Experiences of Cross-Racial Trust in Mentoring Relationships Between Black Doctoral Counseling Students and White Counselor Educators and Supervisors

Eric M. Brown, Tim Grothaus


The literature is replete with research and references to racism experienced by Black faculty and students in counselor education. Although explorations of the mistrust in relationships between races is extant, empirical investigations into trusting cross-racial relationships in counselor education have been scarce. To address this void, the researchers conducted a phenomenological qualitative study with 10 Black doctoral counseling students concerning their experiences of cross-racial trust with White counselor educators and clinical supervisors who were mentors. Researchers identified three superordinate themes during data analysis: reasons for trust, reasons for mistrust, and benefits of cross-racial mentoring. The researchers also identified several themes and subthemes that delineated the interpersonal and intrapersonal factors that helped generate cross-racial trust, despite participants’ ubiquitous experiences of racism. The participants’ experiences are discussed, and implications are offered for enhancing trust in cross-racial relationships in mentoring, supervision, counseling, and training programs.


Keywords: cross-racial, trust, supervisors, mentors, counselor educators



The counseling profession purports to value racial inclusivity, cultural competence, and social justice (e.g., American Counseling Association [ACA], 2014; Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs [CACREP], 2015; Ratts, Singh, Nassar-McMillan, Butler, & McCullough, 2015). Yet, this vision remains unrealized. Black counselor educators and students report that White racism is pervasive (Baker & Moore, 2015; Brooks & Steen, 2010; Henfield, Woo, & Washington, 2013; Holcomb-McCoy & Addison-Bradley, 2005). Although empirical studies have documented the negative experiences of Black people within counselor education because of the prevalence of racism (Baker & Moore, 2015; Cartwright, Avent-Harris, Munsey, & Lloyd-Hazlett, 2018; Haskins et al., 2013; Henfield et al., 2013), research regarding positive interracial relationships, specifically involving successful Black–White mentoring connections, has been scarce (Fleig-Palmer & Schoorman, 2011; Leck & Orser, 2013). Our study sought to address this inequity and incongruence by using a strength-based lens to explore successful, trusting, cross-racial mentoring relationships.


Racism in Counselor Education

     Baker and Moore’s (2015) qualitative study examined the experiences of 19 ethnic minority doctoral students in counselor education, 12 of whom were Black. The student participants voiced their frustrations with the pressures they felt to suppress their ethnic identity and to act in ways aligned with White cultural standards. Although Henfield et al.’s (2013) phenomenological study of 11 Black doctoral students found a desire for mentoring from faculty members, the students shared similar conclusions regarding their isolation and disconnection from the faculty in their programs. This appeared to mirror the experiences reported by Black faculty. Holcomb-McCoy and Addison-Bradley (2005) found Black counselor educators did not feel included as valuable assets by their White colleagues. Finally, a study of 11 Black doctoral counseling students by Henfield, Owens, and Witherspoon (2011) revealed that despite feeling marginalized, their participants used relational resources, such as peer support, race-based organizations, and personal and professional advisors, to promote their success. Together, these studies expose a pernicious incongruence between what the counseling profession champions and what Black students and faculty are experiencing. One promising means of ameliorating these concerns could be culturally responsive cross-racial mentoring, which may assist in bridging this gap (Alvarez, Blume, Cervantes, & Thomas, 2009). In particular, cross-racial mentoring has been viewed as an avenue to enhance the recruitment and retention of counselor education faculty of color (Borders et al., 2011; Butler, Evans, Brooks, Williams, & Bailey, 2013).


Cross-Racial Mentoring

Blackwell (1989) defined mentoring as “a process by which persons of superior rank, special achievements, and prestige instruct, counsel, guide, and facilitate the intellectual and/or career development of persons identified as protégés” (p. 9). Positive mentoring can be an asset and also an antidote to the bigotry and marginalization often experienced by students of color (Luedke, 2017; D. L. McCoy, Winkle-Wagner, & Luedke, 2015). Effective mentoring also can enhance students’ likelihood of academic and career success and professional growth, along with increasing self-efficacy, mental health, and social and cultural capital (Chadiha, Aranda, Biegel, & Chang, 2014; Chan, Yeh, & Krumboltz, 2015; Gaddis, 2012; Hurd & Zimmerman, 2014).


Although students of color often desire mentoring from ethnic minority faculty, there is a need for cross-racial mentoring because of the lack of faculty of color (Brooks & Steen, 2010; Ortiz-Walters & Gibson, 2005; Patton, 2009). Yet, some scholars (Johnson-Bailey & Cervero, 2004) note that cultural mistrust may hinder the forming of these beneficial interracial relationships, thus denying many Black graduate students the professional and psychological benefits associated with mentoring.


Cross-Racial Trust and Mistrust

For successful mentoring, a trusting relationship appears to be vital (Chan et al., 2015; Chun, Litzky, Sosik, Bechtold, & Godshalk, 2010; Eller, Lev, & Feurer, 2014; Gaddis, 2012; D. L. McCoy et al., 2015; Merriweather & Morgan, 2013; Rademaker, Duffy, Wetzler, & Zaikina-Montgomery, 2016). Yet, in the United States, the largest gap in cross-racial trust is between Black and White people (S. S. Smith, 2010).


As a result of both the long history and current experiences of racism in America, cultural mistrust, or the mistrust of White people by ethnic minorities, may serve a psychologically adaptive function in affording self-protection (Bell & Tracey, 2006; Terrell & Terrell, 1981; Whaley, 2012). Black people rate highest in cultural mistrust of all major ethnic minority groups, which may be a result of the particular history of slavery and the oppressive practices that continue to this day. Although cultural mistrust can serve as a protective factor, Bell and Tracey (2006) found that Black patients with higher levels of cultural mistrust suffered psychologically. Another effect of high levels of mistrust may be a lack of desire for Black people to build alliances with White professionals of goodwill who can assist with their professional development (Johnson-Bailey & Cervero, 2004). Although additional studies examining racism and its impact on the professional development of students of color are needed, the more conspicuous gap in the literature is with regard to cross-racial trust and positive cross-racial relationships.


With the disproportionate underrepresentation of Black faculty in counselor education, it is likely that some Black graduate students will need to connect with White mentors (Brooks & Steen, 2010; Haizlip, 2012). Although multiple studies have examined the challenges experienced by Black students in counselor education programs (Baker & Moore, 2015; Haskins et al., 2013; Henfield et al., 2013), there is a dearth of explorations of trust in the counseling literature, especially cross-racial trust. Our phenomenological study addresses this omission by investigating successful Black–White trusting mentoring relationships in counselor education.


The goal of our study was to examine Black doctoral counselor education students’ experiences of cross-racial trust with White mentors in the counseling profession. The results of this study may encourage Black students to consider seeking mentoring relationships with White individuals, given the relative shortage of racial minorities within the profession, and also help White people of goodwill to mentor and aid Black students in achieving their academic and professional goals.




In order to explore and represent the lived experiences of Black students’ successful cross-racial mentoring relationships in the counseling profession, the first author conducted a qualitative study in the tradition of transcendental phenomenology with Black doctoral counseling students who had trusting relationships with White mentors in the profession (Moustakas, 1994). Phenomenological research focuses on the lived experiences of people, amplifying their voices as it seeks to ascertain the meanings they give to their experiences (Adams & van Manen, 2008). Through this lens, we examined the experiences of 10 Black doctoral counseling students who participated in at least one trusting cross-racial relationship with a White mentor.


Our study was guided by the following research question: What are the lived experiences of Black doctoral students who have participated in or are currently in trusting relationships with White mentors within the counseling profession?


Researcher Bias

Researcher bias may threaten the validity of qualitative research conclusions. All research team members bracketed their assumptions through recording their expectations before the interviews and via ongoing conversation throughout data analysis (Gearing, 2008). The primary researcher was a Black middle-class male doctoral counselor education student who conducted this study for his dissertation. His ethnicity and student status qualified him as an insider in relation to the participants (Tinker & Armstrong, 2008). His a priori assumption was that participants would be more inclined to trust White people who acknowledged present-day racial injustices. The research team included two doctoral counselor education students, a White female and a White male, who had each completed at least one doctoral-level qualitative research course. Both research team members believed Black students would trust White people who showed unconditional positive regard. A White male counselor educator with a record of published qualitative research served as the independent external auditor. The research team also utilized reflective journaling and consensus coding to manage and reduce researcher bias.



The purposive sample of participants was recruited from the lead researcher’s informal network of doctoral counselor education students and faculty (who recommended possible participants). Selection criteria included being a Black doctoral counselor education student who had one or more trusted White mentors within the counseling profession. Each participant was given the definition of mentoring used by the primary researcher (Blackwell, 1989). A total of 10 doctoral students in counselor education expressed interest, met the criteria, and were interviewed for our study. This falls within the range of three to 10 participants recommended by Creswell (2014).


Five participants identified both a White professor(s) and a clinical supervisor(s) they trusted. Three identified at least one professor, and two identified at least one supervisor. See Table 1 for demographic information regarding the participants and the role of their mentor.



Table 1

Participant Demographic Information

Gender Age Range


Level PhD




How Many

Position of

Male 20s HBCU 2 Urban/
FGG One for 3 years Professor
Male 20s PWI City/
FGG Five between
1–5 years
Male 20s PWI 3 Urban/
CGG Two for 2
Male 20s PWI 1 Urban/
CGG Two for
3–4 years
Female 50s HBCU 2 Suburban/
FGG Two for 3 years
One for 10+ years
Female 20s PWI 2 Urban/
FGG Three for 2–3 years Supervisors
Female 30s PWI Suburban/
FGG One for 8 years Professor
Female 20s PWI 2 Suburban/
CGG Three for 1–2 years Supervisor/
Female 20s PWI 2 Appalachian/
Poor FGG One for 1 year Professor
Female 30s MSI 2 Suburban/
FGG One for 10 years
One for 1 year



Note. CGG = Continuing Generation College Graduates MSI = Minority-Serving Institution
FGG = First Generation College Graduates PWI = Predominately White Institution
HBCU = Historically Black College/University



Subsequent to receiving IRB exempt approval from the authors’ college review board, the primary researcher sent an introduction letter explaining the study via email to counselor education faculty and doctoral students with whom he was familiar through professional networking. Once consent was obtained, the lead researcher sent the demographic questionnaire and the interview questions to participants 48 hours before their interviews in order to provide time to reflect about their experiences (James, 2014). The protocol was constructed by the authors based on pertinent literature related to trust and ethnic minority experiences and reviewed by a team of three counselor educators. The primary researcher then conducted semi-structured interviews focused on the participants’ experiences of cross-racial trust. Interview questions included: (a) Can you please describe experiences in your past that enabled you to trust a White person as a mentor? (b) What did you experience within this cross-racial relationship(s) that enabled you to trust this White mentor? and (c) Can you share the differences between the Whites you chose to trust and those that you trusted less? Initial interviews ranged from 30 to 60 minutes and were conducted by the primary researcher either face-to-face or via a secure connection on Adobe.


A professional transcriptionist confidentially transcribed each interview. Each participant received a copy of the transcript for member checking (Creswell, 2014). The lead researcher also conducted a follow-up interview to allow participants to add or revise anything that was said in the initial inquiry. Eight of the 10 doctoral students participated in follow-up interviews, which lasted between 10 and 20 minutes. The two participants who declined stated they had nothing further to add.


Data Analysis

The research team employed Moustakas’ (1994) data analysis process for each transcript, beginning with horizontalization, which included noting individual meaning units and holding them with equal importance. The team then engaged in reduction and elimination of meaning units based on redundancy, and also whether they were “necessary . . . for understanding the phenomena” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 120). The team members individually categorized remaining meaning units related to the phenomena and identified clusters and themes from the data. After independently analyzing transcripts, the research team met after the first two interviews to ensure fidelity in the coding process, and again after the eighth and 10th set of interview transcripts were coded. They came to a consensus regarding whether each code had sufficient support based on textural descriptions; then they created a final code book (Hays & Singh, 2012). The research team also engaged in a deviant case analysis to honor the diverse phenomena represented amongst participants. Next, the team utilized textural-structural descriptions from the transcripts to illustrate codes and themes identified in the data.


Trustworthiness refers to the accurate reflection of the participants’ voices and perspectives (Given & Saumure, 2008). In this study, trustworthiness attributes included credibility, confirmability, transferability, and dependability (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). In an effort to secure trustworthiness, the research team utilized Moustakas’ (1994) process of analysis, reflective journals, consensus coding, member checking, follow-up interviews, use of an external auditor, and providing thick descriptions of the research process and participants.




     The research team identified three superordinate themes from the data: reasons for trust, reasons for mistrust, and benefits of cross-racial mentoring.


Superordinate Theme One: Reasons for Trust

     All 10 of the participants identified factors that fostered their willingness to engage in a cross-racial trusting relationship with White mentors, which provided the basis for this superordinate theme. We identified four themes from the participants’ data: past experiences, trusting by proxy, personal attributes, and the necessity of White people.


     Past experiences. Data from nine participants supported this theme and its two subthemes: experiencing positive relations with White people and experiencing rejection from Black people.


     Experiencing positive relations with White people. Half of the participants shared experiences illustrating how White people had proven themselves to be trustworthy. For example, participants spoke of experiencing White people who married into the family or who were part of their experience being raised in a multiracial church, and of having White coaches and teachers who invested in them personally during key developmental stages in their life. The investment of time and emotional resources from these White people established a sense of safety and trust during their younger years. These relationships helped to provide the experiential and emotional base for the risk of cross-racial trust.


     Experiencing rejection from Black people. Four participants shared negative past experiences with Black people, involving peers, professors, supervisors, or former employers, which led them to be hesitant to trust Black people—opening the door to choosing White people as possible mentors. One female participant shared that she had not felt welcomed by some Black women in the profession. A male participant spoke of being mocked in childhood for not being “Black enough” and his subsequent struggles: “It was actually heart-wrenching for me to recognize that I’m not comfortable being in a room full of Black people. . . . I was always worried about being, even in a professional setting, being outed as, ‘Oh well, he’s Black, but he’s not really.’” All four participants exhibited reticence about sharing these experiences and the accompanying feelings of frustration, shame, and isolation.


     Trusting by proxy. Half of the participants shared that they would consult with Black colleagues when discerning whether a White person may be trustworthy. These students trusted their Black peers, seeking their opinions concerning which White professors and clinical supervisors could be trusted. One shared the importance of having friends indicate, “You can trust this person…they get it.”


     Personal attributes. This refers to personal attributes or qualities of the participants themselves that enabled trust in White people. The two subthemes identified were being generally trusting and being courageous.


     Being generally trusting. Five participants shared that they were generally trusting and therefore willing to give all people a chance. These students believed their generally trusting nature helped them be open to the possibility of a cross-racial trusting relationship.


Yet, not all participants described themselves as generally trusting. One doctoral student shared his cautious and guarded nature toward people regardless of race. He indicated that he chooses to observe people over time in order to discern whether they are trustworthy.


     Being courageous. Two participants noted that courage is needed to engage in cross-racial trust. They were cognizant of the vulnerability that interracial trust entails for the protégé and spoke to the emotional resilience needed for a Black person to pursue and then persist in a Black–White mentoring relationship. All 10 participants spoke of the reality of racism in their lives and in their counselor education programs. Therefore, Black students who attempt to develop a cross-racial trusting relationship are exposing themselves to the possibility of further injury and experiences of bigotry and marginalization.


     Necessity of White people. Four participants shared their understanding from a young age that Black people would likely need relationships with White people if they were to succeed academically or professionally. White mentors can help serve as a guide to navigating predominately White systems. Therefore, achieving success as a Black person necessitated placing oneself in a precarious position. These students believed that one must have positive relationships with White people even though most White people are not trustworthy.


Superordinate Theme Two: Reasons for Mistrust

All 10 participants spoke about reasons they had for mistrusting White people. Four themes describe the various causes for Black mistrust of White people: receiving family messages, experiencing overt racism, experiencing tokenism, and experiencing dissonance.


     Receiving family messages. Participants spoke of learning cross-racial mistrust through observation and receiving direct messages from family members. There were two subthemes under family messages: overt messages and White voice.


     Overt messages. Half of participants shared that they heard messages since childhood from family members that White people are untrustworthy. One interviewee’s parents told him he could not have White friends; other participants were explicitly told by family members that White people were not to be trusted. Yet, this was not true for all participants. One student recalled “I was constantly told ‘you can have people around you, but just don’t trust the White people that are around you’ . . . [but] some Whites are trustworthy.” Yet, as he grew older, his parents began to discuss the realities of racism and navigating life as a Black male.


     White voice. Two participants shared implicit messages they witnessed while growing up, such as noticing that Black people would change their dictation and mannerisms when interacting with White people. One participant shared that “we used to just call it the White voice . . . around professional people who they weren’t super comfortable with.” As children, these participants observed their families codeswitching and understood implicitly that Black individuals cannot be themselves around White professionals.


     Experiencing overt racism. Five participants described past racist experiences with neighbors, educators, and police that hindered their willingness to engage in cross-racial trust. Some students shared stories from childhood; others noted more recent occurrences. One male interviewee reported that he had been pulled over several times by White police officers as a teenager but only received one ticket, which he believed showed the lack of justification White police had for pulling him over. He also told the story of a police officer pulling a gun on him and his friends while he was in his car. All such experiences confirmed the explicit and implicit messages they received from their families concerning White people being untrustworthy.


     Experiencing tokenism. Five participants stated that they were suspicious of White counseling professionals’ motives for desiring a relationship. One female student stated she wonders if White people are trying to make up for a racial injustice they committed in their past, stating, “I definitely am a little hesitant to see what’s your true motive.”


Other participants questioned the motives of White people who want to build a professional relationship with Black people. One interviewee said he felt “commodified” by White counseling professionals. He reported feeling put in a box as “the Black male counselor” who works with trauma. Another participant felt used by a White professor who she believed wanted her participation to give validity to a presentation on a multicultural topic at a conference.


     Experiencing dissonance. Several participants spoke about internal conflicts that stemmed from their experience in the predominately White field of counseling. Four subthemes emerged from this data: internalizing racism, feeling isolated, questioning one’s perception, and considering White trust.


     Internalizing racism. Two male participants shared distressing thoughts about their place in the counseling program, which stemmed from internalized racism. One participant shared that at times he did not feel equal to his White peers although objective measures demonstrated they were not superior to him intellectually or clinically. Although both Black male participants who shared these insecurities seemed poised and self-confident, they experienced self-doubts they attributed to internalized oppression.


     Feeling isolated. Three participants shared that they felt isolated, either in their master’s or doctoral programs. One participant noted, “I’m that one student who brings up race, and who brings up people of color, and anybody who’s not White, and our issues in counseling, and none of my cohort does that.” These participants expressed frustration with fellow students, including people of color, who were unwilling to share their experience in class.


     Questioning one’s perception. Two participants discussed periodically questioning their perceptions of racism, whether it actually occurred or if it was their own issue that they were imposing on White faculty and students in their department. One participant shared this process of questioning with two Black alumni from his program and was reassured “It’s not just you. It’s not in your head. You’re not wiling out.” He believed that this reflexive process of questioning one’s perception is a burden that Black people often carry in White settings.


     Considering White trust. Two participants believed it was important for trust to be mutual. One participant questioned whether White people would trust her as a Black person. These participants recognized that they could not trust White people who would not trust them.


Superordinate Theme Three: Benefits of Cross-Racial Mentoring

The final superordinate theme was voiced by nine participants and contained two themes: benefiting from networks of privilege and disconfirming over-generalizations of White individuals.


     Benefiting from networks of privilege. Five participants noted that White mentors had helped them make professional connections or hoped that they would do so. They believed that White mentors have access to social networks that some Black faculty and supervisors do not and believed their White mentors could use their privilege and cultural capital on their behalf.


     Disconfirming over-generalizations of White individuals. Finally, four participants shared that trusting their White mentor helped them to trust other White people. One participant shared, “It helps me as a Black woman not to make these gross over-generalizations about White people, about White men in academia, about White counselor educators.” A few participants indicated the cross-racial trust emboldened them to branch out into new areas professionally and personally as a result of being more willing to build relationships with White people of good will.




To help diversify the counseling profession, scholars have noted the importance of mentoring students from underrepresented groups (Fleig-Palmer & Schoorman, 2011; Leck & Orser, 2013). Considering the disproportionately low representation of counselor educators and supervisors of color and the numerous benefits of mentoring (Chadiha et al., 2014; Chan et al., 2015; Hurd & Zimmerman, 2014), interracial mentoring provides a viable pathway to increasing access to this valuable resource and enhancing inclusion and diversity (Brooks & Steen, 2010; Patton, 2009). One significant hindrance to interracial mentoring relationships is cultural mistrust, which is a result of historical and present experiences of racism and marginalization (Johnson-Bailey & Cervero, 2004). This study addressed a gap in the literature regarding cross-racial trust by examining the experiences of Black doctoral counseling students who were successful in establishing trusting relationships with White mentors, providing a complementary perspective to the literature that details reasons for and costs of the mistrust of White people by Black people in counselor education.


Our results shed light on the perilous nature of interracial trust for these Black participants. Trust by its very nature entails vulnerability (Eller et al., 2014; Merriweather & Morgan, 2013). Furthermore, the misuse of power intrinsic in White racism makes interracial trust risky for Black students desiring mentors in predominately White institutions (D. L. McCoy et al., 2015). For example, despite the success that led them to their doctoral student status, the themes of internalizing racism and questioning one’s perception speak to the added vulnerability involved in interracial trust. In Gildersleeve, Croom, and Vasquez’s (2011) article, “Am I Going Crazy?!,” the authors found that questioning one’s perception of racism may be characteristic of the experience of many doctoral students from underrepresented ethnic groups. Given documented experiences of racism within counselor education (e.g., Baker & Moore, 2015; Henfield et al., 2013), the questioning of one’s experience of marginalization is compounded within counseling programs, despite the profession’s claims to have a multicultural and social justice emphasis. Unless we are ready to actively examine privilege and bias in our programs and enact effective, substantive, and systemic actions to address and remediate the embedded inequities, our profession’s aspirational language will be revealed to be hollow and hypocritical.


Despite experiencing racism in their counseling programs, these participants did co-create successful and beneficial cross-racial relationships. Participants shared factors that encouraged them to engage in trusting relationships with White mentors. Having a generally trusting nature, and also prior positive experiences with White people, may be intuitive findings, but experiencing rejection from Black people as an impetus for interracial trust appears to be unique to this study. Participants also discussed White allies being needed for success, with systemic issues of racism hindering Black people from relying solely on resources from their own community both in counselor education and outside the profession.


Our findings also highlight the collectivist sensibilities that influenced participants’ decisions to trust White people. Participants confirmed S. S. Smith’s (2010) description of cultural mistrust being taught to Black children by their parents as a protective factor to equip these students to deal with the racism experienced both within counselor education and in society. Despite experiencing the veracity of these familial warnings, some students engaged in trust by proxy, itself a collectivist practice, in order to lessen the risk of interracial trust.


Scholars have proposed the need for cross-racial mentoring because of the lack of faculty of color (Brooks & Steen, 2010; Haizlip, 2012; Ortiz-Walters & Gibson, 2005). Yet, even when faculty and supervisors of color are present, some Black students may desire to connect with White faculty or supervisors. Although Patton (2009) found that Black women preferred faculty mentors who shared their race and gender, four participants of the current study, two males and two females, experienced rejection from Black people, which opened the possibility of a White mentor. Though some doctoral students and faculty can view this as a form of internalized racism, the narratives shared spoke more to a fear of being rejected by one’s racial group. Although discouraging encounters with other Black people occurred in their past, participants spoke of negative experiences with Black supervisors or faculty within their counseling programs and clinical settings. Therefore, one should not assume that Black faculty or supervisors will be inevitably preferred as mentors by Black doctoral students and supervisees.


The themes of the necessity of White people and benefiting from networks of privilege captured participants’ beliefs that cross-racial mentoring helps Black students advance academically and professionally. Borders et al. (2011) suggested that women and people of color may need several mentors to help them meet the unique challenges of their professional and psychosocial development in a context that is often White- and male-dominated. This study’s participants were cognizant of the numerous benefits of mentoring (Bynum, 2015; Gaddis, 2012) and, more specifically, the particular benefits of having a White mentor (Ortiz-Walters & Gibson, 2005).


Implications for Counseling Training Programs

Racism continues to inform exploitive institutional and systemic norms, values, and policies ensuring that the privileged preserve their advantages (DiAngelo, 2018). While there has been a recent resurgence of more flagrant forms of racist expression in these tumultuous times, the insidious effects of less egregious forms of racial bias, such as blindness to or avoidance of the topic, are still prevalent (Oluo, 2018). In the academy, and in counselor education specifically, despite our aspirations to embody and enact cultural responsiveness and social justice, Black doctoral students continue to be subject to oppressive individual and institutional bias in terms of treatment, climate, and policies (ACA, 2014; Baker & Moore, 2015; CACREP, 2015; Henfield et al., 2013; S. Z. McCoy, 2018; Ratts et al., 2015).


One example or result of racism in graduate education is students of color having less access to the mentoring and social connections that positively impact educational and career opportunities (Rudolph, Castillo, Garcia, Martinez, & Navarro, 2015). An additional pernicious contributor to this inequity is the prevailing deficit narratives White faculty often hold about the abilities of students from non-dominant statuses (D. L. McCoy et al., 2015; S. Z. McCoy, 2018). Given the benefits of positive, trustworthy mentoring experiences and the disproportionately large representation of White counselor educators, cross-racial relationships hold promise if trust can be established (Baker & Moore, 2015; Cartwright et al., 2018; D. L. McCoy et al., 2015).


To generate conditions for more equitable and trusting mentoring relationships, our profession needs to vigorously promote the cultivation of cultural humility, signified by actions and attitudes reflecting respect, openness, genuineness, and curiosity (Davis et al., 2016; Hook, Davis, Owen, Worthington, & Utsey, 2013). This should be reflected in our standards for accreditation of training programs and licensure as counselors and supervisors. Specifically, White counselor educators and supervisors need to continuously examine and actively address their own, often implicit, racial biases (S. Z. McCoy, 2018). In addition, the existing oppressive climate in our profession, our preparation programs, and the society at large needs to be met with active social justice advocacy for, by, and with our students, protégés, and clients. These efforts will include addressing racism and microagressions promulgated by people and policies (ACA, 2014; Davis et al., 2016; Ratts et al., 2015). As has been noted, if we are not actively advocating for solutions, we are promoting the inequitable status quo.


In addition, we need to seek, invite, and include extraordinary strengths, wisdom, and capital possessed by students and clients of color in our programs and counseling and supervision sessions. Appreciation and incorporation of these assets would invite more reciprocal and culturally responsive relationships (Butler et al., 2013; Chadiha et al., 2014; Rudolph et al., 2015). Finally, specifically with mentoring relationships, being open to a more holistic relationship including important personal (e.g., experiences of oppression) and professional concerns is supported in the literature (e.g., Chan et al., 2015; Henfield et al., 2011). White mentors are invited to be proactive in seeking and cultivating relationships in which mutual learning is expected and discussion about racism and oppression is safe and welcome (Luedke, 2017; D. L. McCoy et al., 2015).


Transformational efforts should include encouraging and expecting culturally relevant pedagogy that fosters critical thinking and reflexivity, integrates cultural strengths as valued resources, and promotes proficiency for effecting social change (Gay, 2018; Motulsky, Gere, Saleem, & Trantham, 2014; Spanierman & Smith, 2017). For example, recognizing oppression at a structural level is associated with enhanced social justice commitment and less blaming of oppressed individuals and groups (L. A. Goodman, Wilson, Helms, Greenstein, & Medzhitova, 2018; L. Smith & Lau, 2013; Swartz, Limberg, & Gold, 2018). Also important is the creation of a program-wide safe space to foster frequent conversations regarding biases, microaggressions, positionality, benefits accrued from dominant statuses, and responsibilities to use privilege for community enhancement (in a culturally humble fashion), both at the individual and program levels (Davis et al., 2016; D. J. Goodman, 2011). Finally, service provided to the community in a collaborative fashion by both students and faculty has been shown to help build cultural responsiveness and advocacy skills (L. A. Goodman et al., 2018; Midgett & Doumas, 2016; Toporek & Worthington, 2014). The desired effect of the examples shared above is not only to increase cultural and social justice competence of individuals, but also to build a culturally responsive learning community in which reasons for mistrust are diminished, experiences of trust increase, and accessing beneficial mentoring can flourish.



     Despite efforts to conduct a rigorous study, the research team acknowledges our limitations within this phenomenological study. Researcher bias had the potential to influence our study at several stages. In an attempt to ameliorate bias, we followed several practices associated with enhancing trustworthiness such as keeping a reflective journal, using consensus coding, member checking, providing thick descriptions, and having an external auditor.


Social desirability was a potential limitation, as participants’ answers to questions could have been influenced by what they felt would be more acceptable in either Black academic circles or the counseling profession. To address this, the primary researcher withheld probing questions when participants told narratives that were emotionally powerful and salient. That some of the participants informally knew the primary researcher (e.g., from conversations at professional conferences) might also have influenced what was shared.


Future Research

     This study highlights several possibilities for further research on trust within the counseling profession. As noted, the counseling literature lacks empirical studies on trust, despite its importance for both the supervisory and therapeutic relationship. There is a dearth of instruments measuring interpersonal trust in counseling. Creating such an instrument may be beneficial for a profession that is essentially relational.


Further inquiries into cross-racial mentoring may prove beneficial for our understanding of its benefits and perils, such as the effects of cross-racial mentoring on the racial identity development of both the mentee and the mentor. Future studies might also examine the perspectives of the White mentors involved in cross-racial relationships with students or supervisees. In addition, researchers could examine cross-racial mentoring relationships in which the mentor is Black and the mentee is White, examining the benefits and challenges experienced in these dyads. Investigations of interpersonal trust between dyads or groups comprised of marginalized and privileged people will be beneficial to the profession and those we serve. Finally, research is needed on the boundaries within the counseling profession. Most of the participants of this study believed that their relationship with their mentor needed to be more informal and less rigid (see Alvarez et al., 2009; Luedke, 2017). It may be beneficial to examine how much of one’s perspective of professional boundaries is culturally conditioned.


Summary and Conclusion


In our study, 10 Black doctoral counseling students shared a range of experiences related to cross-racial trust with White mentors, along with their perspectives about succeeding in a profession that is predominately White. Their lived experiences entailed both racial stress and cross-racial support, cultural isolation within their departments, and empathic encouragement from their mentors. The research team identified three superordinate themes related to cross-racial trust in mentoring relationships: reasons for trust, reasons for mistrust, and benefits of cross-racial mentoring. We also identified several themes and subthemes that delineated the interpersonal and intrapersonal factors that helped generate cross-racial trust, despite participants’ ubiquitous experiences of racism.



Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of interest

or funding contributions for the development

of this manuscript.



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Eric M. Brown is an assistant professor at Wheaton College. Tim Grothaus is an associate professor at Old Dominion University. Correspondence can be addressed to Eric Brown, 501 College Avenue, BGC, Wheaton, IL 60187, eric.brown@wheaton.edu.

Experiences of Male Counselor Educators: A Study of Relationship Boundaries

Dee C. Ray, David D. Huffman, David D. Christian, Brittany J. Wilson

The vast majority of graduate students in the social sciences, especially in mental health fields, are females (Crothers et al., 2010; Healey & Hays, 2012). In a recent report on counseling programs, an average of 76% of students admitted and graduated yearly from entry-level counseling programs were women (Schweiger, Henderson, McCaskill, Clawson, & Collins, 2012). Although counseling is one field that attracts mostly female graduate level students, a historical review indicates that males made up approximately 80% of counselor education faculties in the 1980s (Anderson & Rawlins, 1985). In recent years, as the number of females who seek doctoral degrees in counseling has increased, so has the number of female counselor educators, correlating to fewer males entering the field of counselor education. Currently, the average number of males admitted and graduated yearly from doctoral-level counseling programs has been reported at a meager 25% (Schweiger et al., 2012). As counselor educators strive to build best practices for working with diverse populations, it seems relevant to explore the experiences of male counselor educators as well as suggest practices that improve conditions for male counselor education faculty.


In the preparation of counselors, counselor educators are encouraged to build relationships with students that lead to greater self-awareness, personal development and interpersonal learning, which inform their work as counselors. Literature cites the importance of the relationships between counseling faculty and students as “paramount” (Dollarhide & Granello, 2012, p. 290), suggesting that it “stands out above all other factors” (McAuliffe, 2011, p. 32) in the education of adults. It seems reasonable to assume that if counselor educators espouse the importance of the relationship between client and counselor, they extend this value to their students, building relationships that facilitate learning. Thus, a belief that the relationship between teacher and student leads to mutual support and growth comprises the hallmark of humanistic education (Dollarhide & Granello, 2012).


Although the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics (2014) asserted that counselor educators are restricted from sexual or romantic relationships with students, universities and counselor education programs typically do not clearly articulate boundaries when approaching the multiple roles adopted by faculty members (Owen & Zwahr-Castro, 2007). In the absence of guidelines and open discussion regarding faculty–student relationships, legal concerns can permeate the university environment. Sexual harassment suits have increased, and many universities have responded by going beyond sexual harassment policies and adding additional policies that restrict sexual or romantic consensual relationships between faculty and students (Bartlett, 2002; Kiley, 2011). Male faculty members seem especially affected by the legal environment and Nicks (1996) reported males had significantly higher concerns than females regarding unjust accusations of harassing a student. In the current environment of legality and ambiguous ethical guidelines, Kress and Dixon (2007) cautioned that counselor educators might choose to distance themselves from students to avoid the appearance of impropriety or placing themselves in complex ethical situations. However, there is a dearth of literature regarding issues of relationship dynamics based on sexuality and gender in academia over the last 20 years.


Further complicating the issue of faculty–student relationships is that female professors and students are more likely to perceive complex relationship issues as unethical when compared to their male counterparts. In a comparison between female and male counselor educators and counselor education students, Bowman, Hatley, and Bowman (1995) found that females were significantly more likely to rate activities outside the traditional student–teacher relationship as unethical. This finding has been supported in multiple studies regarding undergraduate students (Ei & Bowen, 2002; Oldenburg, 2005; Owen & Zwahr-Castro, 2007). Female undergraduate students were more likely to rate a relationship scenario as unethical when the professor was identified as a male as compared to scenarios with female professors (Oldenburg, 2005) and more likely to be negative than males about questionable scenarios such as sexual relationships, doing favors for a professor, and doing things alone with an instructor (Ei & Bowen, 2002). Owen and Zwahr-Castro (2007) found that female undergraduate students judged approximately one-third of faculty–student interaction scenarios as significantly more inappropriate than male students, identifying nonacademic-related interaction that occurred off campus as most inappropriate.  Although not specifically explored, the tendency of females to find behaviors unethical when compared to the perceptions of males has been attributed in the literature to sensitivity of women to power differentials and potential for exploitation based on cultural experience (Ei & Bowen, 2002; Owen & Zwahr-Castro, 2007). In the context of current ratios in counselor education of a majority number of female faculty to a minority number of male graduate students, it is difficult to ascertain the perception of power dynamics based on gender.


The changing context of counselor education may present unique challenges for male faculty to navigate with little guidance. A review of the literature highlights a complex environment where male counselor educators engage in faculty–student relationships within a context of power differences and potential legal complications. The current study was conceived in a doctoral level clinical course in which male and female doctoral students processed their teaching experiences with master’s students. During the discussion, male doctoral students serving as instructors shared experiences regarding relationships with their students that appeared uniquely different from experiences shared by female colleagues. Concerns emerged regarding practices of male counselor educators when entering a female-prevalent field as a person in a position of power. As a result, we proposed that the following factors might influence the interactions of male counselor educators on a daily basis in their roles with students: majority of female graduate students, decreasing number of male faculty, increases in legal action, ambiguity of ethical guidelines, possible attraction between professors and students, and a contextual field that values human relationships. The purpose of this study was to discover attitudes and practices of male counselor educators regarding faculty-student relationships. Our research questions included: (a) what are the practices and attitudes of male counselor educators related to relationships with students and colleagues? and (b) what specific practices do male counselor educators employ to maintain boundaries with students?




Participants and Data Collection

Using Schweiger et al.’s (2012) compilation of counseling program information, a member of the research team identified names typically attributed to males among listed faculty names, resulting in the identification of 330 males within the United States. The research team then matched the names with e-mails on university Web sites. An initial recruitment e-mail was sent to the identified sample asking for participation. Following the initial recruitment e-mail, 41 of the identified original sample responded as ineligible (22 contact e-mails were immediately returned as unavailable; 6 identified as female; and 13 identified as no longer working as a counselor educator or having never worked as a counselor educator). This resulted in a potential sample of 289. Two more e-mails were sent as reminders regarding participation. The final sample consisted of 163 male counselor educators who completed the survey, resulting in a response rate of 56%.


A summary of demographic characteristics of the 163 male counselor educators who completed the survey is presented in Table 1. In this sample, male counselor educators were mostly White, non-Hispanic (n=125). African American (n=14) and Hispanic (n=11) males also were represented, but only in small numbers, and Asian males (n=4) were few. Most of the sample identified as married/partnered (87%) and heterosexual (89%), with gay or bisexual males represented by approximately 10% of participants. The sample was more diverse in areas of age, rank, child status, and years as counselor educators.


Survey Development

We developed our survey in two phases. The research team brainstormed issues that emerged during discussion, such as the possible attitudes of male counselor educators, including feeling isolated or unsupported due to fewer numbers of male colleagues, or practices that might emerge in working with students of the opposite gender with the intent of ensuring a sense of safety. Based on discussion and an extensive literature review, the research team created a list of quantitative items surveying demographics, attitudes and practices of male counselor educators. We distributed the survey to a pilot group of six male counselor educators who represented diversity in age, experience, ethnicity and sexual orientation. The pilot participants reviewed each question and commented on its usefulness, acceptability and clarity. Based on pilot feedback, the research team modified the survey to include 22 demographic questions, 32 attitude and practice questions, and four open-ended questions. The survey was formatted for the Survey Research Suite (Qualtrics) and final quantitative data was transferred into SPSS for analysis.


Demographic questions included items regarding personal, family and program characteristics of the faculty members, and questions regarding the faculty members’ professional designations and teaching assignments. Attitude items (Cronbach’s α = .66) consisted of questions related to the impact of being male on both collegial and student relationships. Practice items (Cronbach’s α = .64) consisted of questions related to the participant’s actual practices in relating to students (e.g., private meetings, lunch/dinner, after class). For the full scale, Cronbach’s α was calculated at .70. Four open-ended questions addressed ethical challenges, thoughts related to being male, ways the counselor educator might act differently, and strategies used to avoid complications with students.





Table 1


Demographic Characteristics of Male Counselor Educator Participants      















     African American






     White, Non-Hispanic



     White, Hispanic



     Self-Identified as Other



Relationship Status












Sexual Identity









Status Regarding Children
     No Children



     Adult Children



     Minor Children in Home



     Minor Children Part Home



     Minor Children Not in Home



Years As Counselor Educator






Faculty Rank















Total Number of Male Faculty






Total Number of Female Faculty






Estimated % of Male Students






Estimated % of Female Students








The first three open-ended questions were used for qualitative analysis and the final question was used to create a list of strategies employed by male counselor educators to aid in their student relationships.


Analysis and Results

The research team used a parallel mixed-methods design (Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009) to explore the experiences of male counselor educators. We utilized qualitative thematic analysis for data generated from three open-ended questions and optional comments following each quantitative survey question and quantitative statistical analysis for multiple-choice survey questions. By conducting independent quantitative and qualitative analyses in a parallel simultaneous nature, we allowed the separate analyses to inform one another and provide a more integrated understanding of the data (Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009). Due to overlap in analysis and results consequential from a mixed-methods approach, we chose to present analyses and results categorized by method (qualitative and quantitative) in the following section.



Qualitative Analyses

Responses to the three open-ended questions and optional comments were analyzed from a perspective of transcendental phenomenology to explore the lived experiences of participants (Creswell, 2007; Moustakas, 1994). Within this qualitative tradition, we worked to bracket or set aside our own preconceptions about the phenomenon as much as possible to remain focused on the views of participants (Moerer-Urdahl & Creswell, 2004; Moustakas, 1994). The research team, consisting of two male doctoral students and one female tenured faculty member, discussed our student–teacher relationship experiences regarding gender and power differences. Through reflection and discussion, we developed greater awareness of how our experiences have influenced our views of being and working with male counselor educators. Team discussion allowed us to understand and bracket our positions in the development of data collection and analysis methods.


Because the experiences of male counselor educators have received little attention in literature and research, a phenomenological approach allowed for understanding to emerge from participants’ written reports as data was broken down into smaller units of meaning and reconstructed into broader themes that were clearly defined (Creswell, 2007; Giorgi, 1985). Following data collection, we independently coded responses to three open-ended questions, a smaller portion of the data, to identify initial concepts. Next, we met to review and compare our concepts. Silverman and Marvasti (2008) identified the appropriate use of smaller portions of data to establish preliminary categories. We discussed each unit of meaning in the text that was relevant to the focus of study (Giorgi, 1985), compared each concept to previous statements and discovered an initial list of broader themes suggesting common experiences among participants (Creswell, 2007). The research team clarified category definitions by comparing data units within each category for similarities and differences. Responses to optional comments sections in the survey were reviewed for inclusion in the text. Comments that offered information beyond the scope of the survey question referenced were included in the text for qualitative analysis. Then individual team members independently examined the entire text and coded each unit of meaning under the appropriately perceived category. Finally, we met as a group to develop consensus on final categories and to assign textural excerpts to appropriate themes. As suggested by Potrata (2010), research team members focused on exploring potential differences in coding rather than focusing on consistency when coming to consensus in order to illuminate complexities of the male counselor educator experience. Frequencies were tabulated to represent the magnitude of each category within the sample, and verbatim illustrative quotes were selected to clarify the meaning of each category. Saldaña (2013) suggested that magnitude coding adds supplemental texture to provide richer results in qualitative analysis.


Qualitative Results

In order to address our first research question regarding practices and attitudes of male counselor educators, participants were asked to respond to three open-ended questions to address their experiences and practices as male counselor educators. Seventy-one responses were recorded for the first question, “What ethical challenges, if any, are related to being male in counselor education?” One hundred responses were recorded for the second question, “What are your thoughts related to being male in counselor education?” Ninety-six responses were recorded for the third question, “What are the ways you act differently in student relationships because you are male?” We also coded additional comments of significance that followed each survey item. In all, qualitative analysis included the coding of 359 answers of varying lengths. During qualitative analysis, the research team discovered that participants’ answers appeared to be addressing similar themes across all questions. Hence, all answers were collapsed into one analysis.


The research team identified 10 distinct themes expressed by participants regarding the experiences of being a male counselor educator. We identified “modify behavior” as the most predominant theme, magnified by frequency (32%). This theme included intentional changes in action or interpersonal expression related to being male in professional relationships. Another major theme, “no difference” (frequency 23%) included beliefs and experiences that no unique relationship challenges exist in counselor education related to being male. Expressions of feeling “isolated or lonely” (frequency 11%) described participant experiences of feeling a lack of support as well as awareness of being a minority in the profession. Responses regarding “sexual attraction” (frequency 11%) involved experiences of sexual attraction in professional relationships. A theme of “perception of impropriety” (frequency 10%) included attention to the perception of others regarding appropriate behavior. Expressions of “prejudice or discrimination” (frequency 9.5%) involved experiences of negative beliefs or actions of others related to one’s gender. Additionally, qualitative data revealed themes related to participants’ “awareness” of professional relationships, “awareness of power difference” in relationships, the importance of a “caring or safe environment,” and “ethnicity or orientation” as part of one’s identity as a male counselor educator. A comprehensive presentation of all themes is included in Table 2.


Our second research question regarding specific practices of male counselor educators was addressed through our fourth open-ended survey question, which indicated participants cited over 40 different strategies they used to structure their relationships with students. In general faculty–student interactions, respondents indicated that they did not meet alone with students; only met with students on campus; interacted in groups when others were present; avoided jokes, conversations or language that could be perceived as too friendly; referred to family/significant others in class and conversation; avoided sharing too much personal information; made no physical contact; and avoided being overtly interested in students’ relationship issues. When meeting with students, respondents reported that they kept their doors open, structured meetings with an agenda, met in classrooms, ensured others were around, and avoided engaging in counseling with students. Participants also indicated that they consulted with colleagues regarding student relationships, had colleagues present for potentially problematic student interactions, addressed student relationship issues as soon as they arose, notified department chairs of any concerns and documented interactions. On a personal level, participants reported that they focused on having a balanced personal life, increased self-awareness of interactions, reminded self of boundaries, and engaged in honest and transparent interactions.


Quantitative Analyses

We used results from qualitative analysis to inform decision making regarding variables of interest for quantitative analysis. Due to the extensive data resultant from the 32-question survey of practices and attitudes and need for manuscript brevity, we narrowed survey data results to the survey items that matched qualitative theme results. We chose to explore one survey item per qualitative theme that appeared to closely match the qualitative analysis.  Following final coding discussion, the research team identified five attitude and practice questions from the survey that appeared to be related to content evolving from the qualitative analysis. The qualitative theme of modifying behavior appeared most closely linked to the survey item, “I interact differently with female students than male students.” The theme represented by some respondents, that there were no differences related to being male, most closely aligned with the item, “I have unique ethical challenges related to being male in counselor education.” The item linked to the qualitative theme of avoiding the appearance of impropriety, “I structure my individual interaction with students to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” was further explored. The qualitative themes of isolation and discrimination were matched to two items: “I feel isolated in my faculty because I am male,” and “I feel discriminated against by faculty members because I am male.” Although most respondents did not agree with these final two statements, we chose to explore them further due to the distinct voices of some respondents related to ethnicity and sexual orientation within the data.


Table 2


Themes Related to Male Counselor Educators’ Experiences






Sample Statements

Modify Behavior Intentional changes in action or interpersonal expression related to being male



“. . . crucial to make sure distinct boundaries are established”“. . . have to focus on being appropriately relational”“must balance being supportive with providing clear boundaries”
NoDifference No unique challenges in counselor education related to being male



“No specific challenges related to my gender”“Ethics are ethics, male or female”“How I act has little to do with being male”
Awareness Indicating awareness or self-awareness  regarding professional relationships



“. . . we need to be very aware of situations and interactions with female students”“Know one’s self”“I am now more aware of how I interact”
IsolatedorLonely Experiencing lack of support and awareness of being a minority in profession



“I feel a bit like an endangered species”“There are simply some things I can only talk with other men about”“I recognize males are a minority in the field”
Sexual Attraction Experiences of sexual attraction in professional relationships



“Dealing with feelings of attraction with students and colleagues”“I am attracted to female students but do not act on it”“I have to refocus my thoughts if I feel an attraction to a student or colleague”
Perception of Impropriety Attention to the perception of others regarding appropriate behavior



“. . . don’t want to give the impression of being unethical”“Avoiding any appearance of misconduct”“. . . vigilant in protecting myself from false accusations”
Awareness of Power Difference Awareness of the impact of privilege and power in relationships



“Being aware of my male privilege and not abusing it”“I can be male without being dominating”“I do see the same gender politics and gender roles in my profession as I see in society…”
PrejudiceorDiscrimination Experiences of negative or devaluing beliefs or actions of others related to being male



“tendency to view males as the victimizer”“. . . uniquely male issues that could arise in counseling situations are downplayed”“I sometimes experience sexism against men in the comments of my female colleagues”
Caringor Safe Environment Intention to provide support and safety to students



“We want to provide a caring environment”“I want students to feel comfortable around me.”“. . . do not want any female to feel anxious”
Ethnicityor Orientation as Part of Identity Influences of ethnicity and sexual identity upon male professional experiences



“Being a male and an ethnic minority is challenging and often lonely”“. . . being Black and male is more of a challenge than being male alone”“I feel isolated not because I am male but because I am a gay male”

Note: Frequency = Number of participants who shared theme-related statements



Quantitative Results

Descriptive results for the five survey items are presented in Table 3. In order to explore relationships between survey items of interest, we employed Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient analyses on the five variables. There were statistically significant positive correlations between perception of unique ethical challenges and the four other variables: feeling isolated
(r = .290, n = 149, p < .001); interacting differently with female students (r = .317, n = 147, p < .001); structuring interactions to avoid appearance of impropriety (r = .190, n = 148, p = .021); and feeling discriminated against (r = .217, n = 150, p = .008). The more a male counselor educator felt there were unique ethical challenges related to being male, the more likely he was to feel isolated and discriminated against, structure interactions with students to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and interact differently with females than males. Additionally, there was a statistically significant positive correlation between feeling isolated and feeling discriminated against (r = .371, n = 149, p < .001). The more isolated a male counselor educator felt, the more likely he was to feel discriminated.


Table 3


Survey Items Related to Relationships for Male Counselor Educators

Percent of Responses

Survey Item













I feel isolated in my faculty because I am male.









I interact differently with female students than male students.









I structure my individual interactions with students to avoid the appearance of impropriety.









I have unique ethical challenges related to being male in counselor education.









I feel discriminated against by faculty members because I am male.









Note: SD=Strongly Disagree, D=Disagree, N=Neutral, A=Agree, SA=Strongly Agree


We further explored ethnicity and sexual orientation in relationship to the dependent variables of isolation and discrimination based on qualitative findings that indicated these characteristics impact the views of male counselor educators. We conducted four separate one-way between-groups analyses of variance to explore the impact of ethnicity and gender on isolation and discrimination. There was a statistically significant difference in ethnicity for isolation, F(4, 144) = 5.78, p < .001, η2 = .14. Means for ethnicity included Asian = 2.0; African American = 1.71; White/Non-Hispanic = 1.84; White/Hispanic = 1.64; Self-Identified as Other = 3.43.  There was a statistically significant difference in ethnicity for discrimination, F(4, 144) = 5.25, p = .001, η2 = .13. Means for ethnicity included Asian = 2.0; African American = 2.23; White/Non-Hispanic = 1.94; White/Hispanic = 1.91; Self-Identified as Other = 3.71. There was a statistically significant difference in sexual orientation for isolation, F(2, 145) = 3.81, p = .024, η2 = .05.  Means for sexual orientation included Gay = 2.58; Heterosexual = 1.83; Bisexual = 1.67. There was no statistically significant difference in sexual orientation for discrimination, F(2, 145) = .70, p = .50, η2 = .01.




The sample in this study reasonably represents the current population of male counselor educators in CACREP-accredited programs. Although the sample reported equivalent numbers between male and female faculty, they also reported a disproportionate number of female students (78%) to male students (18%), as indicated in previous literature (Schweiger et al., 2012). The sizeable response rate to this survey, as well as its representativeness, lends credibility to findings.


Themes and Characteristics Related to Being a Male in Counselor Education

Qualitative analyses indicated that participants expressed diversity of attitudes and practices regarding the impact of being male upon professional relationships. The most predominant theme, “modify behavior,” indicated that being male influenced choices made by male counselor educators in their interactions with students. Conversely, the second dominant theme, “no difference,” indicated that some counselor educators do not feel that there is any difference in interactions with students or colleagues related to being male. A lack of consensus existed among male counselor educators regarding the influence of being male upon their professional relationships.


When male counselor educators acknowledged there were differences related to being a male in the field, qualitative analysis revealed additional themes related to isolation, discrimination, fear of appearing inappropriate, interacting differently with females than males and need for awareness. We wanted to explore characteristics related to these feelings, which prompted the correlational analyses.


Quantitative and qualitative analyses indicated that the appearance of impropriety was of considerable concern for male counselor educators. A majority of participants agreed or strongly agreed that they structured their interactions to avoid appearance of impropriety. Results revealed a statistically significant positive relationship between expressing a perception of unique ethical challenges for males and structuring interactions to avoid appearance of impropriety. Participants who perceived unique challenges as males also tended to take steps to avoid appearing inappropriate in their professional relationships. This finding supports qualitative themes of male counselor educators’ concerns regarding the appearance of impropriety and fear of the cultural myth of the lecherous professor (Bellas & Gossett, 2001).


Sexual attraction emerged as a relevant issue through qualitative analyses. A vast majority of respondents reported that they had experienced being attracted to a student, with frequency of feelings ranging from rare to a regular occurrence. Also, a majority of the sample reported experiencing a student being attracted to them. These results suggest that sexual attraction was experienced as a common phenomenon in male teacher–student relationships. However, participants often described their feelings of attraction as natural reactions that posed no threat if not acted upon.


When addressing the influence of student gender upon their behavior with students, male counselor educators reported diverse perspectives. Participants were asked if they interacted differently with female students than male students. Responses were about evenly distributed from “disagree” to “agree.” The variance in responses may reflect the larger disagreement among participants regarding the influence of gender upon professional relationships. The qualitative themes of “modify behavior” and “no difference” may provide context for understanding diverse results regarding this question. Correlational analysis revealed that the more a participant perceived unique challenges as a male counselor educator, the more he reported interacting differently with female students compared to male students.


Some participants also reported experiencing isolation related to being a male counselor educator. Qualitative data revealed unique experiences of isolation related to ethnicity and sexual orientation. Although there were a small number of participants who identified as gay, bisexual, African American, Latino, Asian, or other ethnicity, we chose to conduct quantitative analysis to further explore their voices, which were clearly articulated as unique in qualitative analyses. Further quantitative analysis indicated that participants who self-identified as “other” for ethnicity were more likely to feel isolated in comparison with other ethnicities. Likewise, gay male counselor educators also were more likely to feel isolated in the profession. However, gay males did not report higher levels of feeling discriminated against as compared to heterosexual males. Previous research indicates gay males may experience isolation related to not being out to co-workers, often motivated by fear of discrimination (Wright, Colgan, Creegany, & McKearney, 2006). Another possible interpretation could be that gay male counselor educators feel isolated due to interacting with fewer colleagues who are similar to them, but who they experience as accepting or non-discriminatory.


Linked to isolation, we also asked male counselor educators if they had faculty colleagues with whom they could discuss challenges. This point seemed especially salient due to qualitative results indicating male counselor educators rely on consultation as one intervention for dealing with student relationship issues. A majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed to having a colleague on their faculty with whom they could discuss male-related issues. Qualitative and quantitative analyses identified ethnicity as an important contributor to the experiences of male counselor educators. Qualitative data included a small but consistent voice of African American male counselor educators who expressed increased isolation due to a combination of ethnicity and gender. Quantitative analysis also indicated that participants who identified as African American reported more frequent experiences of discrimination in their professional environment. These findings coincide with research indicating that African American males experience prejudice and discrimination in higher education due to stereotype images of African American males as underachieving, disengaged and threatening (Harper, 2009). Brooks and Steen (2010) discussed concerns related to the lack of African American male counselor educators and the obstacles they face in the academic setting. Participants who self-identified as “other” on ethnicity also showed increased experiences of discrimination as well as isolation. Correlational analysis confirmed the co-occurrence of these two themes, revealing a positive relationship between feeling isolated and feeling discriminated against. Asian males were more likely to feel isolated and structure their interactions to avoid appearances of impropriety, which reflects previous accounts of Asian professors in the literature (Culotta, 1993) in which they experienced isolation from their colleagues and increased student mentoring demands because of their minority status.


In returning to the issue of concern related to practices of male counselor educators in building humanistic and growth-inspiring relationships with students, the results of the current study provide some insight. Many male counselor educators appear to be aware and concerned that being male may influence how they are perceived by students and how they approach their relationships with students. However, results indicate that participants sought methods and strategies that allowed them to pursue relationships while also being sensitive to students’ perceptions of safety. Figure 1 provides specific strategies highlighted by participants that allow male counselor educators to engage in student–teacher relationships that recognize the power differential between student and teacher, inherent challenges with sexual attraction, and yet still allow the student and teacher to benefit from  an accepting, inspiring relationship that mirrors the therapeutic relationship.



The survey method used for this study was selected for exploratory purposes and did not involve the use of a rigorous assessment designed to interpret results through reliability and validity procedures; hence, results must be interpreted with caution. Additionally, the survey sample may not represent the views of the entire population of male counselor educators.









Figure 1.


Strategies Used by Male Counselor Educators to Build Student Relationships.

Note: General Interactions = strategies used in everyday interactions; Student Meetings = strategies used when having to meet with students individually; Interventions = strategies used when complications arise.


Due to the extensiveness of collected data, we were unable to report all findings related to the uniqueness of the sample. Respondents reported rich qualitative narratives and variations in their attitudes and practices. The variations are not fully represented in this report.  The use of a one-time open-ended questionnaire precluded use of qualitative interviews that would reveal further depth of themes. Additionally, minority groups, such as specific ethnicities and those who identified as gay and bisexual, appeared to have a distinct voice in this survey. However, due to low representation, data analysis was limited in representing their experiences. We attempted to rectify this limitation by voicing those narratives in the qualitative analysis.



The purpose of this research was to reveal attitudes and practices of male counselor educators, allowing the reader an understanding of how the experience of being male influences the daily choices of male counselor educators. Implications of this research study include better understanding of the experiences of counselor educators that lead to enhanced job satisfaction for males, best practices to improve faculty–student relationships and possible areas for further investigation. Additionally, in Figure 1, we provide a list of behaviors used by male counselor educators to ensure appropriate student–teacher boundaries. This list offers male counselor educators possible strategies to address perceptions of impropriety or misconduct.


If male counselor educators experience greater job satisfaction, then more males may choose the counseling field, as they observe possible role models with whom they identify. Substantial variables identified by this study that might influence job satisfaction are feelings of isolation, discrimination, fear of appearing inappropriate and hypervigilance to behavioral interactions with students. Qualitative data revealed a desire by male counselor educators to offer a safe, caring environment, qualified by some respondents as an authentic relationship. Findings indicate that if male counselor educators feel limited by personal loneliness or concern for appearances, this will most likely interfere with their student and faculty relationships. Consultation with and support of colleagues appeared to be a process regularly utilized by many of the male counselor educators in this study. Counselor education departments would benefit from engaging in practices that promote collegiality and support among faculty members as well as formalizing mentoring processes.


Male counselor educators revealed that they take measures to modify their behaviors with students, especially female students. Our results indicate that fear of impropriety, awareness of cultural power differentials, desire to create safe relationships with students and realistic awareness of potential sexual attraction prompt male counselor educators to engage in behaviors that will provide safety for students and for themselves. These strategies reveal concrete behavioral actions taken to ensure the maintenance of boundaries with students. Kolbert, Morgan, and Brendel (2002) concluded that faculty must consider student perceptions of a relationship as the primary criterion in making decisions regarding their interactions with students. This conclusion requires considerable awareness from male counselor educators related to how they present themselves and how students perceive them. One common strategy used by male counselor educators and commonly supported in the literature (Ei & Bowen, 2002) is engaging in group activities, as opposed to one-on-one activities, in order to establish authentic relationships in a safe environment.


The most cited strategy among this sample was not being alone or out of sight from others when engaging in personal interactions with students. In a field where confidentiality is the base of intervention, this particular strategy seems incongruous, especially for professionals who value relationship in teacher–student interactions. Additionally, students may question a faculty member’s authenticity if intimacy is avoided in the relationship. However, contextual, legal and cultural considerations appear to encourage these types of restraints. Counselor education departments may benefit from discussion of these issues of behavior, relationship, philosophy and safety in an open forum among faculty and with students.


The relational experiences of male counselor educators have gone virtually unexamined in literature and research, leaving many opportunities for further inquiry. Some participants indicated that ethnicity influenced their experiences and relationships, yet sample size prevented meaningful exploration. Further research may investigate the unique experiences of African American, Latino  and Asian male counselor educators. Likewise, sexual orientation emerged as a major influence for some participants. An exploration of experiences of gay male counselor educators is needed to enhance understanding of their relational experiences and the influence of gender.


Participants expressed concerns about perceptions of impropriety with students, feelings of isolation within the profession, and experiences of prejudice and discrimination in their work environments. These elements require further exploration to better understand the nature of these experiences and investigate causal factors to heighten sensitivity and identify appropriate measures for creating a safe environment for faculty and students. Participants also indicated that they alter behavior in student relationships to avoid the appearance of impropriety and maintain professional boundaries. Further research could explore the implications of those decisions for the quality of relationships with students. A study of student perspectives would greatly enhance understanding of these relational dynamics. Additionally, a study of ways in which female counselor educators approach their relationships with students, in regard to feeling restricted or limited in intimacy, is warranted.


This study provides an enhanced understanding of male counselor educators’ perceptions and experiences of their relationships with students and colleagues. Male counselor educators shared a unique voice of experience. Further research may expand understanding of male counselor educator experiences, provide insights to improve the quality of faculty–student relationships and assist in developing male role models for the future of our profession.



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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Dee C. Ray, NCC, is a Professor at the University of North Texas. David D. Huffman is an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Texas. David. D. Christian is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas. Brittany J. Wilson, NCC, is Assistant Director, Child and Family Resource Clinic, University of North Texas. Correspondence can be addressed to Dee C. Ray, University of North Texas, 1155 Union Circle, Box 310829, Denton, TX 76203, dee.ray@unt.edu.

Counselor Educators and Students With Problems of Professional Competence: A Survey and Discussion

Kathleen Brown-Rice, Susan Furr

It has been found that 10% of counselors-in-training are ill-suited for the profession (Gaubatz & Vera, 2002). In that, they have problems of professional competence (PPC) that impede their ability to function as professional counselors (Elman & Forrest, 2007). These PPC include skill competencies, ethical behaviors and appropriate personal functioning (Kaslow et al., 2007). To evaluate students in terms of professional competence and prevent those with inadequate skills and dispositions from entering the profession, gatekeeping is utilized. Counselor educators are required to be transparent in their gatekeeping procedures with students. Students are to be informed of “the levels of competency expected, appraisal methods, and timing of evaluations for both didactic and clinical competencies” and be provided “ongoing feedback” (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2014, p. 15). There has been significant research to provide counselor educators with information to establish gatekeeping and remediation procedures (Gaubatz & Vera, 2002; Homrich, DeLorenzi, Bloom, & Godbee, 2014; Hutchens, Block, & Young, 2013; Kerl, Garcia, McCullough, & Maxwell, 2002; McAdams, Foster, & Ward, 2007; Pease-Carter & Barrio Minton, 2012; Vacha-Haase, Davenport, & Kerewsky, 2004; Zoimek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010). However, little research has been done to examine the impact on counselor educators when interacting with students who have PPC and the roadblocks that impede educators’ ability to gatekeep.


Gatekeeping Procedures


Gatekeeping is a mechanism for counselor educators to determine the fitness of students to enter the counseling profession (Vacha-Haase et al., 2004). Gatekeeping begins as part of the admission process of a counseling program (Kerl & Eichler, 2007). During the admission process, counselor educators do not allow entry to prospective students who show traits, qualities or behaviors that would result in them not being able to meet professional competencies or who lack the prescribed academic requirements (Lumadue & Duffey, 1999; Swank & Smith-Adcock, 2013). However, gatekeeping is not just part of the admission process. Ziomek-Daigle and Christensen (2010) found that gatekeeping is a progressive activity that includes four phases, including preadmission screening, postadmission screening, remediation plan and remediation outcome.


Informing Students of Program Expectations

The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (2014) provides that counseling students be aware of what type and degree of skill and knowledge will be required of them to be successful in the program, specific training goals and objectives, what students’ evaluations are based on, and the policies and procedures for students’ evaluations. One of the most important methods of ensuring understanding of expectations is informing students of the program’s expectations at the beginning of the program. Once clearly defined behaviors are established, sharing these expectations with students can result in fewer problematic situations (Kerl et al., 2002; McAdams et al., 2007). Furthermore, not providing students with clear expectations for conduct may be viewed as unfair to those wanting to become counselors (Homrich et al., 2014).


It is recommended that professional standards be made clear to students and applied consistently (Hutchens et al., 2013). Using multiple methods of distributing information is desired by students who have stated they want information shared both orally and in written form, and want the information presented throughout the program (Pease-Carter & Barrio Minton, 2012). Pease-Carter and Barrio Minton (2012) found that students desired information not only about academic expectations but also wanted to know about self-disclosure, reflection, personal growth and student rights.


Assessing Students’ PPC Behaviors

Individual programs have developed standards for evaluating students on professional competencies and use these evaluations to provide formative feedback (Kerl et al., 2002). Historically, the most commonly cited problematic behaviors have been inadequate clinical skills, defensiveness in supervision and deficient interpersonal skills (Vacha-Haase et al., 2004). Efforts to identify criteria for evaluating students in terms of professional behaviors, interpersonal behaviors and intrapersonal behaviors have recently been undertaken (Homrich et al., 2014), and these criteria provide a platform for developing clear expectations for counseling trainees.




Roadblocks to Gatekeeping


There are a variety of reasons that counselor educators do not engage in the gatekeeping process. Gateslipping rates have been reported as higher in programs where faculty members reported that their colleagues were concerned about being sued or receiving less than favorable teaching evaluations (Gaubatz & Vera, 2002; Jacobs et al., 2011). In some settings, colleagues and administration provide support for engaging in gatekeeping; however, lack of clear evidence and bias toward leniency lead to gateslippage (Brear & Dorrian, 2010). Absence of well-defined program policies may make it difficult to initiate gatekeeping conversations with a student as well (Jacobs et al., 2011).


Gatekeeping demands a great amount of time and energy, and situations involving PPC often seem unending (Gizara & Forrest, 2004). Not only do PPC have to be identified and communicated to the student, remediation plans need to be developed. Such plans may include helping the counselor-in-training obtain remedial assistance, providing intensified supervision, documenting the activities of the plan and ensuring the student understands due process options (Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010). When remediation plans are not successful, decisions about dismissal must be made, and the actions taken must be transparent (Kaslow et al., 2007).


There may be occasions where the gatekeeping responsibility is diffused among different entities. In a review of ethical issues around professional competence problems (Johnson et al., 2008), Johnson labeled this issue as the “hot potato game” (p. 589), where the last entity engaged with the problematic student is stuck with the issue. If a student is allowed to gateslip through the graduate program, then the training facility and licensing board now become involved. Rather than address the issue when it is first recognized, the student may be allowed to move to the next stage of training with the hope that the problem disappears or that that it is addressed at the next level. Addressing issues early in the training may help avoid more serious issues, like the empathy veil, later when students go to clinical sites.


The Empathy Veil

This term was coined by Brown-Rice and Furr (2014) and refers to the counselor educator’s need to empathize with the counselor-in-training, which can result in reluctance to engage in gatekeeping activities. Role tension may be one factor in developing an empathy veil. This term evolved from work by Sue and Sue (2012) where a person’s worldview is seen as having an invisible veil that is created by cultural conditioning and is believed to operate outside of consciousness. Forrest et al. (2013) found that empathy may contribute to avoiding confronting student issues for fear of damaging the relationship. Because of the role that faculty play in fostering growth and development, which often involves compassion and support, it may become difficult to provide accurate summative evaluations of trainees’ behaviors (Johnson et al., 2008). Given that many faculty members also are professional counselors, they may view their role as assisting the student in behavior change and thus work with the student to address interpersonal issues that interfere with developing counseling skills (Kerl et al., 2002). This empathy can be both a support and a challenge when difficult conversations about problematic professional, interpersonal and intrapersonal behaviors need to take place (Jacobs et al., 2011). Although empathy can create a safe environment in which to discuss difficulties, an educator’s empathy also can lead to overprotective behaviors that may actually interfere with the student’s development (Gizara & Forrest, 2004).


Role of Diversity

Another important area of consideration is how cultural differences intersect with PPC. When there is a cross-cultural student PPC situation, a complex power differential arises that not only is associated with the faculty–student relationship, but also related to cultural differences (Goodrich & Shin, 2013). Kaslow et al. (2007) proposed that consideration should be given to the impact of beliefs, values and attitudes when assessing competence problems. Fear of appearing biased may complicate identifying trainees with PPC and how decisions are made regarding students (Shen-Miller, Forrest, & Elman, 2009). The counselor educator’s own cultural background may influence how counselors-in-training are evaluated, and it is recommended that cultural dynamics be assessed when addressing PPC (Rust, Raskin, & Hill, 2013). Shen-Miller, Forrest, and Burt (2012) identified two approaches that often are used by faculty in assessing students—culture-attentive (i.e., approaches that include attention to aspects of diversity) or colorblind (i.e., inattention or minimization of differences associated with diversity). These views represent two ends of a “continuum of conceptualizing intersections between diversity and professional standards” (Shen-Miller et al., 2012, p. 1207). In trying to find a place on this continuum to address PPC, do counselor educators underidentify PPC because of fear of being biased? Or, are counselor educators more prone to overidentify PPC because of not examining contextual factors that influence competence? In this study, an attempt is made to examine counselor educators’ views of what interferes with their ability to address issues of counselor education student PPC.


Other Barriers

Previous research has found that educators believe that they have not been provided with sufficient training related to gatekeeping and remediation procedures, and they do not feel supported by their agency and colleagues (Gizara & Forrest, 2004; Vacha-Haase et al., 2004). Additionally, counselor educators may be reluctant to dismiss a student for dread of potential litigation and personal recrimination (Crawford & Gilroy, 2012; Hutchens et al., 2013) and receiving poor teaching evaluations (Gaubatz & Vera, 2002). Recent court cases have increased awareness about the legal consequences of gatekeeping. The Ward and Keeton cases have highlighted the need for counseling programs to establish clear statements about student expectations (Herlihy, Hermann, & Greden, 2014). Other cases have taught faculty members the importance of providing regular process evaluations and thorough documentation (McAdams & Foster, 2007). Reflection on the results of facing a court challenge includes the significance of having a measure of performance that helps faculty retain objectivity and the importance of adhering to established procedures (McAdams et al., 2007).


The purpose of this study was to answer the following research questions: (a) What types of master’s students’ PPC do Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) counselor educators perceive have the greatest impact on them as educators? (b) What do CACREP counselor educators perceive are roadblocks that interfere with their ability to engage in the gatekeeping of master’s students with PPC? and (c) What is CACREP counselor educators’ knowledge of their programs’ protocol for addressing a student with PPC? In this study, student refers to a master’s student enrolled in the participant’s counseling program, colleague is another counselor educator teaching in the participant’s counseling program, and impact means to have a strong effect. PPC refers to attitudes and behaviors that could interfere with the professional competence of a counselor-in-training, including: (a) a lack of ability or opposition to acquire and integrate professional standards into one’s professional counseling behavior; (b) a lack of ability to attain professional skills and reach an acceptable level of competency; (c) a lack of ability to manage one’s stress, psychological dysfunction or emotional responses that may impact professional performance; or (d) engagement in unethical behavior (Falender, Collins, & Shafranske, 2009).




Participants and Procedures

Prior to initiating the study, institutional review board approval was obtained. Recruitment of participants was conducted by an e-mail to all faculty employed at CACREP-accredited programs in the United States. The researchers of this study obtained a list of accredited programs from the official CACREP Web site and then visited each program’s Web site to obtain the e-mail addresses of the program’s counselor educators. Seven programs did not list faculty e-mails on their university Web sites. The exact number of educators teaching in CACREP-accredited programs is not known, as the programs’ Web sites might have imprecise or out-of-date information. Based upon the e-mail addresses gathered from the university Web sites, a list of 1,584 faculty members was created. Thereafter, one e-mail solicitation was sent to all identified faculty that directed participants to an online survey entitled, Problems of Professional Competency Survey – Counselor Educator Version (PPCS-CE), which was located on Psychdata.com. Of the 1,584 e-mails that were sent, 71 were undeliverable due to lacking a valid address or security issues, 15 were returned with automatic responses that the faculty member was absent (e.g., on sabbatical, no longer at university, ill, professor emeritus), and five responses indicated that the receiver of the e-mail was not a counselor educator. This left a total sample size of 1,493 CACREP counselor educators. For a population of 1,500, a sample size of 306 is adequate to generalize with a confidence interval of 95% (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2009). A total of 382 participants completed the survey; however, respondents with missing or invalid data (n = 12, less than 4%) were eliminated via listwise deletion, leaving a total number of 370 participants included in this study. This resulted in an adequate sample size of 370 participants and a final response rate of 25%. Frequencies and percentages of the demographic variables in this study are reported in Table 1.



Table 1  Numbers and Percentages of Demographic Variables
Variable  Number Percentage









  African American









  Asian/Pacific Islander



  Native American



  20 years to 29 years



  30 years to 39 years



  40 years to 49 years



  50 years to 59 years



  60 years or older



Sexual Orientation:






  Gay or Lesbian



Description of Program:
  Predominantly on Campus



  Predominantly Online



  Hybrid of Online/on Campus



Location of Program:












Highest Degree:
  PhD – CACREP Program



  PhD – Non-CACREP Program



  EdS in Counseling



  PhD – Counseling Psychology



  PhD – Clinical Psychology



  Other (doctoral in another discipline ormaster’s in counseling or related field)



Academic Rank:
  Assistant Professor



  Associate Professor






  Clinical Instructor



  Adjunct Instructor






Years Teaching in a CACREP-Accredited Program:
  Less than 2 years



  2 to 5 years



  6 to 10 years



  11 to 15 years



  16 to 20 years



  Over 20 years



Licenses and Certifications Held:
  Licensed Professional Counselor



  Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor



  Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor



  Licensed Marriage & Family Counselor



  Licensed Psychologist



  Licensed Social Worker



  Certified School Counselor



  National Certified Counselor









The survey for this present study was designed based upon the Problems of Professional Competency Survey – Master Student Version (PPCS-MS) developed by Brown-Rice and Furr (2013), related to determining master’s students’ enrolled in CACREP-accredited programs knowledge of classmates with PPC. The PPCS-MS was constructed based upon the literature regarding PPC in psychology, counseling and social work. To establish content validity and reliability, the PPCS-MS underwent an expert review process and two pilot studies to provide clarity and conciseness of the survey questions. Additionally, a principal components analysis created components representative of what the review of the literature provided on these issues (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2013). The questions and format of the PPCS-MS were used and adjusted to create a self-report survey entitled the Problems of Professional Competency Survey – Counselor Educator Version (PPCS-CE). This instrument was divided into three parts: Part I – Demographic Information, Part II – Counselor Educators and Students with PPC, and Part III – Counselor Educators’ Knowledge of Colleagues’ PPC (removed from this analysis). Part II included three sections. Section I, Counselor Educators’ Knowledge of Students’ Problems of Professional Competency, included one question to determine whether participants have observed students with PPC and two questions to determine participants’ knowledge of the type of students’ PPC and the impact of the problematic behavior. Each PPC was rank ordered from 1 being the most common and 9 being the least common observed behavior, and the impact of having a student with PPC was ranked ordered with 1 having the most impact and 9 having the least impact. Chi square analyses of each of the rank ordered items led to a rejection of the null hypotheses of the categories of the item occurring with equal probabilities.


Section II of Part II of the survey investigated counselor educators’ reactions to students’ PPC and consisted of seven questions. The answers to all these questions were based on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). Section III, Counselor Educators’ Knowledge of Counseling Program’s Protocol for Addressing Problems of Professional Competency, included questions relating to responsibility for being aware of students PPC and programs’ protocols for addressing PPC. The first nine questions were evaluated on a 5-point Likert scale. The tenth item was unstructured to provide a place for participants to provide additional information.




Types and Impact of Students’ Problematic Behavior

Of the 370 participants, the majority (91%, n = 338) reported that they had observed students with PPC in their programs. Additionally, 2% (n = 8) of the respondents indicated they did not know if there were students with PPC in their programs, leaving 7% (n = 24) who had not observed any students with PPC. To answer the first research question regarding the types and impact of master’s students’ PPC observed by CACREP counselor educators, the responses for the 338 participants who reported observing a student with PPC were examined according to the rank order question regarding the types of PPC that participants most observed with counselors-in-training in their programs. The most frequently identified problematic behaviors included inadequate clinical skills (M = 2.90, SD = 1.88), inadequate interpersonal skills (M = 3.15, SD = 1.69), inadequate academic skills (M = 3.38, SD = 2.29), inability to regulate emotions (M = 4.16, SD = 1.88), and unprofessional behavior (M = 4.29, SD = 2.13). Those behaviors ranked as less impactful were unprofessional behavior (M = 4.29, SD = 2.13), unethical behavior (M = 5.63, SD = 2.03), psychological concern (M = 6.20, SD = 1.84), personality disorder (M = 7.60, SD = 1.61), and substance use disorder (M = 7.69, SD = 1.68).


The responses for the rank order question regarding the type of impact of having counselors-in-training in their program with PPC focused on the behaviors having the most impact on the faculty member. Included in this list were disrupted the classroom learning environment (M = 2.99, SD = 1.86), negatively affected other students (M = 3.26, SD = 1.52), increased participant’s workload (M = 3.29, SD = 2.05), and increased participant’s stress (M = 3.39, SD = 1.64). Additional items that were ranked as less impactful included negatively affected client care (M = 5.06, SD = 2.44), negatively affected relationship with students (M = 5.47, SD = .87), negatively affected relationship with colleagues (M = 6.59, SD = 1.42), negatively affected reputation of the program (M = 6.81, SD = 1.90), and a grievance or litigation occurred (M = 8.25, SD = 1.94).


Roadblocks to Gatekeeping

All participants (n = 370) completed Section II, Part II of the PPCS-CE, and these participants’ responses for strongly agree and agree were combined to report the subsequent findings. Each of the participants reported degree of agreement or disagreement regarding beliefs around the roadblocks that interfere with their ability to engage in the gatekeeping of master’s students with PPC. Fifty-three percent (n = 197) reporting struggling emotionally to balance being empathetic with a student demonstrating PPC and their gatekeeping duties. When looking at addressing PPC with a student who is culturally different from the participant, 38% (n = 141) stated they were reluctant to do so due to the fear they would appear culturally insensitive, and 36% (n = 137) were reluctant to do so due to the fear of allegations of discrimination. Regarding being supported by others, 13% (n = 47) provided they did not feel supported by their chair to address a student who demonstrated PPC, and 13% (n = 47) stated they did not feel supported by their colleagues to address a student who demonstrated PPC. Further, 92% (n = 339) were concerned about the counseling profession when a student with PPC was allowed to pass through the program. Additionally, 30% (n = 110) provided they were reluctant to address a student demonstrating PPC for fear of recrimination (e.g., negative teaching evaluations, legal action).


Protocol for Addressing Students with PPC

When the participants’ responses for strongly agree and agree were combined, 99% (n = 368) believed it was their responsibility to be aware of students with PPC, 91% (n = 335) believed that it was their chair’s responsibility, and 96% (n = 354) believed it was both their chair and respondents’ responsibility to be aware of students with PPC. Additionally, 94% (n = 347) were aware of their programs’ procedures regarding how to address problematic behavior, 71% (n = 263) reported their chair had discussed their programs’ procedures regarding addressing PPC with them, and 38% (n = 140) stated they had received training from their program regarding how to intervene with a student who they believe is demonstrating PPC. Further, 87% (n = 321) were aware of the appropriate intervention to take with students with PPC, 51% (n = 189) would like more information regarding how to identify students with PPC, and 61% (n = 226) of the participants would like more information on how to respond to a student with PPC.


Discussion and Implications


     The PPC identified in this study as being observed most frequently are consistent with those problematic behaviors identified in other studies. Vacha-Haase et al. (2004) also identified that inadequate clinical skills and deficient interpersonal skills were most commonly cited as problematic behaviors. In a study examining a proposed set of standards for clinical training, Homrich et al. (2014) identified three categories of behaviors needed by graduate students in clinical training, which included professional behaviors, interpersonal behaviors and intrapersonal behaviors. The types of PPC counselor educators observed in this study parallel the findings of Homrich et al. (2014) in that inadequate clinical skills and unprofessional behavior are similar to their theme of professional behaviors, and the category of inadequate interpersonal skills is comparable to their theme of interpersonal behaviors. Inability to regulate emotions is analogous to their theme of intrapersonal behaviors. Because they were examining clinical training standards, there was no mention of academic skills, yet this type of PPC was cited as a concern by many of the respondents in this study.


Examination of these data leads to questions about how counseling programs admit students. Both academic skills and interpersonal skills are areas that can be addressed through the admissions process. Smaby, Maddox, Richmond, Lepkowski, and Packman (2005) found that undergraduate GPA and GRE Verbal scores could be predictive of scores on the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE), which focus on knowledge, but were not highly predictive of personal development. Given the level of concern over academic skills, using these cognitive measures is important, but expanding the way of assessing academic ability also needs to be sensitive to issues around diversity and bias in standardized measures.


In a survey on admission screening measures, training directors indicated that the personal interview was the most effective screening measure (Leverett-Main, 2004). Using creative group strategies during the admission process has been advocated to help assess academic potential as well as dispositions (Swank & Smith-Adcock, 2013). Smith, Robinson, and Young (2007) found that an assessment of wellness might uncover issues around psychological distress that could affect performance in a counseling graduate education program.


Previous research has indicated that faculty members have concerns about addressing PPC because of their desire to be supportive of students (Johnson et al., 2008; Kerl et al., 2002), which would support the concept of the empathy veil (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2014). In this study, 53% of respondents reported struggling emotionally to balance empathy with their gatekeeping duties to intercede with a counselor-in-training with PPC. When the open-ended responses were reviewed, participants’ responses supported this empathetic struggle. For example, one respondent stated, “I have heard many times how a grade should be considered through compassion for student circumstances rather than demonstrated competency.” Another participant provided, “Our empathy wants to give them another chance, but our ethics don’t necessarily allow for it. It’s a struggle for me. It is not a part of the job that I anticipated. Although I remember learning the concept in my doctoral program, I wasn’t prepared to address it.” Therefore, it would appear that these counselor educators are struggling with empathy veils.


When looking at other roadblocks (e.g., lack of peer and institutional support, diversity in gatekeeping, threat of litigation or recrimination from a counselor-in-training), there were some interesting findings. Previous research has found a lack of support for counselor educators from administration and colleagues in dealing with problematic students (Gizara & Forrest, 2004; Vacha-Haase et al., 2004). This concern has been found to be especially true for field supervisors (Bogo, Regehr, Power, & Regehr, 2007; Homonoff, 2008). However, the results of the current study found that only 13% stated they did not feel supported by their chair or colleagues to address a student who demonstrated PPC. The open-ended responses supported these findings. For example, participants stated, “We have a culture and climate of supporting our gatekeeping role in the counseling profession”; “My colleagues and I work as a team in addressing student concerns”; and “I feel supported by my chair and department when dealing with such issues. We deal with these issues as a department. No one is alone in addressing such issues.” Therefore, for this study, lack of institutional and peer support do not seem to be roadblocks. This could be due to the fact that all the participants in this study worked at programs that were accredited by CACREP. CACREP (2016) requires a procedure for addressing student professional and personal development. Counselor educators at programs that are not CACREP-accredited may report different findings. A limitation of this study is that only faculty from CACREP-accredited programs were contacted. Future research focusing on non-CACREP programs and site supervisors regarding this issue may be beneficial. Those working in the field may not have a deep understanding of the role of gatekeeping and may need to develop clear guidelines for their role as supervisors for both counselors-in-training and for counselors seeking licensure.


When the counselor-in-training was from a different cultural background than the counselor educator, 38% of the respondents expressed concern about appearing culturally insensitive, and 36% were concerned about allegations of discrimination. Because this survey was a self-report measure, there is risk that some participants provided answers they considered to be socially desirable (which is a limitation of the study). The field of counseling is committed to multicultural competence in skills, knowledge and awareness, which could make it difficult for counselor educators to acknowledge problematic behaviors in students who are different from themselves. Research has indicated that White counselors tend to favor the colorblind approach in disposition cases (Neville, Lilly, Duran, Lee, & Browne, 2000). Yet fear of responding in a way that appears insensitive may have contributed to responding in socially desirable ways on this instrument. More exploration is needed in this area. While recent literature has addressed how to be culturally responsive when intervening with counseling students’ problematic behavior (Goodrich & Shin, 2013), there is a lack of research regarding culturally responsive performance standards. Until the counseling profession establishes clear performance expectations that are culturally sensitive, the tension between colorblind and culture-attentive expectations will continue to complicate responding to PPC. For example, class performance often has an evaluation component concerning class participation. If a student is from a culture where students do not contribute unless called upon by the professor, then this student may perform poorly because of not understanding expectations. The professor needs to be sensitive to this type of difference and work with the student to develop ways of being successful.


Few participants reported involvement in a legal action related to gatekeeping and remediation with a student demonstrating PPC; however, 30% stated they were reluctant to address a student for fear of retaliation from the student. Given that counselor educators who have been involved in such cases have disclosed the emotional toll these processes take on a program and its faculty members (Dugger & Francis, 2014; McAdams et al., 2007), it seems understandable that there is concern. Therefore, support from ACA, resources in the form of consultation with other campuses and endorsement of gatekeeping processes from one’s own campus are essential in navigating this demanding process. Although legal actions are not common, developing appropriate gatekeeping procedures will help prevent negative outcomes (Dugger & Francis, 2014).


In addition, Brown-Rice and Furr (2014) provided that counselor educators and supervisors should “maintain appropriate ethical boundaries and avoid dual relationships with counselors-in-training, inform and educate themselves regarding the proper gatekeeping protocols and limit their own hypocrisy regarding acting in a competent and ethical manner” (p. 5). There has been substantial research and discussion regarding ethical boundaries, dual relationships and establishing proper gatekeeping procedures (Brown, 2013; Kolbert, Morgan, & Brendel, 2002; Morrissette & Gadbois, 2006; Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010). However, there seems to be a lack of attention to the competence of counselor educators and how counselors-in-training perceive educators’ professional and personal competence. Do students see faculty members engaging in the same attitudes, skills, behaviors and self-awareness that they are required to adhere to? Are counselor educators modeling the behaviors they want to see in their students or do they hold students to different standards?


Almost all the participants (94%) provided they were aware of their programs’ procedures regarding how to address problematic behavior, and 87% were aware of the appropriate intervention to take with students with PPC. However, only 38% stated they had received training from their program regarding how to intervene with a problematic student. In the open-ended responses, participants stated that their programs had established procedures and all faculty members were aware of them; however, they also reported that PPC were minimized or not addressed. For example, one participant provided, “while there is often a policy in place . . . I find that colleagues fail to follow that policy in practice.” Another respondent stated, “It is also up to the adviser to address the issue with the student and create a plan of improvement. Not all faculty do this and this leads to students receiving different treatment.” Additionally, a participant shared that colleagues were resistant to “address inappropriate student attitudes, dispositions, personality characteristics, and behaviors unless they reach such a critical threshold that they pose a significant threat to clients or, in some cases, faculty egos.” It also appears that how a student is addressed may be related to faculty dynamics. For example, “Political alliances among faculty play a major role in determining which students are targeted for intervention.”


Participants overwhelmingly reported they were aware of their programs’ procedures and the appropriate interventions to take when they encounter counselors-in-training with PPC. However, they also reported that they struggle with their gatekeeping duties due to empathy, diversity issues and fear of recrimination; half of the participants (51%) stated they would like more information regarding how to identify students with PPC, and 61% would like more information on how to respond to these students. Apparently, counseling programs are doing a good job developing procedures and communicating these procedures to faculty members, as recommended by Gaubatz and Vera (2002). But there remains a disconnect between knowledge about procedures and the ability to implement a response to PPC that may be related to the roadblocks identified in this study.


Counselor educators and supervisors know what they are supposed to do if a PPC has been clearly delineated; however, they struggle with identifying problematic behavior that reaches a threshold of needing to be formally addressed and taking action related to problematic student behaviors. The gap between the recognition that a student is not meeting expectations and the point where formal action is initiated may be filled with the counselor educators’ own beliefs about how they can fix the problem as well as their own anxieties related to the barriers discovered in this study. The recognition of and intervention with students with PPC can be further complicated by counselor educators having to negotiate faculty politics. It would seem that more attention is needed on assisting counselor educators in negotiating these barriers to ensure students do not gateslip.




     The results of this current study provide insight that educators are aware of counseling students with problematic behaviors, and these behaviors are impacting the learning environment, other students in the program and personal stress. It also appears that the largest roadblock present and impacting counselor educators’ ability to engage in gatekeeping procedures relates to their empathy veils. The authors of this article perceive that there is a struggle for counselor educators between balancing compassion for students’ life circumstances and developmental level with holding them to an acceptable level of professional competence. Counselor educators know it is their responsibility to engage in ethical gatekeeping procedures; however, they do not want to be excessively critical of students. Having an understanding of the empathy veil will assist educators in finding the balance between challenging and supporting students. Counselor educators must not accept students with PPC into their programs or allow them to move on without confronting and remediating their problematic behaviors. Educators need to do their due diligence and be willing to lift their empathy veils and engage in their gatekeeping responsibilities.


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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Kathleen Brown-Rice, NCC, is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Dakota. Susan Furr is a Professor at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Correspondence can be addressed to Kathleen Brown-Rice, 114E Clark Street, Vermillion, SD 57069, kathleen.rice@usd.edu.


Examining the Practicum Experience to Increase Counseling Students’ Self-Efficacy

James Ikonomopoulos, Javier Cavazos Vela, Wayne D. Smith, Julia Dell’Aquila

Master’s level counseling programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP, 2016) require students to complete practicum and internship courses that involve group and individual or triadic supervision. Although clinical supervision provides students with effective skill development (Bernard & Goodyear, 2004), counseling students may begin practicum with low self-efficacy regarding their counseling abilities and skills. Given the importance of clinical supervision and counselor self-efficacy, it is surprising that there are limited studies that have examined the impact of supervision and practicum experience from the perspectives of supervisees. Almost all studies within this domain are qualitative and involve personal interviews with supervisees or supervisors (e.g., Hein & Lawson, 2008). In order to fill a gap in the literature and document the impact of the practicum experience, this study examined the effectiveness of the practicum experience encompassing direct counseling services, group supervision and triadic supervision to increase counseling students’ self-efficacy. First, we provide a literature review regarding group supervision, triadic supervision and counselor self-efficacy. Next, we present findings from a study with 11 counseling practicum students. Finally, we provide a discussion regarding the importance of these findings as well as implications for counseling practice and research.


Supervision in Counselor Education Coursework

CACREP requires an average of one and a half hours of weekly group supervision in practicum courses that involves an instructor with up to six counseling graduate students (Degges-White, Colon, & Borzumato-Gainey, 2012). Borders et al. (2012) identified that group supervisors use leadership skills, facilitate and monitor peer feedback, and encourage supervisees to take ownership of group process in group supervision. Borders and colleagues (2012) identified several benefits in group supervision, including exposure to multiple counselor styles and ability to learn about various educational issues. There also were challenges such as limited helpful feedback, brevity of case presentations, timing of group meetings and lack of educational opportunities. In another study, Conn, Roberts, and Powell (2009) compared hybrid and face-to-face supervision among school counseling interns. There were similarities in perceptions of quality of supervision, suggesting that distance learning can provide effective group supervision. CACREP counseling programs also require students to receive one hour of weekly supervision from a faculty member or doctoral student supervisor. Triadic is one form of supervision that involves a process whereby one supervisor meets and provides feedback with two supervisees (Hein & Lawson, 2008). Hein and Lawson (2008) explored supervisors’ perspectives on triadic supervision and found increased demands on the role of the supervisor. For example, supervisors felt additional pressure to support both supervisees in supervision. Additionally, Lawson, Hein, and Stuart (2009) investigated supervisees’ perspectives of triadic supervision. Noteworthy findings included: some students perceived less time and attention to their needs; importance of compatibility between supervisees; and careful attention must be given when communicating feedback, particularly if negative feedback must be given.

Finally, Borders et al. (2012) explored supervisors’ and supervisees’ perceptions of individual, triadic and group supervision. Benefits included vicarious learning experiences, peer-learning opportunities, and better supervisor feedback, while challenges included peer mismatch and difficulty keeping both supervisees involved.


Counselor Self-Efficacy

One of the most important outcome variables in counseling is self-efficacy. Bandura (1986) defined self-efficacy as individuals’ confidence in their ability to perform courses of action or achieve a desired outcome. Self-efficacy in counselor education settings might influence students’ thoughts, behaviors and feelings toward working with clients (Bandura, 1997). In the current study, counseling self-efficacy is defined as “one’s beliefs or judgments about his or her capabilities to effectively counsel a client in the near future” (Larson & Daniels, 1998, p. 1). Counselor self-efficacy also can refer to students’ confidence regarding handling the therapist role, managing counseling sessions and delivering helping skills (Lent et al., 2009). In higher education settings, researchers identified relationships between practicum students’ counseling self-efficacy and various client outcomes in counseling (Halverson, Miars, & Livneh, 2006). Self-efficacy also is positively related to performance attainment (Bandura, 1986), perseverance in counseling tasks, less anxiety (Larson & Daniels, 1998), positive client outcomes (Bakar, Zakaria, & Mohamed, 2011), and counseling skills development (Lent et al., 2009). Halverson et al. (2006) evaluated the impact of a CACREP program on counseling students’ conceptual level and self-efficacy. Longitudinal findings showed that counseling students’ perceptions of self-efficacy increased over the course of the program, primarily as a result of clinical experiences.

In another investigation, Greason and Cashwell (2009) examined mindfulness, empathy and self-efficacy among masters-level counseling interns and doctoral counseling students. Mindfulness, empathy and attention to meaning accounted for 34% of the variance in counseling students’ self-efficacy. Finally, Barbee, Scherer, and Combs (2003) investigated the relationship among prepracticum service learning, counselor self-efficacy and anxiety. Substantial counseling coursework and counseling-related work experiences were important influences on counseling students’ self-efficacy.


Purpose of Study

This study evaluated practicum experiences by using a single-case research design (SCRD) to measure the impact on students’ self-efficacy. In a recent special issue of the Journal of Counseling & Development, Lenz (2015) described how researchers and practitioners can use SCRDs to make inferences about the impact of treatment or experiences. SCRDs are appropriate for counselors or counselor educators for the following reasons: minimal sample size, self as control, flexibility and responsiveness, ease of data analysis, and type of data yielded from analyses. In the current study, the rationale for using an SCRD to examine the effectiveness of the practicum experience and triadic supervision was to provide counselor educators with insight regarding potential strategies that increase students’ self-efficacy. With this goal in mind, we implemented an SCRD (Lenz, Perepiczka, & Balkin, 2013; Lenz, Speciale, & Aguilar, 2012) to identify and explore trends of students’ changes in self-efficacy while completing their practicum experience. We addressed the following research question: to what extent does the practicum experience encompassing direct counseling services, group supervision and triadic supervision influence counseling graduate students’ self-efficacy?



Instructors of record for three practicum courses formulated a plan to investigate the impact of the practicum experience on counseling students’ self-efficacy. We focused on providing students with a positive practicum experience with support, constructive feedback, wellness checks and learning experiences. With this goal in mind, we implemented a single case research design (Hinkle, 1992; Lenz et al., 2013; Lenz et al., 2012) to identify and explore trends of students’ changes in self-efficacy while completing their practicum experience. We selected this design to evaluate data that provides inferences regarding treatment effectiveness (Lenz et al., 2013). All practicum courses followed the same course requirements, and instructors shared the same level of teaching experience.


Participant Characteristics

We conducted this study with a sample of Mexican American counseling graduate students (N = 11) enrolled in a CACREP-accredited counseling program in the southwestern United States. This Hispanic Serving Institution had an enrollment of approximately 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students (approximately 93% of students at this institution are Latina/o) at the time of data collection. As a result, we were not surprised that all of the participants in the current study identified as Mexican American. Fifteen participants were solicited; four declined to participate. Participants (four men and seven women) ranged in age from 24 to 57 (M = 31; STD = 9.34). All participants were enrolled in practicum; we assigned participants with pseudonyms to protect their identity. Participants had diverse backgrounds in elementary education, secondary education, case management and behavioral intervention services. Participants also had aspirations of obtaining doctoral degrees or working in private practice, school settings, and community mental health agencies.



     Counselor Activity Self-Efficacy Scale. The Counselor Activity Self-Efficacy Scale (CASES) is a self-report measure of counseling self-efficacy (Lent, Hill, & Hoffman, 2003). This scale consists of 31 items with a 10-point Likert-type scale in which respondents rate their level of confidence from 0 (i.e., having no confidence at all) to 9 (i.e., having complete confidence). Participants respond to items on exploration skills, session management and client distress (Lent et al., 2003), with higher scores reflective of higher levels of self-efficacy. The total score across these domains represents counseling self-efficacy. Reliability estimates range from .96 to .97 (Greason & Cashwell, 2009; Lent et al., 2003). We used the total score as the outcome variable in our study.



Over the course of a 14-week semester, participants received 12 hours of triadic supervision and approximately 25 hours of group supervision. We followed Lawson, Hein, and Getz’s (2009) model through pre-session planning, in-session strategies, administrative considerations and evaluations of supervisees. During triadic supervision meetings with two practicum students, the instructor of record conducted wellness checks assessing students’ well-being and level of stress, listened to concerns about clients, observed recorded sessions, provided support and feedback, and encouraged supervisees to provide feedback. The instructor of record also facilitated group supervision discussions on clients’ presenting problems, treatment planning, note-writing, and wellness and self-care strategies. All practicum instructors collaborated and communicated bi-weekly to monitor students’ progress as well as students’ work with clients. All students obtained a minimum of 40 direct hours while working at their university counseling and training clinic, where services are provided to individuals with emotional, developmental, and interpersonal issues. Treatment for depression, anxiety and family issues are the most common issues. The population receiving services at this counseling and training clinic are mostly Mexican American and Spanish-speaking clients who are randomly assigned to a practicum student after an initial phone screening.



We evaluated treatment effect using an AB SCRD (in our case, we referred to this more precisely as BT for baseline and treatment), using scores on the CASES as an outcome measure. During an orientation before the semester, practicum students were informed that their instructors were interested in evaluating changes in self-efficacy. Students who agreed to participate in the current study completed baseline measure one at this time. Following this, we selected a pseudonym to identify each participant when completing counselor self-efficacy activity (CSEA) scales throughout the study. The baseline phase consisted of data collection for 3 weeks before the practicum experience. The treatment phase began after the third baseline measure, when the first triadic supervision session was integrated into the practicum experience. Individual cases under investigation were practicum students who agreed to document their changes in self-efficacy while completing the practicum experience. Given that participants serve as their own control group in a single case design, the number of participants in the current study was considered sufficient to explore the research question (Lenz et al., 2013).


Data Collection and Analysis

We implemented an AB, SCRD (Lundervold & Belwood, 2000; Sharpley, 2007) by gathering weekly scores of the CASES. We did not use an ABA design with a withdrawal phase given that almost all students enrolled in internship immediately after the semester. As a result, we did not want to collect data that would have tapped into students’ internship experiences. After three weeks of data collection, the baseline phase of data collection was completed. The treatment phase began after the third baseline measure where the first triadic supervision session occurred. After the 13th week of data collection, the treatment phase of data collection was completed due to nearing completion of the semester, for a total of three baseline and ten treatment phase collections. We did not collect additional treatment data points given that students were scheduled to begin internship at the conclusion of the semester. We only wanted to measure the impact of the practicum experience.

Percentage of data points exceeding the median (PEM) procedure was implemented to analyze the quantitative data from the AB single case design (Ma, 2006). A visual trend analysis was reported as data points from each phase were graphically represented to provide visual representations of change over time (Ikonomopoulos, Smith, & Schmidt, 2015; Sharpley, 2007). An interpretation of effect sizes was conducted to determine the effectiveness of triadic supervision integrated into the practicum experience when comparing each phase of data collection (Sharpley, 2007). Interpreting effect sizes for the PEM procedure yields a proportion of data overlap between a baseline and treatment condition expressed in a decimal format that ranges from zero and one. Higher scores represent greater treatment effects while lower scores represent less effective treatments. This procedure is conceptualized as the analysis of treatment phase data that is contingent on the overlap with the median data point within the baseline phase. Ma (2006) suggested that PEM is based on the assumption that if the intervention is effective, data will be predominately on the therapeutic side of the median. If an intervention is ineffective, data points in the treatment phase will vacillate above and below the baseline median (Lenz, 2013). To calculate the PEM statistic, data points in the treatment phase on the therapeutic side of the baseline are counted and then divided by the total number of points in the treatment phase. Scruggs and Mastropieri (1998) suggested the following criteria for evaluation: effect sizes of .90 and greater are indicative of very effective treatments; those ranging from .70 to .89 represent moderate effectiveness; those between .50 to .69 are debatably effective; and scores less than .50 are regarded as not effective




Figure 1 and Table 1 depict estimates of treatment effect using PEM across all participants. Detailed descriptions of participants’ experiences are provided below.


Participant 1

     Jorge’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience involving triadic supervision and group supervision was very effective for improving counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, three of Jorge’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123, which considers an individual to have low counseling self-efficacy for the CASES. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (1.00) indicated that 10 scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 217). Scores above the PEM line were within a 122-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring exploration skills.


Participant 2

     Gina’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience involving triadic supervision and group supervision was moderately effective for improving counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, three of Gina’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (0.77) indicated that seven scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 194). Scores above the PEM line were within a 99-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the second treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring exploration skills, session management and client distress.


Participant 3

     Cecilia’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience and triadic supervision were very effective for improving counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, three of Cecilia’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (1.00) indicated that 10 scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 177). Scores above the PEM line were within a 162-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring exploration skills and session management.



Figure 1.


Graphical Representation of Ratings for Counselor Activity Self-Efficacy by Participants



Table 1

Participants’ Sessions and Their CASES Total Scale Score for Counselor Activity Self-Efficacy


Participant 4

     Natalia’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience and triadic supervision were very effective for improving her counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, two of Natalia’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (1.00) indicated that nine scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 138). Scores above the PEM line were within a 155-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring exploration skills.


Participant 5

     Yolanda’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience and triadic supervision were very effective for improving counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, three of Yolanda’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (0.90) indicated that nine scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 295). Scores above the PEM line were within a 27-point range. Trend analysis depicted a minimal level of improvement following the first treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring exploration skills.


Participant 6

     Leticia’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience and triadic supervision were very effective for improving her counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, three of Leticia’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (1.00) indicated that 10 scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 293). Scores above the PEM line were within a 43-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring client distress.


Participant 7

     Robert’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience and triadic supervision were very effective for improving counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, three of Robert’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (1.00) indicated that 10 scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 197). Scores above the PEM line were within a 96-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring client distress.


Participant 8

   George’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience and triadic supervision were very effective for improving his counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, three of George’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the counselor activity self-efficacy measure (1.00) indicated that ten scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 300). Scores above the PEM line were within a 24-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring exploration skills.

Participant 9

     Jeremy’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience and triadic supervision were very effective for improving his counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, two of Jeremy’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (0.90) indicated that nine scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 142). Scores above the PEM line were within a 201-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the second treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring session management and client distress.


Participant 10

     Brittney’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience and triadic supervision were moderately effective for improving her counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, three of Brittney’s baseline measurements were below the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (0.88) indicated that eight scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 94). Scores above the PEM line were within a 132-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the fourth treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring session management.


Participant 11

     Jessica’s ratings on the CASES illustrate that the practicum experience and triadic supervision were very effective for improving her counselor self-efficacy. Before the treatment phase began, three of Jessica’s baseline measurements were above the cut-score guideline on the CASES with a total scale score of 123. Evaluation of the PEM statistic for the CASES (1.00) indicated that 10 scores were on the therapeutic side above the baseline (total scale score of 186). Scores above the PEM line were within a 71-point range. Trend analysis depicted a consistent level of improvement following the first treatment measure. The majority of improvement in confidence was found on items measuring exploration skills.



The results of this study found that in all 11 investigated cases, the practicum experience ranged from moderately effective (PEM = .77) to very effective (PEM = 1.00) for improving or maintaining counselor self-efficacy during practicum coursework. For most participants, counseling self-efficacy continued to improve throughout the practicum experience as evidenced by high scores on items such as “Helping your client understand his or her thoughts, feelings and actions,” “Work effectively with a client who shows signs of severely disturbed thinking,” and “Help your client set realistic counseling goals.” Participants shared that the most helpful experiences during practicum to improve their counselor self-efficacy came from direct experiences with clients. This finding is consistent with Bandura’s (1977) conceptualization of direct mastery experiences where participants gain confidence with successful experiences of a particular activity. Participants also shared how obtaining feedback from clients on their outcomes and seeing their clients’ progress was important for their development as counselors. Other helpful experiences included processing counseling sessions with a peer during triadic supervision, and case conceptualization and treatment planning during group supervision. Obtaining feedback during triadic supervision from peers and instructors after observing recorded counseling sessions also was beneficial.

Qualitative benefits of supervision included vicarious learning experiences, peer-learning opportunities and better supervisor feedback (Borders et al., 2012). Findings from this study extend qualitative findings regarding benefits of the practicum experience and triadic supervision. The results of this study yielded promising findings related to the integration of triadic supervision into counseling graduate students’ practicum experiences. First, the practicum experience appeared to be effective for increasing and maintaining participant scores on the CSEA scale. Inspection of participant scores within treatment targets revealed that the practicum experience was very effective for nine participants and within the moderately effective range for two participants.

Lastly, informal conversations with participants indicate that triadic supervision provided participants with an opportunity to receive peer feedback. Participants also commented that weekly wellness checks were important due to stress from the practicum experience. Trends were observed for the group as a majority of participants improved self-efficacy consistently after their fourth treatment measure. In summary, direct services with clients, triadic supervision with a peer and group supervision as part of the practicum experience may assist counseling graduate students to improve self-efficacy.


Implications for Counseling Practice

There are several implications for practice. First, triadic supervision has been helpful when there is compatibility between supervisor and supervisees (Hein & Lawson, 2008). Compatibility between supervisees is helpful, as participants shared how having similar knowledge and experience contributed to their development. While all participants in the current study selected their partner for supervision, Hein and Lawson (2008) commented that the responsibility to implement and maintain clear and achievable support to supervisees lies heavily on supervisors. As a result, additional trainings should be offered to supervisors regarding clear, concise and supportive feedback. Such trainings and discussions can focus on clarity of roles and expectations for both supervisor and supervisee before triadic supervision begins. More training in providing feedback to peers in group supervision also can be beneficial as students learn to provide feedback to promote awareness of different learning experiences. We suggest that additional trainings will help practicum instructors and students identify ways to provide clear, constructive and effective feedback.

Practicum instructors can administer weekly or bi-weekly wellness checks and discuss responses on individual items on the Mental Well-Being Scale to monitor progress (Tennant et al., 2007). Additionally, counselor education programs would benefit from bringing self-efficacy to the forefront in the practicum experience as well as prepracticum coursework. Findings from the current study could be presented to students in group counseling and practicum coursework to facilitate discussion regarding how the practicum experience can increase students’ self-efficacy. Part of this discussion should focus on assessing baseline self-efficacy in order to help students increase perceptions of self-efficacy. As such, counselor educators can administer and interpret the CSEA scale with practicum students. There are numerous scale items (e.g., silence, immediacy) that can be used to foster discussions on perceived confidence in dealing with counseling-related issues. Finally, CACREP-accredited programs require 1 hour of weekly supervision and allow triadic supervision to fulfill this requirement. We recommend that CACREP and non-CACREP-accredited programs consider incorporating triadic supervision into the practicum experience and suggest that triadic supervision as part of the practicum experience might help students’ increase self-efficacy.


Implications for Counseling Research

The practicum experience seemed helpful for improving counseling students’ self-efficacy. However, information regarding reasons for this effectiveness of the practicum experience and triadic supervision was not explored. Qualitative research regarding the impact of the practicum experience on counselors’ self-efficacy can provide incredible insight into specific aspects of group or triadic supervision that increase self-efficacy. Second, more outcome-based research with ethnic minority counseling students is necessary. There might be aspects of group or triadic supervision that are conducive when working with Mexican American students (Cavazos, Alvarado, Rodriguez, & Iruegas, 2009). Third, exploring different models of group or triadic supervision to increase counseling self-efficacy is important. As one example, researchers could explore the impact of the Wellness Model of Supervision (Lenz & Smith, 2010) on counseling graduate students’ self-efficacy. Finally, all participants in our study attended a CACREP counseling program with mandatory individual or triadic supervision. Comparing changes in self-efficacy between students in CACREP and non-CACREP programs where weekly individual or triadic supervision outside of class is not mandatory would be important.



There are several limitations that must be taken into consideration. First, we did not use an ABA design with withdrawal measures that would have provided stronger internal validity to evaluate changes to counselor self-efficacy (Lenz et al., 2012). Most practicum students in our study began internship immediately after the conclusion of the semester. As a result, collecting withdrawal measures in an ABA design would have tapped into students’ internship experiences. Second, although three baseline measurements are considered sufficient in single-case research (Lenz et al., 2012), employing five baseline measures might have allowed self-efficacy scores to stabilize prior to their practicum experience (Ikonomopoulos et al., 2015).



Based on results from this study, the practicum experience shows promise as an effective strategy to increase counseling graduate students’ self-efficacy. Implementing triadic supervision as part of the practicum experience for counseling students is a strategy that counselor education programs might consider. Provided are guidelines for counselor educators to consider when integrating triadic supervision into the practicum experience. Researchers also can use different methodologies to address how different aspects of the practicum experience influence counseling students’ self-efficacy. In summary, we regard the practicum experience with triadic supervision as a promising approach for improving counseling graduate students’ self-efficacy.


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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James Ikonomopoulos, NCC, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Javier Cavazos Vela is an LPC-Intern at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Wayne D. Smith is an Assistant Professor at the University of Houston–Victoria. Julia Dell’Aquila is a graduate student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Correspondence concerning this article can be addressed to James Ikonomopoulos, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Department of Counseling, Main 2.200F, One West Univ. Blvd., Brownsville, TX 78520, james.ikonomopoulos@utrgv.edu.