Since the publication of the 2016 CACREP Standards by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2015), there has been increased attention to the advising process (Ng et al., 2019).

Within counselor education, however, the extant literature on advising has focused on the responsibilities and priorities of the advisor (Knox et al., 2006) and neglected the processes involved in engaging in a “positive developmental relationship” (Ng et al., 2019, p. 54). Moreover, the focus of the literature also prioritizes advisement of doctoral students, overlooking the importance of appropriate advising for master’s students. Despite CACREP’s (2015) recommendations for programs to assign students in entry-level programs an advisor, few scholars have explored advising of master’s students in counseling programs. Instead, research has centered on the advising of master’s students pursuing doctoral studies (Farmer et al., 2017; Sackett et al., 2015). Still, these studies did not directly investigate the advisory process with master’s students in counseling programs, contributing to the widening gap between the limited scholarship focused on advising master’s students and the growing doctoral student advising literature. Recently, Rogers and colleagues (2020) discussed master’s students’ attachment, cognitive distortions, and experience of feedback in supervision. They discovered that attachment anxiety led to increased cognitive distortions, which further contributed to difficulty with corrective feedback during clinical supervision. Similar to feedback within supervisory relationships, advisors provide students with feedback during advising; therefore, it is important for faculty advisors to be aware of their advisees’ experiences of this process. As such, RCT provides a theoretical framework to strategically approach such situations with cognitive complexity and clinical sensitivity.

Advising Approaches
     Generally, an advisor in higher education is typically a faculty member whose responsibility is to guide their advisees through their programs (Mu & Fosnacht, 2019; Ng et al., 2019). This is usually accomplished through implementation of one of three distinctive approaches to advising outlined by Crookston (1972/2009). The developmental approach is used to attend to students’ progress throughout their educational careers, making it holistic in nature. Through this approach, the advisor aims at assisting students in the exploration of career and life goals as well as teaching the necessary skills to reach these goals. The prescriptive advising approach, in which the role of the advisor is to provide information related to courses, policies, and logistics, may also be adopted. This advising approach is didactic; the advisor’s goal is to assist the advisee to meet their academic requirements, and the process is often initiated by the advisee. Finally, advisors may choose to use a proactive approach in which the advisor establishes a strong relationship with the advisee. The advisor leads the process and reaches out to the advisee during critical points and when the advisee may be at risk or belong to an underserved population. The goal is to provide additional support to the advisee (He & Hutson, 2017; Mu & Fosnacht, 2019).

Although there have been no counselor education–specific advising theories put forth in the literature to date, the conceptual literature has been informed by mentoring enactment theory (Mansson & Myers, 2012), bioecological systems theory (Ng et al., 2019), and RCT (Hammer et al., 2014; Purgason et al., 2016). Moreover, despite McDonald’s (2019) contention of the centrality of theory-informed training for advisors, no research was identified that directly examined advising outcomes resulting from one theoretical approach or that addressed differences across the advising approaches most commonly used within counselor education, although current literature suggests the developmental approach is most widely used in higher education. This is evidenced by the shift away from prescriptive tasks and movement toward advancing career goals that align with advisees’ personhood (Kuo et al., 2017; McDonald, 2019). To date no studies have examined if this holds true in counselor education specifically. That said, the extant advising literature has continued to show that advising is key for ensuring student success (Robbins, 2012; Sackett et al., 2015). Because of the uniqueness of each advisory relationship, as well as the characteristics of each advisee, we can say that no specific approach or strategy of advising will be sufficient in assisting the needs of all advisees. Similar to the supervisory and counseling relationship, there is complexity in attending to individual, developmental, and systemic needs within the advisory relationship (Barbuto et al., 2011; Mu & Fosnacht, 2019). Therefore, it is imperative that counselor educators serving as advisors are well versed in varying approaches to advising, particularly because of the lack of actual training received by faculty serving in this capacity (He & Hutson, 2017; Kimball & Campbell, 2013).

The advising relationship in and of itself has been found to be essential in the success of students in doctoral programs (Knox et al., 2006; McDonald, 2019). Most recently, Purgason and colleagues (2016) used an RCT framework to enhance the advisory process for doctoral students from underrepresented identities in counselor education programs. They argued the RCT framework provided a strong foundation for attending to the multicultural and social justice competencies in the counselor education profession. This argument aligns with our view. Further, we propose that RCT provides a comprehensive foundation for enhancing the advisory relationship of all advisees in counseling programs regardless of program level. Generally, an advisor operating from an RCT-informed perspective may be closely monitoring their advisees’ and their own unique ways of interacting within the relationship. Explicit attention to this would be part of ongoing advising discussions. In accordance with the eight basic RCT assumptions, the advisor would approach the advising process as a means for growth and empowerment for both themselves and their advisees. In our own RCT-informed advising practices, we have used the eight RCT assumptions as a guide for process and outcome goal planning and as a framework for recording advisement notes. The current manuscript builds on the extant conceptualization of RCT-informed advising and uses a case vignette to illustrate and discuss the application.

Case Vignette

Dr. Mare Smith is a 36-year-old, White female counselor educator working at Playa Del Rio University in the southwestern region of the United States. Since joining the faculty 5 years ago, Dr. Smith has taught seven different courses: Introduction to Counseling, Counseling Theories and Application, Social and Cultural Issues in Counseling, Couples Counseling, Human Sexuality, Marriage and Family Practicum, and Marriage and Family Internship. Dr. Smith receives one course release from the typical 3:3 annual course load for her work as program coordinator for the Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling master’s program and her service as Chapter Faculty Advisor of the Counselors for Social Justice chapter in her department. In addition, as part of her institution’s new strategic plan to expand their online course delivery, Dr. Smith has volunteered to develop online sections of the Introduction to Counseling, Social and Cultural Issues in Counseling, and Human Sexuality courses so that these can be offered in the next academic year. In exchange for this work, she will receive a $4,000 stipend for each course. Although not contractually obligated, Dr. Smith has typically taught two courses each summer; however, this past summer Dr. Smith elected to teach only one course so she could begin preparation of her promotion and tenure dossier, which needs to be submitted by October 15.

While collecting the documentation necessary for her dossier, Dr. Smith reviewed her scholarly productivity, her servant leadership profile, and her teaching evaluations and advising reports. Even though Dr. Smith entered academia with a handful of academic publications co-authored with her doctoral advisor and other graduate students on the research team, she is pleased that she has continued to publish one piece almost every year for a total of seven peer-reviewed articles (three research, four conceptual) and two book chapters. In addition, Dr. Smith recognized that like many female faculty and faculty from historically marginalized groups, she has continued to engage in a high level of servant leadership across her program, department, college, community, and the counseling profession. In addition to program coordination and chapter faculty advisement, Dr. Smith has chaired and/or served as a member of the admissions committee of her program and the portfolio review committee in her department each year. She has also been a member of the diversity committee in the college for 3 years and was part of four faculty search committees in other departments. Moreover, Dr. Smith has recently been named an ad hoc reviewer for the journal published by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), The Professional Counselor, and she also serves as a mentor through the NBCC Minority Fellowship Program. Overall, Dr. Smith’s student evaluations have steadily increased over time, and she typically receives scores of approximately 4.5/5 across all courses other than in Social and Cultural Issues in Counseling, where her average evaluations hover at about a 4.0/5. Knowing that student evaluations for online courses tend to be lower than for in-person classes, Dr. Smith is relieved that the online classes will not be completed by the time her dossier is submitted. That said, as a well-respected and sought after advisor to almost 35 students each year, Dr. Smith is hoping that her favorite advisee, Tatyana Acevedo, follows through on her intention to nominate Dr. Smith for the college’s Graduate Advisor Award.

Tatyana Acevedo is a 24-year-old, Afro-Latinx second-year student who works at the college library while also completing her master’s degree in marriage, couple, and family counseling. Early in her first semester, Tatyana stood out from her classmates in Dr. Smith’s Introduction to Counseling class, not only for her exemplary preparation and high level of engagement in class, but also for the complexity and depth with which she approached both academic and professional issues. Through their advising relationship, Dr. Smith had communicated her appreciation for Tatyana’s complex ways of thinking and ability to relate to others in class. This paved the way for an advising relationship in which Tatyana felt supported, empowered, and appreciated by Dr. Smith. Following the midterm exam, Tatyana met with Dr. Smith to review the three questions she missed on the exam, and this is where they discovered a shared interest in cultural empathy and cultural humility research. During this meeting, and the bi-weekly meetings thereafter, Tatyana and Dr. Smith discussed a range of topics, including Tatyana’s program of study and aspirations after graduation, as well as contemporary professional issues. At the end of the spring semester, Dr. Smith broached the possibility of collaborating with Tatyana on a summer writing project related to cultural humility. Dr. Smith was careful to proactively discuss the parameters of the project and timeline, reviewed what constituted authorship and their respective contributions to the project, and addressed the inherent power dynamics within and across their relational roles and how these might be experienced. This discussion and the many similar ones that ensued throughout the project were all tremendously meaningful to Tatyana. Although she frequently remarked about how much she learned about cultural humility and the technical aspects of scholarly writing from Dr. Smith, Tatyana was also vocal about the growth she experienced as both a person and professional through the project. For these reasons, Tatyana informed Dr. Smith at the end of the summer and before the manuscript was submitted of her intention to apply to doctoral study in counselor education and supervision and nominate Dr. Smith for the annual Playa Del Rio University Graduate Advisor Award, with material for both due in the fall. Although Dr. Smith had always enjoyed Tatyana and believed in her potential, she felt particularly validated by their work together on this project and through learning of its impact on Tatyana’s career decisions.

Nonetheless, Tatyana and Dr. Smith missed their agreed-upon deadline for the manuscript submission and eventually decided that they would suspend their work until applications and the dossier were submitted in the fall. As Tatyana developed the nomination letter and secured three letters of support for Dr. Smith, she was also completing her applications for admissions to doctoral programs. Concurrently, Dr. Smith worked on finalizing her own candidate statements and dossier to be submitted for promotion and tenure. Though their meetings became less frequent, Tatyana and Dr. Smith joked about embarking on new stages of their respective journeys and that they “would meet up again” once applications were submitted. Tatyana tried to hold on to this plan when Dr. Smith did not respond to a request to share her CV and advising statement/mentoring philosophy for the award nomination packet, as well as when she learned that Dr. Smith was delayed in submitting Tatyana’s recommendation forms for doctoral study. Although no communication occurred between them, Tatyana became increasingly worried that Dr. Smith would either refuse to submit or fail to submit her recommendation letters by the programmatic deadlines. Regardless of her growing nervousness Tatyana tried to be understanding, but things came to a head in today’s advisement meeting.

Despite Tatyana having emailed Dr. Smith 3 weeks ahead to schedule an advising meeting and having listed the items she wished to discuss, Dr. Smith seemed surprised and unfocused when Tatyana arrived on time for the meeting. Tatyana reflected that Dr. Smith seemed distracted and then recounted examples of similar observed behavior over the past month and a half. Although Tatyana’s initial observation was couched in empathy and concern, she became increasingly animated in her frustration with Dr. Smith’s unavailability and her anxiety about the possibility that Dr. Smith might not meet impending deadlines. Tatyana’s disappointment was evident when she indicated that she thought Dr. Smith was prioritizing the development of her online courses because she was getting paid and her promotion and tenure dossier because it benefitted her, and that she was putting Tatyana’s requests for recommendation letters on the “back burner.” With irritation spilling over, Tatyana finally said, “Since I don’t have your materials for the packet, I am not sure how I can move ahead with the nomination, not that it makes as much sense now anyway.” At this point, Dr. Smith became aware of the multiplicity of roles and inherent power differentials between herself and Tatyana, which she had not addressed, complicating the issue further. Dr. Smith also realized she had not explicitly discussed the various roles she and Tatyana were operating under and how the interactions between these roles may cause some friction, especially if some roles were prioritized over others. With increased awareness regarding the nature of the situation, Dr. Smith recognized the opportunity to intentionally enact her theoretical grounding in RCT within her advisement relationship with Tatyana.

RCT Application
     Grounded in the bioecological systemic considerations discussed by Ng and colleagues (2019), Dr. Smith could choose a variety of RCT-based interventions to address the advisement rupture with Tatyana. In its most basic form, bioecological systems theory suggests a person’s development and interactions with their environment are influenced by biological and psychological factors, all of which should be considered in the advising process. This means that the advising process is dependent on the advisor’s understanding of the advisee’s contextual situation as it pertains to the training program, institutional characteristics, and individual factors. To demonstrate the multiple potential “points of entry” (Luke & Bernard, 2006), the following section will present brief illustrations of the RCT tenets in action when applied to the case vignette of Tatyana and Dr. Smith.

It is important to note that the authors are providing one possible way an RCT-oriented advisor would demonstrate their alignment with the theory through the case study. Therefore, the authors recognize there are a myriad of options for how to apply RCT in advising relationships, all of which are individual and context specific. The reader is encouraged to consider their unique situation and use the information presented in this article to guide their choices when implementing a relational cultural approach to their advising practices.

Considering Dr. Smith’s new understanding of her failure to attend to ethical issues and rupture that arose as a result of the multiplicity of roles with Tatyana, Dr. Smith would have to address this regardless of her chosen point of entry and intervention. In addition, Dr. Smith’s recognition of her failure to maintain an RCT-oriented advising framework throughout their relationship is essential in the process to repair the rupture with Tatyana. This process would begin with an acknowledgement of Dr. Smith becoming sidetracked and self-focused, failing to communicate in the middle when the advising relationship was no longer a mutual exchange, and further, Dr. Smith’s lack of awareness of her impact on Tatyana. For instance, it was clear that Dr. Smith became focused on the pressures of her promotion and tenure process, in which advising of students is highly undervalued with the focus being primarily teaching, research, and service (Furr, 2018), therefore neglecting her advising practices with Tatyana.

Consistent with tenet (f) of RCT, development is a mutual exchange through which all involved contribute, grow, and benefit (Jordan, 2018; Rogers & Stanciu, 2015), one possible point of entry would be for Dr. Smith to receive Tatyana’s feedback with openness and avoidance of defensiveness while also acknowledging her limitations within the advising relationship. In addition, Dr. Smith would be recognizing the impact of this breach on her own and Tatyana’s development as advisor and advisee in this process. By responding with receptiveness, Dr. Smith will communicate to Tatyana that she is respected and valued in the relationship. Further, with acknowledgement of her limitations, particularly her lack of awareness of Tatyana’s experience, Dr. Smith will be assuming a place of vulnerability. As an advisor, in a position with inherent power over her advisee, recognition of her lack of knowledge and awareness may bring about discomfort. This discomfort when coupled with her identity as a White woman, in which she has been afforded unearned advantages over her advisee, may intensify the feelings of vulnerability Dr. Smith may experience.

On the other hand, Tatyana risked vulnerability by naming the lack of responsiveness from Dr. Smith, challenging the inherent power differential in the relationship and leaving her in a place of uncertainty. Despite the discomfort being experienced by both Tatyana and Dr. Smith, there is a demonstration of tenet (b), mature functioning is reflected in movement toward mutuality rather than separation (Jordan, 2018). In accordance with her RCT theoretical grounding, Dr. Smith must be careful to attend to the shared vulnerability in the space, meaning sharing her experience authentically without asking for Tatyana to “take care of her.” She can accomplish this by making her intention clear to Tatyana and expressing that her actions were not okay, accepting responsibility while conveying the inevitable nature of disconnections within the advisory relationship. Through these interventions, which are consistent with the aforementioned tenets of RCT and the latter with tenet (e), authenticity is required for real engagement in growth-fostering relationships (Jordan, 2018; Walker, 2004), Dr. Smith and Tatyana would be able to bring themselves fully and authentically into connection, which is crucial for moving the advisory relationship forward and is an indication of engagement in a growth-fostering relationship.

Another point of entry demonstrating tenet (c) of RCT, which states that growth is characterized by relationship differentiation and elaboration (Comstock et al., 2008; Jordan, 2018), would be to leverage the previous conversation that Dr. Smith had initiated with Tatyana around the inherent power dynamics that exist in the advising relationship. In this illustration, Dr. Smith would be anchoring on the elaboration of their identities and their impact on their advisory relationship. Further, Dr. Smith would acknowledge the risks taken by Tatyana in confronting Dr. Smith and how these risks are being experienced, therefore demonstrating exploration beyond the immediate context. Through this acknowledgement Dr. Smith would be validating Tatyana’s experiences of the varying levels of power Dr. Smith holds as a White woman and advisor. The acknowledgement should integrate the social context and the impact of larger systems on Tatyana as a young Afro-Latinx woman in the United States. In this conversation Dr. Smith could reflect to Tatyana how Dr. Smith’s lack of responsiveness may be emulating Tatyana’s experiences of larger societal systems that disregard her needs, as is the experience of many Black people in the United States (Walker, 2004). In acknowledging the personal and professional risks for Tatyana of reflecting her experiences of being put on the “back burner,” Dr. Smith would be collaborating with her in rebuilding a sense of safety in the ruptured connection. This experience may then lead to Dr. Smith working to empower Tatyana to name the destructive practices and recognize the oppressive impact of controlling images that may be playing a role in their interaction, which demonstrates an alignment with tenet (h), which states that mutual empathy and mutual empowerment are at the core of human development (Jordan, 2018). At this point, Dr. Smith may struggle with feelings of discomfort around her White privilege and use of power-over dynamics rather than power-with dynamics by temporarily prioritizing her own needs related to the promotion and tenure process over her advising relationship with Tatyana. Recognizing the lack of program support and unrecognized work that is required of the advising role, Dr. Smith may also struggle with the realization of her own discomfort as a female faculty member seeking tenure and how this may have contributed to the lack of attention to her advising duties and eventually the rupture with Tatyana.

Similarly, Dr. Smith may choose to begin by fostering empowerment and expressing mutual empathy for both herself and Tatyana. This choice demonstrates consistency with tenet (d), growth-fostering relationships are based on mutual empathy and empowerment (Jordan, 2018; Rogers & Stanciu, 2015), through which Dr. Smith could apologize to her advisee for putting her on the “back burner” while remaining open to the possibility that the apology may not be accepted and that this would be the first step in moving the advisory relationship forward. Dr. Smith could provide Tatyana with an explanation for her lack of responsiveness and then redress her delay by honoring the commitment to submit the recommendations immediately. Dr. Smith could take responsibility for missing the collaboratively developed manuscript submission deadline and then provide Tatyana with a clear date by which she will submit Tatyana’s recommendation letters before the institutional deadlines. This may provide reassurance to Tatyana while also encouraging an exploration of her own reactions to Dr. Smith and how they may be influenced by past experiences. Consistent with the assumptions of RCT, Dr. Smith should engage Tatyana in a discussion of the unique ways in which each of them conceptualized and enacted their relational images within their advising relationship and invite collaborative processing of how these learnings can inform not only their ongoing work together but also their respective future professional relationships with others. Through engagement in this type of self-exploration to understand their own relational images and sources of disconnection, Dr. Smith and Tatyana can then alter their conceptualization of themselves and one another, allowing for an even more transparent discussion of shared responsibility.

As part of this discussion, Dr. Smith should express genuine understanding that given all of what has occurred, Tatyana may still no longer wish to submit the nomination packet. She could further express commitment to Tatyana’s continued success and offer to collaborate with her in developing a plan of action for their ongoing advising relationship. In taking this course of action, Dr. Smith would further display consistency with tenet (a), people grow through and toward relationship (Comstock et al., 2008; Jordan, 2018), by building on the relational resilience already demonstrated by Tatyana’s broaching of the problematic dynamics impinging on the advisory relationship. By intentionally focusing on relational resilience Dr. Smith would be reworking the empathic failure that occurred within the advisory relationship. This would communicate to Tatyana that not only is the advisory relationship important, but that she is important and therefore the relational courage she demonstrated is valued by Dr. Smith, as both she and Tatyana have been changed by their interactions.

Dr. Smith may also choose to enact her theoretical grounding in RCT by validating Tatyana’s experience of disconnection verbally and non-verbally. It is important that Dr. Smith communicate her appreciation for Tatyana’s expression of her experiences in the advisory relationship as well as Tatyana’s advisory needs. This approach demonstrates an alignment with tenet (g), the goal is to develop increased relational competence over one’s life span (Jordan, 2018), as Dr. Smith works to create an open space for Tatyana to continue to express herself by making her respect for Tatyana and her experiences clear, and further develop Tatyana’s relational competence. Once Tatyana can share her experience Dr. Smith may choose to clarify Tatyana’s interpretation of the rupture as a lack of responsiveness. In doing so, Dr. Smith would gain a greater understanding of Tatyana’s strategies of disconnection. By actively assessing for Tatyana’s strategies of disconnection (Jordan, 2017, 2018; Robb, 2007) that could be present, Dr. Smith may be able to assume appropriate responsibility for her contribution to the advising rupture. Dr. Smith may then be able to elicit Tatyana’s collaboration in negotiating ways to move forward from a difficult place in the relationship, exemplifying tenet (f), development is a mutual exchange through which all involved contribute, grow, and benefit (Jordan, 2018; Rogers & Stanciu, 2015), by highlighting mutual investment in the process and relationship. She may ask the following questions to achieve this goal: Can we do something about this difficulty in our relationship? What do I or we need to do to shift toward a trusting and collaborative relationship? By asking questions like these, both Dr. Smith and Tatyana are developing a template for negotiating difficulties in the advisory relationship. Further, Dr. Smith may use this interaction to empower Tatyana in using the advisory relationship as an indicator of personal and professional growth by highlighting the risks taken and the relational courage Tatyana displayed through expression of her disappointment and frustration to Dr. Smith.

Discussion

As highlighted above, there are multiple possible points of entry for Dr. Smith to embody an RCT-informed theoretical grounding. Regardless of the selected point of entry (Luke & Bernard, 2006), it is imperative that Dr. Smith be authentic with her discomfort while being guided by anticipatory empathy as understood in RCT (Jordan, 2018; Rogers & Stanciu, 2015). To do so, Dr. Smith must acknowledge her limitations in awareness, and further express openness to learning about the parts she does not know. Consistent with the RCT tenets and recommendations for effective advising relationships (Ng et al., 2019), there is a call for intentionality from both the advisee and advisor. By intentionally attending to the rupture in the advising relationship, Dr. Smith has the opportunity of strengthening the advising relationship and modeling the negotiation of boundaries, roles, and expectations that in turn has the potential to foster relational resilience in both herself and Tatyana.

Application of RCT-informed advising with Dr. Smith and Tatyana illuminates the salience of mutuality within the working alliance in the advisory relationship as part of effective advising practice. Other scholars have stressed this saliency as well. First, empirically explored by Schlosser and Gelso (2001), the advisory working alliance was defined as “the portion of the relationship that reflects the connection between advisor and advisee that is made during work toward a common goal” (p. 158). When framed in this way, it is evident that the advisory relationship is delineated through a relational perspective that includes the basic tenets of RCT, primarily mutuality, authenticity, and engagement in a growth-fostering relationship (Jordan, 2018). Further, the outcome of advising, whether positive or negative, is dependent on the characteristics of both the advisor and advisee (Knox et al., 2006). This consideration is highlighted in the case presented through Dr. Smith’s careful consideration of the salient characteristics of both Tatyana and herself as she determines an appropriate course of action.

Another important consideration is the advisee’s level of development, which may vary widely. As Kimball and Campbell (2013) suggested, one’s advising approach emerges through a process guided by one’s interpretations of how best to support the developmental needs of students. Therefore, it is important to adopt a guiding theory to advising that attends to the uniqueness of each supervisee and their experiences (Kuo et al., 2017; McDonald, 2019) and reflects a responsiveness to their developmental needs (Barbuto et al., 2011). Similar to the role of the supervisor’s development within developmental theories of supervision (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019), the advising process is further influenced by the advisor’s own level of development, including their values and beliefs, assumptions, ascribed theories, and advising approaches and strategies. Within counselor education, it is common for one’s counseling theory to serve as a guiding framework across other roles and contexts, including academic advising (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019). This practice is seen across disciplines, where advising scholars often borrow theoretical insights from other disciplines to inform their current knowledge base (McDonald, 2019; Musser & Yoder, 2013). This exchange has enriched our understanding of advising and further illuminated the opportunity to use RCT-informed advising within counselor education.

In the case of Dr. Smith, it is evident her grounding in RCT provided multiple points of intervention through which to address the rupture with Tatyana. These points of entry are conducive to the desired outcomes of advising and attentive to the needs of the advising process in general. Although the case illustration above focused on the rupture in the relationship, it is important to highlight the appropriateness of RCT in advising in general. Advisors can also use an RCT-informed perspective to meet a broader range of the developmental advising needs of their advisees in a way that is conducive to both personal and professional growth (Purgason et al., 2016). Doing so is consistent with advising literature that emphasizes the importance of theory-consistent and growth-promoting courses of action within the advising space (Kimball & Campbell, 2013; Musser & Yoder, 2013).

Implications

Despite the lack of formal training in advising (Barbuto et al., 2011), as well as the lack of institutional support for advising practices (Furr, 2018; Ng et al., 2019), advising continues to be an essential component of the duties of counselor educators. This manuscript illustrates an application of RCT-informed advising with the aim of promoting a theory-based approach to enhance the quality of the advisory process for both advisors and advisees. There are multiple implications for training, practice, and research.

We encourage incorporation of RCT-informed advising into the curriculum of doctoral students in counselor education. A natural fit for such integration would be intentional inclusion of advising training as part of professional issues and/or pedagogy instruction. This topic warrants increased attention within counselor education doctoral training. Supervision of RCT-informed advising could also familiarize new professionals with the additional requirements of their roles. Extending advising training into the doctoral internship experience or as a potential supervised or apprenticeship activity could provide ongoing mutual, authentic, growth-promoting engagements wherein the tenets of RCT are enacted and experienced in training, hopefully paralleling what the student replicates with their future advisees.

There are important implications for the practice of RCT-informed advising as well. First, as the theory-based advising and mentoring literature expands, there is a viable frame for the dissemination of RCT-informed advising into a wide range of disciplines across higher education. RCT-informed advising offers a practical option for incorporation and adaptation into relationally focused disciplines like counselor education. In addition to its natural fit to relationally oriented disciplines, we contend that RCT-informed advising may in fact hold a particular promise in disciplines that have not traditionally attended to the inter- and intrapersonal processes associated with educational and professional development. Advising has moved beyond the academic domain of selecting appropriate classes for advancement in each field. Instead, it has shifted toward a multilayered and complex interaction between the developmental, academic, social, and institutional domains (Musser & Yoder, 2013). Therefore, a theoretical grounding in RCT would provide advisors with a framework that is easily translated into the shifting advising practice.

Although there is support for the application of RCT to varying domains within counselor education, specifically supervision and mentorship, there remains little research around RCT-informed advising. To advance the empirical grounding, researchers could begin to examine the outcomes of RCT-informed advising in counselor education, as well as across other disciplines. We encourage researchers to build on existing scholarship addressing the impact of the advising working alliance, particularly the impact of an RCT-informed advising working alliance. In addition, future research can investigate the differences across RCT-informed advising and other models of advising. To do so, both qualitative and quantitative inquiry are needed, and both can increase the visibility of RCT-informed advising as a viable option to be utilized across higher education.

Conclusion

RCT provides a powerful tool for the enhancement of advising across disciplines in higher education, particularly within counselor education and supervision. Counselor educators who can engage with their advisees through this lens may find that they are attending to the complex interactions between the multiple domains involved in advising, fostering greater personal and professional growth within themselves and their advisees. RCT advising offers a viable opportunity for new advising techniques to be implemented to promote creative ways of meeting the ever-increasing demands of higher education. Considering the increased attention of RCT in the counselor education literature in the last decade (Hammer et al., 2014; Lenz, 2016; Purgason et al., 2016; Rogers & Stanciu, 2015), RCT-informed advising can promote not only individual development, but also that of the larger profession through a shared language for collaboration in developing strategies, skills, and resources.

 

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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Kirsis A. Dipre, MA, NCC, is a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University. Melissa Luke, PhD, NCC, ACS, LMHC, is Associate Dean for Research and Dean’s Professor at Syracuse University. Correspondence may be addressed to Kirsis A. Dipre, 130 College Place, Suite 440, Syracuse, NY 13210, kadipre@syr.edu.

Mentoring Doctoral Student Mothers in Counselor Education: A Phenomenological Study

Vanessa Kent, Helen Runyan, David Savinsky, Jasmine Knight

When the pursuit of doctoral studies and motherhood intersect, the risk of attrition increases. Although other studies have explored the challenges of student mothers in academia, this study looked at how mentorship might mediate them. This phenomenological study examined the mentoring experiences of doctoral student mothers or recent graduates in counselor education and supervision programs (N = 12). Unanimously, participants articulated that their professional identity was enhanced by their identity as mothers, but balancing multiple roles required supportive mentors. Participants described the personal qualities of effective faculty and peer mentors, many also mothers who understood their needs. Mentoring served as a protective factor in helping navigate barriers, providing academic and emotional encouragement, reducing isolation, and creating realistic timelines. Suggestions for mentoring programs and advocacy are discussed. 

Keywords: mentoring, doctoral student mothers, counselor education, phenomenology, advocacy

 

     Over the past decade, surveys have indicated incoming doctoral students are less traditional than previous generations (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics [NCSES], 2017; Offerman, 2011). These students (e.g., women, minorities, and international students) may experience cultural maladjustment while attending traditionally structured academic institutions (Holley & Caldwell, 2012; Ku et al., 2008; NCSES, 2017). This may lead to dissatisfaction, isolation, and subsequent attrition (Holley & Caldwell, 2012; Ku et al., 2008; NCSES, 2017; Offerman, 2011; Stimpson & Filer, 2011).

Focusing on women, the number earning doctoral degrees has steadily increased over the past 20 years (NCSES, 2017). Percentages reached a record high in 2008–2009 as women earned slightly over 50% of all doctoral degrees, except in male-dominated fields, including engineering, mathematics, and physical science (Miller & Wai, 2015; NCSES, 2015). Furthermore, with a ratio of six females to one male completing bachelor’s and master’s degree programs yearly, the majority of those entering the doctoral pipeline are expected to be female (Miller & Wai, 2015). These incoming female doctoral students are likely to be in their prime childbearing years, in dual-income households if married, and caring for dependents (Lester, 2013; Offerman, 2011; Stimpson & Filer, 2011). Finding ways to assist these doctoral student mothers in completing a doctorate requires further investigation.

Although earning a degree in higher education can bring personal satisfaction, higher professional status, and economic gains, the process can also result in unforeseen stress and challenges to work–life balance, leading to dissatisfaction and attrition (Brus, 2006; Lynch, 2008; Martinez et al., 2013; Offerman, 2011; Stimpson & Filer, 2011). Despite the rigorous selection process, attrition rates for doctoral students hover between 40%–60% (Council of Graduate Schools, 2010). Beyond academics, extenuating factors that contribute to the attrition of doctoral students include stress; financial hardship; commitment conflicts; unexpected life interruptions; mental and physical health issues; and changes in the family structure, including having children (Brus, 2006; Lynch, 2008; Martinez et al., 2013). When the doctoral student is a new mother or the primary caregiver, these factors become exacerbated (Brus, 2006; Holm et al., 2015; Lester, 2013; Lynch, 2008; Stimpson & Filer, 2011). Because of the structural design of higher education and cultural pressures of motherhood that seem at odds with each other, graduate student mothers are at higher risk of attrition than almost any other American academic group (Lester, 2013; Lynch, 2008).

Challenges Facing Doctoral Student Mothers
     The challenges of student mothers navigating the competing roles of academic scholar and primary caretaker are well documented (Holm et al., 2015; Lester, 2013; Lynch, 2008; Pierce & Herlihy, 2013; Trepal et al., 2014). Mothers pursuing doctoral degrees may find balancing academics and employment a daily challenge, compounded by the second shift of childcare and housework (Lynch, 2008; Pierce & Herlihy, 2013; Stimpson & Filer, 2011). Despite movement toward an egalitarian view of child-rearing among contemporary couples, the burden of overseeing the household duties and childcare remain largely the mother’s responsibility (Lester, 2013; Medina & Magnuson, 2009; Misra et al., 2012). Student mothers juggling multiple roles report dissatisfaction in their work–life balance because of time and scheduling demands, as well as hindrances in the workplace and higher education (Brus, 2006; Holm et al., 2015; Lynch, 2008; Trepal et al., 2014). Research on support for this vulnerable population points to faculty and peer support as possible mitigating factors to attrition and dissatisfaction (Bruce, 1995; Holm et al., 2015; Trepal et al., 2014).

Mentoring Relationships That Mitigate Attrition
     Research spanning almost two decades correlated strong advisor and mentor relationships with successful student outcomes (Bruce, 1995; Clark et al., 2000; Holley & Caldwell, 2012; Patton & Harper, 2003). Mentoring has been especially important for underrepresented populations such as international students; students of color; first-generation college graduates; women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines; and female students/faculty who were also mothers (Brown et al., 1999; Holm et al., 2015; Kendricks et al., 2013; Ku et al., 2008). A mentor is a person who provides professional and personal support to assist the less skilled mentee in becoming a full member of a particular profession (Brown et al., 1999; Clark et al., 2000). This study focuses on academic mentors, both formal and informal. Formal mentoring involves a faculty member, formally assigned to or requested by the student, whose roles may include but also extend well beyond that of an advisor, dissertation committee member, supervisor, or instructor (Hayes & Koro-Ljungberg, 2011; Patton & Harper, 2003). Informal mentoring can be categorized by who provides the mentoring: faculty or a peer. Informal faculty mentoring occurs as a faculty member organically connects with a student on common interests to provide support, often around motherhood, suggesting the importance of access to a faculty member who is also a mother (Hermann et al., 2014; Holm et al., 2015; Trepal et al., 2014). Peer mentoring provides that connection through an informal relationship between a more senior doctoral student and a junior doctoral student (Noonan et al., 2007). Peer mentoring may occur as part of a structured program, but it more often occurs organically as upperclassmen fill this need through joint interests, scholarly activities, or motherhood (Lynch, 2008; Noonan et al., 2007).

Shifting from a traditional hierarchical model, relational mentoring encompasses not only the advising relationship to promote career and professional development but also the genuine empathic relationship that emerges from a reciprocal, collaborative approach (Gammel & Rutstein-Riley, 2016; Kelch-Oliver et al., 2013). Results are greater accessibility to the mentor, opportunities to share knowledge in research and publishing, extended support to students, knowing students on a more personal level, fostering friendships, and building community (Brown et al., 1999; Bruce, 1995; Hadjioannou et al., 2007; Hayes & Koro-Ljungberg, 2011). Benefits of relational mentoring include mutual growth opportunities for both the mentor and mentee, greater academic achievement, personal satisfaction, and increased social and emotional support (Gammel & Rutstein-Riley, 2016; Kelch-Oliver et al., 2013).

Connections with other student mothers is an important support mechanism, reducing isolation with increased social support (Hermann et al., 2014; Lynch, 2008; Patton & Harper, 2003; Trepal et al., 2014). Chief factors influencing female doctoral students’ satisfaction in their programs were female faculty and peers serving in supportive/mentoring roles, sharing resources (such as childcare), addressing stress, and encouraging healthy choices around family life (Bruce, 1995; Brus, 2006; Holm et al., 2015; Trepal et al., 2014). Studies specific to African American women in psychology found that same race/gender mentorship was imperative in recruitment, retention, and training of this population (Kelch-Oliver et al., 2013; Patton, 2009).

Female mentorship may be an untapped resource in counselor education and supervision (CES), as there is little research exploring the mentoring of doctoral student mothers (Bruce, 1995; Holm et al., 2015; Trepal et al., 2014). Without clear guidelines on how mentoring might support doctoral student mothers, current mentoring programs and training practices may be inadequate. In this study, we sought to investigate the mentoring experiences of students who were navigating the dual roles of mother and student in CES programs. Although past studies have explored mentoring programs of doctoral students (Clark et al., 2000; Holley & Caldwell, 2012; Ku et al., 2008) and the experiences of student mothers in doctoral programs (Holm et al., 2015; Trepal et al. 2014), we sought to determine how mentoring benefits doctoral student mothers.

Method

Qualitative research is a suitable choice for investigating questions pertinent to counselor education, as it lends itself to rich data collection through interactions between the researcher and participants (Hays & Singh, 2012). A subset of qualitative research, phenomenological research is aimed at increasing understanding of the complexity of people’s lives by examining the individual and collective experience of a particular phenomenon (Creswell, 2013). We chose a phenomenological approach to understand how student mothers experienced mentoring while in a CES program. This seemed to be the best lens through which to explore our research question: What is the lived experience of doctoral student mothers formally or informally mentored by faculty and/or peers? With a greater understanding of this phenomenon, counselor educators may apply this knowledge in recognizing and meeting the needs of student mothers to reduce attrition.

Research Team
     Our research team consisted of a doctoral student mother (first author and now a faculty member) and three faculty members in a CACREP-accredited CES program at a small, private university. During their doctoral studies, two of the three women were mothers of young children and the male faculty member became a first-time father. Currently, the faculty researchers are advancing through their tenure track while parenting elementary-age children.

Before the study, we met as a team to discuss our experiences of mentorship as students and junior faculty as well as how we experienced the climate of our institution toward families. The first author shared that her research interest grew out of her own experience as well as the struggles of doctoral student mothers in her cohort, necessitating support from peers and faculty members. Eager to learn how doctoral student mothers experienced faculty and peer mentoring across institutions, we watched this study begin to take shape. Acknowledging our biases and bracketing our assumptions, we set them aside to allow a fresh perspective of the participants’ experiences to emerge. LeVasseur (2003) described this process of bracketing as suspending understanding of the topic to shift toward a position of curiosity.

Procedure and Participants
     After receiving approval from the university’s Human Subject Review Committee, we recruited participants using a professional counseling electronic mailing (CESNET-L) and by emailing CES department heads at four universities in the Eastern United States. The email provided criteria for the study with a link to the demographic questionnaire and informed consent form. Criteria included: (a) completed at least one year of doctoral studies in a CACREP-accredited CES program or had graduated within 2 years; (b) formally or informally mentored by faculty, peers, or both; and (c) mother of at least one child below the age of 18 residing with them during their counselor education doctoral training. Not wanting to limit participants because of location, we chose to interview participants using a telehealth video platform. This resulted in a wide geographical sample as shown in Table 1. University types included three Research 1, one historically Black college and university (HBCU), one hybrid, and seven liberal arts institutions. Twelve participants were selected to be interviewed based on meeting criteria and in keeping with sample size guidelines for phenomenological studies (Creswell, 2013). Participants ranged in age from 29–37 (M = 34, SD = 2.4). Participants identified racially as European American (n = 9) and African American (n = 3). Ten became pregnant during their doctoral studies: six were first-time mothers, and two miscarried twice. Children’s ages ranged from 10 months to 12 years, with most under the age of 3. In addition to being students, all participants were employed during their studies as school counselors, in private practice, or in agency clinical work. Six of the seven interviewees  were employed as an adjunct professor, school counselor, researcher/consultant, program director of a counseling department, private practice counselor, and university counseling center director; the seventh was a new doctoral graduate.

 

Table 1

Participant Demographic Information

Geographic

Location

Status in CES

Program

Pregnant While in Program Ages of Participants’ Children Type of Mentor
by Gender
Midwest 2 2nd year 2 1st year 2 3 years or under 6 Faculty Female: 16

Male: 4

Northeast 2 3rd year 3 2nd year 3 4–6 years old 6 Peer Female: 13
Northwest 2 Graduated
< 6 months
5 3rd year 4 7–12 years old 4 Supervisor Female: 7
Southeast 4
Southwest 2 Graduated
2 years
2 4th year 2 13 years old + 1 Other Female: 1

Data Sources
     Each participant completed a demographic questionnaire and signed an informed consent form for voluntary participation. The questionnaire inquired about age; sex; race/ethnicity; relationship status; length of time in the CES program; year graduated; if they were pregnant or adopted children and the number of children/their ages while in the program; and if they were mentored by faculty, peer, or both.

The first author conducted the 12 interviews through V-SEE, a Stanford-created, telehealth videoconferencing application that supports online collaboration. It allowed the participants and research interviewer to interact synchronously via audio and video. Interview length ranged from 60–75 minutes as participants described their mentoring experiences. The interview settings were descriptively “in the field,” as they were interviewed in their offices, cars, and homes. Three had their babies/toddlers with them during the home interviews. Participants described their university type, cohort structure, and employment status. The first author asked each participant open-ended questions using a semi-structured interview format developed from our review of the literature on mentoring, motherhood, and issues concerning doctoral student mothers. The questions included: (a) “What factors, if any, influenced your decision to be mentored?” (b) “Can you describe your mentoring experience in detail?” (c) “Can you speak to your work–study–life balance while being mentored?” (d) “Can you speak of your academic progress and/or professional development while being mentored?” (e) “Describe the characteristics or traits of a mentor that are important for doctoral student mothers,” and (f) “What, if anything, could a counselor education department do to promote successful mentoring experiences for doctoral student mothers?” With qualitative inquiry, the goal is to include enough participants to adequately understand the phenomenon in question (Hays & Singh, 2012). Wanting to capture a fresh perspective from these doctoral students who were mentored, many while becoming mothers for the first time, all 12 interviews were retained, yielding in-depth descriptions of their experiences. Pseudonyms were assigned to participants prior to data analysis to protect their identities.

Data Analysis
     Phenomenological data analysis is concerned with examining participants’ experiences to understand the depth and meaning of those lived experiences (Hays & Singh, 2012; Moustakas, 1994). Delving into large amounts of transcription data, the goal is to develop a composite description or essence of the experience that represents the group as a whole (Moustakas, 1994). The first author began the inductive method of analysis by engaging in horizontalization, the process of identifying non-repetitive, non-overlapping statements from the first three interview transcripts (Hays & Singh, 2012; Moustakas, 1994). Next, the first author clustered these statements in units of meaning or themes and then wrote textual descriptions of “what” the participants experienced, including verbatim examples from the transcripts (Creswell, 2013; Moustakas, 1994). The first and second investigators met weekly to discuss and rework these themes. From there, they wrote a structural description, “how” the experience happened in the context of the setting or circumstances and who was involved (Creswell, 2013; Moustakas, 1994). The first author used these themes to analyze the rest of the transcripts with care given to reanalyzing previous interviews as new themes or subthemes emerged. The team met to finalize the central themes and subthemes that emerged collectively from the participants’ reflections, contextualizing them into a holistic understanding of the essence of the mentoring experience (Hays & Singh, 2012).

Validation strategies included recognizing and controlling for research bias through bracketing, capturing participants’ viewpoints through substantial engagement, and triangulation through cross-checking codes and themes and by using thick participant descriptions (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Using basic member checking, participants reviewed their transcripts for accuracy, with two making clarifying comments (Creswell, 2013; Hays & Singh, 2012). The first and second authors met weekly to process reflection notes to bracket any biases and discuss themes to allow triangulation of data (Creswell, 2013; Hays & Singh, 2012). The two other members of the team reviewed the themes/subthemes matched with descriptive statements for cross-checking purposes (Hays & Singh, 2012; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). To address confirmability and transferability, they kept an audit trail beginning with interview notes, transcripts, reflective journals, and coding pages with descriptive statements. Finally, the authors provided thick descriptions, allowing the reader to enter into the study to a greater degree to reach their own conclusions and stir further discourse around these critical issues in counselor education (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011).

Results

Three overarching themes centered on identity: the qualities and shifting identities of doctoral student mothers, the qualities and roles of faculty/professional and peer mentors, and the barriers and hardships that led to losses and unmet goals despite mentorship experiences. Participants shared how mentoring evolved around their identities as mothers, students, and professionals; what they experienced as support or discrimination by faculty and peers; how their mentors served as a protective factor despite hardships and barriers; and what was needed in terms of advocacy to successfully develop counselor educator identities.

Theme I: Identities and Qualities of Doctoral Student Mothers
     Perseverance and resilience characterized the lived experiences of these doctoral student mothers facing unexpected challenges that threatened to slow progress or impede career goals. Sara, who found out she was pregnant shortly after being accepted into her doctoral program, shared, “I ended up having a really horrible labor and a C-section. My baby spent the first week in ICU. We were only home a short time after having major surgery, but I still went back to school 3 weeks later.” Natalie also shared her version of perseverance: “I took my comps when I was 38 weeks pregnant [laughter]. I had to keep standing up and going to the bathroom. ‘Then I said, I can have this baby now!’”

Making the shift from student to mother or mother to professional requires integrating multiple identities and corresponding roles. “I always had it drilled into my head by my mother that I would be called ‘doctor’ before I was called ‘mom.’ So many of us are both education-oriented and family-oriented, being in counseling,” remarked Allison. Similarly, Lisa voiced how she embraced her changing identity: “You grow in confidence as a person and through motherhood. Learning what worked and what didn’t work. Just having a better sense of myself, my strengths, knowing my worth, knowing my value, and just feeling secure in it.”

With the multiple identities came the challenge of meeting academic rigor and motherhood responsibilities, often with conflicting timelines. Although all the participants described themselves as serious students, they made it clear that their children were their number one priority. They willingly sacrificed time and personal needs in hopes of careers that offered greater flexibility and financial stability. “Yes, you’re exhausted because you are running a marathon every single day. At the end of the day, you don’t have that little space for yourself,” said Lisa. Mothers often felt the pull between having to choose work or studies and time with their families. Bethany, a school counselor, explained, “I struggle with mommy guilt even with my job, as my child is one of the first ones in the building and last ones to leave every day.” Bethany also recounted, “One of the biggest mom guilts is a picture of my child around the age of 5. I am sitting in a chair surrounded by books and papers as he fell asleep on the couch waiting for me to do something with him. That was really tough.” Amy described her typical schedule:

I get up at 6:00, play with the kids, get them off, and get to work . . . until 10:00 pm, kids come in my bed and snuggle. Then I finish grades and go to bed at 3:00 am. 100% of the weekends are dedicated to the children. Want them to say . . . ‘Mom was present.’ That’s hard when the career path and academics are so consuming.

Lisa felt inadequate in both roles at times: “I’m working so hard. . . . and I am not a good enough mom and I’m not a good enough student. . . . not doing a great job at anything.”

Several participants reported that their mentors helped them establish healthy boundaries and taught them how to prioritize commitments. Tonya shared, “Today is going to be about work . . . or today is going to be about school. I appreciated having faculty members who had young families, knowing that someone understood that.” When the demands of work became unhealthy, Bethany revealed it was her mentor who said, “You’ve got to reshuffle. You are drowning, and you are miserable. You have to let some of this school stuff go.” On prioritizing, Natalie shared, “When I went into this program, I said that I am not going to miss anything in my personal life, even if it takes 4 or 5 years.”

Doctoral student mothers commonly identified as non-traditional students. Not only was this gender-influenced, it was also the result of added caregiving responsibilities that prevented them from engaging in opportunities afforded to traditional students. They often felt isolated from their peers or labeled as less committed, which resulted in differential treatment and exclusions. Lisa explained:

I always felt like some kind of outlier . . . like all the other cohorts are like these tight little units. I’m always slipping in and then dropping back out. Would see them on Facebook all hanging out and going out for drinks . . . or they would be publishing or going to conferences. I was working and taking care of children.

On being non-traditional, Morgan, a mother of two, working 25–27 hours per week, shared, “No one in my cohort had children and none had outside jobs.” Several participants noted how their male counterparts were able to go full-time without having to deal with family-related interruptions, be questioned for having babies, experience guilt when traveling, or juggle as many commitments. Kayla, reflecting on experiencing negative remarks about her clingy child when she had to travel for work, noted, “They had wives that stayed at home, so their experience has been completely different.” On comparing her needs to those of traditional students, Lisa shared, “Mentoring for students who don’t have kids, it’s . . . talking about publishing together or presenting together. For me, it really is how are you helping me navigate this program.”

Theme II: Identities and Qualities of Effective Mentors
     For all participants, mentoring was more than academic advising. Often, it was the mentor’s combined qualities of temperament, leadership, scholarship, and friendship that helped these doctoral student mothers navigate their programs effectively. Participants described the criteria for selecting their mentors: specific personality traits, women who were also mothers, who shared research interests, and those who modeled career–life balance. The three African American women also considered race an essential factor in mentor selection. Tonya, the sole woman of color in her cohort, connected with other African American faculty outside her department and graduates who were mothers, while Dana experienced mentoring by most of the faculty at her HBCU. Allison based her mentorship selection on personality: “I needed someone who doesn’t have my exact personality but who can keep my ideas focused and keep me on track—tough, but supportive.”

Some chose female mentors because they believed they would provide greater support and speak to the female experience in academia. Lisa’s mentor selection was through gender matching: “I chose the only woman in my program that has children . . . so I feel like she gets me, and she gets the experience of motherhood and has a great perspective on things.” Amy shared that her mentor “could speak to my strengths and could commiserate the experience of being a woman in academia.”

Participants described effective mentors as encouraging, supportive, and flexible, displaying qualities of warmth, empathy, and trustworthiness. Most depicted their mentors as master cheerleaders and challengers. Morgan explained that two mentors filled different roles: “I have the mentor’s office that I go cry into . . . and the office that I go in and come out sharper for. I think you need both of them.” Sharon chose four mentors: “One was especially about writing and research . . . one that was just about my self-care and well-being, and one primarily about the academics. . . . [and] one that kind of combined it all, but who I could talk to about the mommy guilt.”

Mentors provided a balance between the demand for excellence and practicality and compassion. Creative flexibility and realistic expectations without judgment rounded out the mentors’ qualities. Mentors were available beyond the usual office hours and willing to meet at convenient locations such as a coffee shop or home. Morgan commented on the open-door policy of her mentor: “Availability is important. You can walk in and talk . . . whether it is just casual conversation or coming in with a need.” Participants described how their mentors went above and beyond to provide creative accommodations. Lisa shared the flexibility of her mentor: “We co-taught and she would work around whatever my schedule was. We would have meetings after the kids went to bed. She really understood my situation and was just so affirming.”

Mentoring had a personal side that provided not only a safe interchange of ideas but allowed for vulnerability and transparency. As doctoral student mothers verbalized their hardships, their trusted mentors were not only an emotional outlet but a therapeutic balm providing empathy and care. Their mentors often shared similar lived experiences that created a deeper connection, emotional bonding, and lasting friendship. Sharon found comfort when she faced a personal challenge: “My youngest child was diagnosed with autism very early. When I went to my mentor, she shared that her child was diagnosed with autism as well. We were able to connect and really process our lives as working moms.” During hardships and personal challenges, mentors provided comfort and encouragement. Tonya shared how her mentor was there for her after her miscarriage: “I told [my mentor] that I had this little person inside of me and now I don’t. She started crying and asked me, ‘What do you need right now?’” Tonya’s mentor encouraged her to put off writing her comps for a semester to process the loss.

Effective mentors provided professional modeling and career guidance, being personally supportive while navigating the logistics of becoming a counselor educator. Mentors endorsed them for leadership positions, taught them how to negotiate salaries, and helped create a pathway for career satisfaction. On developing their professional identity, graduates were indebted to the mentors. Bethany explained how mentorship groomed her for research: “When I was accepted to the program, [my mentor] took me under her wing and said, ‘Let’s find a research project to do together.’ So we wrote a grant for it and she mentored me through that whole process.” Natalie explained how her mentor helped develop her professional identity: “She pushed me to see myself better. . . . something that women have a hard time doing is advocating for themselves in the workplace. She not only modeled that, but she taught me how to do it.”

Participants valued the family orientation of their mentors and voiced the need for their mentors to be family advocates. Without these advocates, many felt unequipped to compete with negative voices and dismissive attitudes. Allison shared her experience of feeling supported in her decision to get pregnant:

My advisor/mentor and I were having one of those heart-to-heart conversations. I actually started crying and said, “All my husband and I talk about is babies . . . every weekend. I’m ready; but education-wise, it just doesn’t seem like a possibility.” My advisor looked me straight in the eye and said, “If you want a baby, have a baby.” I shouldn’t have needed permission, but I wanted to know that I was going to be supported.

Mentors helped doctoral student mothers create timelines that respected their family needs as well as their academic and professional goals. Morgan’s mentor said, “We’ll navigate your schedule in an appropriate way that works for the program and for your family.” She then built her plan based upon her schedule and personal journey.

Effective mentoring paralleled hallmarks of counselor education in promoting wellness, advocacy, and empowerment. Seven of the 12 described how their mentors practiced good self-care and modeled positive well-being. Allison discussed how her mentor helped to put work–life balance in perspective: “She was a role model of balance. She would say, ‘You’re working too hard. You need to spend some time with your family.’ I have been able to come out of the program . . . [with] great work–life balance.” Mentors’ practice of self-care made it easier to emulate wellness practices and achieve greater work–life balance. Allison summed it up: “My mentor has this beautiful, wonderfully doting family. . . . Successful children, a supportive husband, and a career—that’s the type of woman I want to be.”

Participants described how mentoring served as a protective factor in reducing attrition. Their rich mentoring experiences helped them succeed in the program and manage the challenges of conflicting roles. Their mentors’ encouragement and support became their lifeline through transitions such as marriage, pregnancy, divorce, and illness. Mentors were especially protective of participants facing cultural or institutional barriers, advocating during their pregnancies and beyond. Allison described how she felt protected from other faculty by her mentor throughout her pregnancy: “I was tired a lot during my pregnancy. If other faculty members got upset that I wasn’t able to fulfill a requirement, she went to bat for me . . . supporting me by saying, ‘Well, in all fairness, she is pregnant.’”

Qualities of Peer Mentors
     Three-fourths of the participants were peer mentored, having sought out peers who were also mothers. Although only two of the participants were involved in a peer mentoring program, all 12 conveyed the value of having a more senior member of their program available for questions, advice, encouragement, and engagement in academic activities. Many shared how mentors offered supportive advice, as they were familiar with the journey ahead. Nicole said, “Peer mentoring is beneficial because you get to see someone who has recently been there, and having others from older cohorts can provide help and insight.” Participants gravitated toward other mothers who understood their plight and built mentorships based on the common ground of motherhood intersecting with student life. Peer mentors shared their journeys, insider information on coursework, and realistic timelines; they became fellow presenters and publishers, and provided encouragement along the way. Bethany shared that she often wrote with a peer mentor who understood when she said, “Let’s have a realistic mom timeline.” Natalie shared the reciprocal nature of peer mentoring: “She and I relied a lot on each other just for support and mentorship. She had her baby 6 months before I did and I am learning a lot about the work–life balance and stuff from her.”

Peer mentorship was relational as well as academic. Several participants shared how peer mentoring helped reduce feelings of isolation, as their availability for meet-ups and socializing differed greatly from their peers who did not have children. Tonya explained how she was able to receive encouragement over mommy guilt from a peer mentor who was also a mother. She “talked to her a lot about what worked for her, how she really tried to put her son first . . . which was helpful for me to hear, because I just felt terrible about it all the time.” Navigating the program without a faculty mentor, Kayla found much of her support through her peer mentor: “We became close and she would let me know about the things to be looking for, to be preparing for upcoming classes. She really had my best interest in mind.” On the close friendships forged through mentorship, Dana stated, “She has become my sister. . . . We talk about frustrations, helping me lay boundaries and be okay leaving my child.”

Participants provided specific ideas as to how to implement peer mentorship programs. Ideas included identifying other student mothers for networking opportunities and information, such as childcare services, understanding school policies, and general support. They also recommended working through organizations such as Chi Sigma Iota to create networks, organizing graduate student meet-ups that are family-friendly, and having older cohorts reach out to newer cohorts throughout the year.

Theme III: Identifying Barriers Facing Doctoral Student Mothers
     Stigma and discrimination, lack of accommodations, and need for advocacy emerged from the participant interviews. These barriers produced the hardships these mothers encountered, generating losses and unmet career aspirations. Ten out of 12 expressed awareness of faculty and students’ bias toward non-traditional students, especially women who had families. A majority of the participants felt that as doctoral student mothers, they did not have a strong voice in the institutions that they represented. Often, attitudes of faculty toward doctoral student mothers were dismissive and discriminating when they did not fit into the traditional mold of academia. Others determined that faculty and department heads were simply unaware of the hardships and needs of student mothers and therefore perceived them as less motivated or incapable of meeting the rigorous demands of academia. Perhaps some experienced it most deeply through the lack of research and training opportunities, such as graduate assistantships (GA). Amy discussed her frustration and discouragement at being overlooked for a GA position: “I got the strong inclination that it was because I [got] married and that I couldn’t dedicate myself as a typical GA. . . . I would have liked to have been given a chance to prove myself.”

Others also felt that their limited visibility resulted in biased and discriminatory attitudes from faculty and peers. Lisa explained feeling written off as “not the person looked [at] to do a presentation with someone or to do a publication.” While her peers were writing with faculty, she regretted that she couldn’t “be physically present . . . especially when [she] was working and trying to juggle all of these roles.”

Over half of the participants experienced negative attitudes toward their decisions to marry or start their families while in their doctoral programs. Lisa shared that “a faculty member told me point blank that I shouldn’t have a second child in the program.” Amy shared the messages she received on becoming pregnant in her last year of coursework: “Comments from students and faculty were like ‘Why can’t you just wait until after you are done as you are so close?’ or ‘What are your plans when you have a kid?’” Bethany explained how the faculty’s lack of understanding of her minimum progress on her dissertation during her season as a mom, new wife, and full-time school counselor was demoralizing: “For my [program evaluation] this year, I received a grade of no progress in all areas . . . so I have two articles published and won a regional school counselor of the year award. I walked away feeling like I don’t measure up.”

Many participants spoke of the feeling of invisibility as doctoral student mothers by the lack of accommodations such as lactation facilities, childcare options, and clear or even existent leave of absence policies. Of the participants interviewed, only two spoke of having access to childcare on campus. Most had to rely on partners, parents, babysitters, or other students to meet these needs, especially those needing evening hours or experiencing long commutes. During emergencies, when childcare failed or a child was sick, these mothers were at the mercy of professors, department chairs, and supervisors to decide if they could get coverage for their duties or bring their babies to meetings, classes, or groups. Few felt childcare issues or illnesses were justification for missing classes or meetings. Similarly, lactation facilities were haphazard, as the majority of buildings had no dedicated nursing rooms. These new mothers had to use student lounges, borrow windowless offices, pump in their cars, or get up early to pump to avoid the hassle on campus. Sharon revealed that “the only place to pump was the bathroom or car. I don’t feed my child in the bathroom so I’m not pumping in the bathroom.”

Finally, participants described frustration over the lack of clear policies when attempting to stop the doctorate clock for maternity leave and in taking time off from assistantship positions that carried weighty financial penalties. Some maneuvered through with placeholder internships, others accumulated hours so that they could take off after their babies were born, and still others shifted down to part-time. In most cases, their mentors helped them find the path of least hardship and greatest flexibility. Lisa reflected on a lack of clear policies: “There need to be better structures to support women and support children. It shouldn’t all have to fall on me, because I’m always going to come up short.” Despite these barriers, five participants were satisfied with the support provided and viewed their department as accommodating non-traditional students effectively even with ambiguous policies.

Regardless of the hardships encountered, what participants regretted the most was their unmet career aspirations. These doctoral student mothers worked diligently to complete their programs but often had significant delays. The range of doctoral completion/expected completion was 3–7 years. Some regrets included not being able to complete hours for licensure, having fewer research opportunities, presenting less often at conferences, and missing out on other duties that would have enhanced their curriculum vitae. Allison lamented her losses: “I wasn’t able to commit the time to seeing clients, as I didn’t want to be at the clinic until 9:00 pm when my son goes to bed.” Lisa added humor to her dilemma of unfulfilled aspirations: “I want to be a full-time faculty member, tenure track at the end of this. That is going to be really challenging because my CV is very short. I am going to attach pictures of my children.”

Call for Advocacy and Awareness
     Although discrimination and other barriers in higher education institutions were fairly commonplace, participants articulated several solutions: (a) expand mentorship opportunities, (b) teach and model work–life balance, (c) improve accommodations for students with families, (d) provide professional opportunities around flexible scheduling, (e) increase awareness and support from faculty, and (f) promote advocacy at departmental and university levels. Five participants had already positioned themselves in the role of mentors and advocates for those coming behind them. Three were involved with research that highlighted these issues. “Mentorship should be a requirement and not an option because we know we work well if we have mentors,” remarked Sharon. Dana suggested that graduate programs should survey students to determine the climate of the program and if students are receiving mentorship, and identify mentors who could best address their needs. Bethany believed that universities must expand mentorship, even if it means extending beyond department lines: “Counselor ed departments need to say, ‘Hey, we can’t meet all of your needs as a mother, or a single mother, but I know someone who can, and I want to be intentional and connect you with this person.’” Bethany also suggested that “peer support groups would be really cool. I was the ‘lone wolf’ for a little bit. Could create campus-wide support groups for graduate students . . . and provide childcare and free pizza for the kids.” The important piece was not having to navigate this alone, as Sara remarked: “Facilitating connection between doctoral student mothers, rather than us having to find our own connections, would be helpful. Making sure there’s a space for moms.”

The main component named was to increase the visibility of the needs of student mothers and provide an understanding of their experiences by shifting the mindset of lowered expectations by faculty and peers to knowing that they can and will be successful with support. Advocacy requires understanding the experiences of women, especially mothers, and identifying the barriers they still face in academia and the workplace. Sara shared the need for greater equity for doctoral student mothers, saying that it “isn’t fair that women who have decided to be moms have to put their own dreams secondary. Women need to know that they are welcome and there is a place for them if they do decide to get pregnant.”

Participants suggested that counselor education programs should teach how to create a framework of work–life balance. Flexible timelines were part of the template for success. Allison suggested that timelines could be a helpful option for those considering doing both doctoral work and motherhood, because her mentor said, “Don’t do it until after second year . . . [it’s a] lot easier to stop and start the dissertation process.”

Providing for physical needs, such as having a lactation room, was also critical to sending a welcoming message. Participants described the need for maternity and sick leave policies that were family-friendly. Participants agreed that they needed faculty and departments to acknowledge their capability to complete their doctorates, accept their value to the profession, and support their life choices. Allison voiced a clear directive for faculty and peer mentors:

The biggest characteristic needed for a mentor is supporting and that it just takes one person . . . one relationship at the school who was going to be accepting of me regardless and who was going to help me with my goals . . . not just my goals to be a PhD but [my] goal to be a mother and a good wife.

Discussion

Participants’ voices highlighted how, with the support of their mentors, they were able to navigate the often murky waters of a PhD program. Perhaps because 10 of the 12 mothers were pregnant while in their program, they neither cared nor were able to hide their motherhood identity. This is only the second study at the time of this review that specifically included women who were pregnant while in CES programs. Similar to the findings of Holm and colleagues (2015), these participants viewed motherhood as a positive attribute that blended well with CES principles in enhancing their work and vice versa.

Participants experienced mentoring as relational and protective. Building on the findings of several studies that suggested mentoring might add a protective factor for success and satisfaction (Holm et al., 2015; Lynch, 2008; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015; Trepal et al., 2014), this study found that mentors focused on providing logistical support to bolster academic progress while fostering work–life balance to promote the overall well-being of the student. These mentors provided emotional support for the participants’ decision to become pregnant and provided regular check-ins throughout the pregnancy, new motherhood, and in many cases, beyond graduation into a professorship.

Also important to this study was the reciprocal relationship. Beyond responding with care and compassion, mentors shared their own motherhood experiences that mirrored their mentees. Supervisors who expressed vulnerability increased the feeling of friendship and deepening of the relationship. This supported other research that described mentoring relationships that include an emotional connection that was both empathic and empowering (Gammel & Rutstein-Riley, 2016; Holm et al., 2015; Trepal et al., 2014). In a similar finding to that emerging from Kelch-Oliver and colleagues’ (2013) study of mentorship, the three African American participants experienced “mothering” by female African American faculty mentors and the “sisterhood” of peer mentoring that went beyond academic walls. For these women, mentoring helped navigate cultural barriers. Not only was it important that they have female faculty, but also choosing women who lived under “double minority” as Patton (2009, p. 71) described gave them both perspective and support around the complexity of race, gender, and motherhood in academic settings and society as a whole.

Doctoral student mothers connecting with other student mothers reported experiencing greater encouragement and satisfaction in those academic peer relationships compared with their relationships with peers without children. Similar to previous findings (Lynch, 2008; Trepal et al., 2014), peer mentoring by other student mothers reduced feelings of isolation, as often these women were the sole mothers in their cohort. They relied on other mothers in earlier cohorts or recent graduates to guide them on how to balance academics and family life.

Participants who had wellness and work–life balance modeled felt better equipped to pursue an academic career path, while those who had poor work–life balance modeled felt less prepared to be successful in academic institutions. Participants who experienced greater discrimination from their institution lacking in family-friendly policies shared their intentions to put their family’s needs first by accepting non-academic jobs, moving closer to relatives, or waiting until their children were older to enter a tenure-track position. This coincides with decades of research (Alexander-Albritton & Hill, 2015; Wolfinger et al., 2008) on graduate women with academic careers that are perceived as non-supportive of family–work balance.

Results also gave voice to the need for change that promotes advocacy concerning parenthood and family-friendly accommodations to aid in decreasing discrimination, both structurally and psychologically. These women had already become advocates and peer mentors. Congruent to earlier research findings, participants identified the need for institutional support in the form of establishing peer mentorship networks that connect other mothers across cohorts and departments, clarifying maternity leave policies, adopting non-penalizing pause-the-clock policies for dissertation work, offering accommodations such as lactation rooms and childcare, and providing flexibility around timelines (Holley & Caldwell, 2012; Holm et al., 2015; Lester, 2013; Lynch, 2008; Stimpson & Filer, 2011). Finally, participants challenged counselor educators to lead the way in addressing inequalities and dismissive attitudes of motherhood in academia by creating a level of openness to family life and choosing to support their students’ goals as counselor educators and mothers.

Limitations and Future Directions
     This study has limitations because of transferability issues, the possibility of research bias, and delimiting criteria. Although major geographic regions and university types were represented, participants were racially, culturally, and economically similar, as all were married and in dual-income families. As this study recruited only mothers in CES programs, implications from this study for doctoral student fathers who are primary caregivers or doctoral student mothers in other disciplines may not be transferable. Additionally, several mothers in this study had children with medical or mental health issues, but this study did not specifically set out to focus on families with special needs.

Concerning the research design, as research instruments, we may have inadvertently interjected personal biases into the interview process and coding. The goal was to minimize this through bracketing, journaling, member checking, and reviewing themes with research members. Although semi-structured interview questions guided the research and allowed for organic responses, perhaps another approach might have yielded additional themes. All the participants held jobs in addition to their studies and motherhood duties. Several discussed the effects of work on life balance and needing to reduce hours to part-time, but no distinct theme emerged. Perhaps a specific question on how mentoring may mediate the strains of employment might reveal additional content. Finally, the experiences recorded represent women who remained in their programs. With attrition close to 50% (Council of Graduate Schools, 2010), this research did not address those who dropped out of the program, so other needs or barriers may be missed.

Suggestions for future research include either expanding the concept of caregiving or narrowing the focus to specific sub-groups. Specific to CES, research might investigate mentoring from a faculty point of view to determine why and how faculty choose to mentor, as well as any training for the role. A focus group or interviewing both the mentor and other faculty who interacted with these student mothers might also add to the thickness of the context. Revealed reciprocal benefits that mentors and mentees incur in their relationship could be applied to future training programs for counselor educators. A study specific to peer mentorship might yield unique findings and inform strategies for launching or enhancing successful programs. Quantitative studies might evaluate the effectiveness of existing mentoring programs and expand them for non-traditional students.

Conclusion

     Findings from this phenomenological study are cautiously optimistic, as they appear to strengthen the body of knowledge around the importance of relational mentoring and suggest it may be an important protective factor for doctoral student mothers. Research suggests that mentoring is an effective means of support for women (Bruce, 1995; Holm et al., 2015; Kelch-Oliver et al., 2013), but in this study, it appeared to be the most salient component for successful completion of their doctoral programs. Combining the effects of dual roles, medical and mental health hardships, isolation, lack of family-friendly accommodations and policies, and struggles with work–life balance made the mentoring experience essential.

Adding to the body of knowledge around mentoring, this research denotes specific qualities of effective mentors and provides rich descriptions of the relationships and roles valued by these student mothers. This may be helpful in CES training, in selecting future mentors, and in setting up mentorship programs. Equipped with clear directives, CES departments can develop mentorship programs, pairing senior professor mentors with junior professors to teach mentoring skills, rewarding faculty for outstanding mentorship, establishing peer mentoring programs, and developing alumni mentorship opportunities. Within programs and across campus, faculty and staff can assist in connecting student and faculty mothers, promote family support groups, and organize family-inclusive activites. Meanwhile, counselor educators can provide flexibility around scheduling comprehensive exams, dissertation timelines, and research opportunities. Counselor educators can lead in bringing this issue to the discussion table around program development and advocacy initiatives. Medina and Magnuson’s (2009) statement that “Mothers are the people through whom others’ lives are changed” (p. 90) fits well with the ideals of counselor educators; therefore, retaining these mothers in higher education is an important endeavor.

 

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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Vanessa Kent, PhD, NCC, LCMHC-S, LMFT, is an assistant professor at Regent University. Helen Runyan, PhD, NCC, LPC, is an associate professor at Regent University. David Savinsky, PhD, ACS, LPC, LMFT, CSAC, is an associate professor at Regent University. Jasmine Knight, PhD, NCC, is an assistant professor at Regent University. Correspondence may be addressed to Vanessa Kent, 1000 University Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23464, vaneken@regent.edu.

Teaching Gatekeeping to Doctoral Students: A Qualitative Study of a Developmental Experiential Approach

Brenda Freeman, Tricia Woodliff, Mona Martinez

 

In addition to developing teaching, clinical supervision, and research skills, new entrants into the counselor education workplace will also face the challenging responsibility of gatekeeping. Gatekeeping can be both anxiety-provoking and time-intensive for new faculty members. To enhance the confidence and competence of new entrants into counselor education faculty positions, strong doctoral preparation in gatekeeping is critical. In this article, the authors describe a developmental experiential model to infuse gatekeeping instruction into counselor education and supervision doctoral courses. The model includes six experiential gatekeeping modules designed for instruction at three developmental levels. A phenomenological qualitative study of the model was conducted, leading to the discovery of four themes: importance of gatekeeping, behind the curtain, understandings vary by developmental level, and uneven responses to experiential learning. Developmental, pedagogical, and administrative implications for counselor educators are discussed.   

Keywords: counselor education, gatekeeping, doctoral preparation, experiential model, phenomenological

 

For new entrants into the counselor education higher education workplace, involvement in gatekeeping can be unavoidable and challenging. Although direct gatekeeping responsibilities may be conducted by associate and full professors in many institutions (Schuermann et al., 2018), assistant professors often teach courses in which gatekeeping issues arise. Evidence suggests that faculty perceptions of gatekeeping differ by academic rank (Schuermann et al., 2018), with untenured professors reporting greater concerns about gatekeeping than tenured faculty (Gaubatz & Vera, 2002). Bodner (2012) asserted that “faculty and supervisors may receive little guidance on how to implement such [gatekeeping] procedures in a highly ethical manner and/or how to approach complex and challenging gatekeeping dilemmas” (p. 60).

The gatekeeping role is taught during doctoral preparation. In the doctoral standards set by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), Section B (Doctoral Professional Identity) requires the instruction of students in five core areas, two of which (teaching and supervision) include gatekeeping standards (CACREP, 2015). Supervision standard 2.i. requires programs to include in the curriculum “evaluation, remediation, and gatekeeping in clinical supervision” (CACREP, 2015, p. 35). Teaching standard 3.f. states that the curriculum must include “screening, remediation, and gatekeeping functions relevant to teaching” (CACREP, 2015, p. 36). The inclusion of gatekeeping in CACREP standards signals the importance of providing doctoral students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary for them to be effective in their future role as gatekeepers.

There is a dearth of literature on pedagogy for teaching gatekeeping to doctoral students. Barrio Minton et al. (2018) conducted an analysis of select published articles and concluded that there has been a lack of focus on doctoral-level counselor education preparation. With limited publications centered on doctoral preparation and a generally minimal focus on pedagogy, the instructional approaches to prepare doctoral students for gatekeeping are largely unknown.

The purpose of our study was to design and deliver a developmental experiential model for increasing doctoral student competence in gatekeeping and to examine student reactions to these learning experiences. We have titled the gatekeeping instructional approach the Developmental Experiential Gatekeeping (DEG) Model. The DEG Model was designed and implemented at one CACREP-accredited counselor education and supervision (CES) doctoral program in the Western United States with a focus on preparing students for academic positions. This article presents the results of a phenomenological qualitative study of the experiences and reactions of doctoral students to the DEG Model. The insights gleaned from the study are discussed from the standpoint of improving pedagogy for gatekeeping instruction. The rationale for the study was that gatekeeping is a challenging aspect of counselor education teaching and supervision roles, particularly for new entrants into academia. Effective preparation in gatekeeping practices may not decrease the strain of dealing with difficult student remediation, suspension, and potential legal issues, but preparation is necessary to bolster strong gatekeeping and remediation practices.

Developmental Framework With Experiential Pedagogy

The DEG Model is an approach to instructing doctoral students in gatekeeping through the delivery of six curricular units divided into three developmental levels. The model was developed and implemented at a midsize institution (classified in the Carnegie system as an R1: Doctoral University – Very High Research Activity) with three counseling master’s programs and a doctoral program in counselor education and supervision located in the Western region of the United States. All programs were fully accredited under the CACREP 2016 standards (CACREP, 2015).

The DEG Model is grounded in both developmental and experiential pedagogy. The developmental framework, based in cognitive developmental theory, endorses sequential movement in learning processes within an established hierarchy (Bloom, 1956; Loevinger, 1976; Piaget, 1977). Higher levels are not attained without first accomplishing less complex levels of cognitive understanding. The development of formal operations, in which more sophisticated connections and abstract concepts are understood, is gradual and is based upon the interaction between cognition and experiences (Case et al., 2001; Eggen & Kauchak, 2001). Formal operations are situation specific (Eggen & Kauchak, 2001). Students may have reached formal operations in learning domains where they have a supporting framework of experiences, such as in post-internship counseling skills, and yet not function in formal operations in other content domain areas (such as research skills).

The experiential learning approach, reportedly a more powerful pedagogy than didactic instruction alone (Borowy & McGuire, 1983; Shreeve, 2008), is focused on gaining knowledge through direct experience. The process typically begins with preparation for the experience, followed by engaging in the experience, and culminating with reflection or testing of observations (Galizzi, 2014; Kolb & Kolb, 2009). Positive outcomes associated with experiential pedagogy include increased student engagement in the learning processes, improvements in cognitive functioning, greater acquisition of knowledge across a variety of subject areas (Galizzi, 2014; Greene et al., 2014; Tretinjak & Riggs, 2008), increases in historical empathy, improved critical thinking, and greater cultural open-mindedness (Greene et al., 2014). Borders et al. (1996) found didactic and experiential practices were related to a significant increase in student self-appraisal of supervision capacity. It is reasonable to assume that because experiential activities in supervision led to greater student competence, experiential activities in gatekeeping may also lead to greater student competence.

Research supports that experiential learning is an efficacious approach to teaching multicultural counseling (Kim & Lyons, 2003), particularly when the experiences closely emulate real world applications (Furr & Carroll, 2003; Granello, 2000). Although research on experiential learning related to teaching gatekeeping was not found, experiential learning in gatekeeping may be similar to multicultural counseling in that the experiential activities often used in the instruction of multiculturalism may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable for students. The DEG activities were unfamiliar experiences for doctoral students. Also parallel to instruction in multiculturalism, there is a gatekeeping culture that is unfamiliar to most doctoral students. Students must be introduced to the culture of gatekeeping, including the cultural norms and the development of a gatekeeping mindset.

Two assumptions were foundational to the pedagogy of the DEG Model. First, the authors assumed the DEG Model would have greater impact on student learning if delivered over more than one semester to allow time for integration of knowledge. Second, to maximize the advantages of experiential pedagogy, we assumed each DEG module should provide students with the opportunity for reflection after every experiential activity.

The DEG Model

The DEG Model was structured through a hierarchy informed by developmental principles (Bloom, 1956). Level 1 modules designed to meet the overall learning goal, To increase student understanding of concrete knowledge related to gatekeeping, dispositional assessment, and admissions, were delivered in a first-semester, first-year doctoral seminar course. Although experiential assignments were included with each module, the focus in Level 1 was on student acquisition of concrete knowledge (Bloom, 1956). The modules in Level 2 were integrated into an introductory course in clinical supervision and were designed to address Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) comprehension and application levels. The learning goal for the Level 2 modules was To increase student knowledge and applied skills related to remediation and gatekeeping in clinical supervision. The Level 3 modules, designed to be consistent with Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) analysis and synthesis levels, were infused into Doctoral Seminar II, a course with a focus on teaching pedagogy. The modules were designed toward the following goal: To develop student skills in analysis and synthesis of knowledge related to gatekeeping, with a focus on developing a systems understanding of gatekeeping. Each module described in the next section incorporated an experiential element and a written reflection.

DEG Modules
     The specific content domains for each module were driven by the literature. Table 1 includes descriptive material on the content for each module. The overall design of the DEG Model involved the infusion of six gatekeeping modules over a 16-month time frame in three sequential CES doctoral courses.

 

Table 1 

DEG Modules: Developmental Level, Content Domains, and Source Material

Level DEG Module Content Domain Examples of Source Materiala
Level 1, Module 1 Grappling With Gatekeeping Through Dialogue Purposes and processes of gatekeeping; rationale for gatekeeping; ethics in gatekeeping; licensure boards and accreditation bodies and gatekeeping Bodner, 2012; Brown, 2013; American Counseling Association, 2014; Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, 2015; Lumadue & Duffey, 1999
Level 1, Module 2 Professional Fit and the Prevention of Future Adversity: Dispositional Assessment in Admissions Admissions procedures in counselor education; suitability and dispositional assessment; impairment and problematic dispositional behaviors; dispositional assessment approaches Elpers & FitzGerald, 2013; Swank & Smith-Adcock, 2013; Winograd & Tryon, 2009; Brear et al., 2008; Tate et al., 2014; Reddy & Andrade, 2010; Taub et al., 2011; Swank et al., 2012; McCaughan & Hill, 2015

 

Level 2, Module 1 Gatekeeping Issues in Clinical Supervision Through the Lens of the Discrimination Model Supervisor roles in gatekeeping; giving feedback to supervisees; evaluation of supervisees; discrimination model

 

Association for Counselor Education and Supervision Taskforce on Best Practices in Clinical Supervision, 2011; Swank, 2014; Gazzola et al., 2013; Gizara & Forrest, 2004; Miller, 2010; Bernard, 2006; Bhat, 2005
Level 2, Module 2 Mentoring Students Through Monitoring Remediation Designing and monitoring remediation plans Dufrene & Henderson, 2009; Henderson, 2010; Kress & Protivnak, 2009; Lamb et al., 1987; McAdams et al., 2007; McDaniel, 2007; Russell & Peterson, 2003; Bemak et al., 1999; Crawford & Gilroy, 2013; Russell et al., 2007
Level 3, Module 1 Gatekeeping Through a Systems Lens: Designing an Ecological Gatekeeping Map Ecological model and gatekeeping; collaboration and teaming in gatekeeping; shadow organization; higher education culture Forrest et al., 2008; Johnson et al., 2008; Jacobs et al., 2011; Goodrich & Shin, 2013

 

Level 3, Module 2 The End of the Road: Gatekeeping and Heartbreaking Adversity Legal issues in gatekeeping; due process; working with legal counsel; documentation; managing grievances Brown-Rice, 2012; Elpers & FitzGerald, 2013; Enochs & Etzbach, 2004; Forrest et al., 1999; Frame & Stevens-Smith, 1995; Homrich, 2009; Hutchens et al., 2013; Kerl et al., 2002; McAdams et al., 2007

aSource materials appear in order of recommended reading.

  

Grappling With Gatekeeping in Level 1, Module 1
In this module, for three consecutive classes (9 clock hours), first-year students were required to read and discuss journal articles on foundational gatekeeping topics selected by second-year students with guidance from the instructor. The structured class instruction and discussions on the readings were facilitated by the second-year students. The experiential component for first-year students was engagement in structured dialogue. The experiential component for second-year students was teaching gatekeeping and leading discursive discussion with first-year students under live faculty supervision. Students then reflected on the process. 

Dispositional Assessment in Admissions in Level 1, Module 2
     Armed with background knowledge from Module 1, students participated in the dispositional assessment training video for the Professional Disposition Competence Assessments—Revised Admissions (PDCA-RA; Freeman & Garner, 2020; Garner et al., 2020). The training video entails participant ratings of dispositions during admissions interview clips without training, followed by training in the assessment process, post-training rating of interview clips, and instructions on use of the PDCA-RA in actual admissions interviews. Following the PDCA-RA training, the doctoral students co-interviewed (with CES faculty) the master’s program applicants, using the PDCA-RA as the admissions dispositional assessment tool. This was followed by written reflections about the experience.

Gatekeeping Issues in Clinical Supervision in Level 2, Module 1
     This module was preceded by several weeks of instruction in clinical supervision theory and the assignment of one master’s-level supervisee to each doctoral student. Midway through the semester, students were instructed in best practices for giving evaluative formative and summative feedback in clinical supervision through the lens of the discrimination model (Bernard, 1997). The experiential component of this module consisted of students being required to deliver either formative or summative (positive or corrective) evaluative feedback to clinical supervisees related to the expected student dispositions under faculty supervision. Students then reflected on the process.

Mentoring Students Through Monitoring Remediation in Level 2, Module 2
     This module was designed to provide doctoral students with an experiential opportunity to partner with faculty in providing support for master’s students working on mild remediation issues. Examples of mild remediation issues included problems with class attendance or punctuality, difficulty adjusting to the professional expectations of graduate school, and challenges with interpersonal relationships in the classroom. The faculty team working in concert with the master’s student needing remediation determined the nature of the specified growth experiences for the master’s student. The doctoral students then implemented structured processes to support the remediation process, such as facilitating a reflective process on a student’s effort to become more culturally sensitive or serving as an accountability partner for a student working to become more conscientious. Doctoral students were not involved in working with any students where dismissal was a likely outcome. Doctoral students then wrote journal reflections on the experience.

The Ecological Gatekeeping Map in Level 3, Module 1
     With the developmental goal of synthesizing complex knowledge, students were tasked with creating an ecological gatekeeping map. The process began with didactic instruction in Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) ecological systems theory, followed by discussions of microsystems, mesosystems, exosystems, and macrosystems in higher education. The goal was to assist students in acquiring a systems perspective on gatekeeping, including subsystem interactions that influence the feasibility and outcomes of remediation, suspension, and dismissal of counseling students. As part of the module, students were introduced to the concept of the shadow organization (Allen & Pilnick, 1973). Allen and Pilnick (1973) described organizations as having two organizational structures—one being the visible structure obvious in the university organizational chart and the other (the shadow organization) consisting of the unwritten cultural expectations and daily behaviors of the institution. An example of the shadow organization influencing gatekeeping would be if the counseling handbook states that the program gatekeeps, but there is an unwritten culture in which the administration will not allow the program to dismiss even the most unethical student. Working as a team, the students had 6 weeks to interview administrators and faculty, collect policy and procedure documents, read and apply relevant literature, and prepare a group presentation of a visual ecological gatekeeping map.

Gatekeeping and Heartbreaking Adversity in Level 3, Module 2
     The final DEG module began with assigned readings of gatekeeping legal cases. Students were then charged with the responsibility to create a non-academic dismissal scenario, write and compile all documentation, and prepare to dramatize the scenario through a mock dismissal hearing. Roles adopted by students for the mock hearing included the fictitious master’s counseling student, the faculty member central to the dismissal scenario, the department chair, and the college dean. The mock hearing was enacted and was judged in real time by a university attorney and a university administrator (a dean or provost). Immediately following the hearing, the judges processed the hearing with the students, offering legal and procedural corrections. Students then reflected on the experience.

Method

The question “What are the lived experiences of doctoral students as they engage in gatekeeping instruction?” was addressed through qualitative methodology. Because we were interested in the subjective experiences of the student learners, the qualitative study was conducted using a phenomenological approach (Creswell, 2013; Moustakas, 1994). Investigation through deep exploration of lived experiences is part of the phenomenological paradigm (Creswell, 2014). Deep exploration of lived experiences with the gatekeeping experiential activities was congruent with the goal of understanding the journey of doctoral students to capture the essential meanings of gatekeeping. Husserl (2001) postulated that it was possible for researchers to bracket their own experiences to capture the essence of the experiences of others, which was one of the objectives in this analysis. The ontological assumption, informed by the constructivist paradigm, was that socially constructed multiple realities of gatekeeping exist (Mertens & Wilson, 2012).

The study was primarily conducted as scholarly inquiry into the developing professional identity of doctoral students relevant to the gatekeeping role. Aligned with the research question, the data analysis was accomplished through a phenomenological tradition, with a primary goal of revealing rich and concrete descriptions of the learning process and the translation of formal and experiential instruction into professional identity.

Subsequent to the analysis, the findings were also used to inform program development and pedagogy for counselor educators. This secondary use of the findings to inform program improvement is aligned with the values branch of program evaluation in which participant responses to program experiences are often viewed through a qualitative, constructivist perspective (Abma & Widdershoven, 2008). The use of the findings to inform counselor education pedagogy did not influence the interview protocol, data collection, or analysis process, which were conducted utilizing the phenomenological approach.

Participants
     For phenomenological studies, Creswell (2013) recommends between 3 and 15 participants. At the point of data collection, there were 12 students enrolled in the CACREP-accredited counselor education and supervision doctoral program where the DEG modules were delivered. The doctoral program was housed in the College of Education at a midsize university, classified in the Carnegie system as an R1: Doctoral University – Very High Research Activity.

Each of the 12 potential doctoral student participants had experienced some or all of the DEG modules, allowing the research team to gain insights from different levels of doctoral student professional identity development. Two students were removed from the participant pool because of a conflict of interest, yielding a participant pool of 10 students. Following human subjects research review board (IRB) approval, the 10 potential participants were contacted by email and invited to participate in the study. All 10 consented to be interviewed; however, one student was unavailable during the data collection window, leaving nine study participants.

As a precaution to mask the identity of the participants, specific demographics are not reported in this article. In general terms, the participants were primarily self-reported females, predominantly White, and ranged between 24 and 39 years old. Educationally, all participants had earned master’s degrees in counseling prior to entering the doctoral program. The students earned their counseling master’s degrees in institutions located in the West, South, Southwest, East, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain regions.

Procedure
     All nine doctoral student participants agreed to be interviewed and to allow electronic recording. Face-to-face interviews ranging in length from 30 to 60 minutes were conducted by a single member of the research team. No incentives were offered. Participants were informed that they could skip any of the interviewer questions. The items for the semi-structured interview protocol were first written by the lead author and then piloted with the second and third authors. The final items were determined by consensus of the research team. The interview protocol included nine items. Three were global items such as “Describe your learning experiences with gatekeeping and remediation in counselor education.” Of the remaining six items, each was dedicated to one of the DEG units. The interviewer first asked the student if they recalled having participated in the specific unit, followed by the prompt: “Please describe your experience with this unit. What was that learning experience like for you?” The same question was repeated for each of the six units.

Although the DEG Model was part of required coursework, participation in the study was strictly voluntary. To protect student participants from social pressure to participate in the study, all communications with participants were initiated by a single member of the research team with no evaluative relationship to the students. Further, the interviews were conducted during a time frame when no participants were enrolled in courses instructed by any member of the research team.

As a second source of data, student reflections were collected at the end of each unit. The reflections were ungraded and were used in the study to triangulate the interview data for the purpose of considering the consistency between the interview data and the reflections, part of the establishment of trustworthiness. The reflection data consisted of written, open-ended reflections on the experiences of students with each of the DEG modules. The reflections were submitted immediately following the experience with each DEG module. To scaffold the reflection process for students who found unstructured, open-ended reflections challenging, three prompts were offered: “Please share your reactions to the learning experience you engaged in today.” “What did you learn today that you consider to be important to your understanding of gatekeeping and remediation?” and “What questions come to mind as a result of engaging in this learning experience?”

Data Analysis
     The overarching purpose of the data analysis process is to bring structure and order into understanding the data for the purpose of addressing the research questions (Patton, 2015). In phenomenological research, there are many paradigms and differing worldviews on data analysis, including the issue of whether it is most suitable to analyze participant narratives through an ideographical approach or amass the data into qualitative themes (Moules et al., 2015). Accumulation of data with an analysis of themes was selected as the phenomenological data analysis approach. The results of the study were analyzed through Creswell’s (2014) approach to phenomenological analysis. Throughout the analysis, the research team bracketed their presuppositions and assumptions. The purpose of bracketing was to allow the voices of the participants, not the researchers, to dominate the analysis.

Following the interviews, the recordings were transcribed (using pseudonyms), and the transcriptions were reviewed for accuracy. The analyses of both the interviews and the reflections were conducted using NVivo12 (QSR International). The interview analysis was a three-part process that included open coding, thematic analysis, and thematic integration (Rossman & Rallis, 1998). The process began with reading and rereading the transcripts to deduce a list of core meanings for each transcript. This work was conducted by the lead author and verified by independent analysis of the second author. Once core meanings of individual transcripts were agreed upon, the meanings were cross-analyzed for repetition and clustered into themes and subthemes by the first and second authors working independently of one another. Team consensus was reached, and the data were then organized into a codebook. Data saturation was accomplished when it was determined that no new themes were emerging. The themes were then reviewed in relation to one another to clarify overlapping areas and collapse subthemes into broader themes. Direct quotes were extracted to support both textural and structural descriptions. After the analysis of the interview data, student reflections were analyzed using the codebook derived from the interview data. An “inconsistent” codebook category was created to code data inconsistent with the data found in the interviews. An “other coding” category was created to code data that reflected new concepts or themes not apparent in the interview data.

Reflexivity
     An important aspect of considering trustworthiness in phenomenological research is addressing bias (Creswell, 2013). The research team consisted of two White female researchers and one Hispanic and American Indian female researcher. One was a tenured full professor with extensive CES experience. Another had conducted research related to dispositional assessment. The third member of the research team had no specific background or personal experiences with gatekeeping. The team members had a wide range of experience in program evaluation and qualitative research. The shared assumptions of the research team were that understanding gatekeeping was an important professional obligation and that doctoral students with career aspirations of entering counselor education needed a solid foundation in gatekeeping.

Trustworthiness
     The process of establishing trustworthiness began with an understanding that the findings represented only one of many interpretations of the data (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). Early in the process, we consulted with a qualitative research expert who confirmed the analysis process (D. Barone, personal communication, December 2, 2018). Peer debriefing was used throughout the process (Creswell, 2014). The debriefing process included the research team presenting tentative findings at one regional and one national counselor education conference, a process that fostered research team deliberation on the interpretation of the data.

The areas for bracketing were identified prior to the interviews and consisted primarily of the delineation of the presuppositions and assumptions of the research team in order to avoid hindering the capacity of the team to listen to the participants. The actual bracketing was performed during the analysis stage by making notations of areas where presuppositions and assumptions might influence interpretation. Participants were not asked to bracket their assumptions. Direct quotes were heavily relied upon in the analysis to assure that the voices of the participants were heard throughout the process. An expert reviewer, a counselor educator not involved in the study, audited the results (Creswell, 2014; Patton, 2015), providing the team with feedback. Last, member checking was used to ascertain that we had not misunderstood or used participant statements out of context.

Results

The analysis yielded four themes: importance of gatekeeping, behind the curtain, understandings vary by developmental level, and uneven responses to experiential learning. Pseudonyms used during data collection were replaced with participant numbers for reporting purposes.

Importance of Gatekeeping
     The theme importance of gatekeeping describes the valuing of gatekeeping, remediation, and dispositional assessment by participants. Across all participants, gatekeeping and related processes were perceived as critically important. The rationale for valuing gatekeeping varied from participant to participant, with most offering more than one justification. Five participants positioned their responses within the professional mandate to protect the public. P1 stated:

I learned that some of my experiences as a counselor really influenced the importance that I put on gatekeeping . . . I’ve been doing counseling . . . so I had exposure to what it looks like when counselors in the field aren’t well suited or act from their own personal needs.

Two participants reflected that the protection of the public was particularly important because of the attraction of emotionally wounded individuals to the profession. As stated by P2:

[Gatekeeping and remediation] . . . are extremely important because people oftentimes I find go into the counseling field for the wrong reasons. Whether it’s a personal history with mental health issues and they’re trying to solve their own issues or because. . . maybe they like the power differential that is created in a helping relationship . . . they want to somehow take advantage.

Protecting counseling programs, universities, and the profession was also expressed as a reason for valuing gatekeeping. P3 stated: “The counseling profession is our own and needs to be protected,” later adding, “Despite how difficult it can be, if warranted, I want to play hardball to protect my students, other faculty, alumni, program, and the profession.”

Behind the Curtain
     Eight of the nine participants reported that they had limited awareness of gatekeeping and related processes in their master’s programs. P4 stated: “I mean, I’m sure we were gate checked in my master’s program, but I don’t really remember anything about it.” Participants discussed the process of learning about gatekeeping after the experience of being unaware of it in their master’s programs, noting that this process gave them a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtain. P9 described it as being given a different seat in the house, stating:

In my master’s program, I didn’t have any knowledge of anything like this . . . but now in my first year of the doctoral program, I feel like I have so much more of an understanding and kind of . . . like a different seat in the house. I can see how it all works and the importance of it.

Feelings associated with peeking behind the curtain were varied. P3 described it with positive affect: “So the first seminar class was really helpful. It was very much like the Wizard of Oz, pulling the curtain back and seeing what goes on behind everything in higher education.” P4 reported it to be an unsettling experience: “So our first year when we were learning about it, it was still a bit mysterious . . . kind of scary . . . I didn’t really know this process was going on . . . not like, so overtly. . . . it was kind of like, oh my God.”

Understandings Vary by Developmental Level
     All participant interviews reflected the theme understandings vary by developmental level. Some participants overtly addressed changes in developmental understandings, like P3, who said simply: “I thought it was tricky until it wasn’t.” She described her journey as becoming more comfortable over time. P5 reported: “I think the scaffolding was appropriate. . . . more content focused initially and then more at the process level with the application piece later on. It wasn’t like we were jumping right into applicability before we actually understood the different concepts.”

From the standpoint of developmental level, Level 1 students like P6 were inclined toward a concrete understanding of the concepts: “So my understanding of gatekeeping and counselor education is that it’s a process to make sure that the counseling students are where they’re supposed to be . . . academically and emotionally.” More advanced students like P1 reflected greater complexity in their understandings:

So part of our responsibility as counselors is to make sure the field is engaging ethically, and if we’re allowing people that are wounded in such a way that they’re not able to engage productively as counselors, then as a profession we’re acting essentially unethically. . . . Counseling is fundamentally about the person of the counselor and so we have to take that into account as counselor educators . . . gatekeeping or remediation become a big part of the more nebulous component of what makes a good counselor.

Another developmental issue was that the experiential frame or voice reflected by the participants varied throughout the process. Sometimes, particularly but not exclusively early in the developmental process, participants spoke with a student voice. At other points, participants reflected on their experiences through the perspectives of a clinical supervisor or counselor educator, reflecting a faculty voice. Sometimes participants shifted between the two voices. P5 directly addressed this issue:

So each of us was going through the process of being evaluated because there was a gatekeeping process for us as doctoral students . . . and so knowing that that was happening for us at the same time we were teaching it . . . it was just a pretty complex process.

P4’s comment on learning to give direct feedback in the clinical supervision unit reflects a conflicted voice:

But with a supervisee, it was different because you’re also in this evaluative role. . . . I wanted to like, be really supportive, you know . . . [but] I also had to evaluate their work. I wanted to be direct, but I also don’t want to give them a bad evaluation. It was just very difficult.

In this statement regarding the Level 1 module, P8 spoke through a counselor educator perspective:

I’m thinking about potentially becoming a faculty member . . . in interviewing at universities, I’d like to really try to understand their philosophy of gatekeeping and remediation to see if it could, like, be a good fit for me. If I went to a school and found out they didn’t do gatekeeping, I would have a really hard time being there . . . it’s just kind of like, “Well, what are we doing to ensure that the people we’re serving are protected?”

Uneven Responses to Experiential Learning
     Across all nine interviews, participants indicated a strong, positive response to experiential learning. However, some experiential elements were more powerful than others. Reflecting on the experience of participating in the PDCA-RA training video and the master’s admissions interviews, P7 stated: “I think it was just really, really fun to be a part of the training . . . and then to actually get the chance to do it again during admissions.” Teaching gatekeeping was described as a positive experience by P4:

Being forced to teach anyone anything is a good learning experience . . . a lot of pressure is on me. Like, oh, I really, really need to know this stuff so I can teach it pretty well. So, I definitely knew my presentation . . . so that was a good learning experience.

In relation to the mock hearing, P5 reflected: “I learned a lot. I was actually the student in the mock hearing and so I learned . . . from their perspective what they might experience, but I also learned from the other side of it too, from the institution side.”

Not all experiential activities were considered impactful. Three participants reflected that the remediation experiential module was confusing. The confusion may reflect on the module but could also be related to the concept that remediation is not a science and requires judgment, experience, and consultation with others. Stated by P8: “It was hard for me to tell [if the student made improvements] because I didn’t have like a clear baseline.” P1 reported: “I mostly ended up just having confusing conversations with the student.”

The ecological gatekeeping map also appeared to be lacking in experiential power. Although the group experience of working together on the module was deemed valuable, three participants could not recall what they learned from the experience. A word count showed participants gave shorter descriptions on the ecological map than on any of the other experiential units. It is possible that a deeper level of preparation in the ecological model would enhance the experiential learning. Understanding the system elements of higher education and how they overlap with gatekeeping is fraught with complexity, even for junior faculty.

Analysis of Reflections Data
     The data from the reflections were used to triangulate the interview data. In general, there was a high level of consistency between the reflections (submitted immediately following the modules) and the qualitative interviews (conducted after a time lapse). One interesting finding more evident in the reflections than in the interviews was the description of the emotional reactions to gatekeeping material. At the end of the analysis process, we created word clouds (pictorial displays of word frequencies) of the most common words used by participants. Through this process, we discovered there was a high frequency of a minimum of 12 emotionally laden words such as “scary” and “upsetting” in the data set, with more emotionality expressed in the reflections than in the interviews. Because the reflections were written, it appears that students were more likely to express emotional reactions in reflections than in the qualitative interviews. It is also possible that because the reflections were collected right after the experiential learning activities, emotional reactions were more accessible when the students wrote their reflections than at the time of the interviews.

Discussion and Implications

The CACREP expectation that counselor educators instruct doctoral students in gatekeeping and the awareness that new entrants to the counselor education workplace may experience considerable distress in their roles as gatekeepers inspired the study. Although gatekeeping and remediation may require a relatively small time commitment for new counselor educators, the nature of the work can be difficult and legalistic. The predominant goals of the study were to develop and infuse into the doctoral curriculum an experiential model for gatekeeping instruction and to gain insights into the lived experiences of doctoral students as they engaged in the learning modules.

The DEG Model is presented as one approach to doctoral instruction in gatekeeping. The experiential and developmental foundations for the approach are strongly supported in research, but literature on the application of these theories to the context of teaching gatekeeping to doctoral students was not available. Thus, the DEG Model and the qualitative study of the student learning experiences with the model are exploratory in nature. Nine students reported their perceptions and reactions to the DEG Model. An analysis of the lived experience of the students led to the discovery of four themes: importance of gatekeeping, behind the curtain, understandings vary by developmental level, and uneven responses to experiential learning. 

All nine participants were of one mind that gatekeeping, dispositional assessment, and remediation are important. Given that all nine students were from different master’s programs representing institutions located in various regions of the country, this finding suggests that gatekeeping has assumed a position of primacy as an essential function in counseling academic programs and an expected role for counselor educators. Earlier gatekeeping research reported hesitancy in trainees related to gatekeeping because of factors such as program culture, lack of protection for the gatekeepers, and confusion about the standards for gatekeeping (Shen-Miller et al., 2015). The results of this study suggest a possible shift in the perspective of new entrants to the counselor education workplace. In addition, state licensure boards have underscored the importance of gatekeeping the profession. Shen-Miller et al. (2015) also found that trainee ambivalence about the gatekeeping role mirrored faculty ambivalence, suggesting that faculty modeling of appropriate gatekeeping and remediation may be a critical factor in the changing attitudes of doctoral students. An alternative viewpoint is that though the students unanimously supported a belief that gatekeeping is important, their belief system may not translate well to their first actual gatekeeping situation as a counselor educator. The study participants had no direct experience with the often painful situations faculty face when legal action or student grievances are directed against them.

The behind the curtain theme illuminated the lack of transparency in gatekeeping, in that students were surprised by the gatekeeping processes. The finding is puzzling because remediation and gatekeeping literature encourages transparency in identification of dispositions, remediation processes, and reasons students might be dismissed from any given academic program. Perhaps for legal or other reasons counselor education programs are somewhat opaque in their explanations of gatekeeping.

The results provide support for delivering content in gatekeeping through developmental and experiential approaches. Consistent with developmental theory (Piaget, 1977) and findings in doctoral instruction in clinical supervision instruction (Baker et al., 2002; Granello & Hazler, 1998), students began the process with concrete understandings and moved toward more complex interpretations. Also, mirroring other studies in doctoral pedagogy (Dollarhide et al., 2013; Granello & Hazler, 1998), students attributed learning to engagement in experiential activities, rarely referencing lectures or reading assignments except as sources of foundational knowledge.

Aligned with developmental theory (Piaget, 1977), we learned that experiential learning must be carefully cross-walked to parallel to the developmental level of the participants. Two of the six modules (Mentoring Students Through Monitoring Remediation and Gatekeeping Through a Systems Lens: Designing an Ecological Gatekeeping Map) contained experiential elements that in retrospect the authors believe were not well aligned with the developmental levels of the students. Regarding the remediation module, at the time of the study, the doctoral students were working to embrace the new roles of teacher, researcher, and clinical supervisor. Adding the difficult-to-define role of remediation mentor was perhaps experienced as role overload. On the ecological map, the authors hypothesized that the task was too complex, requiring more didactic instruction and experience with systems in organizations.

The finding that two experiential elements were perhaps not targeted at the designated developmental level was less critical than the underscoring of the importance of conducting research on pedagogy in doctoral-level courses. Until conducting the study, we were unaware that the two experiential units were problematic and would have argued that the ecological gatekeeping map was one of the strongest experiential components in the DEG Model.

Implications for Counselor Education
     The findings of the study led to insights that inform program development and pedagogy for counselor educators. The values branch of program evaluation (Abma & Widdershoven, 2008) advocates the use of qualitative analysis to develop deeper understandings of how knowledge is constructed.

The finding that doctoral students expressed more emotion in the immediate aftermath of experiential activities reinforces the importance of prompt attention to emotional processing after experiential components. The emotional–motivational theory on learning posits that anxiety negatively impacts concentration and desired outcome as well as reduces interest in engaging in future learning experiences in the content area. This relationship is well documented in research on math anxiety (Passolunghi et al., 2019). Anxiety was expressed in some student reflections, but not unexpectedly, as gatekeeping can be laden with conflict.

The results point to several practical pedagogical issues referred to in program evaluation theory by Stufflebeam (2003) as input factors. One such factor is that experiential pedagogy requires more instructional time than didactic instruction. The authors concluded that the importance of gatekeeping and the overall positive results justified the time investment but recognize the difficulties involved in implementing time-intensive experiential activities. The findings reflect another counselor education input issue, which is the importance of building strong relationships with administrators and the legal department in order to offer students the opportunity to gain perspectives on gatekeeping from stakeholders outside the core counseling faculty. The End of the Road: Gatekeeping and Heartbreaking Adversity module could not be implemented without strong relationships with administrators and legal services.

The unique contributions of this study for counselor educators include an underscoring of the importance of instructing doctoral students in gatekeeping and the power of using experiential strategies. The interview data showed that students initially had a concrete interpretation of gatekeeping, but through participation in the experiential modules, they reported more comprehensive understandings. The importance of matching the learning experience to the developmental level of the student has been previously well established in developmental theory, but through the study we gained the insight that doctoral instruction in gatekeeping should begin at a concrete developmental level. The doctoral students in our study may have been advanced in terms of clinical and research skills, but their initial understanding of gatekeeping was unidimensional.

The study also underscores the importance of helping students reflect and identify their individual belief systems and personal approaches to gatekeeping. Although legal services may recommend that faculty consistently speak in one voice on gatekeeping issues, an essential first step in eventually developing departmental consensus is transparency between individual faculty on their differing perspectives. Beyond the department level, this ongoing conversation is also foundational to growing the profession in our collective understanding of gatekeeping. The study highlights the importance of starting this process at the doctoral student level.

Limitations and Future Research

One limitation of the study is that qualitative research is not intended to be generalized. Therefore, it is unknown if the findings apply to doctoral students enrolled in other counselor education programs. Although there were advantages in utilizing a participant pool with different levels of engagement in the DEG Modules, a limitation associated with this research team decision was that participants who had only experienced early modules may have reflected different perspectives if they had been interviewed after participation in the final modules. Second interviews were not conducted. Another limitation is that the students, though not enrolled in courses from the lead author at the time of the study, may still have been influenced to offer a positive perspective on their learning experiences. Follow-up post-graduation interviews could be a useful mechanism to address this limitation.

A limitation inherent in the design of the DEG Model is that although the design was appropriate for the context of one CES doctoral program, it may not be applicable to the institutional environments of other CES doctoral programs. The context of a high research institution may differ from an institution with a stronger focus on teaching, which could influence student reactions to the DEG Model. A second limitation related to the model itself is that departmental agreement was necessary to infuse gatekeeping material into three courses with different instructors with differing personal values and beliefs on gatekeeping. In addition, agreement to include doctoral students in master’s remediation experiences and admissions interviews was necessary to implement the DEG Model. This level of faculty collaboration may not be possible in all doctoral programs.

More research on counselor education doctoral preparation is needed. The dearth of CES research on pedagogy for instructing doctoral students is apparent in content areas well beyond gatekeeping. Within pedagogy for doctoral student preparation in gatekeeping, research is needed on outcome measures for the attainment of gatekeeping competence. In addition, a greater understanding of the impact of the personal experiences of those doctoral students who were remediated during their master’s preparation on their perspectives as future gatekeepers would be useful to the profession. Also, research on the amount of instructional time needed to effectively teach gatekeeping to a level of minimum competence is needed.

 

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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Brenda Freeman, PhD, NCC, LCPC, CPC, is a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. Tricia Woodliff, PhD, NCC, ACS, CPC, is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. Mona Martinez, PhD, CPC, is Downing Clinic Director at the University of Nevada, Reno. Correspondence may be addressed to Brenda Freeman, William Raggio Building Rm. 3007, University of Nevada, Reno/0281, Reno, NV 89557, brendafreeman@unr.edu.

Recruiting, Retaining, and Supporting Students From Underrepresented Racial Minority Backgrounds in Doctoral Counselor Education

Jennie Ju, Rose Merrell-James, J. Kelly Coker, Michelle Ghoston, Javier F. Casado Pérez, Thomas A. Field

 

Few models exist that inform how counselor education programs proactively address the gap between diverse student needs and effective support. In this study, we utilized grounded theory qualitative research to gain a better understanding of how 15 faculty members in doctoral counselor education and supervision programs reported that their departments responded to the need for recruiting, retaining, and supporting doctoral students from underrepresented racial minority backgrounds. We also explored participants’ reported successes with these strategies. A framework emerged to explain the strategies that counselor education departments have implemented in recruiting, supporting, and retaining students from underrepresented racial minority backgrounds. The main categories identified were: (a) institutional and program characteristics, (b) recruitment strategies, and (c) support and retention strategies. The latter two main categories both had the same two subcategories, namely awareness and understanding, and proactive and intentional efforts. The latter subcategory had three subthemes of connecting to cultural identity, providing personalized support, and faculty involvement.  

Keywords: underrepresented racial minority, recruitment, retention, counselor education, doctoral

 

For the past several years, doctoral counselor education and supervision (CES) programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) have experienced a greater enrollment of students from diverse backgrounds (CACREP, 2014, 2015). According to the CACREP Vital Statistics report (2018), two-fifths of doctoral students have a diverse racial or ethnic identity. This stands in contrast to the less than 30% of full-time faculty in CACREP-accredited programs who identify as having a diverse racial or ethnic identity. In 2012, the total doctoral-level enrollment in CACREP institutions was 2,028, where 37% of the students were from racially or ethnically diverse backgrounds (CACREP, 2014). Enrollment increased to 2,561 in 2017, with 1,016 students from racially or ethnically diverse communities, which translates to 39.7% of total enrollment (CACREP, 2018).

Accompanying this trend is a growing awareness that diverse doctoral students in counseling and related disciplines are not receiving adequate support and preparation to succeed (Barker, 2016; Henfield et al., 2011; Hollingsworth & Fassinger, 2002; Zeligman et al., 2015). CACREP-accredited programs are charged with making a “continuous and systematic effort to attract, enroll, and retain a diverse group of students and to create and support an inclusive learning community” (CACREP, 2016, section 1.K.). Yet few models exist that inform how CES programs proactively address the gap between diverse student needs and effective support. Literature is limited on this topic. Little is known about effective and comprehensive structures for recruiting, supporting, and retaining CES doctoral students from underrepresented minority (URM) backgrounds that take into consideration CACREP standards, student needs, economics, sociocultural barriers, and student opportunities.

In this study, we used Federal definitions of URM status in higher education to guide our inquiry. A section of the U.S. Code pertaining to minority persons provides the following definition for minority, and it is the one we chose to use in our study: “American Indian, Alaskan Native, Black (not of Hispanic origin), Hispanic (including persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Central or South American origin), Pacific Islander, or other ethnic group” (Definitions, 20 U.S.C. 20 § 1067k, 2020). This definition is important to higher education, as it is used by institutions to allocate funding for URM students. We note here that cultural diversity also spans other aspects of minority status, such as gender identity, sexual/affectional identity, and ability/disability status, among others. We restricted the focus of this study to exploring racial identity pertinent to URM status, following the U.S. Code definition.

Recruitment of Doctoral Students From URM Backgrounds
     Understanding the diversification of doctoral students in CES programs begins by first considering effective methods for recruitment used by those programs. Recruitment of CES doctoral students of color may necessitate intentional and active approaches, such as building personal connections in the community and family (Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017; McCallum, 2016). CES doctoral programs might consider recruitment not as a yearly endeavor, but a long-term, day-to-day strategy. Early exposure, responsiveness to student needs (e.g., financial needs), commitment to diversity (e.g., hiring and retaining faculty members from diverse backgrounds), community relationships, and program location have all been identified as important factors to consider in the extant literature.

Early Exposure and Recruitment
     Programs can promote more representative recruitment through earlier exposure to the disciplinary field and community connections (Grapin et al., 2016; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017; McCallum, 2016). Introducing the possibility of pursuing doctoral studies in CES during the high school and undergraduate experience can increase student familiarity with the profession and may promote their long-term attention to the field (Luedke et al., 2019; McCallum, 2016). McCallum (2015, 2016) found that early familial and social messages about the low viability of doctoral studies was a deterrent among African American students and that mentorship and exposure to doctoral careers by professionals can help renew interest. Many undergraduate students from culturally diverse backgrounds lack opportunities to learn and develop ownership of doctoral-level professions and in some cases lack knowledge that those professions even exist (Grapin et al., 2016; Luedke et al., 2019).

Responsiveness to Needs and Commitment to Diversity
     To successfully recruit doctoral students from culturally diverse backgrounds, CES programs need to be responsive to potential students’ needs. In fact, a program’s commitment to diversity and the demonstration of that commitment through student and faculty representation have been found to be highly influential factors in applicants’ decisions to enter a doctoral program (Foxx et al., 2018; Grapin et al., 2016; Zeligman et al., 2015). An additional aspect of this responsiveness in recruitment is the program’s ability to ensure and provide financial support to incoming students (Dieker et al., 2013; Proctor & Romano, 2016). Given the unique barriers experienced by culturally diverse communities throughout the educational system, doctoral programs can be prepared to compensate for some of these obstacles through financial and academic support.

Community Relationships and Program Location
     In keeping with recruitment as a long-term endeavor, research has found that community relationships and program location are essential when recruiting doctoral students from culturally diverse backgrounds (Foxx et al., 2018; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017). CES programs can look to build relationships with their local culturally diverse communities and recruit from those communities, rather than looking nationally for their doctoral students (Foxx et al., 2018; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017). Proctor and Romano (2016) found that proximity to representative communities and applicants’ support systems had a significant impact on their decision to enter doctoral programs. Community connections also offered more opportunities to clarify admission requirements for interested students, a barrier for many first-generation students (Dieker et al., 2013; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017).

Support and Retention of Culturally Diverse Doctoral Students

Once admitted to a doctoral program in CES, program faculty are required by the CACREP (2015) standards to make a continuous and systematic effort to not only recruit but also to retain a diverse group of students. To do so, faculty should be attentive to both common and unique personal and social challenges, experiences of marginalization and isolation, and acculturative challenges that students from URM backgrounds may face.

Personal and Social Challenges
     Students from URM backgrounds have faced ongoing challenges with their ability to establish a clear voice and ethnic identity in predominately Euro-American CES programs (Baker & Moore, 2015; González, 2006; Guillory, 2009; Lerma et al., 2015). This phenomenon has been written about for decades (Lewis et al., 2004). Lewis et al. (2004) described the lived experiences of African American doctoral students at a predominantly Euro-American, Carnegie level R1 research institution. Key themes that emerged included feelings of isolation, tokenism, difficulty in developing relationships with Euro-American peers, and learning to negotiate the system. Further review of the literature found consistent challenges across diverse students, especially with establishing voice and ethnic identity (Baker & Moore, 2015; González, 2006; Lerma et al., 2015). Guillory (2009) noted that the level of difficulty American Indian students will face in college depends in large measure on how they see and use their ethnic identity. Utilizing a narrative inquiry approach, Hinojosa and Carney (2016) found that five Mexican American female students experienced similar challenges in maintaining their ethnic identities while navigating doctoral education culture.

Challenges of Marginalization and Isolation
     Marginalization and isolation were additional common themes across diverse groups. Blockett et al. (2016) concluded that students experience marginalization in three areas of socialization, including faculty mentorship, professional involvement, and environmental support. Other researchers have also concluded that both overt and covert racism is a contributing factor to marginalization in the university culture (Behl et al., 2017; González, 2006; Haizlip, 2012; Henfield et al., 2013; Interiano & Lim, 2018; Protivnak & Foss, 2009). Study themes also indicated that students often expressed frustration from tokenism in which they felt expectations to represent the entire race during doctoral programs (Baker & Moore, 2015; Haizlip, 2012; Henfield et al., 2013; Lerma et al., 2015; Woo et al., 2015). Henfield et al. (2011) investigated 11 African American doctoral students and found that the challenges included negative campus climates regarding race, feelings of isolation, marginalization, and lack of racial peer groups during their graduate education. Similarly, using critical race theory to examine how race affects student experience, Henfield et al. (2013) found African American students experienced a lack of respect from faculty because of their racial and ethnic differences. Students who had previously studied at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or Hispanic serving institutions (HSIs) reported that the lack of racial/ethnic diversity representation during doctoral study in predominantly White institutions (PWIs) contributed to their experience of stress, anxiety, and irritation (Henfield et al., 2011, 2013).

Culture and Acculturation Challenges
     Collectivity and community seem to be consistent values that doctoral students from URM backgrounds have expressed as missing or not understood by faculty (González, 2006; Lerma et al., 2015). For example, faculty may not understand familia, a Latinx student’s obligation to family  (González, 2006; Lerma et al., 2015). Several authors have reported that culturally diverse doctoral students experience difficulty adjusting to a curriculum or program that values a Eurocentric individualist form of counseling (Behl et al., 2017; Interiano & Lim, 2018; Woo et al., 2015).

International students also experience similar anxiety and stress during their doctoral studies in the United States. In addition to adjusting to speaking and writing in a language that may not be their primary language, their supervision skills and clinical abilities can be questioned by Euro-American supervisees despite international students having advanced training and supervisory status (Behl et al., 2017). Interiano and Lim (2018) used the term “chameleonic identity” (p. 310) to describe foreign-born doctoral students’ attempts to adapt to the Euro-American cultural context of their CES programs. They posited that international students experienced a sense of conflict, loss, and grief associated with the pressure to adopt cultural norms embedded in Euro-American counseling and higher education in the United States.

Strategies to Support and Retain Culturally Diverse Doctoral Students

     To address these stressors and barriers to persistence in doctoral studies, faculty members can employ several strategies to support and retain students from culturally diverse backgrounds, such as mentorship, advising, increasing faculty diversity, understanding students’ cultures, and offering student support services.

Mentorship
     Some scholars recommend intentional utilization of mentorship as a strategy for improving retention and graduation rates of diverse students in higher education (Evans & Cokley, 2008; Rogers & Molina, 2006). Chan et al. (2015) defined mentoring relationships as a “one-to-one ongoing connection between a more experienced member (mentor) and less experienced member (protégé) that is aimed to promote the professional and personal growth of the protégé through coaching, support and guidance” (p. 593). Chan and colleagues added that mentoring can involve transferring needed information, feedback, and encouragement to the protégé as well as providing emotional support.

Zeligman and colleagues (2015) indicated that mentoring impacts both the recruitment and the retention of doctoral students from URM backgrounds. The quality and significance of mentoring relationships and participants’ connection with faculty members during a doctoral program seems to influence choice in continuing doctoral study for URM students (Baker & Moore, 2015; Protivnak & Foss, 2009). Blackwell (1987) noted that the most powerful predictor of enrollment and graduation of African American students at a professional school was the presence of an African American faculty member serving as the student’s mentor.

Although a powerful tool for recruiting and retaining diverse doctoral students, mentoring can also create retention issues if inadequate or problematic. Students may receive ambiguous answers to advising questions and may not receive support when life circumstances interfere with study (Baker & Moore, 2015; Henfield et al., 2013; Interiano & Lim, 2018). In such situations, some students may seek other faculty mentors within the department (Baker & Moore, 2015; Henfield et al., 2013; Interiano & Lim, 2018) or may specifically establish mentoring relationships with faculty from diverse cultural backgrounds to receive greater support for their experience of being a person of color (González, 2006; Woo et al., 2015; Zeligman et al., 2015). Diverse students may also seek mentors from outside of their doctoral program. Woo and colleagues (2015) found that international students selected professional counseling mentors from their home community that they considered to be caring and nonjudgmental of their doctoral work in comparison to faculty supervisors they felt were neither culturally sensitive nor supportive of international students.

Because of an existing disparity in the availability of African American counselor educators and supervisors who can serve as mentors to African American doctoral counseling students, Euro-American counselor educators and supervisors can provide mentorship support to underrepresented African American doctoral students. Brown and Grothaus (2019) conducted a phenomenological study with 10 African American doctoral counseling students. The authors found that trust was a primary factor in establishing successful cross-racial relationships, and that African American students could benefit from “networks of privilege” (p. 218) during cross-racial mentoring. The authors also found that if issues of racism and oppression are not addressed, it can interfere with establishing mentoring relationships.

Establishing same-race, cross-race, and/or cultural community affiliations provides support to culturally diverse doctoral students. In addition, increasing faculty diversity can be a viable measure to support and retain diverse doctoral students.

Increasing Faculty Diversity
     The presence of diverse faculty members in CES has been discussed in the literature as a positive element in the recruitment, support, and retention of diverse doctoral students (Henfield et al., 2013; Lerma et al., 2015; Zeligman et al., 2015). Henfield and colleagues (2013) emphasized the need to proactively recruit and retain African American CES faculty to attract, recruit, and retain African American CES doctoral students. Recruiting and retaining faculty members from URM backgrounds requires intentional effort. Ponjuan (2011) suggested the development of mentoring policies that establish Hispanic learning communities and improve overall departmental climate as efforts to help increase the number of Latinx faculty at an institution. The next section discusses the relational significance of having counselor educator mentors who share cultural backgrounds and worldviews.

Understanding of Students’ Culture
     Lerma et al. (2015) recommended that doctoral faculty in CES programs be responsive to both the professional and personal development of their students. One area of dissonance for doctoral students from URM backgrounds involves differences in cultural worldview. Marsella and Pederson (2004) posited that “Western psychology is rooted in an ideology of individualism, rationality, and empiricism that has little resonance in many of the more than 5,000 cultures found in today’s world” (p. 414). Ng and Smith (2009) found that international counselor trainees, particularly those from non-Western nations, struggle with integrating Eurocentric theories and concepts into the world they know. This presents opportunities for counselor educators to intentionally search for appropriate pedagogies and to critically present readings and other media that portray the multicultural perspective (Goodman et al., 2015).

Counseling departments can promote, facilitate, and value a multicultural orientation when focusing on student success and development. Lerma et al. (2015) and Castellanos et al. (2006) emphasized the need to understand the importance of family and peer support among Latinx students and faculty, specifically in recreating familia in the academic environment to help increase resilience. When working with African American students, Henfield et al. (2013) recommended that faculty should possess an understanding and respect of African American culture and be more “cognizant of how a history of oppression may influence students’ perception, behavior, and nonbehavior” (p. 134). Faculty members should also possess an understanding of student financial difficulties and potential knowledge gaps in preparation for graduate school (González, 2006; Zeligman et al., 2015).

Student Support Services
     Another effective area of support for doctoral students from diverse backgrounds is student-based services. These services include broader institutionally based resources, student-guided groups or activities, and community-based efforts. Institutional resources that seem to hold promise in increasing support for and the potential success of diverse students include race-based organizations (Henfield et al., 2011). Peer support has been consistently identified as an important factor in doctoral student persistence (Chen et al., 2020; Henfield et al., 2011; Rogers & Molina, 2006). Student-centered organizations can effectively provide a sense of belonging and an environment that facilitates peer support among those with shared interests on campus (Rogers & Molina, 2006). Henfield et al. (2011) found that African American students sought collaborative support through race-based campus organizations and with students who share similar backgrounds and interests. Multicultural-based, student-centered organizations and events are resources that institutions utilize as active support for multicultural individuals that contribute to “sustaining diverse students to reach the finish line of graduation with a strong foundation from which to launch their counseling career” (Chen et al., 2020, p. 10).

Chen et al. (2020) and Behl et al. (2017) have both reported that writing centers are an important support for international students as well as students from refugee, immigrant, and underprivileged communities. Ng (2006) reported that counseling students from non–English-speaking countries often experience challenges related to English proficiency. Chen et al. (2020) added that tutoring in writing is critical for students who come from cultures that are unaccustomed to the formal use of writing styles (e.g., APA style). Furthermore, helping international students understand classroom norms and culture through an orientation as part of the onboarding process can be a preventive support (Behl et al., 2017).

Purpose of the Present Study
     The CACREP standards have created expectations and requirements for counseling programs to recruit, retain, and support students from diverse backgrounds. There now exists a wide swath of literature that has reported a variety of efforts toward these goals (Baker & Moore, 2015; Evans & Cokley, 2008; Rogers & Molina, 2006; Woo et al., 2015). Yet at the time of writing, there is not a clearly articulated path for CES programs to follow with regard to these efforts. For example, there is currently no information available regarding which strategies are more successful or easier to implement than others. This study aimed to address this gap in knowledge for how to attract, support, and retain students from diverse backgrounds in CES doctoral programs. The purpose of our study was to explore: (a) strategies doctoral programs use to recruit, retain, and support underrepresented doctoral students from diverse backgrounds, and (b) the level of success these programs have had with their implemented strategies.

Methodology

Throughout the study, we were grounded by a shared belief in constructivist philosophy that participants’ realities are socially co-constructed, and therefore, all responses are valued regardless of frequency. From this philosophical position, we chose to approach the topic using a qualitative framework (Lincoln & Guba, 2013). Grounded theory was selected because it utilizes a systematic and progressive gathering and analysis of data, followed by grounding the concepts in data that accurately describe the participants’ own voices (Charmaz, 2014; Corbin & Strauss, 2015). This approach allows the integration of both the art and science aspects of inquiry while supporting systematic development of theoretical constructs that promote richer comprehension and explanation of social phenomena (Charmaz, 2014; Corbin & Strauss, 2015). Through the grounded theory approach, we hoped to establish an emergent framework to explain practice and provide recommendations for CES programs striving to support diverse doctoral students.

This study was part of a larger comprehensive qualitative study based on the basic qualitative research design described by Merriam and Tisdell (2016) that examined a series of issues pertinent to doctoral counselor education. Preston et al. (2020) described the larger qualitative project that involved the collection and analysis of in-depth qualitative interviews with 15 doctoral-level counselor educators. This article focuses on the analysis of interview data gathered through two of the interview questions: 1) Which strategies has your program used to recruit underrepresented students from diverse backgrounds? How successful were those? and 2) Which strategies has your program used to support and retain underrepresented students from diverse backgrounds? How successful were those?

Researcher Positioning, Role, and Bias
     The last author utilized the etic position, which is through the perspective of the observer, to conduct all interviews with selected participants. Approaching the interview process around the topic of doctoral-level counselor education through the etic status was important because the author had not worked in a doctoral-level CES program previously but has been a member of the counselor education community.

The situational context was composed of the researchers’ and participants’ experiences and perceptions, the social environment, and the interaction between them (Ponterotto, 2005). Therefore, we engaged in reflexivity to increase self-awareness of biases related to this topic (Corbin & Strauss, 2015). This required continual examination of the potential influence that identified biases may have on the research process. In keeping with the standard of reflexivity, we recorded our personal experiences as they related to the research questions with the use of memoing to bracket potential biases throughout the coding and analysis process.

All members of the research team are from CACREP-accredited institutions in the Western and Eastern parts of the United States. The coding team consisted of the first four authors. The fifth author contributed to writing the manuscript, and the sixth author conducted the interviews as part of the larger study and assisted in writing sections of the methodology. All four coding team members had previously been doctoral students in a CES program, though only one of the coding team members had ever worked in a CES doctoral program as a full-time faculty member. This person thus had emic positioning, while other team members held etic positioning.

Four of the five members of the coding team were from diverse backgrounds themselves and were influenced by their personal experiences as doctoral students. Two members of the coding team identified as cisgender, heterosexual African American females. One member identified as a cisgender, heterosexual Asian American female and another as a cisgender, heterosexual Euro-American female. The coding team members were aware of potential biases around expectations toward the programs discussed in the transcripts and recognized the need to closely examine personal perceptions and understanding of the interview data.

Two coding team members observed the lack of racial/ethnic diversity at the counseling programs where they currently work. They experienced Eurocentric, non–culturally responsive methods of support and development that led them to recognize the potential bias of shared experience with multicultural participants. One coding team member was Euro-American and was a part of an all Euro-American doctoral cohort. The program they attended had an all Euro-American faculty and she wondered whether the predominantly Euro-American participants in this study had an understanding of the challenges of diverse students. Having taught in doctoral programs, this researcher was aware of potential biases around types of universities that might be successful in recruiting but less so in retaining diverse students.

Participants
     Participants were selected based on the following study design criteria: 1) current full-time core faculty members in CES, and 2) currently working in a doctoral-level CES program that is accredited by CACREP. At the time of writing, there were 85 CACREP-accredited doctoral CES programs in the United States (CACREP, 2019). Purposeful sampling was used to identify and recruit participants who had experiences working in doctoral-level counselor education (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Information-rich cases were sought to understand the phenomenon of interest.

Maximum variation sampling was also employed for the purposes of understanding the perspectives of counselor educators from diverse backgrounds with regard to demographic characteristics and program characteristics and to avoid premature saturation (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Based on the belief that counselor educator perspectives may differ by background, the research team used the following criteria to select participants: (a) racial and ethnic self-identification; (b) gender self-identification; (c) length of time working in doctoral-level CES programs; (d) Carnegie classification of the university where the participant was currently working (The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, 2019); (e) region of the counselor education program where the participant was currently working, using regions commonly defined by national counselor education associations and organizations; and (f) delivery mode of the counselor education program where the participant was currently working (e.g., in-person, online; Preston et al., 2020).

The 15 study participants belonged to separate doctoral-level CES programs, with no more than one participant representing each program. The sample was composed of 11 participants (73.3%) who self-identified as White, with multiracial/multiethnic (n = 1, 6.7%), African American (n = 1, 6.7%), Asian (n = 1, 6.7%), and Latinx ethnic backgrounds (n = 1, 6.7%) also represented. Seven participants self-identified as female (46.7%), eight participants as male (53.3%), and none identified as non-binary or transgender. The majority of participants identified as heterosexual (n = 14, 93.3%), with one participant (6.7%) identifying as bisexual.

Participants’ experience as faculty members averaged full-time work for 19.7 years (SD = 9.0 years) and a median of 17 years, with a range from 4 to 34 years. For most of those years, participants worked in doctoral-level CES programs (M = 17.3 years, SD = 9.2 years, Mdn = 16 years), ranging from 3 to 33 years. More than half of participants (n = 9, 60%) spent their entire careers working in doctoral-level CES programs. Geographic distribution of the programs where participants worked were as follows: eight belonged to the Southern region (53.3%); two each (13.3%) belonged to the North Atlantic, North Central, and Western regions; and one program (6.7%) belonged to the Rocky Mountain region. Twelve participants (80%) were working in brick-and-mortar programs, and three participants (20%) were working in online or hybrid programs. With regard to Carnegie classification representation, nine (60%) were working at Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity (i.e., R1) institutions, two (13.3%) were working at Doctoral Universities – High Research Activity (i.e., R2) institutions, and four (26.7%) were working at universities with the Master’s Colleges and Universities: Larger Programs designation (The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, 2019; Preston et al., 2020).

Procedure
     After receiving approval from the last author’s IRB, the last author used the CACREP (2018) website directory to identify and recruit doctoral-level counselor educators who worked at the CACREP-accredited CES programs. Recruitment emails were sent to one faculty member at each of the 85 accredited programs. Fifteen of the 34 faculty (40% response rate) who responded were selected to participate on the basis of maximal variation.

Interview Protocol
     Each interview began with demographic questions that addressed self-identified characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual/affectional orientation, years as a faculty member, years working in doctoral-level CES programs, number of doctoral programs the participant had worked in, and regions of the programs in which the counselor educator had worked. A series of eight in-depth interviews followed to address the research questions of the larger qualitative study. Interview questions developed in accordance with Patton’s (2014) guidelines were open-ended, as neutral as possible, avoided “why” questions, and were asked one at a time in a semi-structured interview protocol, with sparse follow-up questions salient to the main questions to ensure understanding of participant responses. Adhering to the interview protocol as outlined in Appendix A helped to ensure that data was gathered for each research question to the highest extent possible. Participants received the interview questions ahead of time upon signing the informed consent agreement. A pilot of the interview protocol was conducted with a faculty member in a doctoral-level CES program prior to commencing the study.

The interviews lasted approximately 60 minutes and were recorded using the Zoom online platform. One exception was an interview that occurred in-person during a professional conference and thus was recorded via a Sony digital audio recorder. All demographic information and recordings were assigned an alphabetical identifier known only to the last author and were blinded to subsequent transcribers and coders.

Data Analysis
     Data analysis, as outlined by Corbin and Strauss (2015), employs the techniques of coding interview data to derive and develop concepts. In the initial step of open coding, the primary task is to “break data apart and delineate concepts to stand for blocks of raw data” (Corbin & Strauss, 2015, p. 197). During this step, the coding team sought to identify a list of significant participant statements about how they and their department perceive, value, and experience the responsibility of recruiting, retaining, and supporting underrepresented cultural groups. We met to code the first three of 15 transcripts together via Zoom video platform. The task of identifying codes included searching for data that was salient to the research questions and engaging in constant comparison until reaching saturation (Corbin & Strauss, 2015). We maintained a master codebook of participant statements that the team decided were relevant, then added descriptions and categories to the codes. Utilizing this same strategy, the remaining 12 transcripts were coded in dyads to make sure the coding team was not overlooking pertinent information.

When discrepancies occurred, the coding team utilized the following methods to resolve them:
(a) checking with each other for clarification and understanding of each person’s view on the code, (b) reviewing previous and subsequent lines for context, (c) slowing down the pace of coding to allow space for reflection on the team members’ thoughts and feeling about a code, (d) considering the creation of a new code if one part of the statement added new data that was not covered in the first part of the statement, and (e) referring back to the research questions to determine relevance of the statement. Discrepancies in coding were questions around statements that: (a) were vague, (b) contained multiple codes, (c) were similarly phrased, (d) reflected a wish rather than an action on the part of the program, and (e) presented interesting information about the participant’s program but did not address the research question.

The subsequent step of axial coding involved the task of relating concepts and categories to each other, from which the contexts and processes of the phenomena emerge (Corbin & Strauss, 2015). The researchers then framed emerging themes and concepts to identify higher-level concepts and lower-level properties as well as delineated relationships between categories until saturation was reached. In the step of selective coding, the researchers engaged in an ongoing process of integrating and refining the framework that emerged from categories and relationships to form one central concept (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

Trustworthiness
     Standards of trustworthiness were achieved by incorporating procedures as outlined by Creswell et al. (2007) and Merriam and Tisdell (2016). The strategies included enhancing credibility through clarification of researcher bias to illustrate the researchers’ position as well as identifying a priori biases and assumptions that could potentially impact our inquiry. In addition, the research team members were from different counselor education programs, which contributed to moderating bias in coding and analysis. In an attempt to avoid interpreting data too early during the coding process, the researchers used emergent, in vivo, verbatim, line-by-line open coding. Furthermore, the interviewer intentionally chose not to participate in coding the data in order to minimize bias through being too close to the data. To promote consistency, the last author clearly identified and trained research teams associated with the larger study. The last author also used member checking and kept an audit trail of the process to enhance credibility. Purposive sampling and thick description were used to ensure adequate representation of perspectives and thus strengthen the transferability and dependability qualities of the study (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016).

Results

Implementing strategies that make a difference was the central concept in describing the process of CES faculty participants’ experience with recruiting and retaining diverse doctoral students. These strategies refer to programmatic steps that counselor educator interview participants had found to be effective in the recruitment, support, and retention of culturally diverse doctoral students. This central concept was composed of three progressive and interconnected categories, each with its own subcategories, properties, and accompanying dimensions. These three categories were institutional and program characteristics, recruitment strategies, and support and retention strategies. The three major categories shared the subcategory of awareness and understanding, while the recruitment strategies and support and retention strategies categories shared the subcategory of proactive and intentional efforts. The conceptual diagram of these categories and subcategories is depicted in Figure 1.

 

Figure 1  

Conceptual Diagram of Strategies That Make a Difference in Recruiting and Supporting
Culturally Diverse Doctoral Students

 

Institutional and Program Characteristics
     The category institutional and program characteristics refers to features that are a part of program identity. This category was significant, as it represents the backdrop for a unique set of conditions in which the participants experienced the limitations as well as strengths of the program environment. Institutional and program characteristics may be part of the institution’s natural setting that the faculty participant had little control over, such as geographic location, institution size, institution reputation, tuition cost, or demographic composition of the area in which the program was located. At times, these factors were helpful for recruitment purposes. One participant described how the program’s geographic location positively impacted the recruitment of prospective students, including diverse students: “We are the only doctoral program in the state, so I think that carries some clout.” Another participant added, “A lot of it is financial . . . They largely choose programs because they are geographically convenient, so they can work or be close to family. So, their choice is largely guided by economic and geographic factors.”

Institutional and program characteristics also included factors that influenced support and retention of diverse students through their doctoral journey. Characteristics mentioned as either a hindrance or a support for diverse students included: (a) presence of diverse faculty, visual representation, and student body; (b) supportive environment for diverse students; (c) faculty attitudes and dispositions which create either a welcoming or hostile sociocultural climate; (d) fellowship or scholarship monies intended for diverse students; (e) evidence of valuing of and commitment to diversity; (f) multicultural and social justice focused activities; and (g) faculty who share common research interests with their students. From this list, it was evident that doctoral students seemed best supported by program qualities and actions that communicated a valuing of and commitment to diversity.

Awareness and Understanding
     Participants indicated awareness that the context in which the institution and program exist presents as either a hindrance or a benefit to diversity. For example, geographic location and demographic composition of the locality can pose a barrier to recruitment as one participant expressed: “Our university itself is not going to attract people. It is a very White community.” This participant understands that this means the program will need to develop specific recruitment efforts to mitigate this potential barrier to “show students that this is a program that would be welcoming and take proactive steps to do that.”

Participants also indicated an awareness that students can sense whether diversity-related issues will be given priority. One participant stated, “Students are really astute about getting a sense for how committed a department is to diversity. So, having tangible evidence there is a willingness to commit to diversity at the faculty level is super important.” Another participant shared, “Our interview process is a barrier . . . There can be some privileged White males who are highly, highly confrontational, and I don’t think that’s an appropriate recruitment style for sending a welcoming message to minority candidates.”

Recruitment Strategies
     The second major category identified in the data, recruitment strategies, pertains to the process of developing and implementing plans for the primary purpose of attracting individuals from diverse backgrounds to apply and enroll in the program. The recruitment strategies category is composed of two subcategories that are shared with the support and retention strategies, namely awareness and understanding and proactive and intentional efforts.

Awareness and Understanding
Participants shared a variety of responses regarding their awareness and understanding of the importance of creating a diverse learning community. Some participants reported that their departments proactively sought to recruit underrepresented students, whereas others acknowledged that their departments made no such attempt. At times, this was due to the structure of recruiting at the university: “Our program doesn’t necessarily get involved in admissions that much . . . We have an admissions team, and they have a whole series of strategies in place.” At other times, participants reported that their program was unintentional about recruiting diverse students: “We don’t have any good strategy particularly. It’s accident, dumb luck and accident.” One participant experienced distress and confusion because of their program’s perceived misalignment with CACREP standards: “These are key standards for programs, and one that programs have struggled with, and we certainly have too.”

Proactive and Intentional Efforts
     Participants reported engaging social resources such as personal connections and networks to recruit diverse students. As one participant described, “Recruiting diverse students begins with personal networks. So, we use personal networks, professional networks, alumni network.” In addition to recruiting through alumni and professional organizations and conferences, participants found success through partnerships with community agencies as well as building relationships with HBCUs and HSIs. One participant captured the process this way: “It’s about maintaining relationships with graduates, with colleagues. We know, for us to diversify our student body, we cannot just look to the surrounding states to produce a diverse student body. We have to go beyond that.”

In addition to reaching out to master’s programs with sizable diverse student populations, one common strategic effort involved finding financial support for diverse doctoral students, from departmental, institutional, or external funding sources. One participant stated, “We also know in our program where the sources for funding underrepresented populations are; we know how to hook people into those sources of funding.” Another participant shared, “Our institutions have funding mechanisms, including some that are for historically marginalized populations or underrepresented populations. We have been successful in applying for those and getting those.”

Participants indicated a commitment to making changes to their typical mode of recruitment strategy and recognized that supporting diverse students required the implementation of strategies that differed from typical recruiting and retaining activities. Three subcategories that emerged as representing effective recruitment and support strategies were (a) connection to cultural identity, (b) providing personalized support, and (c) involvement of faculty.

Connection to Cultural Identity. Consistent with the literature, participants reported that students seemed drawn to programs that valued their cultural background and research interests associated with their identity. For example, participants reported that it was important to have faculty who are interested in promoting social justice and diversity and sharing similar research interests to their students. As one participant described: “The student picked us because we supported their research interest of racial battle fatigue.” This participant had shared with their prospective student that “I’m really excited about that [topic], and it overlaps with my own research in historical trauma with native populations.”

Personalized Support. Participants indicated personalized support was crucial to recruiting diverse students to their CES doctoral program. One participant reported that most of the diverse students who chose to attend their doctoral program typically shared the same response when asked about their choice: “Their comments are consistent. . . . They say, ‘We came and interviewed, and we met you, and we met the students, and we feel cared about.’”

Faculty Involvement. Third, faculty involvement was an essential component of proactive and intentional efforts. Faculty involvement seemed to take a variety of forms: (a) activities related to promoting multiculturalism and social justice, (b) engagement in diverse areas of the profession and representing the program well, and (c) advocating to connect potential students to external funding resources or professional opportunities. One participant explained faculty involvement this way: “An anchor person who strongly identifies not only with their own diversity, but also with a body of scholarship related to diversity.” Another participant shared, “Our faculty have had some nice engagements with organizations and research strands focused on multiculturalism and social justice issues.” These types of involvement made an impact on the impressions of prospective students from diverse backgrounds: “We have students who came to us and said, ‘I looked at the work your faculty were doing, I looked at what they said was important on the website, and it struck a chord with me.’”

Support and Retention Strategies
     The third major category of support and retention strategies was characterized as responding to awareness and understanding of diverse students’ perspectives, experiences, and needs while enrolled in the doctoral program. Participants reported that faculty engaged in proactive and intentional efforts that integrated considerations for cultural identity, personalized support, and faculty involvement.

Awareness and Understanding
As with recruitment, participants reported that successful retention and support of enrolled doctoral students integrated considerations for the students’ cultural identity as well as values, needs, and interests that are a part of that identity. One participant described exploring missing aspects of each student’s experience for the purpose of providing effective support: “It’s super important on a very regular basis to sit down with students of color specifically and talk with them about what they’re not getting . . . those conversations really are key.” Often, these personalized conversations are part of a healthy, intentional mentoring relationship in which students are purposely paired with faculty who can understand their experience, support them in navigating professional organizations, and foster success in the program and in their future career. Two participants added that an effective support strategy involves reaching out and engaging in regular conversations about student struggles and experience with microaggressions, tokenism, or other socioemotional matters.

Some participants reported that diverse students may be lacking in foundational skills and knowledge that put them at a disadvantage in the doctoral program, such as deficits in research competence. Personal conversations between mentors and protégés include being “willing to have difficult conversations about skill deficits” in a manner that encourages and empowers diverse students to succeed.

Proactive and Intentional Efforts
     Successful education of diverse doctoral students is a mission that requires thoughtful, intentional, and proactive efforts on the part of doctoral faculty. A participant whose program had a good track record in recruiting diverse students explained, “Proactive efforts take a lot of thought” and aiming for effective retention necessitates “an intentional effort, and that’s what it takes to provide comfort for a more diverse group of students.” For many participants in the study, showing intentionality started with provision of financial support in the form of scholarships, fellowships, and graduate assistantships. Doctoral faculty also advocated for students by connecting them to funding sources because financial support “is the best predictor of keeping people in the program.”

     Connection to Cultural Identity. Proactive and intentional efforts were considered to be a step beyond planning, in that doctoral faculty commit tangible and intangible resources along with taking actions toward promoting diversity in the program. In addition to inquiring about the missing aspects of their identity in the program, participants reported that ongoing conversations about cultural identity during the students’ program of study was important to support and retention. For example, some students chose a doctoral program to pursue a specific line of research connected with cultural identity and wanted their faculty members to make intentional efforts to help them further their line of inquiry related to cultural issues.

     Personalized Support. Participants reported that personalized support was a critical strategy in helping culturally diverse doctoral students to thrive in the program. Participants believed that supportive faculty–student relationships had a strong impact on retention. As articulated by one participant, “One of our strengths is the relationship that we have with our students . . . it may be making the difference in the students that we keep.” Participants also used a buddy system whereby each student applicant was paired with a current doctoral student as their go-to person for any questions or concerns, to help them transition into the program.

Faculty Involvement. Embracing diversity is a proactive and intentional business, which translated to participants purposefully and thoughtfully changing the way they interact with prospective and current students from diverse backgrounds. Participants reported that diverse students may need more availability and outreach from faculty. As one participant stated, “We try to be available to them when they’ve got concerns that they need to address. We’re always trying to reach out more and being more proactive.” This proactive responsiveness and intentional mentoring seemed particularly important with regard to helping diverse students with professional identity development. One participant reflected that “some students coming from diverse backgrounds are going to need to be socialized into the profession, to make them comfortable in that identity.” Elaborating further, this participant said that, “this requires a lot of very intentional mentoring” and included formal as well as informal activities. For example, they said, “Even having them come to conferences, to introduce them to people. Having meals with them. Modeling how you interact with colleagues. Making sure they go to luncheons . . . to dinners.”

Discussion

In this study, 15 counselor educator participants gave voice to strategies that doctoral programs use to recruit, retain, and support underrepresented doctoral students from diverse backgrounds and their perceptions of the level of success these programs have had with their implemented strategies. We examined these experiences and identified two overarching themes of awareness and understanding and proactive and intentional efforts in the way they approached the need to recruit and support diverse doctoral students.

During the process of data analysis, a substantive framework emerged to explain participant strategies that had led to success. Analysis of the participants’ narratives shed light on counselor educators’ awareness and understanding that being proactive and intentional in integrating approaches that connect to the student’s cultural identity, provide personalized support, and involve faculty appear to be successful strategies for recruiting, retaining, and supporting diverse students. These categories reflect a program’s commitment to and demonstration of diversity, with the necessity of intentional and active approaches indicated in literature (Evans & Cokley, 2008; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017; McCallum, 2016; Rogers & Molina, 2006). Commitment to diversity has been found to be a highly influential factor in applicants’ decisions to enter a doctoral program (Haizlip, 2012; Zeligman et al., 2015) and once enrolled, for students from URM backgrounds to feel a sense of inclusion, connection, and belonging (Henfield et al., 2013; Hollingsworth & Fassinger, 2002; Protivnak & Foss, 2009).

The literature has indicated that a program’s commitment and intentionality about increasing the diversity of both students and faculty has a direct impact on the number of applicants received by that program (Zeligman et al., 2015). Participant narratives from this study supported this strategy. Diverse students are drawn to programs that value their cultural background and the research interests that come with that identity. This might mean presence of diverse faculty and student body, being encouraged to express their uniqueness, and having faculty who share their research interests. The unique needs, values, and interests of diverse students require CES faculty to be mindful of providing personalized support during the recruitment process as well as during their enrollment in the program. These can be in the form of intentional mentoring, support in addressing possible skills deficits, having personalized conversations, and engaging in a buddy system. A third essential strategy is faculty involvement in multiculturalism and social justice issues, engagement in diverse areas of the profession, and advocating for students academically, professionally, and socioeconomically.

Implications for Counselor Education
     The findings from this study reveal the need for a change on the part of some CES doctoral programs in developing intentional and proactive efforts to recruit, support, and retain students from culturally diverse backgrounds. In this study, several participants noted that their doctoral program employed passive recruiting and retention strategies, which appeared to be inadequate and contrary to CACREP standards. Some participants also highlighted barriers to both recruiting and retaining diverse doctoral students, such as unclear standards and faculty attitudes and behaviors that include complacency, defensiveness and dismissiveness, lack of awareness, and assumptive thinking about diversity. Other CES departments seem to be partially implementing a comprehensive and systematic plan for recruiting and retaining diverse students. For example, they may utilize alumni networks to help with recruiting diverse students but lack a plan to support and retain enrolled students.

An important potential barrier for supporting diverse students in CES doctoral programs is the time required for faculty mentorship. Some participants in the study reported that some diverse students needed more close mentoring, and this time commitment would likely reduce available time for other faculty activities such as conducting research and writing for publication. For faculty on the tenure-track system in research institutions, losing time to research endeavors poses a potential threat to career advancement. One participant shared that while “by and large, most faculty want to mentor diverse students and put the time in,” this time commitment stood in opposition to their own tenure and promotion process. This participant elaborated that the pressure to “publish or perish” can “somewhat alter career trajectory for the faculty, if they spend too much time in mentoring.” This participant believed that this issue was “one of the real tensions here in academia” and explained that “either you want diversity, and you’re willing to reward people who are willing to invest themselves in the diversity . . . or you’re not. But you can’t have it both ways.” It appears that the current structure within universities, such as the criteria for tenure and promotion, can present a significant barrier to supporting diverse students. Prior authors have noted that established university and program culture can create a sense of marginalization for diverse students, making it difficult to both recruit and retain URM doctoral students (Holcomb-McCoy & Bradley, 2003; Zeligman et al., 2015). Faculty may need to advocate for structural changes within their universities to ensure that their students are adequately supported. Some participants in the study indicated that low teaching loads were another avenue of freeing up time for mentoring.

The CACREP standards (2015) contain a mandate for systematic and continuous efforts to retain a diversified student body in counselor education programs. Some participants noted in this study that the actual appraisal by CACREP site visit teams of how this standard was being met was unclear. Confusion about this standard may result in not having a strategy for ensuring that the standard was being met. Clarification and accountability are necessary to ensure that programs are meeting this standard.

It is crucial that counselor education programs continue to develop specific strategies to both recruit and retain underrepresented doctoral students. It is no longer acceptable to rest on the institutional name or location. Intentionality that addresses the needs of underrepresented students should include connection to students’ cultural identity, personalized support, and faculty involvement, as these will ensure that students feel wanted and valued throughout the entire process (recruitment to completion).

Limitations

Although grounded theory provides a richness and depth to understanding questions for research, it comes with potential limitations. Clarke (2005) discussed limitations typical in qualitative research and grounded theory. Researchers are faced with an overwhelming amount of information to code, categorize, and analyze. Qualitative researchers can quite easily get bogged down with the complexity and amount of data, which can lead to a diluting of results (Clarke, 2005). The research team addressed this challenge by engaging in a two-step coding process: engaging in group coding of the first three transcripts and then dyadic coding of the remaining transcripts. Through saturation, the research team was able to establish categories that captured the main themes and ideas of the participant statements and check their own biases and values as potentially impacting the interpretation of the codes.

The research team was composed of members who themselves are from diverse backgrounds and who had experiences as doctoral students in CES programs. In addition, all members of the research team currently work in counselor training programs and wrestle with the same questions under review—namely, how to recruit, support, and retain diverse students. The research team attempted to address limitations through developing a priori codes potentially rooted in their own experiences and through recording memos during each group and individual coding session to capture the presence of personal values, biases, or experiences, as well as checking other team members’ codes. Although it is impossible to fully account for all potential biases present in a qualitative analysis, these efforts of diligently checking experiences aimed to mitigate this impact on the overall results and conclusions of the study.

Although the coding team believed that data reached saturation at 15 interviews, the sample was small (N = 15) for the method of inquiry according to Creswell and Poth (2018). Although we believe that limiting the number of respondents to no more than one faculty member per program was helpful in reducing the potential for bias due to group effect, it is possible that the faculty members surveyed were not the sole representations of their counselor education program. As with many qualitative studies, generalizability to the larger population is limited. However, it is noteworthy that the demographics of the participants in the current study do align with typical cultural representation of counselor education programs (CACREP, 2018).

Future quantitative studies are needed to evaluate the size of the effect of these strategies on recruitment and retention rates of diverse students in CES doctoral programs. For example, future studies could evaluate the relationship between student perceptions of proactive and intentional efforts toward connecting with cultural identity, personalized support, and faculty involvement with actual retention rates of diverse students in CES programs and their overall student satisfaction. Such information would be helpful to decipher which of these factors has the greatest impact on recruiting, retaining, and supporting diverse students in CES doctoral programs, which would be useful information for current CES doctoral programs.

Conclusion

This study highlights that although more efforts to recruit and retain students from diverse backgrounds are needed, when counselor education programs are intentional and proactive, it has a meaningful impact. What seems to be effective in recruiting, retaining, and supporting diverse students is developing a connection to cultural identity, support that is personalized, and faculty involvement. When students from diverse backgrounds feel some connection to their specific cultural identity and receive personalized support, they are more likely to enter a program and persist. Finally, the involvement of faculty at all levels of the recruitment and retention process is monumental. Students from diverse backgrounds perceive counselor education programs as inviting and able to meet their cultural needs when programming is intentional and proactive.

 

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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The authors present this article in memory of Dr. Rose Merrell-James, who shared her knowledge, experience, strength, and wisdom with all of us through this scholarly work.

Jennie Ju, PhD, LPC, is an assistant professor at Palo Alto University. Rose Merrell-James was an assistant professor at Shippensburg University. J. Kelly Coker, PhD, MBA, NCC, BC-TMH, LCMHC, is a professor and program director at Palo Alto University. Michelle Ghoston, PhD, ACS, LPC(VA), LCMHC, is an assistant professor at Wake Forest University. Javier F. Casado Pérez, PhD, NCC, LPC, CCTP, is an assistant professor at Portland State University. Thomas A. Field, PhD, NCC, CCMHC, ACS, LPC, LMHC, is an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. Correspondence may be addressed to Jennie Ju, 1791 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304, jju@paloaltou.edu.

 

Appendix A

Interview Protocol

For context, please briefly describe how you self-identify and your background. This information will be aggregated; individual participant responses will not be associated with any quotes in subsequent manuscripts.
Gender:
Sexual/Affective Orientation:
Race and Ethnicity:
Years as a Faculty Member in a Counselor Education Program:
Years as a Faculty Member in a Doctoral Counselor Education Program:
                  Number of Doctoral Counselor Education Programs You Have Worked In:
Regions of Doctoral Counselor Education Programs You’ve Worked In (using regions
commonly defined by national counselor education associations and organizations):

How might you define a “high-quality” doctoral program?

What do you believe to be the most important components? The least important?

How have you helped students to successfully navigate the dissertation process?

Which strategies has your program used to recruit underrepresented students from diverse
backgrounds? How successful were those?

Which strategies has your program used to support and retain underrepresented students from diverse
backgrounds? How successful were those?

What guidance might you provide to faculty who want to start a new doctoral program in counseling
with regards to working with administrators and gaining buy-in?

What guidance might you provide to faculty who want to sustain an existing doctoral program in
counseling with regards to working with administrators and gaining ongoing support?

Last question. What other pieces of information would you like to share about running a successful,
high-quality doctoral program?

Training Counselors to Work With the Families of Incarcerated Persons: A National Survey

Jessica Burkholder, David Burkholder, Stephanie Hall, Victoria Porter

The national epidemic of increasing imprisonment rates in the United States, also known as mass incarceration, disproportionally impacts communities of color. Additionally, the needs of children of incarcerated parents have been neglected. This study examined whether topics pertinent to mass incarceration and the impact on families are being addressed in counselor education programs. Of the 95 counselor educators who participated in the study, results indicated that the majority did not have training to work with families of the incarcerated and did not include information about working with families of the incarcerated in their courses. In addition to exposing students to discussions of implicit bias and data on mass incarceration, specific treatment modalities and protocols need to be developed and validated.

Keywords: mass incarceration, children, counselor education, communities of color, incarcerated parents

The rise of mass incarceration is dramatically affecting families and communities across the nation, with a disproportional impact on communities of color (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008; Graham & Harris, 2013; A. Lopez & Burt, 2013; C. Lopez & Bhat, 2007; Mignon & Ransford, 2012; Western & Smith, 2018). With the increase of persons involved in the criminal justice and legal systems, their families have been found to be more at risk for facing long-lasting life challenges within both the family system and society (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008; Luther, 2016; Mignon & Ransford, 2012; Phillips & Gates, 2011). Client advocacy is one of the most critical roles of the professional counselor (Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2016). The counseling profession is characterized by working with diverse individuals from heterogeneous communities. Counselors are needed to function as advocates, especially when families and communities are facing a sociocultural crisis (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2014; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2016).

Both ACA and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) have identified advocacy, multicultural competence, and social justice as priorities in training and practice (ACA, 2014; CACREP, 2015). The ACA Code of Ethics instructs that “when appropriate, counselors advocate at individual, group, institution, and societal levels to address potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients” (ACA, 2014, Section A.7.a., p. 5). It also directs counselors to gain “knowledge, personal awareness, sensitivity, dispositions, and skills pertinent to being a culturally competent counselor in working with a diverse client population” (ACA, 2014, Section C.2.a., p. 8).

Counselor educators are directed to “infuse material related to multiculturalism/diversity into all courses and workshops” (ACA, 2014, Section F.7.c., p. 14). When describing professional and ethical practice, the CACREP standards require programs to instruct students on “the advocacy processes needed to address institutional and society barriers that impede access, equity, and success for clients” (CACREP, 2015, Standard F.1.e., p. 10). Further, the curriculum guidelines for social and cultural diversity emphasize counselor advocacy when instructing counselor educators to cover “strategies for identifying and eliminating barriers, prejudices and processes of intentional and unintentional oppression and discrimination” (CACREP, 2015, Standard F.2.h., p. 11). Although mass incarceration and its effects are not specifically mentioned in the ACA Code of Ethics or CACREP standards, these broad directives provide support for the specific argument that the scope of this crisis and its impact on families require attention in counselor training. Consequently, the purpose of this research study is to describe the current state of how counselor educators are providing training to counselor trainees to support families of the incarcerated.

The Rise of Mass Incarceration
The national epidemic of increasing imprisonment rates, commonly referred to as mass incarceration, has been a topic of alarm for nearly five decades (Garland, 2001; Glaze & Maruschak, 2008; Graham & Harris, 2013; A. Lopez & Burt, 2013; C. Lopez & Bhat, 2007; National Research Council [NRC], 2014; Sykes & Pettit, 2014). Although the United States accounts for 4.4% of the world’s population, nearly one quarter (22%) of the world’s prisoners are in the United States (American Psychological Association [APA], 2014; NRC, 2014). According to The Sentencing Project (2012), the United States continues to have the highest incarceration rate in the world, consistently increasing since the mid-1970s. The most recent statistics indicate that the United States has an incarcerated population of 2.2 million individuals (APA, 2014; Kaeble & Cowhig, 2018; NRC, 2014). This represents a 500% increase over the last 40 years (The Sentencing Project, 2012). More than 20% of those released return to incarceration within one year (Durose et al., 2014; Western & Smith, 2018). Researchers have found a correlation between imprisonment and individuals belonging to underserved (e.g., lower levels of education, low income, psychiatric treatment and substance abuse histories) and minority populations (Alexander, 2012; Cnaan et al., 2008; NRC, 2014).

Despite the race gap narrowing since 2007, Blacks are imprisoned at a rate 6 times that of Whites and at double the rate for Hispanics (Bronson & Carson, 2019). Because incarceration disproportionately affects minority group members, families of the incarcerated are more likely to be concentrated in minority communities (Graham & Harris, 2013). Consequently, even those children in the community whose parents are not facing incarceration are likely to be impacted by mass incarceration (Wakefield & Wildeman, 2011), as their communities may experience lower incomes, lopsided gender ratios, disrupted social integration and roles, high levels of joblessness, and increased crime (Crutchfield & Weeks, 2015).

An Invisible Group
Results from the National Survey of Children’s Health (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018) found that more than 7% or 5 million children in the United States have experienced a parent being incarcerated. Gathering current statistics is difficult for researchers. The majority of data on children of incarcerated parents has measured the number of parents in prison, leaving unknown data about the number of parents spending time in jail (Cramer et al., 2017). Because of this, there is reason to believe that the current number of children of incarcerated parents exceeds previous findings of 2.7 million children.

Children of incarcerated parents have frequently been described as an invisible group (Bernstein, 2005; Bouchet, 2008) that bears the collateral consequences of mass incarceration. There are many reasons for the invisibility. Although the children have not committed any crimes, their parent’s incarceration impacts much of what is important to them—family bonds, housing stability, safety, self-image, and social relationships. The criminal justice system does little to support family relationships and there is frequently poor communication between social service organizations and families that may be beneficial for the children (Bernstein, 2005). Those caring for the children often experience high levels of stress (Poehlmann et al., 2010), and families fear stigmatization and may keep secrets or refrain from disclosing an incarceration (Phillips & Gates, 2011).

When a parent is incarcerated, one of the first losses is physical separation between parent and child. Most parents report no physical contact with their children following incarceration (Bocknek et al., 2009). Visitation with parents has been found to be beneficial to the attachment relationship and the child’s overall well-being (Poehlmann et al., 2010) but is often infrequent and not child friendly. Visits can be costly, and relationships may be strained with the child’s caregiver. Children frequently have to travel long distances, endure long wait times, and meet with parents in environments that can feel intimidating and stressful. Mignon and Ransford (2012) found that almost half of the mothers they surveyed never had a visit from their children, and visits became less frequent for those with longer sentences. Yet prisons that implemented child-friendly visitation interventions and allowed for physical interaction demonstrated greater visitation benefits to those children (Poehlmann et al., 2010). Some benefits included improved maternal perceptions of the relationship and improved self-esteem in the children.

This loss associated with the physical separation of parent and child has been discussed in the literature and is commonly referred to as ambiguous loss because children experience the loss without closure. The ambiguity of their parent’s abrupt removal can disrupt children of incarcerated parents from finding meaning in the loss and disrupt the development of coping strategies (Bocknek et al., 2009). Children also experience stigmatization associated with ambiguous loss. In contrast to children who are separated from their caregivers by death, deployment, or divorce, it is often not socially acceptable for children of incarcerated parents to grieve the loss of parents because such parents are viewed as criminals (Phillips & Gates, 2011).

Children of incarcerated parents experience the loss of both fathers and mothers, and there are substantially more fathers in prison than mothers. But since the late 1970s, the growth rate for women in prison is more than double the growth rate for men (Sawyer, 2018). When mothers are incarcerated, the disruptions the child experiences are magnified, as children are more likely to lose their home and their primary support. Children with incarcerated mothers have been found to experience more stress and more risks than those with incarcerated fathers (Poehlmann et al., 2010). Maternal incarceration is often more closely associated with factors such as poverty, substance abuse, and mental health issues (Turney & Goodsell, 2018).

Experiencing the incarceration of a parent has been found to impact the long-term well-being of children (Turney & Goodsell, 2018). Children of incarcerated parents have increased risk for health issues, stigmatization, poverty, negative social interactions, behavior problems, school truancy and failure, and substance abuse (Poehlmann et al., 2010; Turney & Goodsell, 2018). Turney (2018) found that children with incarcerated parents are more than 5 times more likely to face adverse childhood experiences than those without an incarcerated parent. Often these children were already at risk, and the incarceration compounds these inequities. It is important to note that the research on children of incarcerated parents is fraught with selection bias and focus on negative outcomes. Very little research exists that examines protective factors and environments beyond urban, lower-income communities of color. Graham and Harris (2013) cautioned that this narrow research focus can decrease potential positive outcomes. A review of the current literature on children of incarcerated parents revealed that this narrow research trend continues.

Stigmatization and Families of the Incarcerated
Many experts consider stigmatization to be one of the most significant negative consequences of parental incarceration. Families are not stigmatized based on a specific trait they possess, but rather based on being associated with the incarcerated person (Phillips & Gates, 2011). This phenomenon is known as courtesy stigma and results in a spoiled identity for family members (Luther, 2016). The stigmatization may come from other family members, peers, teachers, social service agencies, and mental health providers. Children may be seen as “guilty by association” or perceived as being “deviant” like the parent that is incarcerated (Luther, 2016, p. 1265). In order to avoid stigmatization, families often keep the incarceration a secret, but children tend to fare better when they know the truth. Stigmatization can increase feelings of shame and impact the child’s willingness to reunite with parents (Harris et al., 2010). Foster and Hagan (2015) found parental incarceration leads to social exclusion for children into their 30s, and as a result can contribute to intergenerational socioeconomic inequality.

Purpose of the Research
The longstanding need for increased support in communities impacted by mass incarceration is clear (Harris et al., 2010). Increased awareness of the United States’ imprisonment crisis has prompted research initiatives to better understand community needs. Recent data on adverse childhood experiences suggested that children with incarcerated parents are even more vulnerable than previously thought (Turney, 2018). The developmental needs of families and children of the incarcerated are not being appropriately attended to in the literature (Holmes et al., 2010; Turney, 2018). Although research is clear that children of incarcerated parents and the family system face disequilibrium when parental incarceration occurs (Harris et. al., 2010; Luther, 2016; Phillips & Gates, 2011; Wachter Morris & Barrio Minton, 2012), 58% of new professional counselors reported having either minimal training or no training at all in individual or family-level trauma and crisis preparation (Wachter Morris & Barrio Minton, 2012). Brown and Barrio Minton (2018) found that school counselors wanted more training and resources to work with children of incarcerated parents and their families. This lack of training created barriers and ethical dilemmas in attempting to support children with incarcerated parents. Brown and Barrio Minton recommended counselors learn about families of the incarcerated through reading and participating in professional development opportunities, but the curricular experience of professional counselors working with populations affected by incarceration appears predominantly absent from the literature.

The incongruence between the urgency of mass incarceration affecting communities and the lack of literature exploring how to support families of the incarcerated demands further research. Two key research questions organized our exploration: (1) Are topics pertinent to mass incarceration and its impact on families being addressed in the classroom? (2) If so, how are these topics being included?

Method

Participants
The sample included full-time counseling professors in CACREP-accredited counseling programs in the United States. The researchers compiled an email list of 356 CACREP liaisons from the list of accredited programs on the CACREP website. Upon receiving IRB approval, CACREP liaisons were contacted and asked to forward the email invitation to full-time faculty in their departments. The request for participants was also posted to the Counselor Education and Supervision Network Listserv. The email served as an invitation to participate, contained a synopsis of the purpose of this research, and included an online Survey Monkey link. Informed consent was collected using an electronic consent form. Demographic information was gathered after consent had been obtained.

Ninety-five counselor educators began and completed the survey. Sixty-nine female and 26 male individuals participated, ranging in age from 29 to 78 years. A majority of the participants identified as White or of European descent (n = 61, 64%); 18 (19%) identified as African American/Afro-Caribbean or of African descent; five (5%) identified as Hispanic/Latinx, five (5%) identified as Asian/Polynesian or of Pacific Island descent, and five (5%) identified as multiracial. One person (1%) did not identify a race or ethnicity.

Of the participants, 20 (21%) were full professors, 22 (23%) were associate professors, 43 (45%) were assistant professors, nine (10%) were non–tenure track full-time instructors, and one (1%) was a clinical coordinator. Sixty-five (68%) came from master’s-only programs, and 30 (32%) came from combined master’s and doctoral programs. All CACREP regions were represented with 33 (35%) from the Southern region, 27 (28%) from the North Atlantic region, 21 (22%) from the North Central region, nine (10%) from the Western region, and five (5%) from the Rocky Mountain region.

Survey
The researchers created a brief survey that could lead to a description of the current state of counselor training on issues of mass incarceration and families of the incarcerated. Using broad survey research was necessary because there is currently nothing on this topic in the counseling literature. Eight questions were included in the survey: 1) Do you include the topic of mass incarceration in any of your courses? 2) If yes, what courses? 3) If yes, how do you cover this topic? 4) Do you include working with families of incarcerated persons in any of your courses? 5) If yes, what courses? 6) If yes, how do you cover this topic? 7) Have you received any training on these topics? and 8) If yes, describe.

Results

When asked whether they included the topic of mass incarceration in their courses, only 35 (36.8%) of the counselor educators surveyed answered yes. The most frequently noted course was Multicultural Counseling, under many different titles such as “Social and Cultural Diversity Issues in Counseling” or “Cultural Diversity.” Other courses noted were Foundations of Clinical Mental Health, Career Counseling, Addictions, Diagnosis, Trauma, Practicum, and Internship. Only one participant responded, “every class I teach.” When surveyed whether they included working with families of the incarcerated in their courses, 27 (28.4%) of the counselor educators answered yes. This too was most frequently covered in a multicultural counseling course but also was included in school counseling, child and adolescent counseling, and crisis counseling courses.

Using an open-ended question, participants were asked to describe how they covered the topics. The vast majority of the responses were “discussion.” These discussions were prompted by topics or readings on issues such as “systematic oppression,” “the intersection of race and social class,” “mandated clients,” and “vicarious trauma.” Two participants described developing a special topics course on incarceration and one participant invited a guest speaker related to families of the incarcerated.

When counselor educators were asked whether they had received training on these topics, only 30 (31.58%) reported that they had. But, when the participants described the training that they had received, it is notable that 19 (63.3%) of those reporting training described experiences with incarcerated persons, not specifically the families. Seven (23.3%) of those who responded had attended conference presentations on the topics of incarceration and families of the incarcerated. Two participants (6.7%) had completed research on incarcerated persons. Only one counselor educator (3.3%) described an extended training experience specific to families of the incarcerated. Finally, one (3.3%) participant described the topics being integrated into their doctoral program that was combined with rehabilitation counseling.

Discussion

The purpose of this research was for counselor educators to articulate whether topics relevant to mass incarceration and the effect on families were addressed in their classrooms, and if so, how they were addressed. Because no similar research has been reported, this study was singular in seeking to investigate how or if counseling faculty prepare their students to work with families affected by incarceration. This study did not aim to produce generalizations that apply beyond the research sample.

Nevertheless, it is essential to compare what was discovered in this study with what is documented in the literature. This study found that the majority of counselor educators were not covering mass incarceration or families of the incarcerated in their coursework, nor had they received training to do so. The findings of this study also provide the beginnings of a blueprint for what counseling programs and faculty can do to prepare students to work with children and families affected by incarceration.

For this study, comparing our findings with a body of literature is difficult because such literature does not exist, excepting the study by Wachter Morris and Barrio Minton (2012). Wachter Morris and Barrio Minton reported that 57.51% of professional counselors reported having minimal to no training in working with individual or family-level trauma and crisis preparation. Although Wachter Morris and Barrio Minton’s research did not target families of the incarcerated, this population does fall under the umbrella of individual and family trauma. Like that study, the present study demonstrated that a majority of counseling students are likely not receiving intentional, purposeful training on working with the trauma associated with incarceration. Although close to 30% of our participants did include mass incarceration and families of the incarcerated in their courses, the majority of how the topics were addressed was based on whether it arose out of discussion of broader multicultural topics. It also is reasonable to conclude that because a counseling literature search focused on training students to work with children of incarcerated parents only resulted in one webinar (Brown, 2016), a large majority of professional counselors are not adequately prepared to work with this population.

The findings of the present study may generate discussion of future recommendations and directions that counselor educators and supervisors may explore and implement. The majority of faculty in this research were not trained in the topics of mass incarceration and counseling children and families of the incarcerated, and unsurprisingly the majority did not include any training for their students. As with any topic under the umbrella of multiculturalism, counseling faculty should incorporate mass incarceration and working with children of incarcerated parents when addressing implicit bias with students (Boysen, 2010). In light of the massive numbers impacted by mass incarceration, we recommend this topic be included as required content in counselor education training. One way to ensure its inclusion would be to include persons who are incarcerated and their families in accreditation standards. At a minimum, the topic should be included in textbooks and used in case examples throughout training programs.

Counselor educators should highlight the stigma and spoiled identity that children of incarcerated parents experience and describe stigma management techniques (Luther, 2016) counselors can teach when working with these children. In addition to exposing students to data on mass incarceration and discussions of implicit bias (e.g., Alexander, 2012; Kaeble & Cowhig, 2018; Phillips & Gates, 2011), specific treatment modalities and protocols need to be developed and validated that fulfill the education and ethical expectations (ACA, 2014; CACREP, 2015) to address systemic barriers, advocacy, and cultural competence (Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2016).

Continuing education trainings could provide an opportunity for counseling associations and programs to address important content that may not receive adequate or consistent attention in required coursework. Counseling associations could choose conference themes that would encourage training and research on the needs of families of the incarcerated. Counseling programs could consider continuing education trainings as a method of communicating the program’s values and priorities, such as attention to social justice. Additional benefits may include strengthening their reputation, improving retention, maintaining relationships with alumni, and building relationships with the local clinical community.

Limitations and Future Research
The researchers recognize that the small, purposive, and heterogenous sample limits generalizability of the findings. Additionally, issues with data that rely on self-report have been well documented (Coughlin et al., 2009). Although these limitations make the present study narrow in scope and generalizability, these limitations are features of the positivist tradition aimed at finding “facts” and “truth.” This nascent study sought to establish a beginning understanding of how counselor educators are addressing mass incarceration in the classroom.

There are many directions for future research. It would be valuable to use qualitative research methods to learn from counselor educators who are effectively integrating and instructing on families of the incarcerated to provide a template for pedagogical inclusion. Research focusing on counseling students can serve to further the understanding of curricular experiences with mass incarceration and children of incarcerated parents. Research with practicing counselors can provide insight into the current landscape in the profession, including how families and children of incarcerated parents are affected and how professionals address these concerns. In that vein, outcome research with these children would be useful, as would the development of an instrument that can identify key clinical treatment areas.

Conclusion
Mass incarceration is a national crisis impacting more than 5 million U.S. children and their families (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018). This study was an attempt to provide a foundational understanding of the preparedness of counseling faculty and how they train students on this issue. The magnitude of the crisis, alongside the absence of counselor training, should cause counselors to consider our responsibility to ensure adequate counselor preparation in this area. By doing so and providing recommendations for programs to consider, it is hoped that more research will be undertaken to further underscore the importance of the topic and illuminate new understandings.

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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Jessica Burkholder, PhD, NCC, ACS, LPC, is an associate professor at Monmouth University. David Burkholder, PhD, ACS, LPC, is an associate professor and department chair at Monmouth University. Stephanie Hall, PhD, NCC, ACS, LPC, is an associate professor and founding department chair at Emory & Henry College. Victoria Porter is a master’s student at Monmouth University. Correspondence may be addressed to Jessica Burkholder, 400 Cedar Ave, West Long Branch, NJ 07764, jburkhol@monmouth.edu.