Gaining Administrative Support for Doctoral Programs in Counselor Education

Rebecca Scherer, Regina Moro, Tara Jungersen, Leslie Contos, Thomas A. Field

Initiating and sustaining a counselor education and supervision doctoral program requires navigating institutions of higher education, which are complex systems. Using qualitative analysis, we explored 15 counselor educators’ experiences collaborating with university administrators to gain support for beginning and sustaining counselor education and supervision doctoral programs. Results indicate the need to understand political elements, economical aspects, and the identity of the proposed program. Limitations and areas for future research are presented.  

Keywords: counselor education and supervision, doctoral, university administrators, counselor educators, support


The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs’ (CACREP) 2009 CACREP Standards (2008) included a new requirement for core faculty in both entry-level (i.e., master’s) and doctoral programs. This requirement endured in the 2016 CACREP Standards (2015). Although West et al. (1995) predicted the necessity of growth of CACREP-accredited doctoral-level counselor education programs in the mid-1990s, it was not until 2013 that core faculty in all CACREP-accredited programs were required to possess doctorates in counselor education and supervision (CES; or be grandfathered in from previous employment experience; CACREP, 2008). Master’s-level programs that are seeking new CACREP accreditation, as well as existing programs that are seeking to maintain accreditation, must therefore hire faculty with doctorates in CES. This requirement has created a need for greater numbers of doctoral graduates in counselor education, and institutions with master’s-level programs may be seeking to establish new doctoral-level programs to meet this need.

The creation of a doctoral program requires intricate navigation of complex systems of administration, accreditation, funding, laws, facilities, infrastructure, and politics. Additionally, universities have different requirements and levels of approval for new program development (S. Fernandez, personal communication, November 27, 2017). Counselor educators proposing a CES doctoral program must have an understanding of the complexity of the specific university (e.g., its organization, the history of university support for doctoral programs, the mission of the institution, the needs of the surrounding community, and the resources required for program development and implementation). Furthermore, counselor educators must have a firm grasp of accreditation standards for both the university’s regional accreditation bodies (e.g., Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), as well as specialty CES accreditation through CACREP.

Structure of Universities
     The hierarchical structure of universities varies from institution to institution. In this section, we provide a general outline of how universities are structured to help counselor educators who are interested in proposing a CES doctoral program. This information is very important when considering how to advocate for a doctoral program because of the many organizational layers and levels associated with an institution.

Typically, counseling programs are housed in a department, college, or school of the university (e.g., College of Education). The program is led by a program head, coordinator, or department chair. This person reports to the dean of the college. The dean reports to the provost or chancellor or chief executive officer. The president of the university then supersedes this level.

It is important for faculty members to assess the priorities of their institution for academic, student, and financial affairs. For example, a small private college in an urban area may have a mission to train adult learners and to provide access to education through lower admissions standards and flexible pathways to degree completion. In contrast, a large, public, research-intensive university may have a mission to support exceptional research and secure external grant contracts, and to raise college rankings through metrics such as low acceptance rates (The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, 2019). Based on administrative experience with doctoral program creation, structural information must be taken into consideration when advocating to administrators on behalf of CES doctoral program development.

Successful Initiation of Doctoral Programs
     In the higher education literature, there are a few publications on the creation of doctoral programs. Researchers have proposed that doctoral programs can be successfully initiated in the context of three circumstances: (a) top-down initiation, (b) filling a need in the local area, or (c) focusing on new delivery methods (Brooks et al., 2002; Haas et al., 2011; Slater & Martinez, 2000). In regard to top-down initiation, some authors have proposed that doctoral programs are likely to be launched if the initial idea comes from the provost or president of the university. Slater and Martinez (2000) described the process of successful initiation of a doctoral program in a small institution in Texas. They reported that the president suggested the idea to the dean, with later onboarding of faculty members.

Doctoral programs also seem to be initiated successfully if a need exists for such a program in the local area (Brooks et al., 2002; Haas et al., 2011). Haas and colleagues (2011) emphasized the importance of faculty members and administrators assessing program fit within the region. In both the Brooks et al. (2002) and Haas et al. (2011) studies, the importance of current delivery modalities in successfully recruiting support for a doctoral program, including the use of online delivery and interdisciplinary studies, was presented.

Rationale and Purpose
     At the time of writing, no studies could be identified in the CES literature regarding how to successfully gain administrative support for starting a doctoral program in CES. Another manuscript in this special issue (Field et al., 2020) illustrates a potential pipeline problem in counselor education, in particular the need for more CES doctoral programs in the North Atlantic and Western regions of the country. CES faculty members who are contemplating starting a CES doctoral program currently have little guidance on how to gain support for starting a program. In addition, no studies could be located regarding how to successfully sustain an existing doctoral program in CES. The purpose of this study was to collect and analyze qualitative data to address the research question guiding this study: Which strategies are helpful in gaining initial and ongoing support from administrators for a CES doctoral program, and how successful are those?


This study was conducted as part of a larger basic qualitative study sampling counselor educators. The purpose of the larger qualitative study was to identify perceptions of doctoral-level counselor educators regarding four major issues pertinent to doctoral counselor education: (a) components of high-quality programs, (b) strategies to recruit and retain underrepresented students, (c) strategies for successful dissertation advising, and (d) strategies for working with administrators. In order to explore these four major issues, four research teams were assembled, one of which included the authors of this manuscript. All four coding teams worked together to select these four issues, as it was felt that these issues were most pressing for faculty who were seeking to establish new doctoral CES programs and that little information and guidance existed in these areas. In-depth interviews were then conducted with doctoral-level counselor educators in CACREP-accredited programs to answer a series of research questions that addressed the issues above. Faculty from CACREP-accredited programs were selected because the focus of the larger project was to support faculty who intended to seek CACREP accreditation for new doctoral CES programs.

In the basic qualitative tradition, qualitative data were collected, coded, and categorized using the constant comparative method from grounded theory methodology (Corbin & Strauss, 2015; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Basic qualitative designs involve the collection and analysis of qualitative data for the purpose of answering research questions outside of other specialized qualitative focus areas (e.g., developing theory, understanding essence of lived experience, describing environmental observations). Because we were not seeking to develop theory, understand lived experience, or research any other specialized qualitative focus area with this study, and because the research question did not require a specialized approach to data analysis, the large research team selected the basic qualitative approach described above.

Each coding team designed interview questions to directly answer their specific research question. The research questions explored in this study were as follows: Which strategies are helpful in gaining initial and ongoing support from administrators when seeking to start a new doctoral program in CES, and how successful are those? The interview questions that were developed and used as the basis for data collection for this study were: 1) What guidance might you provide to faculty who want to start a new doctoral program in counseling, with regard to working with administrators and gaining buy-in? and 2) What guidance might you provide to faculty who want to sustain an existing doctoral program in counseling with regard to working with administrators and gaining ongoing support?

     Participants met two inclusion criteria for entrance into the study: (a) current core faculty members in a doctoral CES program that was (b) accredited by CACREP. Email requests were sent to 85 CACREP-accredited programs; faculty from 34 programs responded (40% response rate). Interviews were conducted with 15 full-time faculty members at CACREP-accredited CES doctoral programs. Participants were each from separate and unique doctoral programs, with no program represented by more than one participant.

The 15 participants were selected one at a time, using a maximal variation sampling procedure to avoid premature saturation (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). The authors used maximal variation to understand perspectives from faculty of diverse backgrounds who worked at different types of institutions. Participant selection was predicated on six criteria grounded in research data about factors that may impact perceptions about doctoral program delivery: (a) racial and ethnic self-identification (Cartwright et al., 2018); (b) gender self-identification (Hill et al., 2005); (c) length of time working in doctoral-level counselor education programs (Lambie et al., 2014; Magnuson et al., 2009); (d) Carnegie classification of university where the participant was currently working using The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education database (Lambie et al., 2014); (e) region of the counselor education program where the participant was currently working (e.g., Field et al., 2020), using the regional classifications commonly applied in the counseling profession; and (f) delivery mode of the counselor education program where the participant was currently working, such as in-person or online (Smith et al., 2015). As an example of this procedure, the first two participants were selected because of variation in gender, years of experience, and Carnegie classification. The third and fourth participants were selected on the basis of differences from prior interviewees with regard to ethnicity and region. Interviews continued until data seemed to reach saturation and redundancy at 15 interviews.

Although unintended, participant characteristics closely approximated CACREP statistics for faculty characteristics. The demographics of counselor educators in the sample was 73.3% White (n = 11), with 73.3% (n = 11) of participants working at research-intensive (i.e., R1 and R2) institutions. The sample was highly experienced, with an average of 19.7 years (SD = 9.0 years) as a counseling faculty member, with a range of 4 to 34 years. More than half of the participants (n = 9) had spent their entire career in doctoral counselor education.

     The last author of this manuscript sought IRB approval. Once we received IRB approval, potential participants were contacted from 85 CACREP-accredited programs with doctoral-level graduate studies in CES. Fifteen faculty were interviewed based on maximal variation sampling described above. All but one participant (n = 14) was interviewed via the Zoom video conference platform, chosen because of its privacy settings (i.e., end-to-end encryption). Interviews were recorded using the built-in Zoom recording feature. One participant was interviewed in person at a national counseling conference. This interview was recorded using a Sony digital audio recorder.

Interview Protocol
     Each videoconference interview was begun by collecting demographics and informed consent. Following the introductory phase, interviewees were asked eight questions that addressed the research questions of the larger study. Two of the questions were specific to this sub-research team. Interview questions were developed using Patton’s (2015) guidelines to inform question development. Specifically, the questions were open-ended, neutral, avoided “why” questioning, and asked one at a time. The questions were piloted with peer counselor educators prior to the start of the research project in order to get feedback on clarity and ease of answering. Participants received the questions by email before their scheduled interview. The participants were identified using alphabetical letters to blind participant identity to all members of the research team.

Each semi-structured interview lasted at least 60 minutes, during which participants responded to questions that were evenly distributed among the four research teams. Participants were therefore able to respond to interview questions with significant depth. Data did not appear saturated until 15 interviews had been conducted. Each research team was asked to review the transcripts developed from the 15 interviews to deduce whether adequate saturation had been achieved and until consensus was reached.

     All interview recordings were transcribed by graduate students. These students had no familiarity with the interviewees and were trained in how to transcribe verbatim. Once completed, each transcript was sent back to the interviewees to ensure accuracy. After all interviewees checked their document, the sections of the transcripts with the questions related to each team were copied and pasted into a document organized by the participants’ alphabetical identifiers. Each team was responsible for coding and analyzing the responses to their respective questions from the interviews.

Coding and Analysis
     The first, second, third, and fourth authors served as coding team members. The fifth author conducted the interviews as part of the larger study and assisted with writing sections of the methodology only. The demographics of the coding team were as follows. Team member ages ranged from mid-30s to 40s. All four identified as White cisgender females. Two of the coding team members were employed as full-time counselor educators, one identified as an administrator and counselor educator, and one coding team member was completing doctoral training as a counselor educator. Two participants had worked in doctoral counselor education programs, and two had not. We have served on both sides of the faculty–administrator relationship. These differences in backgrounds allowed for both etic and emic positioning pertinent to the topic of working with administrators to start and sustain doctoral programs in CES.

Because of the nature of both insider (emic) and outsider (etic) perspectives, the authors used a memo system when coding the manuscripts. This memo system involved three components. First, we created a blank memo every time a transcript was coded. Second, each time an interviewee’s transcribed response provoked some response within one of us, we raised it to the group and reflected on our individual experience. This response was documented in a memo. Third, one of us took notes to bracket any biases that might have been present. Identified biases often stemmed from our own experiences as faculty members talking to administrators, our service in an administrative role, or our own personal experiences developing doctoral programs. This occurred during joint coding team meetings and individual coding meetings once the open coding had been solidified into a set of codes. The memos were kept in a shared, encrypted, electronic folder for later review.

The following steps were followed by the coding team in the current study to ensure trustworthiness of analysis. The four coding team members jointly coded the first three participant transcripts to gain consensus. Following this open coding process, the second author condensed the open codes for the next phase of analysis. The coding team members then reached consensus on the condensed codes. Following agreement, we used the condensed codes to continue the coding process for the next two transcripts in joint coding meetings. This process allowed for discussion to assist with consistent understanding of the codes across the team. Following the joint open coding of the fifth transcript, the remaining 10 transcripts were assigned to one of us for open coding to be completed independently. After the open coding process was completed, the fourth author proposed a framework of the emerging themes. She examined the open codes and considered discussions that emerged throughout the team process to identify the emergent themes from the data. Open codes were only included in the analysis if they emerged in at least four transcripts, which resulted in the removal of three codes from the final results. All team members reached consensus for the themes that were originally identified by the fourth author.


The data analysis process resulted in three emergent themes regarding strategies for gaining initial and ongoing support from administrators for CES doctoral programs and the level of success of those strategies. The three themes were political landscape, economic landscape, and identity landscape. Each theme had five associated subthemes. Each theme and subtheme are discussed in more detail below, and brief participant quotes are inserted to highlight the experiences of the participants in their own words for the purpose of thick description (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016).

Political Landscape
     Considering the political landscape appeared to be a crucial strategy for recruiting administrative support when having conversations with administrators about CES doctoral programs. Participants described the importance of understanding the context of conversations with administrators within the larger political system of higher education institutions. The subthemes represented factors that influenced political decisions.

Political Endeavor: “Watching Your Politics”
     Participants reported that conversations with administrators were highly political in nature and having these conversations was a form of political endeavor. One example of political endeavor was to ensure that other academic units and programs were in support of a CES doctoral program. As one participant stated, “First make sure that you’ve got your politics in order, so social work agrees with you and psychology agrees with you. So, you’ve got support of any competitor on campus.” If other academic units or programs are opposed to a CES doctoral program, it may result in administrators being cautious about supporting the program because of fears that they may be caught in the middle of a turf battle.

Gaining administrative support seemed to be predicated on the ability to “strategically build relationships” with administrators, as one participant put it. One participant commented on the complexity of developing these relationships with administrators. This participant believed that faculty needed to strike a balance of being flexible and adaptive to the administrators’ agenda and “order of the day,” while also retaining one’s “own ideology and belief systems.” Building relationships with administrators also seemed to involve avoiding unnecessary conflict that may reduce administrator support for faculty ideas. One participant cautioned that “watching your politics” and “keeping your mouth shut when you know you shouldn’t be speaking up against key administrators” was important during conversations with administrators to avoid unnecessary conflict that could “hurt your own doc program.” Learning this form of engagement seemed to be a struggle for some participants. One participant stated that they “don’t know how to navigate those conversations effectively” and felt “saddened and frustrated” as a result.

Status, Prestige, and Recognition: “A Huge Feather in One’s Cap”
     Participants conveyed that CES faculty could gain administrative support through the strategy of arguing how a doctoral program could enhance status, prestige, and recognition for an institution. One participant commented that “all university presidents want doctoral programs. They want them because of the prestige.” This participant elaborated that faculty should therefore “show them how doctoral programs bring recognition, how it raises you in the rankings, and all of those kinds of things.” Some participants noted that the degree to which administrators cared about enhanced status, prestige, and recognition depended on the type of institution. For example, administrators who work at an institution that is less concerned with college rankings may be unpersuaded by the potential for enhanced status and recognition.

Participants also encouraged CES faculty to strategically engage in actions that increase recognition for the program and university. Some potential strategies that may appeal to administrators include being “identified as an expert, and to go out and do public radio broadcasts and be featured in the newspaper. Be featured in national publications.” This recognition helps with both program and university visibility, which participants believed was important to administrators. Participants also shared that visibility can help to protect the program from losing administrative support. As one participant stated, “If you’re invisible in the eyes of the administrators, they’re not going to think of you if some opportunities are coming to the fore.” This participant further commented that administrators needed to be reminded of the doctoral program through continual visibility efforts, as administrators often operate from an “out of sight, out of mind” position.

Demonstration: “Wanting Empirical Evidence”
     Participants identified the strategy of sharing evidence with administrators to support and sustain doctoral programs. As one participant stated, “Once you get to the doctoral level, then we’re talking about people wanting empirical evidence.” In the early stages of program formation, this evidence might be a comprehensive proposal that is supported by data. As one participant stated, faculty need to develop a “solid plan” and be “as prepared as possible” for conversations in which administrators will “ask a ton of questions.”

Once a program is formed, it seems crucial that programs continuously provide updates to administration about program successes to sustain administrative support. Participants identified several approaches to demonstrating the success of a program. Some participants indicated that it was important to keep administration informed about student successes that occurred during doctoral study. One participant reported that their program kept administration informed via email about “every little success of the doctoral program” and provided the following examples: “Every time somebody successfully defends a dissertation, every time somebody presents at a conference, every time somebody gets a job congratulated, the president knows about it.” Other participants believed that it was helpful to report program outcomes such as graduation rates and employment statistics, which requires faculty to maintain contact with alumni to understand where they are working after graduation. It therefore seems possible that administrators may differ in which types of evidence they value, requiring faculty to carefully consider which information their administration most values when sending them updates of program successes. As one participant stated, “I think the question is, what information do you need to feed to administration to be convincing?”

Scrutiny: “Internal Credibility Is Super Important”
     Participants reported that program faculty should understand the different ways that administration will scrutinize the credibility of a doctoral program. One participant defined credibility as, “Do what you’re doing well.” Administrators might withdraw support for a program that is perceived as not producing quality graduates or has problems such as not graduating students. Administrator scrutiny of the program’s financial situation also appears to be an important consideration. Administrators who are concerned about the financial viability of the program may withdraw their support.

Timeline and Trajectory: “It’s a Long Journey”
     Participants reported that political decisions, such as starting and sustaining academic programs, particularly doctoral programs, may be influenced by unique timelines and trajectories. Participants encouraged faculty to develop the strategy of thinking long-term about cultivating administrative support for a doctoral program. One participant emphasized the need to “work together” with administrators in a collaborative fashion and make compromises so that administrators will support the doctoral program throughout the “long haul” and “long journey” of the program.

The length of administrator tenure at the university is another factor that faculty are advised to consider. One participant stated that faculty tend to have longer tenure than administrators at their university. As a “lifer,” this participant saw “a lot of rotation in and out of leadership.” Administrator turnover can result in changes to administrative priorities and agendas, which can impact support for a CES doctoral program. This participant encouraged faculty to “be cognizant of the fact that winds change.” 

Economic Landscape
     Considering the economic landscape and economic realities of starting and sustaining a doctoral program was the second main overarching theme. Developing an understanding of the economic landscape is important context for faculty when preparing for discussions with administrators. Several subthemes comprise the economic landscape, each detailed below.

Financial Aspects: “It Takes a Lot of Money”
     Of utmost importance when discussing starting and sustaining CES doctoral programs with administrators is understanding the financial resources required. Many participants spoke about the cost of CES doctoral programs for universities. Participants believed that a crucial strategy to gaining administrator support was being able to explain how programs can be at least revenue-neutral or even generate revenue for the university, as administrators are less likely to support a CES doctoral program that is a drain on financial resources.

Participants varied in their perceptions of whether CES doctoral programs could generate revenue for the university. The key distinction between these participants seemed to be whether they believed doctoral programs should charge students tuition or fully fund them. Some participants believed that “high-quality doc programs do not make money for institutions” because they should be fully funding doctoral students rather than generating tuition revenue. These participants proposed that faculty should instead be “thinking creatively about funding sources” and seeking alternative methods of offsetting the financial burden on the institution. Examples of identified alternate funding sources included grants and undergraduate teaching opportunities for doctoral students.

Others were aware of this prevailing belief that doctoral programs do not generate revenue and argued the opposite: “Most faculty, when they want to start a doctoral program, they repeat this thing that they hear, which is ‘doctoral programs cost money, they don’t make money.’ And that’s not true.” These participants proposed that student tuition should be used to fund doctoral programs. One participant argued that if tuition exceeded the cost of faculty salaries, the program was likely to be generating revenue. This participant believed that counseling programs could generate money because they were relatively inexpensive. Unlike hard science disciplines, CES doctoral programs do not require expensive lab equipment, and CES faculty salaries are “lower compared to other programs.”

Tangible Benefits to Ecosystem: “How Do We Help?”
Participants discussed that administrator support for a doctoral program can be bolstered through demonstrations of how the program is supporting the local community. One participant shared that their program provides data to administrators about the number of hours of free counseling that the program provides to the community, which in turn helps the dean to gain the provost’s support for the program. Such data can help administrators when they conduct a cost–benefit analysis for whether to start a new program or sustain an existing program. Likewise, another participant encouraged faculty to take an “ecological view” and consider “how do we help . . . the surrounding communities?” 

Need for Resources: “Pit Bulls in a Fighting Ring”
     Participants discussed the need to address the competition for resources when attempting to gain administrator support. Participants mentioned the scarcity of resources that included faculty positions (i.e., lines) and physical building space. This scarcity resulted in programs needing to compete for resources. One participant stated, “I think we’re all going to be like pit bulls in a fighting ring over resources at this point.” Another participant shared a similar statement: “Once we get outside of our building, it is very territorial. So, we have to basically anticipate resistance from other pockets in the university if we want a new program at the doctoral level.” This participant elaborated that the provost needs to be aware of these dynamics and that faculty should attempt to make a strong case for needing resources if they are in competition with other programs.

Competition for resources seemed to occur not only within a university’s departments but also between CES programs at different universities. Doctoral applicants appear to be increasingly making enrollment decisions based on tuition costs and graduate assistantships, which increases the pressure for programs to provide financial support packages. One participant reported that it is becoming less feasible to operate a doctoral program without “some form of stipend or assistantship” because “if you don’t, there’s too many other programs that do.” This participant elaborated that administrators must support the program with assistantships and concluded, “I wouldn’t try to start a program without it.”

Some participants discussed strategies to maximize resources across the college or school in which the program exists, such as with college-wide methodology courses. Such strategies seemed particularly important when adapting to the pressure of accepting more students to make the program revenue-neutral. One participant suggested that such resource sharing was “of utmost importance… in the early beginnings of programs.”

Faculty and Program Responsibilities
     Faculty have more complex responsibilities when operating a doctoral program compared with a master’s program, such as attending conferences with students and engaging in the larger campus community. As one participant stated, “It’s also being at events, interacting with administrators, making sure when walking around campus or buildings that they know who you are and that they can connect with what you’re doing.” Participants explored the economic aspects of the responsibilities that individual faculty members and the larger program have when responsible for the doctoral education of counseling students: “At our institution, you don’t get a lot of credit per se, or release time or extra pay for all of the work it takes to mentor doctoral students.” This credit that is or is not allocated to doctoral education impacts faculty members’ well-being. Another participant cautioned faculty to be aware of “faculty burnout” that accompanies tensions around adequately funding faculty positions: “If you shrink, and you still maintain the same number of students, there is simply not enough time, not enough emotional capacity, to do the good work.” Another participant shared that their doctoral programs felt like “hell on wheels” because “we ended up with a program that had more than 100 students with two real tenured faculty running the program.”

Influence of University: “Know the Size and Culture”
     This subtheme represented faculty considerations of the larger university system context where the counseling program is situated. As one participant summarized, “part of it is looking at the context of the program in the university.” Participants particularly referenced size as an influencing factor. As one participant stated, “Know the size and culture of your institution.” University size influenced participants’ access to decision-makers: “We’re so small that I could literally walk out of my office and two minutes later I can be in the provost’s office. I can ask a question. They’re very approachable, and so I don’t feel intimidated.” Understanding the institution’s mission and its funding priorities is crucial to forging successful alliances with administrators regarding whether to start and sustain a CES doctoral program. Understanding where a CES doctoral program fits within the institution’s academic structure therefore helps faculty to effectively communicate with administrators, and consistently reviewing this can help inform ongoing dialogues with administrators.

Identity Landscape
     The overarching identity landscape theme represents how programs both understand their internal identity regarding doctoral education, as well as the external identity factors that contribute to the program. Each subtheme is detailed below with participant quotes.

Operationalize and Define Commitment: “Faculty Have to Buy In”
     Gaining faculty buy-in prior to conversations with administrators and gaining approval for a doctoral program was a consistent message relayed by participants. One participant reflected, “Everybody has to be on board and has to buy in to the concept that the mission can’t be the mission of one person.” Another participant recommended that faculty leadership (e.g., program directors) need to operationalize this commitment through intentional dialogues with faculty. This participant stated that “the evidence for faculty buy-in isn’t always there until you probe.” They elaborated that faculty leadership can facilitate discussions around the following questions: “Are you willing to do X, are you willing to do Y?” and “If we start a doctoral program, do you feel like you have the skills you’ll need or do you fear that you’re going to be left behind?” Such conversations appeared important to developing a unified collective commitment to the doctoral program, which was critically important when challenges arose. Other participants reflected on personal buy-in and encouraged self-reflection in this regard: “Things to consider including one’s own personal meaning making.” Participants reflected that doctoral education was significantly different than master’s-level education and required a different level of commitment. Administrators are unlikely to support a doctoral program if the faculty are divided in their commitment to the program.

Understanding Differences: “Know What Your Program Is Worth”
     Participants spoke about the need for faculty to possess knowledge about multiple aspects of doctoral education when conveying information to administrators. Faculty should be familiar with the differences between master’s and doctoral education, between doctorates in other disciplines within the university, and among doctoral programs at different universities in the state. This information assists faculty “to really know what your program is worth and to be able to explain it.” For example, faculty should make administrators aware of how doctoral education can enhance master’s-level training rather than result in master’s students being “ignored” and treated as “second class citizens.”

Participants indicated that administrators may not be familiar with the counseling profession and thus may need education. Participants reported the need for “educating your administrative colleagues about what counselor ed is, what they do, how we train.” Another participant stated that “even at the dean level, they don’t know what the heck a mental health counselor is. Not a clue.” Consistent with this, administrators may also need information about other aspects of the profession, such as the value of specialized accreditation. One participant reported, “I think that we can do a better job of telling our admin the pros of CACREP versus the cons.” Education about CACREP accreditation was important because of the costs associated with accreditation fees and hiring core faculty to meet the CACREP doctoral standards.

Quality in Programs: “High-Quality Output”
     Participants reflected on the importance of program quality as a reflection of the programs’ overall identity. Program outputs seemed to be a particularly important measure of program quality. Some participants, particularly those at research-intensive universities, emphasized the importance of research-related outputs such as “grants, high-quality output, and visibility.” Across participants, employment rates were a particularly important measure of program quality, especially employment in academic and administrative jobs post-graduation. Participants reported that such metrics were useful as a “selling point” to administrators, especially if needs existed for doctoral-level graduates in the local area. As one participant stated, “Some of those outcomes become really important to administrators, and I think that we need to be good at putting those outcomes in front of them.”

Participants also shared concerns with program quality. These concerns often centered on admitting more students than can be adequately mentored through the dissertation process. One participant was “concerned about doc programs that bring in cohorts of 20 and churn them out” because they feared that “big doc programs” are “just course-based models without a whole lot happening outside of that. . . . And, you know, I worry about dissertation mentoring.”

Program accreditation was explored as an influencing factor in program quality that ultimately influences the overall program identity through reputation. One participant stated, “We built the program around the accreditation standards and took those standards very seriously.” Another participant explored how the accreditation process can influence administrators’ opinions of the program: “If we had bombed that visit, from the president to the vice president on down, we would have looked really bad.”

Advancing the Institutional Mission: “It Has to Match”
     Study participants commented on the importance of the identity of the doctoral program connecting to the mission of the larger institution. One participant encouraged faculty to consider the institutional mission when communicating with administrators: “When we advocate for programs, we need to understand the mission of the institution.” This participant reported that administrators in a university that values community service may be in favor of doctoral programs that “create more service providers for the local community.” Another participant stated that “it has to match the university’s mission. I hear that more and more and more.” This participant acknowledged that a proposed doctoral program would only receive administrative support if it “fits with the strategic plan of the university.” Participants indicated that the program should align not only with the institutional mission but also with the mission of the college or school where the program is housed.

Stakeholder Dynamics: “Making the Administrators Happy”
     Participants discussed the variety of stakeholders that faculty should consider when developing a CES doctoral program. Such stakeholders include the students being educated, faculty in the program, administrators who make decisions about the program, and employers of future program graduates. Participants reflected that each stakeholder group can contribute meaningfully to the identity of the program.

At times, a stakeholder group’s contributions and agendas may be at odds with those of another stakeholder group. This is particularly problematic when tensions exist between a stakeholder group and administrators. For example, faculty may prefer a smaller program than administrators. One participant stated that “one of the things that I’ve fought with faculty about my whole life, has been that [faculty] want small classes and they want few students.” This participant added that administrators tend to close smaller programs when pressured to cull the number of doctoral programs at an institution, and thus smaller size represents a potential threat to the program: “Any time an administrator is going to cut a program or deny resources to a program, they do it with the program with the least number of students in it. It’s just the absolute way it’s done.” This participant proposed that faculty stakeholders must therefore understand the dynamics of higher education administration when advocating, as “making the administrators happy with the numbers” is an important priority.


In this study, we conducted a qualitative analysis of interviews with 15 experts in the field to examine the research question. We identified participant-reported strategies for gaining initial and ongoing support from administrators for a CES doctoral program. The overarching themes of political, economic, and identity landscapes emerged from the data, alongside associated strategies necessary for gaining support. Navigation of complex university systems, including accreditation, finances, legal concerns, infrastructure, and politics, seem to be required for successful initial administrator approval of a CES doctoral program. Awareness of institutional mission and history, purpose, community needs, fiscal realities, and the university’s organizational chart also can facilitate approval and successful program sustenance.

Implications for CES Faculty
     The findings from this study may be utilized by existing master’s degree counseling program faculty who want to create a CES doctoral program. Faculty should embark on a data-driven process to inform administrators of tangible benefits across multiple systems and articulate the financial resources necessary for long-term success. As new CES doctoral programs are proposed, faculty should ensure that university administrators are aware of the relative worth of counselors and counselor educators, particularly in contrast to other mental health disciplines that may exist on campus. They may need to document the tangible benefits that CES programs bring to the university that are in alignment with the university’s mission and strategic plan. In 2013, Adkison-Bradley noted, “As universities change and grow, academic programs are often required to justify their request for resources or asked to explain how they uniquely contribute to the overall mission of the college and surrounding communities” (p. 48). Faculty could benefit from open dialogue with administrators and mentors about what it costs the institution to have a doctoral program compared to what revenue and resources a doctoral program can generate. CES faculty also can provide data to explain how accreditation requirements that may appear expensive to administrators (e.g., 1:6 faculty–student ratios in practica; 1:12 faculty–student ratios) do benefit students, clients, and communities, including protection of “broad public interests” (Urofsky, 2013, p. 13).

Faculty must engage in systemic thought that goes beyond the program and department. Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems model provides a useful model for program faculty to understand. This model includes four main systems in which individuals exist—microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem, with each system growing in size and complexity. Faculty without this perspective risk experiencing their department in a bubble and may not realize how their smaller microsystem (i.e., program, department) fits within the larger macrosystem of the university. The political landscape can become entangled in the developing exosystem where these systems overlap. This exosystem includes considerations for the college’s or school’s strategic priorities where the doctoral program is located. Faculty also should consider larger systemic interactions, such as the doctoral program’s relationship with the local community, with other master’s and doctoral programs in the state, and with other doctoral programs nationally.

The 2016 CACREP Standards (2015) require doctoral education to focus on leadership. However, the standards require this education to be in relation to counselor education programs and in professional organizations, not specifically in institutions of higher education as larger systems. It is unknown how or if students receive formal education about how to navigate university systems, as it is not typically included in CES doctoral program curricula. However, in our own personal experiences as faculty members and doctoral students, we have found that this knowledge seems to be acquired through observation, experience, and on-the-job mentoring. Unfortunately, this learning may occur when new and junior faculty are under pressure to establish themselves for tenure and promotion. Senior faculty, including those nearing retirement, are likely to possess this systemic knowledge and understanding. This knowledge could be conveyed via formal or informal mentoring programs; however, junior faculty in counselor education programs report a lack of mentoring experiences (Borders et al., 2011). The lack of mentoring could be from a variety of reasons, as junior faculty members may be intimidated by senior faculty (Savage et al., 2004), or senior faculty may lack the commitment to put forth the long-term effort to gain support for a new CES doctoral program.

Faculty must be willing to invest in learning about the processes involved in doctoral program creation—to listen, be respectful, and exercise patience for the time required for program approval, funding, and development. The results of this study indicate that program generation is a political process, and junior faculty must be aware of their environment. Faculty have different levels of input and leadership at different institutions, such as with different forms of shared governance (Crellin, 2010). Faculty who do not understand political savviness, the role of fiscal constraints, and the historical precedents for doctoral program initiation may struggle more than those who understand the lens by which individual institutional decisions are made.

Implications for University Administrators
     University administrators could utilize the results of this study to understand how to work with faculty who are requesting the initiation of a new doctoral program. Administrators could consider establishing dedicated time and orientation to new and junior faculty to assist them in conceptualizing how faculty requests are prioritized within the institution, perhaps via a formal mentoring program (Savage et al., 2004). For example, if the university’s current vision is to respond to the lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates in the local job market, counseling faculty could better manage their expectations about the estimated timeline of new degree program creation while aligning their new CES doctoral degree proposal to a more attainable target date. Communication about the timeline of decisions and the patience involved in systemic change (e.g., state legislature involvement) could also benefit the faculty perspective. Opportunities for learning about the organization are a crucial ingredient in organizational change (Boyce, 2003).

Although it is the responsibility of deans and department chairs to communicate the university’s vision and strategic plan, administrators should also trust the CES faculty’s distinct knowledge of the field and dynamic accreditation standards. Faculty are uniquely qualified to anticipate shifts in the profession that could impact their programs. From our experience, CES faculty who serve as internship clinical supervisors may also possess unique knowledge of the needs of the surrounding communities through their supervisees’ reports of client needs.

It is suggested that administrators include a university organizational chart in new faculty orientation or in the faculty handbook so that faculty can be aware of the hierarchy within the university. The orientation should include a clear explanation of how the particular institution prioritizes agendas and provide a history of the institution, with specific examples of prior program creation in the face of competing needs (e.g., missions, financial). Faculty can then understand how the university invests in its future.

Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
     Several limitations exist with qualitative research in general, and with this unique project specifically. In general, qualitative research is limited by researcher bias, interviewer bias, interviewee bias, and participant demographics (Corbin & Strauss, 2015). To control for potential bias during the analysis process, the coding team used several strategies to enhance trustworthiness, including recruiting coding team members who had identities as both CES faculty and administrators, bracketing biases throughout coding, using consensus to resolve discrepancies in coding, and using memos to document decisions. Future studies could seek to triangulate the data from this study to determine whether the findings are transferable to the perspectives of other faculty in CES doctoral programs.

The focus of this particular research study was to explore faculty perspectives regarding how to gain administrative support for initiating and sustaining CES doctoral programs. As such, the perspectives of administrators were not surveyed regarding how to gain administrative support for CES doctoral programs (beyond those counselor educator faculty participants who have served in administrative roles). Future studies, perhaps in the form of quantitative research, could include these perspectives to determine whether the perspectives of CES doctoral faculty are consistent or divergent with administrator experiences regarding how to work effectively with administrators.

We sought to understand strategies for successfully gaining initial and ongoing administrative support for a CES doctoral program. This exploration included both participants who had recently started new programs and those who had long worked in CES doctoral programs. However, an analysis of thematic differences between participants who had and had not spearheaded the creation of a CES doctoral program was not conducted. Future research could explore whether strategies varied for those who had recently started a CES doctoral program versus those who had not. In addition, data were not organized and analyzed by differences in participants’ institution type (i.e., private or public), because it was outside the scope of the research question. Finally, the study focused solely on faculty at CACREP-accredited institutions. It is unknown whether the perspectives of participants in this study would be consistent with faculty at non–CACREP-accredited institutions.


The counseling profession continues its efforts to address the pipeline shortage of doctoral-level CES faculty to meet CACREP accreditation requirements. To meet this need, some master’s-level programs are seeking to start CES doctoral programs. The findings from this study may be useful to CES faculty when planning a strategic approach for collaboration with administrators regarding the initiation of new CES doctoral programs. This strategic approach will involve exploring political elements, economical components, and the identity of the proposed program. The findings of this study indicate these areas of knowledge promote a more comprehensive planning process to help prepare for working with administrators on the creation of a doctoral program.


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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Rebecca Scherer, PhD, NCC, ACS, CPC, is an assistant professor at St. Bonaventure University. Regina Moro, PhD, NCC, BC-TMH, LPC, LMHC, LCAS, is an associate professor at Boise State University. Tara Jungersen, PhD, NCC, CCMHC, LMHC, is an associate professor and department chair at Nova Southeastern University. Leslie Contos, NCC, CCMHC, LCPC, is a doctoral candidate at Governors 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 Rebecca Scherer, B43 Plassman Hall, 3261 West State Road, St. Bonaventure, NY 14778,

An Exploration of the Perceived Impact of Post-Master’s Experience on Doctoral Study in Counselor Education and Supervision

Laura Boyd Farmer, Corrine R. Sackett, Jesse J. Lile, Nancy Bodenhorn, Nadine Hartig, Jasmine Graham, Michelle Ghoston

Using quantitative and qualitative analysis, the perceived impact of post-master’s experience (PME) during counselor education and supervision (CES) doctoral study was examined across five core areas of professional identity development: counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy. The results showed positive perceptions of the impact of PME in four of the five core areas, with significant relationships between the amount of PME and perceived impact on supervision and leadership and advocacy. Implications inform CES doctoral admissions committees as well as faculty who advise master’s students interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in CES.


Keywords: counselor education and supervision, doctoral study, post-master’s experience, doctoral admissions, professional identity


The master’s degree in counseling serves as the entry-level degree in the field, and students entering a doctoral program in counselor education and supervision (CES) are believed to have already met the standards of an entry-level clinician (Goodrich, Shin, & Smith, 2011). Therefore, the doctoral degree in CES is to prepare counselors for leadership in the profession within a variety of roles including supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy, as well as counseling practice (Bernard, 2006; Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs [CACREP], 2015; Goodrich et al., 2011; Sackett et al., 2015). Though CACREP (2015) recognizes previous professional experience as one of the doctoral program admission criteria, the counselor education field lacks clear professional standards regarding the amount and type of counseling experience necessary for admittance to doctoral programs (Boes, Ullery, Millner, & Cobia, 1999; Sackett et al., 2015; Schweiger, Henderson, McCaskill, Clawson, & Collins, 2012; Warnke, Bethany, & Hedstrom, 1999). Conventional wisdom may tell us the more post-master’s counseling experience a doctoral applicant has, the more enriched their doctoral experience will be; however, the CES field does not have empirical data for how CES doctoral students perceive the impact of their post-master’s experience (PME) on their doctoral education. Therefore, the purpose of the study was to explore the perceived impact of PME on doctoral study in CES.


In this study, researchers explored the perceived impact of PME across the five core areas of doctoral professional identity development outlined by CACREP (2015; Section 6. B.1-5). The following research questions guided the study: (1) How do advanced doctoral students and recent doctoral graduates perceive the impact of PME on the development of the five core areas of professional identity during doctoral study: counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy? and (2) Is the amount of PME and the setting of PME related to the perceived impact of PME on the five core areas of professional identity during doctoral study: counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy? Practically, the results inform CES doctoral admissions committees in considering applicants with and without PME. CES doctoral admissions committees must decide whether and how much PME should be required for admittance to their programs. PME is an important consideration in selecting doctoral students, yet few applicants have this experience (Nelson, Canada, & Lancaster, 2003), making it difficult to require. The results also inform CES faculty who advise master’s students interested in pursuing a doctoral degree. CES faculty members frequently encounter ambitious master’s students who are interested in pursuing a doctoral degree, and one of the many considerations in that conversation is whether and how much PME should be obtained before doctoral study begins. Though PME is deemed important, many CES faculty members advise master’s students to go straight into doctoral study based on factors such as maturity, academics and skill level (Sackett et al., 2015). This is an issue for the field since experience is an important qualification in hiring CES faculty members (Bodenhorn et al., 2014; Rogers, Gill-Wigal, Harrigan, & Abbey-Hines, 1998) and clinical experience informs teaching (Rogers et al., 1998; Sackett et al., 2015), supervision (Sackett et al., 2015), and research (Munson, 1996; Sackett et al., 2015). Thus, exploring further the impact of PME on doctoral students’ development is critical.


Relevant CES Literature on Post-Master’s Experience


     The field of CES lacks clarity regarding the amount or type of counseling experience preferable for incoming doctoral students (Sackett et al., 2015; Schweiger et al., 2012; Warnke et al., 1999). Recently, Swank and Smith-Adcock (2014) found that most CES doctoral programs in their study recommended, rather than required, one to two years of clinical experience for admission, while some suggested licensure for admission. Similarly, Nelson et al. (2003) found that counseling experience was a necessary component to doctoral admissions, though program representatives relayed the difficulty in requiring PME since so few applicants have experience. Twenty of the 25 CACREP-accredited programs in their sample rated successful work experience as a criterion for admission to their doctoral programs. Sixteen of those reported that work experience is always or often helpful in selecting strong doctoral students. CES doctoral programs deem experience is important in admissions, yet CES faculty members often advise master’s students to go immediately into doctoral programs (Sackett et al., 2015). Thus, there will likely continue to be a shortage of experienced doctoral applicants for doctoral admissions committees to choose from. As such, it is critical to explore the impact of PME on the areas of CES study to inform advisors at the master’s level how to advise their students on gaining PME prior to pursuing doctoral work.


Sackett et al. (2015) conducted a recent study to explore how CES faculty are advising master’s-level students interested in doctoral work regarding the amount of PME to obtain beforehand. CES faculty expressed the significant influence of clinical practice on the areas of teaching, research and supervision. Respondents identified the importance of clinical experience in providing for stimulation in research and in establishing credibility in teaching and supervision. Though there was much support for PME in the qualitative findings from this study, many respondents emphasized individual circumstances in evaluating readiness for doctoral work in CES, such as age, maturity, academics and skill level. For other respondents, the experience gained through master’s and doctoral training was enough, especially in cases where students were working in clinical capacities while completing their doctoral degrees. Thus, there is some indication in CES that PME is an important consideration in doctoral student admissions (Nelson et al., 2003; Swank & Smith-Adcock, 2014) and some indication that CES faculty members perceive the importance of PME in the areas of teaching, supervision and research (Sackett et al., 2015). The current study adds to the literature by exploring CES doctoral students’ perceptions of PME on their experiences in doctoral study.


Other Helping Professions’ Literature on PME

Related disciplines are concerned with the question of PME as well. In marriage and family therapy, students with clinical experience have been rated as better clinicians by faculty than those who did not have clinical experience (Piercy et al., 1995). Proctor (1996) and Munson (1996) wrote about opposing viewpoints on whether social work doctoral programs should admit students with limited to no post-master’s in social work (MSW) experience. Proctor’s stance was that requiring post-MSW experience for admission to doctoral programs in social work was a detriment to the field, as it meant the discipline might miss out on students who are research-minded and eager to continue with their education. On the other hand, Munson argued that post-MSW experience is essential for graduates of social work doctoral programs to fulfill the needs of the field, which include building knowledge, conducting practice research and effectively teaching social work practice. In clinical psychology, O’Leary-Sargeant (1996) found academic criteria to be most important in doctoral student admissions, while clinical competence also was important. It appears that determining PME’s place in the priority list for doctoral admissions and its impact on doctoral work is a concern for related disciplines as well.


As there are no clear guidelines for considering PME in doctoral student admissions (Sackett et al., 2015; Schweiger et al., 2012), and empirical studies exploring the doctorate in counselor education are scarce (Goodrich et al., 2011), with none specifically exploring the perceived impact of PME on doctoral students’ experiences, researchers set out to add to the literature in this area. Both doctoral admissions committees and faculty members advising master’s students who wish to pursue doctoral study encounter the dilemma of if and how much PME experience is important to gain prior to pursuing doctoral work. Given this, the purpose of this study was to explore the perceived impact of PME on the five core areas of doctoral professional identity: counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy.




     To investigate the perceived impact of PME on doctoral study, quantitative and qualitative methods were utilized for their complementarity (Johnson, Onwuegbuzie, & Turner, 2007). The study was guided by the research questions: (1) How do advanced doctoral students and recent doctoral graduates perceive the impact of PME on the development of the five core areas of professional identity during doctoral study: counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy? and (2) Is the amount of PME and the setting of PME related to the perceived impact of PME on the five core areas of professional identity during doctoral study: counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy? Institutional Review Board approval was acquired prior to data collection. The researchers asked participants to rate the perceived impact of their PME or lack of PME using an 11-point Likert scale (-5 to +5; strong negative impact to strong positive impact), and analyzed themes using participants’ responses to open-ended questions for the five core areas of doctoral professional identity.



Fifty-nine advanced doctoral students or recent graduates completed an online questionnaire. To define participants’ status to degree completion, all fell into one of three groups: recent doctoral graduates (completed a CES doctoral degree within the last three years), ABD doctoral students (all but dissertation; completed all coursework and were working on dissertation studies), and advanced doctoral students (two years into completing coursework). Among participants, 13 (22%) were recent doctoral graduates, 32 (54%) were ABD doctoral students, and 13 (22%) were advanced doctoral students. One participant did not answer this question.


Participants were asked to indicate the type of setting and experience that best described their PME, checking all items that applied. There were 10 options provided and an option for “other” that included a comment box. Forty-nine percent (n = 29) indicated PME in community-based agencies, 31% (n = 18) worked in K–12 school settings, 20% (n = 12) worked in private practice, and 7% (n = 4) worked in inpatient settings. Four participants indicated post-master’s work in more than one setting. Additionally, 37% (n = 22) indicated that their PME provided experiences working with diverse populations, 31% (n = 18) gained experience working with families, and 24% (n = 14) gained experience working with clients who had substance use issues. Less than 10% of participants indicated other counseling settings and experiences such as play therapy, bilingual counseling, day treatment and in-home counseling.


The 59 participants indicated a range of time spent in PME from zero years up to 19 years before entering doctoral study. Thirty-four percent (n = 20) indicated between zero and one year of experience, 25% (n = 15) between one and three years of experience, 19% (n = 11) between three and five years of experience, 17% (n = 10) between five and 10 years of experience, and 5% (n = 3) indicated more than 10 years of PME prior to entering doctoral study.



Survey links were distributed through two national electronic list-servs, CESNET (the Counselor Education and Supervision NETwork) and COUNSGRAD (for graduate students in counselor education). The study invitation was sent to the listservs on two separate occasions approximately one month apart. Simultaneously, the study invitation was sent to regional Association for Counselor Education and Supervision leaders requesting that it be distributed to their membership lists. Additionally, CACREP liaisons were asked to send the survey link and invitation to their doctoral students. The survey was delivered through SurveyMonkey, a commonly used software product with a secure feature that was used for this research. The following research question was identified to potential participants: How do doctoral students and recent doctoral graduates reflect on how their post-master’s counseling experience or lack of experience impacted their experiences as a doctoral student? A response rate could not be calculated, as it is not possible to identify how many potentially appropriate participants received the research request.


PME Questionnaire

The authors collaborated on identifying questions that would serve to answer the research questions, focusing on five core areas of doctoral professional identity: counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy. Two questions were asked about each of the five areas. “To what extent do you believe your post-master’s experience impacted your ability to develop [area] skills in your doctoral program?” used an 11-point Likert scale with the end points being (-5) strong negative impact and (+5) strong positive impact. Following the scaling question, an open-ended follow-up question was asked: “Please comment on how your experience impacted your [area] skills, and whether more or less experience would be beneficial.” Basic demographic questions were included regarding the type of experience gained prior to doctoral study, length of doctoral study and year of graduation. A pilot survey was sent to six people: two recent doctoral graduates, two ABD doctoral students, and two advanced doctoral students completing coursework. Feedback was provided on clarity and time involved.


Data Analysis

Quantitative analyses included correlation and multiple linear regression to examine the relationship between the amount of PME obtained and the perceived impact on the five core areas of doctoral study. The research team hypothesized that the amount of PME would predict a positive relationship with the perceived impact on some core areas of doctoral study, although which core areas would be statistically significant were unknown. Therefore, this study represents an exploration of the relationships between previously unexamined variables in the literature.


An independent samples t-test examined the relationship between PME setting (clinical mental health or school) and the perceived impact of PME on the five core areas.  For this analysis, several setting options (community-based agencies, private practice and inpatient hospitals) were combined into one setting labeled “clinical mental health,” which was compared to K–12 school settings (labeled “school”). The research team hypothesized that there would be no statistically significant differences between PME setting and any of the five core areas of doctoral study. There are no prior studies that examine these variables.


For the qualitative analysis, the first, third and fourth authors served as the data analysis team. The data analysis team analyzed responses to the open-ended questions using a constant comparative method described by Anfara, Brown, and Mangione (2002). Additionally, the team used a form of check coding described by Miles and Huberman (1994). The team members independently completed a first iteration of data analysis by assigning open codes for each of the five open-ended questions by reading responses to each item broadly and observing regularities (Anfara et al., 2002). The team members completed a second iteration of analysis, which included comparison within and between codes to establish categories and identify emergent themes. The constant comparative method provided a systematic way to analyze large amounts of data by organizing it into manageable parts first, and then identifying themes and patterns.


For the final step of analysis, the data analysis team rotated through a process of peer review as recommended by Miles and Huberman (1994). For each open-ended question, two team members were assigned as coders and one was assigned the role of peer reviewer. Once the team members arrived at individually derived themes, the team met together to discuss the findings and arrive at consensus for naming themes. During this meeting, the peer reviewer led the discussion by probing and seeking clarification on the original comment wording, thus helping the team to reach consensus for the themes. Consensus was reached when the three team members came to agreement on the final themes. The data analysis team sent the original data and final themes for each of the five core areas to the remaining four authors, who served as additional peer reviewers by examining the analysis.




Quantitative and qualitative analyses were conducted in this study of the perceived impact of PME on the five core areas of doctoral development for advanced doctoral students completing coursework, ABD doctoral students, and recent doctoral graduates. The results are presented in the following sections, with discussion to follow.


Quantitative Results: Correlation, Multiple Regression and Independent Samples T-test

Correlational analysis was used to explore the relationships among all variables: amount of PME obtained (years), and the perceived impact of PME on counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy. A correlational matrix presents the relationships among the variables in Table 1. Among significant relationships, the amount of PME was related to perceived impact on development in supervision (r(57) = .43, p < .01) and leadership and advocacy (r(57) = .39, p < .01).


Table 1


Correlation Matrix for Main Study Variables


Variables 2–6 represent the perceived impact of PME on the core area of doctoral identity development (counseling, teaching, supervision, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy)


Multiple linear regression was used to examine whether the amount of PME (independent variable) predicted the perceived impact of PME on each of the five core areas of doctoral development: counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy (dependent variables). The results of the regression analysis indicated that amount of PME predicted 38% of variance in the perceived impact of PME (R2 = .38, F (6, 47) = 4.80, p < .01). The amount of PME significantly predicted the perceived impact of PME on two variables: supervision (β = .44, p < .01) and leadership and advocacy (β = .34, p < .05). A post hoc power analysis was conducted utilizing G*Power. With an alpha level of .01, a sample size of 59, and a medium effect size of .61 (Cohen, 1992), achieved power for the multiple linear regression was .98.


Finally, an independent samples t-test was conducted to compare the perceived impact of PME in school PME and clinical mental health PME settings. Results showed a significant difference between school PME (M = 4.43, SD = 1.02) and clinical mental health PME (M = 3.10, SD = 1.89) for the core area of leadership and advocacy (t(51) = -3.26, p = .02), reflecting that doctoral students with PME in schools perceived a significantly higher positive impact of their PME on the development of leadership and advocacy compared to doctoral students with PME in clinical mental health settings.  In other words, both PME settings (school and clinical mental health) perceived a positive impact of their PME on the development of leadership and advocacy. However, doctoral students who had PME as school counselors perceived this experience as having a significantly greater impact on their development in leadership and advocacy than doctoral students who had obtained PME in clinical mental health settings.


The remaining four core areas of doctoral development were not significantly different when comparing PME settings. With an alpha level of .05, a sample size of 59, and a medium effect size of .88 (Cohen, 1992), achieved power for the independent samples t-test was .83.


Qualitative and Descriptive Results: Scaled and Open-Ended Responses

The following results describe respondents’ perceptions about the impact of PME on five core areas of doctoral development: counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy (CACREP, 2015). Data was gathered for each core area using an 11-point Likert scale (-5 to +5) and was collapsed into five categories for ease of discussion. The categories were: (a) strong positive impact, +4 and +5; (b) weak to moderate positive impact, +1 through +3; (c) no impact, 0; (d) weak to moderate negative impact, -1 through -3; and (e) strong negative impact, -4 and -5. Table 2 reflects the percentage of responses in each core area. Table 3 provides a summary of qualitative themes. In the sections that follow, percentage results are summarized first, followed by a discussion of the qualitative themes within each core area of doctoral development.


Table 2


Descriptive Statistics: Perceived Impact of PME on Core Areas of Doctoral Professional Identity



     Core Area of Doctoral Development: Counseling. A majority of participants (60%) responded that PME had a strong positive impact on their ability to develop counseling skills in their doctoral program. Another 29.3% indicated a weak to moderate positive impact. Five themes emerged from the written responses describing the perceived impact of PME on the development of counseling skills.


     Theme 1: Increased confidence. Developing confidence in one’s counseling skills was frequently discussed as a benefit of having PME prior to doctoral study. Having confidence in the counseling skills already established through practice allowed for even more clinical growth during doctoral study. Many respondents stated they had greater confidence than their peers who lacked PME. Confidence also was viewed as advantageous when being asked to try a new clinical skill or technique: “I was more familiar with multiple clinical skills and my level of comfort when trying new clinical skills was higher than those who did not have the same clinical experience.”


     Theme 2: Integration of theory into practice. Participants described the perceived impact of PME as being useful for helping to integrate theory into practice during doctoral study. While learning theories and reading about concepts establishes a foundation for counseling skills, participants reported that PME provided the context needed to test theoretical understanding in practice. Others commented that having some PME and then returning to the classroom for doctoral study gave them a greater understanding and appetite for theory. Theory was learned more thoroughly with a contextual base of experience upon which to build, as one respondent described:


My experience impacted my counseling skills; however, my experience alone did not help me conceptualize theory. I learned theory much more thoroughly post-master’s (once in doctoral studies) and then was able to identify how I had been using it all along as well as to incorporate new knowledge.


Table 3


Perceived Impact of PME: Qualitative Themes by Core Area of Doctoral Development

     Theme 3: Conceptualizing cases. Case conceptualization was identified as a benefit of having PME. Participants described having greater clinical understanding and ability to apply knowledge as an advantage of PME. Others commented that having a context with which to build upon existing skills was useful and contributed to more complex conceptualizations of clients and problems.


     Theme 4: Honing counseling techniques. Participants reported that their PME refined the counseling techniques they had gained in master’s study, enabling them to expand their repertoire and focus on honing advanced techniques during their doctoral work. One participant expressed feeling greater “comfort when trying new clinical skills” during doctoral study while another stated they were “able to focus on refining higher level skills” in their doctoral program.


     Theme 5: The unique experience of school counselors. There was a notable theme regarding the distinct difference in school counselors’ experience when considering the impact of PME on counseling skill development. Some school counselors commented that they did not regularly use counseling skills while working in schools due to the variety of other responsibilities placed on school counselors. Another respondent stated that clinical supervision was crucial to developing clinical competence and that they did not receive clinical supervision while working as a school counselor. For those doctoral students with PME as school counselors, they expressed they would have benefitted by having more experience in several areas, such as use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, dual-diagnosis, and substance use treatment. Some school counselors described using only specific theories in their setting (e.g., reality therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy), and that practicing with a broad range of techniques would have been useful prior to doctoral study.


     Core Area of Doctoral Development: Supervision. The largest group of participants (48.3%) responded that PME had a strong positive impact on their ability to develop supervision skills in their doctoral program. Another group of participants (31%) rated PME as having a weak to moderate positive impact on their supervision skills. Five themes emerged from the written responses describing how PME impacted the development of supervision skills.


     Theme 1: Increased confidence as a doctoral supervisor. Participants reported greater confidence while developing supervision skills as a result of having PME. In general, doctoral students in training are asked to enter into a supervisory relationship with master’s students in training in order to develop supervision skills. Having counseling experience as a professional in the field assisted doctoral students to feel more confident in this new role, as one respondent commented, “I was able to supervise students in my former position, but also I feel the years of experience have given me insight that I can be confident in the information I pass on.”

Alternately, doctoral students who do not have PME are asked to step into the same supervisory role, but may feel inadequately prepared to be in a position of hierarchy and expertise. Most doctoral students who have not had PME have recently graduated from their master’s program; therefore, the difference between the supervisor and supervisee in terms of experience is small. A participant spoke to this struggle: “Naturally clinical supervision and counseling are related. Because of this, it would have helped to have a more solid grasp on my own counseling skills and for me to have personal experiences to draw upon when supervising.”


     Theme 2: Formative experiences in supervision. Through obtaining PME, participants reflected on their initial experiences of receiving supervision as a necessary backdrop for learning how to provide supervision. Whether those initial experiences in supervision were described as positive or negative, participants stated that they learned a great deal about becoming a supervisor through the process of receiving supervision. Initial supervision experiences also were described as either “clinical” in nature or “administrative.” Regardless of the type of supervision received, the experience was regarded as helpful in preparing them for doctoral study to advance their skills as a supervisor.


There were some participants who reported being provided with supervision during their PME and others reported that they lacked supervision. In both instances, participants acknowledged that they valued supervision as a result of their PME. Among those lacking quality supervision, one respondent stated, “My [post-master’s] supervision was mostly administrative and as a result I was at a disadvantage coming into a clinical supervisory environment.” On the other side, one participant described their master’s and doctoral program as providing “lousy supervision” and not regularly attending scheduled supervision meetings. Both experiences capture the sentiment: inadequate supervision, as a graduate student or professional, influences one’s expectations of what defines effective supervision.


     A final benefit of PME described by participants was the ability to understand the supervisee’s experience. Having experienced the position of being a supervisee first-hand enabled a greater understanding of supervisees’ struggles and real-world challenges that are faced when providing counseling. One respondent expressed, “I understood the situations the students were facing since I had recently faced them with my clients (e.g., transportation, childcare, resistance).” Some participants reflected on the experience of building rapport with a supervisor, and how influential this was in their development. Due to these experiences in the field, the importance of strengthening the supervisory relationship and establishing a safe place in the supervision environment were considered paramount. Overall, participants reported that having experience as a supervisee enabled them to realize and appreciate critical aspects of providing effective supervision.


     Theme 3: Providing resources to supervisees. Participants reported that having PME, which often included supervision, enabled them to provide better resources to supervisees as doctoral students. Some of these resources included community resources, referral options, counseling stories, therapeutic tools and techniques, varied perspectives, and a more diverse conceptualization of clients and issues. Here, a respondent illustrates this theme:


[I believe] it is super important to have . . . clinical experience when supervising students in a doctoral program. You have to be able to understand the student’s experience, have experience with many different client populations and modalities, be able to conceptualize client problems, and give students tools to advance their skills.


     Theme 4: Credibility with supervisees. Greater credibility as a supervisor was regarded as an important benefit of having PME. Through the eyes of their supervisee, having more PME was perceived as helpful to establish credibility. This theme included two aspects: the doctoral supervisor having something valuable to offer in supervision, and the supervisee reporting greater confidence in a supervisor who had professional counseling experience. In this quote, a respondent describes feelings of credibility as a supervisor based on their PME: “I am able to understand the intricacies of a school system, thus I can help my students think of problem-solving strategies to work with their students and supervisors.”


     Core Area of Doctoral Development: Teaching. The largest group of participants (38.9%) responded that PME had a strong positive impact on their ability to develop teaching skills in their doctoral program. Another group of participants (33.4%) rated PME as having a weak to moderate positive impact on their teaching skills. A smaller group of participants (22.2%) responded that PME had no impact at all on the development of teaching skills. Four themes emerged from the written responses describing how PME impacted the development of teaching skills.


     Theme 1: Confidence in teaching. Having more confidence was frequently cited as a benefit to having PME and developing teaching skills during doctoral study. Some participants stated that many aspects of counseling involve teaching to a degree; therefore, having PME strengthened the ability to teach in the classroom. On the other side, there were some participants who regretted not having more PME directly related to teaching. One participant wrote, “I wish I had more experience teaching, managing a classroom, developing innovative and attention catching ideas. I know it’s more me than anything else so I need to develop my style more.”

     Theme 2: Providing examples in the classroom. Perhaps the theme with the most support from participants was the perceived benefit of PME in their ability to provide examples while teaching. Those with PME had plenty of practical examples from their experience to draw from, which helped them a great deal while teaching. One participant wrote, “I was able to use examples drawn from my clinical experience to bring certain topics to life. I was also better able to describe some clinical issues and to teach certain skills.” Several participants wrote that they received positive feedback from students about the value of their stories and examples to enhance learning. Some also stated that they felt better prepared to conduct a live role-play in class to bring a technique to life because they had benefitted from PME. One respondent illustrated this idea well: “It’s difficult to teach something you have no experience with. There were others in my cohort who had no real clinical experience prior to starting their doctoral program and they were much less effective as teachers.”


     Theme 3: Developing a new skill. Some participants responded that teaching was an entirely new skill that was unrelated to their PME. For these participants, teaching was a skill that was solely developed during doctoral study, as this respondent wrote: “Teaching was not a part of my post-master’s work. This was an entirely new set of skills I learned in doctoral study. Neither more nor less experience would have made a difference for me in this area.”


     Theme 4: Value of prior teaching experiences. The fourth theme captures the positive impact described by those participants whose PME included teaching experiences prior to pursuing their doctoral degree. In particular, those with school counseling experience described preparing and implementing classroom guidance lessons as a natural comparison to teaching. Some participants had PME that involved providing training and giving presentations, which was also associated with teaching. For these participants, their specific PME had a positive impact on their development as a teacher during doctoral study, as this respondent reported: “Having an education background and then opportunity in my school to perform classroom guidance lessons, while different, still gave me an important opportunity to practice developing lesson plans.”

     Core Area of Doctoral Development: Research and Scholarship. The largest group of participants (46.3%) responded that PME had no impact on their ability to develop research and scholarship skills in their doctoral program. Smaller groups of participants reported a range of weak to moderate to strong positive impact on their research and scholarship development. This was the only area of doctoral development that most participants described as being unrelated to PME. Three themes emerged from the written responses describing how PME impacted the development of research and scholarship.


     Theme 1: No impact on research development. Most participants stated that their ability to develop research skills during their doctoral program was unrelated to having PME in the field. For these participants, research was regarded as an advanced skill unique to doctoral study. Many participants expressed that research and scholarship was not essential in their post-master’s positions, as is relayed in this quote: “Research is one area where [PME] is not as vital.”


     Theme 2: Basic research experiences were useful. A few participants responded that obtaining some basic research experience was useful during the time between master’s and doctoral study. In general, it is necessary for counselors in the field to conduct basic searches for knowledge to support their practice. These searches may take the form of using the Internet to find resources for clients or reviewing text-books or articles when using a particular technique or theory. School counselors discussed their use of online research for building school guidance programs. In addition, some counselors gained basic research skills in their PME through collecting and analyzing data regarding the provision of services or client outcomes. One participant described her experience with a research study:


I worked in a clinical trial of CBT, CBT + medication, and medication only. This exposure really helped me get an idea of what research is possible in mental health . . . so it had a large impact on me. I pursued my doctorate largely because I wanted to engage in research and scholarship.


     Theme 3: Contributed to area of research focus. Participants credited their PME as informing their ability to examine relevant topics for research. Some stated that their PME inspired their area of research focus. One participant noted that by working with specific populations, such as a specific ethnic minority population, “discrepancies and gaps in service” were found and helped the participant think about questions to pursue through research.


     Core Area of Doctoral Development: Leadership and Advocacy. A majority of participants (58.2%) responded that PME had a strong positive impact on their ability to develop leadership and advocacy skills in their doctoral program. Another group of participants (23.7%) rated PME as having a weak to moderate positive impact on their leadership and advocacy skills. Five themes emerged from the written responses describing how PME was perceived to impact the development of leadership and advocacy skills.


     Theme 1: Sense of responsibility to the profession. Participants described a heightened sense of responsibility to provide leadership and advocacy in the counseling field based on their PME. Some acknowledged a feeling of, “This is my job now,” related to the assumption of responsibility as a doctoral student in CES. Assuming greater responsibility was the most common theme discussed by participants, emerging in various forms.

Many participants described a sense of being propelled into leadership and advocacy through their PME. One school counselor wrote, “My job forced me to fight for myself, my students, teachers and parents. It was the best experience because I had to do it, or my job would be ineffective and possibly in jeopardy.” Another participant wrote:

Due to the nature of my job, I was doing a significant amount of advocacy. . . . Many of the kids on my caseload had multiple challenges, such as racial minority status, lack of citizenship, poverty, and/or domestic violence, and it was part of my responsibility to help them address the challenges they faced in all aspects of their lives in order to improve their mental health and functioning in school and at home.

Overall, participants described their PME as the most formative training for developing leadership and advocacy skills. PME provided a sense of purpose and meaning to advocacy and leadership in the counseling profession.

     Theme 2: Awareness of advocacy needs within diverse client populations. Participants responded that a greater awareness of the needs of diverse populations, particularly minority populations, was a result and benefit of their PME. Through working with underrepresented populations, they had a greater appreciation for the need to develop leadership and advocacy skills. One participant also described having a “deeper understanding of the difficulties faced by certain populations within our society,” which laid the groundwork for developing leadership and advocacy skills in the doctoral program. Once involved in a doctoral program, advocacy felt like a way to “join forces with people who care” to address inequities and help marginalized groups. In this way, having exposure to different cultural groups through their PME provided the context for understanding and developing advocacy action strategies.

     Theme 3: Motivation and direction for leadership and advocacy. Participants described that the motivation and direction for their leadership and advocacy work was inspired by the sense of responsibility and the awareness of needs that originated in their PME. In this way, PME helped to pave the way for the focus of their subsequent leadership and advocacy work. Regarding leadership, participants reflected that direct counseling work “consumed them” once in the profession and, as a result, professional development became something that you fit in when you could. Once they re-entered into graduate work as a doctoral student, they valued leadership and professional involvement and could give these aspects of development a more passionate focus. In a way, not having much time for professional development and leadership roles while directly serving clients provided motivation for becoming involved as a doctoral student.

Participants also reported that the presentations they submit to conferences are motivated by the needs they became aware of during their PME. Many credited their PME for helping them develop awareness of the future needs counselors were going to face, which motivated their advocacy for improved counselor training.

     Theme 4: Development of leadership and advocacy skills on-the-job. Many participants described the need to develop leadership and advocacy skills on-the-job during their PME, and how valuable this was to their doctoral work. Participants experienced first-hand the lack of funding and resources in the community and school settings, which forced them to act in creative ways to get clients’ and students’ needs met. In addition, some described working in a position with multiple roles or serving multiple school campuses, which forced them to learn how to initiate programs independently, balance multiple roles, communicate with a variety of stakeholders, and thus develop leadership skills. Advocacy also was essential to develop on-the-job, as described by this participant:

I worked as a bilingual counselor, the only one at my clinic, working with a specific population for a period of time. I had to do a lot of leadership and advocacy work at the clinic to help my supervisors and colleagues understand this specific population and the resources that were available in the community specifically for this population.

     Theme 5: Confidence to speak up. Again, confidence emerged as a theme with regard to developing leadership and advocacy skills during doctoral study. Having PME gave participants the necessary confidence to speak up in classes, in meetings and at conferences. Many reported that they became much more confident about voicing concerns and advocating due to their first-hand knowledge of issues facing counselors in the field, as did this respondent:


I think my post-master’s skills made me more confident about speaking up in meetings and conferences and it enhanced my advocacy skills because I knew what the issues facing clinicians were. It didn’t always make me popular or well understood among counselor educators with little clinical experience, however.


For these respondents, having greater confidence to use one’s voice seemed a natural result of having some years of experience with “boots on the ground” and becoming acclimated to the real-world experience of working as a counselor.




The results from this study help fill a gap identified in the literature regarding clarity in the counselor education field on the amount of counseling experience preferable for incoming doctoral students (Sackett et al., 2015; Schweiger et al., 2012; Warnke et al., 1999). Results of this study indicate that doctoral students and recent doctoral graduates of counselor education programs perceived a positive impact of their PME on doctoral study. The positive impact of PME was described across all five core areas of doctoral development as defined by CACREP (2015; Section 6. B.1-5), yet was particularly strong regarding counseling, supervision, teaching, and leadership and advocacy. Quantitative analysis confirmed a significant predictive relationship between the amount of PME obtained and the perceived impact on development of supervision and leadership and advocacy as doctoral students. While some participants perceived that their PME had a positive impact on the development of research and scholarship, this impact was far less pronounced than in other core areas, and many expressed that their PME had no impact on development in the area of research and scholarship. These findings align with and extend upon previous findings (Sackett et al., 2015) that CES faculty members believe PME informs the supervision, teaching and research of CES doctoral students.


Previous research has noted the strenuous nature of entering CES doctoral studies, with such a transition being marked by fluctuations in both emotion and confidence (Dollarhide, Gibson, & Moss, 2013; Hughes & Kleist, 2005). This transition involves the expansion of professional roles to include that of a counselor, student, educator, supervisor, and researcher and scholar (Dollarhide et al., 2013; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011; Limberg et al., 2013; West, Bubenzer, Brooks, & Hackney, 1995). A notable theme in the current study was the confidence that participants experienced and attributed to PME. With the tendency for new doctoral students to experience self-doubt in these multiple roles, the confidence gained through PME may help to mobilize internal resources, moving them forward in the developmental process as a CES doctoral student.


Considering all themes that emerged in this study of CES doctoral students and recent graduates, there is strong support for the value of experiential learning that is gained through PME. According to Kolb’s theory of experiential learning, concrete lived experiences provide the basis for reflection; then, from these reflections new information can be assimilated and abstract concepts can be formed (Kolb, 1984). Participants in this study described a common benefit of PME: having a base of experiences as a professional counselor to reflect upon during doctoral study. The process of reflecting on lived experiences as a counselor supports crystallization of knowledge in a doctoral program where additional theories, skills, techniques, and advanced facets of professional identity are developed.


Even though the majority of participants described a positive perceived impact of PME toward doctoral development, there were some who did not perceive as much benefit. This finding is reminiscent of Sackett et al.’s (2015) finding that some CES faculty members reported the counseling experience gained through the master’s and doctoral programs alone is enough and that success in a doctoral program is more reliant on the characteristics of each student. It is possible that learning styles may best predict whether and which master’s students benefit from PME prior to doctoral study. Kolb’s experiential learning theory (1984) stated that individuals have a preference among four modes of the learning cycle: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. Considering Kolb’s four learning styles, it is possible that those participants who have a preference for abstract conceptualization rely less on lived experiences as a counselor to understand and apply concepts; thus, doctoral students with this preferred learning style might successfully develop in the five core areas of doctoral identity without perceiving any benefits from PME. Future research is needed to examine this hypothesis.


Research and scholarship was the only core area of doctoral professional identity that PME was perceived to have no impact on for a large group of participants (46.3%). This finding may be worth considering for CES faculty who advise master’s students interested in pursuing a doctoral degree. Depending on the master’s student’s career goal, obtaining PME may be less of a priority if aiming for a research faculty position, where teaching and supervision would not be a requirement.


Significance of Supervision, Leadership and Advocacy

A unique finding in this study was the positive, predictive relationship between the amount of PME obtained and the perceived impact on developing one’s identity in the areas of supervision and leadership and advocacy. Specifically, doctoral students who had more years of PME perceived a greater impact on their development in the areas of supervision and leadership and advocacy. For supervision, doctoral students who have not obtained any PME would be stepping into a new role where they are expected to provide teaching, consultation, and support for the skill development of counselors-in-training (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). Having little to no time between being in the master’s student role of receiving supervision and to the role of providing supervision may present significant challenges. Alternatively, a “master” clinician does not automatically become a “master” supervisor; specialized knowledge and skills are required to develop supervision competency (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). While obtaining some PME is perceived to significantly impact supervision development, the amount of PME may not be the only factor that influences supervision competence.


Open-ended comments shed further light on the perceived impact of PME and developing leadership and advocacy. Participants commented that through their lived experiences in schools and agencies, PME provided doctoral students with a sense of urgency about the needs of clients and the profession, thus motivating their advocacy work. Participants also acknowledged PME as valuable fodder for understanding their potential as leaders. Through the context of experience as a counselor, participants were better able to understand their ability to impact the profession through leadership and advocacy work as a counselor, supervisor and counselor educator.


Relevance of PME Setting

This study explored whether the setting of PME, school or clinical mental health, was related to the perceived impact of that experience on the five areas of doctoral identity development. The only significant difference in the setting where PME was obtained was in the areas of leadership and advocacy development. Those with school counseling experience perceived a greater impact of PME on leadership and advocacy development. For participants in this study, spending time working in a school system was essential to establishing a sense of oneself as a leader and advocate in school counseling.




While some evidence exists that PME is an important consideration in CES doctoral student admissions (Nelson et al., 2003; Swank & Smith-Adcock, 2014), the current study provides evidence of the perceived impact of PME in professional development as a CES doctoral student, especially in the areas of counseling, supervision, teaching, and leadership and advocacy. Quantitative analysis revealed a significant relationship between the amount of PME and perceived development in supervision and leadership and advocacy. Doctoral admissions committees may consider these findings as they weigh the pros and cons of applicants applying for doctoral study who have differing amounts of PME. Additionally, CES faculty advising master’s students whose ultimate goal is to pursue a doctoral degree may consider these findings as they offer guidance and support to students in the decision-making process.


Across the five core areas of doctoral professional identity development, PME was frequently perceived to boost confidence during doctoral study. However, there were some participants who reported a lack of confidence in the core areas of teaching and research, despite having PME. It would seem that teaching and research represent novel aspects of doctoral identity development, as both skill sets are not always involved in PME as a professional counselor. Research and scholarship is a primary focus of doctoral course content. In fact, the CACREP 2016 standards require CES doctoral students to become proficient in both qualitative and quantitative methodology (CACREP, 2015; Section 6 B.4.), which usually requires the completion of three or more research courses. With regard to teaching, many doctoral students are an integral part of counselor education programs, with roles as co-instructors, teaching assistants and guest lecturers. Yet, development of proficient teaching skills may extend beyond these co-teaching experiences during doctoral study, where vicarious learning and role modeling are heavily relied upon. As some participants in this study described, teaching is likely to be a new area of identity to develop; yet most (72.3%) reported that having years of PME aided their development as a teacher because they had real counseling experience to draw from and ample clinical examples to contextualize course content. Therefore, doctoral admissions committees should strongly consider the value of PME for doctoral applicants as a basis for development as a teacher.


In the current study, a wide variety of PME was represented (from 0–19 years), yet a question remains: How much experience is optimal to obtain? The current study only examined doctoral students’ perceptions. Within one theme in the current study, participants speculated about reaching a point of “diminishing returns,” in which too much time away from an academic setting (attaining PME) could result in a depletion of academic skills. However, two to three years of PME would typically allow CES applicants the opportunity to gain a counseling license, streamlining the career opportunities available to them upon graduation. Sackett at al. (2015) found that many CES faculty members advise master’s students to gain enough experience to earn licensure prior to pursuing doctoral study. For CES graduates who choose to continue practicing counseling in the field, provide supervision, or serve in administrative positions, state licensure is necessary. For CES graduates pursuing a faculty position, Bodenhorn et al. (2014) found that a majority of faculty postings sought applicants with licensure or two to three years of counseling experience. For either post-doctoral trajectory, obtaining at least two to three years of PME may be most beneficial.


Future Research

This study provided an initial exploration of the perceived impact of PME on core areas of identity development as a doctoral student, while privileging the perspective of those doctoral students. Future studies are needed to examine the relationship between post-master’s counseling experience, development during doctoral study, and professional impact as a counselor educator and supervisor. Specifically, studies should explore professional outcomes of counselor educators with varying levels of PME. For example, what are students’ perceptions of faculty members and supervisors with more or less counseling experience? How is the type of institution (high teaching versus high research) related to the amount and benefit of professional counseling experience? Is continued professional practice after earning the CES doctoral degree related to professional success, career satisfaction, teaching evaluations or scholarship productivity? Future research focusing on these issues will add to the literature on this aspect of the CES profession by answering these questions.


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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Laura Boyd Farmer is an Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech. Corrine R. Sackett is an Assistant Professor at Clemson University. Jesse J. Lile is a couple’s counselor in Boone, NC. Nancy Bodenhorn is an Associate Professor at Virginia Tech. Nadine Hartig is an Associate Professor at Radford University. Jasmine Graham is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Michelle Ghoston is an Assistant Professor at Gonzaga University. Correspondence can be addressed to Laura B. Farmer, School of Education (0302), 1750 Kraft Drive, Ste 2000, Blacksburg, VA 24061,


Counselors Abroad: Outcomes of an International Counseling Institute in Ireland

Lorraine J. Guth, Garrett McAuliffe, Megan Michalak

As the counseling profession continues to build an international community, the need to examine cultural competence training also increases. This quantitative study examined the impact of the Diversity and Counseling Institute in Ireland (DCII) on participants’ multicultural counseling competencies. Two instruments were utilized to examine participants’ cross-cultural competence before and after the study abroad institute. Results indicated that after the institute experience, participants perceived themselves to be more culturally competent, knowledgeable about the Irish culture, skilled in working with clients from Ireland, and aware of cultural similarities and differences. Implications for counselor education and supervision, and future research also are outlined.

Keywords: study abroad, multicultural competencies, cross-cultural competence, international, counselor education  and supervision, Ireland

The standards set by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2009) require programs to provide curricular and experiential opportunities in social and cultural diversity. Specifically, CACREP requires counseling curricula to incorporate diversity training that includes “multicultural and pluralistic trends, including characteristics and concerns within and among diverse groups nationally and internationally” (CACREP, 2009, Section II, Code G2a; p. 10). Endorsement of diversity training by the counselor education accrediting body underscores its importance in counselor training; therefore, counselors-in-training must be provided opportunities to be culturally responsive in their work with clients (McAuliffe & Associates, 2013; Sue & Sue, 2012).

This cultural responsiveness is particularly important given the globalization of the counseling movement and the need for counselors to become globally literate (Hohenshil, Amundson, & Niles, 2013; Lee, 2012). However, counselor education training programs have fostered this multicultural competence with students in myriad ways (Lee, Blando, Mizelle, & Orozco, 2007). For example, multicultural courses have often focused on developing trainees’ cross-cultural competencies in the three broad areas of awareness of their own cultural values and biases; knowledge of others’ customs, expectations, and worldviews; and culturally appropriate intervention skills and strategies (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992).

A body of literature has examined the progress of educational programs in incorporating these aspects of diversity into the curricula. For example, Díaz-Lázaro and Cohen (2001) conducted a study that explored the impact of one specific course in multicultural counseling. They found that cross-cultural contact, such as with guest speakers, helped students develop multicultural knowledge and skills; however, they found no indication that the course impacted students’ self-awareness. Guth and McDonnell (2006) examined counseling students’ perceptions of multicultural and diversity training. Courses were found to contribute somewhat to students’ knowledge, but the study found that students gained greater knowledge from personal interactions among peers, interactions with faculty, and other experiential activities outside of coursework. Additional research has shown that multicultural training is significantly related to multicultural competence (Castillo, Brossart, Reyes, Conoley, & Phoummarath, 2007; D’Andrea, Daniels, & Heck, 1991; Dickson, Argus-Calvo, & Tafoya, 2010). A clear message from the literature highlights the importance of personal cross-cultural contact in culturally responsive counseling.

This previous research was limited in that the authors examined only the impact of training offered in the United States, leaving out the potential added value of personal cross-cultural experiences in an international context. Given the impact of direct cross-cultural experiences, a study abroad experience for counselor trainees might be a powerful way to deepen cultural understanding and responsiveness. This quantitative study was designed to examine the outcomes of this counselor trainee study abroad institute on participants’ perceptions of their multicultural competence.


Research on Study Abroad Experiences


Study abroad programs are not commonly rigorously researched because “program evaluation is an afterthought to an ongoing program undertaken by extremely busy program administrators” (Hadis, 2005, p. 5). Although data regarding study abroad experiences are primarily anecdotal, the literature does suggest several positive outcomes of a study abroad institute including personal development, intellectual growth and increased global-mindedness (Carlson, Burn, Useem, & Yachimowicz, 1991). Short-term study abroad experiences also were found to produce positive changes in cultural adaptability in students (Mapp, 2012). However, most of the study abroad research has been conducted in disciplines other than counseling, such as business (Black & Duhon, 2006), nursing (Inglis, Rolls, & Kristy, 1998), and language acquisition (Davidson, 2007). Furthermore, the research has mainly focused on the experiences of undergraduate university students and has not examined the experiences of graduate trainees (Drews & Meyer, 1996).

Several studies have been conducted that are relevant to the counseling profession. Kim (2012) surveyed undergraduate and graduate social work students and found that study abroad experiences are a significant predictor of multicultural counseling competency. Jurgens and McAuliffe (2004) also conducted a study that explored the impact of a short-term study abroad experience in Ireland on graduate counseling student participants. The results indicated that this program was helpful in increasing students’ knowledge of Ireland’s culture, largely due to experiential learning and personal interactions. The current study expands on Jurgens and McAuliffe’s research (2004) by further examining the impact of a counseling and diversity institute that was offered in Ireland. The primary research questions for this quantitative study were as follows: (1) Did the study institute have an impact on participants’ multicultural counseling competencies? (2) Did this study institute have an impact on participants’ multicultural counseling competencies in working with individuals who are Irish?





Twenty (87%) graduate counseling students and three (13%) professional counselors voluntarily participated in this research study while attending the DCII in Ireland. The sample consisted of 83% women and 17% men; 82% identified themselves as Caucasian/European American, 9% as African American, and 9% did not identify their race. The mean age for the sample was 32 (range: 22–60 years). Regarding sexual orientation, 91% of the participants indicated they were heterosexual; 4% indicated they were gay; and 4% indicated they were bisexual. Regarding disability status, 87% of the participants reported not having a disability, 9% indicated they had a disability, and 4% did not answer the question.



The study assessed participants’ cross-cultural counseling competence with the Cross-Cultural Counseling Inventory-Revised (CCCI-R, LaFromboise, Coleman, & Hernandez, 1991). The CCCI-R is a 20-item instrument initially created so that supervisors could evaluate their supervisees’ cross-cultural counseling competence. Questions on this instrument are rated on a 6-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree; 6 = strongly agree). The scale has been found to have high internal consistency and reliability, and high content validity (LaFromboise et al., 1991). Another “recommended use of the CCCI-R is as a tool for self-evaluation” (LaFromboise et al., 1991, p. 387). Therefore, the CCCI-R was slightly modified so that participants could rate themselves to understand perceptions of their own cultural competence, rather than rate other counselors on their cultural competence. Higher scores on this instrument indicate an individual’s belief that he or she has greater cultural competence. Sample prompts include the following: “I am aware of my own cultural heritage,” “I demonstrate knowledge about clients’ cultures,” and “I send messages that are appropriate to the communication of clients.” In the present study, Cronbach’s alpha was used to assess the internal consistency of the CCCI-R and it was reliable at both times of measurement (pretest = .91; posttest = .93).

Four additional Likert-type items were added to the pretest and posttest questionnaires, which asked participants to rate their multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills related to the Irish culture. The items included were as follows: (1) I am knowledgeable of the culture of Ireland; (2) I possess the skills in working with a client from Ireland; (3) I am aware of the differences between the Irish culture and my own culture; and (4) I am aware of the similarities within the Irish culture and my own culture. Participants rated the extent to which they agreed with each item from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). Because of the significant (p < .01) correlation among these four items, a single variable was established called Ireland Multicultural Counseling Competencies Scale (IMCCS). In the present study, Cronbach’s alpha was used to assess the internal consistency of the IMCCS, which was reliable at both times of measurement (pretest = .88; posttest = .90).



At the beginning of the study abroad institute, participants completed a pretest questionnaire that contained a demographic information form, the CCCI-R, and the IMCCS. Participants then participated in the two-week study abroad institute. At the conclusion of the institute, participants completed a posttest questionnaire that contained the CCCI-R and the IMCCS.


Diversity and Counseling Institute in Ireland. Study abroad institutes offered in the counseling profession can further counselors’ multicultural competence by immersing trainees in a non-American culture for a period of time. With that intent, the two-week DCII was created to increase participants’ cultural awareness, knowledge and responsiveness. The goals of the DCII were to increase participants’ (1) awareness of their own cultural background and values; (2) knowledge of the American, Irish, and British cultural perspectives; and (3) knowledge of culturally appropriate counseling strategies. Participants learned about the counseling profession in Ireland from leaders in the Irish mental health field; studied core multicultural issues with nationally known U.S. counseling faculty; were immersed in the Irish culture through tours, lectures, and informal experiences; and visited Irish counseling agencies and social programs.




A t-test was performed to examine differences between participants’ CCCI-R mean score across time from pretest to posttest (see Table 1 for mean differences and standard deviations). There were significant differences (p < .0001) in participants’ overall scores on the CCCI-R after they attended the DCII in Ireland, indicating that participants perceived themselves to be more culturally competent by the end of the study abroad experience.

A t-test also was utilized to examine differences between participants’ IMCCS mean score across time (see Table 1 for the mean difference and standard deviations). There were significant differences (p < .0001) in participants’ overall scores on the IMCCS after attending the DCII in Ireland. Thus, participants thought they were more knowledgeable about the culture of Ireland, possessed more skills in working with clients from Ireland, had an increased awareness of differences between the Irish culture and their own, and had an increased awareness of similarities between the Irish culture and their own.


Table 1

Mean Difference between Participants’ Pre- and Post-Institute Multicultural Competence Scores





Regarding the under-researched topic of intentional study abroad counselor education experiences, this study indicated that such an experience can have a positive impact on counselors’ multicultural competency. Previous research on non-counseling study abroad opportunities found that participants experienced personal development, intellectual growth and increased global-mindedness (Carlson et al., 1991). This study begins to address whether a counseling international experience has an effect on counselor multicultural competency.

International study abroad experiences can affect individuals’ perspectives on other cultures, as well as on their own. In the case of this research, participants reported an increase in their cultural competence after the intentional study abroad counselor education experience. These results confirm previous social work research that found a positive relationship between studying abroad and multicultural competencies (Kim, 2012). Further research should explore what components of this institute in particular influenced participants’ multicultural awareness, knowledge and skills.

The overall multicultural counseling competency improvement demonstrated in this study is encouraging. It is important to note that the institute included both experiences and conceptual material. The learning was perhaps enhanced by the experiential learning theory model used to design the institute (Kolb & Kolb, 2009). In this study abroad institute, experiences included visits to specific counseling and educational programs. Participants then reflected on those experiences through journaling and large group processing. Counselor educators might pursue such international initiatives to trigger counselor cultural self-awareness, increase knowledge of other cultures, and build culturally responsive counseling skills.

Study abroad for counselors might be seen as a “value-added” learning opportunity. While at-home multicultural counselor education has been studied (Cates, Schaefle, Smaby, Maddux, & LeBeauf, 2007; Zalaquett, Foley, Tillotson, Dinsmore, & Hof, 2008), such learning may be enhanced by the experience of being immersed in a foreign culture (Kim, 2012). Prolonged immersion in another culture allows counselors-in-training to gain a more nuanced understanding of the differences and similarities among cultures. Participants reported being more aware than before of differences and similarities between the Irish culture and their own culture. Although not all immersion opportunities happen internationally, the degree to which these participants were immersed was novel and led to a significant increase in culturally relevant knowledge, skills and awareness. The degree to which immersion experiences are effective should continue to be explored within the counseling profession.

Transferability of the learning from study abroad is of course crucial, as it would be insufficient to merely learn the particulars of another counseling culture. In that sense, the overall dislocation of being in a foreign culture may transfer to an increase in trainees’ empathy for members of non-dominant cultures in their homelands. It would be difficult to simulate such experiences in the domestic environment. Thus, when designing training experiences, educators could consider the impact of experiential training experiences outside of the home country. While planning these experiences are logistically challenging, the payoff can be impactful (Shupe, 2013).

International study abroad institutes have implications for the counseling community at large. As the profession continues to construct a professional identity and establish its role in the mental health community, counselors must consider the counseling profession as a whole, not solely the parts of the profession within the cultural worldview. Incorporating international experiences into the training practice allows more counselors to communicate and connect as a whole, in order to best develop and advocate for the counseling profession. Furthermore, collaborating with counselors internationally provides counselors-in-training the opportunity to increase their cultural self-awareness, as well as allows counselor educators to examine current training practices and their effectiveness. This assessment may take place through direct observation of international training practices, or more covertly in reflecting on the components of the institute that appeared to impact students.

The results of this study need to be examined in light of several limitations. First, this pre-post design only examined the impact of this study abroad institute. Future research could compare study abroad experiences to other training methods. Future research also could disaggregate the factors that actually contributed to positive outcomes, by investigating the relative contribution of informal encounters, lectures on Irish counseling and social issues, general seminars on culturally alert counseling, and other experiences in the study abroad program. Second, participants volunteered to be part of this study and were predominantly Caucasian/European American and heterosexual women. Future research could seek to replicate these results, using a control group and a more diverse, randomly selected group of participants. Finally, the focus of this research was the impact of a DCII in Ireland. Future research could explore the impact of counseling study abroad programs in other countries. Long term follow-up measures also could be utilized to see if the positive changes in multicultural counseling competencies remain stable over time.




This study was designed to examine the impact of the diversity and counseling study abroad program in Ireland on participants’ multicultural competencies. The results indicate that the study abroad experience in Ireland enhanced participants’ multicultural counseling competencies. These results provide beginning data regarding the benefits of this type of study abroad diversity training and encourage counselor educators to pursue and evaluate such experiences.



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Lorraine J. Guth, NCC, is a Professor and Clinical Coordinator at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Garrett McAuliffe is a Professor at Old Dominion University. Megan Michalak, NCC, is an Assistant Professor at Antioch University New England. Correspondence can be addressed to Lorraine J. Guth, IUP Department of Counseling, 206 Stouffer Hall, Indiana, PA 15705,