Counselor Educators’ Experiences of Dissertation-Chairing Relationship Dynamics

Phillip L. Waalkes, Daniel A. DeCino, Maribeth F. Jorgensen, Tiffany Somerville

Supportive relationships with counselor educators as dissertation chairs are valuable to doctoral students overcoming barriers to successful completion of their dissertations. Yet, few have examined the complex and mutually influenced dissertation-chairing relationships from the perspective of dissertation chairs. Using hermeneutic phenomenology, we interviewed counselor educators (N = 15) to identify how they experienced dissertation-chairing relationship dynamics with doctoral students. Counselor educators experienced relationships characterized by expansive connections, growth in student autonomy, authenticity, safety and trust, and adaptation to student needs. They viewed chairing relationships as fluid and non-compartmentalized, which cultivated mutual learning and existential fulfillment. Our findings provide counselor educators with examples of how empathy and encouragement may help doctoral students overcome insecurities and how authentic and honest conversations may help doctoral students overcome roadblocks. Counselor education programs can apply these findings by building structures to help facilitate safe and trusting relationships between doctoral students and counselor educators.

Keywords: dissertation-chairing relationships, hermeneutic phenomenology, counselor education, doctoral students, relationship dynamics

According to the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2015), doctoral students must develop research skills and complete counseling-focused dissertation research. Research mentorship is often important to counselor education doctoral students’ development as researchers (Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015). One of the central research mentoring relationships in doctoral programs is the dissertation-chairing relationship. Supportive research mentoring relationships in counselor education are invaluable to students (Lamar & Helm, 2017), are necessary to successful dissertation chairing (Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020), and are a central factor in high-quality doctoral programs (Preston et al., 2020). In fact, a meaningful connection between students and their dissertation chairperson predicts students’ successful completion of their dissertations (Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015; Rigler et al., 2017) and positive dissertation experiences (Burkard et al., 2014). Therefore, to help promote intentional and supportive dissertation-chairing relationships, we examined counselor educators’ experiences of relationship dynamics with doctoral students.

Challenges in Dissertation Completion

Across disciplines, doctoral students can struggle with isolation, motivation, time management, self-regulation, and self-efficacy (Pyhältö et al., 2012). In their development as researchers, doctoral students in counselor education can experience intense emotions, including excitement, exhaustion, frustration, distrust, confusion, disconnection, and pride (Lamar & Helm, 2017). Negative relationships with dissertation chairs can exacerbate challenges to dissertation completion. In one meta-analysis study examining doctoral student attrition across disciplines, doctoral students identified a problematic relationship with their dissertation chairperson as the most significant barrier to their completion of their degrees (Rigler et al., 2017). Doctoral students in counselor education have reported negative experiences when their dissertation chairs were unenthusiastic, unsupportive, and unavailable, and when their guidance was not concrete (Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017). In addition, counselor education doctoral students involved in negative dissertation-chairing relationships can feel like they are on their own in their dissertation journeys (Protivnak & Foss, 2009). This feeling of isolation can intensify existing barriers in completing dissertations, including struggles with motivation, self-regulation, self-criticism, and self-efficacy (Burkard et al., 2014; Pyhältö et al., 2012).

Power differentials between doctoral students and dissertation chairs also can serve as a barrier to supportive dissertation-chairing relationships and dissertation completion (Burkard et al., 2014). For example, doctoral students are likely to remain silent in difficult relationships with dissertation chairs unless students perceive there to be a strong relationship built on respect and open communication (Schlosser et al., 2003). Cultural differences and systemic oppression may also impact dissertation-chairing relationships. According to Brown and Grothaus (2019), Black counselor education students can experience overt racism, tokenism, isolation, and internalized racism, which can foster mistrust in cross-racial mentoring relationships. Numerous researchers in counselor education (Borders et al., 2012; Ghoston et al., 2020; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015; Purgason et al., 2018) have recommended mentors use transparent and honest dialogue with explicit attention to expectations, power dynamics, cultural differences, and potential conflicts.

Supportive Dissertation-Chairing Relationships

Dissertation-chairing relationships with individualized supports can help students overcome barriers to completing their dissertations (Ghoston et al., 2020; Purgason et al., 2018). According to Flynn and colleagues (2012), increased dissertation chairperson involvement can counteract counselor education students’ isolation, burnout, and perceptions of lacking support. Dissertation chairs can help doctoral students identify their low research self-efficacy and offer support, encouragement, and instruction to help address it (Burkard et al., 2014). According to Ghoston and colleagues (2020), a supportive relationship during the dissertation process can help doctoral students be more honest about when they are stuck, which, in turn, allows chairs to give more targeted direction and feedback.

Beginning counselor educators have reported faculty mentoring, care, and support were the most valuable components of their doctoral training (Perera-Diltz & Sauerheber, 2017). Specifically, doctoral students in counselor education value when faculty take time with them, express genuine caring, offer guidance, validate and believe in them, and celebrate their efforts and achievements (Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015; Protivnak & Foss, 2009; Purgason et al., 2018). Counselor education doctoral students also appreciate dissertation chairs who offer regular contact, timely support, and clear and authentic communication (Borders et al., 2012; Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020).

Despite the importance of supportive dissertation-chairing relationships in counselor education (Flynn et al., 2012; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015), little research exists on how counselor educators experience dissertation-chairing relationships with doctoral students. Although researchers have studied dissertation-chairing relationships from the perspectives of counselor education doctoral students (e.g., Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015) and examined relational strategies counselor educators use (e.g., Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020), few have examined counselor educators’ perceptions of the relationship as dynamic and mutually constructed. Given their role as faculty and their experiences in multiple dissertation-chairing relationships, dissertation chairs may have more awareness of and broader perspectives on the mutually influenced dissertation relationship and process. Understanding the complexities and nuances of dynamics in chairing relationships may help counselor educators develop more intentional dissertation-chairing practices, subsequently resulting in more successfully completed dissertations. Therefore, we asked the following research question in this hermeneutic phenomenological investigation: What are counselor educators’ lived experiences of dissertation-chairing relationship dynamics with doctoral students?


We utilized a hermeneutic perspective rooted in an interpretive paradigm to guide this study. This perspective aligns with the focus on relationships in our study and emphasizes how individuals make meaning in interaction with others (Heidegger, 1962). Anchored by the viewpoint that all knowledge is relative and based on cultural context, Heidegger’s (1962) hermeneutic phenomenology helped us to construct an evocative description of the essence of participants’ experiences of chairing dissertations in a multi-dimensional and multi-layered way (van Manen, 1990). Hermeneutic phenomenology focuses on uncovering the participants’ experiences of the lifeworld, or their experience of everyday situations and relations (van Manen, 1990). The concept of lifeworld in hermeneutic phenomenology allowed us to examine participants’ lived experiences of human relation, or how they maintain relationships in shared interpersonal space. Therefore, we utilized hermeneutic phenomenology (van Manen, 1990) to investigate counselor educators’ experiences of dissertation-chairing relationships.

Participants and Sampling Procedure
     Of 15 participants in our study, eight self-identified as female and seven self-identified as male. Ten participants self-identified as White. Three self-identified with multiple racial and ethnic groups, and two self-identified as African American or Black. Seven participants worked as an associate professor, seven participants worked as a full professor, and one participant worked as an assistant professor. Participants’ ages ranged from 33 to 68 (M = 47.93, SD = 10.18). Years of experience working as a counselor educator ranged from 4 to 29 (M = 16.40, SD = 7.92). Participants reported a wide range of successful chairing experiences, with one to 40 (M = 10.47, SD = 10.39) of their doctoral student advisees defending their dissertations. Nine participants worked at institutions in the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) region, three participants worked at institutions in the Western ACES region, two participants worked at institutions in the North Central ACES region, and one participant worked at an institution in the Northeastern ACES region. Five participants worked at institutions with an R2 Carnegie classification (doctoral universities with high research activity). Five participants worked at institutions with an R1 Carnegie classification (doctoral universities with very high research activity). Three participants worked at institutions with an M1 Carnegie classification (master’s colleges and universities with larger programs). Two participants worked at an institution with a D/PU classification (doctoral/professional universities).

Participants qualified for inclusion in this study if they self-identified as a counselor educator working in a CACREP-accredited program and had chaired at least one counseling doctoral student through a successful dissertation defense. After compiling a list of all CACREP-accredited counselor education doctoral programs (N = 33) from information available through the CACREP website, we created a list of names and email addresses of all counselor education faculty (N = 330) working at each of these institutions based on information available on programs’ websites. After receiving IRB approval, we randomly selected 249 faculty members from this list and sent each person a recruitment email and one follow-up email about a week later. Fifteen counselor educators expressed interest, yielding a response rate of 6.05%.

Data Collection
     After counselor educators expressed interest in the study, we emailed them a brief demographic data survey, the informed consent document, and the interview questions. We scheduled a time for a semi-structured interview with them and asked them to return their demographic data survey before their interviews. All interviews were conducted through Zoom and audio recorded. The interview protocol consisted of six main open-ended questions and two to four scripted probes for each main question (Patton, 2014). We developed interview questions based on themes within the literature on dissertations and research mentorship (e.g., Flynn et al., 2012; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015) as well as our own experiences chairing dissertations. Sample interview questions included “How would you describe the characteristics of relationships you want to foster with students?” and “What relational factors help students successfully complete their dissertations with you as a dissertation chair?” Interviews lasted between 38 and 64 minutes. After transcribing the interviews using, we deleted the audio files. We determined that we reached saturation at our sample size of 15 participants as we observed the same themes repeatedly emerging in our coding process (Patton, 2014).

Research Team
     Our research team consisted of four members. Phillip Waalkes and Daniel DeCino served as the coding team. They both identify as White cisgender male counselor educators with experience chairing dissertations. Maribeth Jorgensen and Tiffany Somerville served as auditors. Jorgensen identifies as a White cisgender female counselor educator with experience chairing dissertations, while Somerville identifies as a White cisgender female counselor education doctoral student. Waalkes, DeCino, and Jorgensen developed the study after a conversation of their experiences chairing dissertations and conducting research in this topic area. We identified how we grew in our identities as dissertation chairs and how we adapted our mentoring styles to meet the needs of students. Considering our experiences as dissertation chairs and doctoral students, we wanted to know how counselor educators developed supportive dissertation-chairing relationships.

To promote reflexivity, the coding team, Waalkes and DeCino, used bridling throughout the data analysis process, utilizing written statements and discussion. Bridling is a process in which researchers actively wait for the phenomenon and its meaning to show itself while also scrutinizing their own involvement with the phenomenon. Bridling requires researchers to acknowledge their pre-understandings and loosen them to allow space for holistic understanding of the phenomenon without seeking to understand too quickly or too carelessly (Dahlberg, 2006). In his reflexivity statement, Waalkes wrote about the importance of timely and individualized feedback and the challenges of building relationships when taking over as dissertation chairperson in the middle of a student’s dissertation process. DeCino discussed his beliefs about the importance of individualized mentoring relationships and the impact of his dissertation experience as a doctoral student on his current dissertation-chairing identity. These reflexive conversations continued between Waalkes and DeCino throughout the data analysis process.

Data Analysis
     Based on van Manen’s (1990) inductive data analysis procedure for hermeneutic phenomenology, we coded our data with hermeneutic awareness, reflecting on the data in multidimensional context as opposed to accepting it at face value. Additionally, we designed our procedure to create a hermeneutic circle by shifting between examining parts of the text and reflecting on the interviews as a whole (van Manen, 1990). The development of a thematic structure and a holistic statement (a one-sentence summary of the essence of each participant’s experience) as products of our data analysis reflect our hermeneutic circle.

Our data analysis process consisted of four stages. First, for each interview, Waalkes and DeCino individually created initial holistic statements for each participant. Holistic statements summarized the central significance or fundamental meaning of the participant’s transcript (i.e., text) as a whole. For example, Participant 6’s holistic statement was “Structure, organization, following rules, empathy, scheduled standing meetings to check in personally and professionally, and constructive feedback tailored to students’ needs with an awareness of cultural differences are essential to their dissertation-chairing relationships.” Then, they met to discuss their individual holistic statements and reach consensus on the content of each holistic statement. Second, they individually reviewed each transcript and highlighted essential passages throughout each transcript. Waalkes and DeCino selected passages that were particularly essential or revealing (van Manen, 1990). After selecting a passage, they rewrote it with attention to the context of what was below or above each highlighted section. After rewriting a passage, they reviewed the participants’ holistic statement to ensure that the rewritten passage reflected the interview as a whole. They combined their summary statements of essential passages into a shared spreadsheet. Third, in a series of meetings, Waalkes and DeCino discussed their summary statements and coded each one with a possible theme name. Afterward, they looked for frequently reoccurring codes and combined similar codes to create an initial theme list. Then, they checked that their themes were essential and not incidental by assessing them against the holistic statements and using imaginative variation by asking: “Is this phenomenon still the same if we imaginatively change or delete this theme from the phenomenon?” (van Manen, 1990, p. 107). In conversation, Waalkes and DeCino revised the theme list and structure throughout the imaginative variation process. Finally, Jorgensen and Somerville reviewed the theme list and the holistic statements and offered suggestions that helped refine them.

     We established trustworthiness in the present study through an iterative data analysis process with hermeneutic awareness and a hermeneutic circle, triangulation of investigators, and bridling through reflexive journaling (Dahlberg, 2006; Hays & Singh, 2012). First, our iterative data analysis process promoted hermeneutic awareness and helped us achieve a hermeneutic circle in checking our thematic structure and our holistic statements compared to each other (van Manen, 1990). Reflecting on the data in context involved approaching the data with an awareness that meaning is never simple or one-dimensional but rather multidimensional and multilayered (van Manen, 1990). To do this, we used individual and consensus coding, evaluation of the data in holistic context using holistic statements, and imaginative variation to summarize only essential parts of participants’ experiences (van Manen, 1990). Second, to achieve triangulation of investigators, Waalkes and DeCino reached consensus throughout the data analysis process (Hays & Singh, 2012). We also utilized two external auditors who read the interview transcripts and provided feedback on our thematic structure and holistic statements. Third, we engaged in reflexive journaling and bridling as described in the research team section above.


We arranged our findings into five themes: (a) expansive connections, (b) growth in student autonomy, (c) authenticity, (d) safety and trust, and (e) adaptation to student needs. We arrived at these five themes by using imaginative variation to determine which of our themes were essential to participants’ experiences. Each theme is described in the sections below.

Expansive Connections
     In the expansive connections theme, participants (n = 11) described how chairing relationships defy compartmentalized definitions and can have wide-ranging and mutually beneficial impacts that extend beyond the dissertation project. For example, Participant 15 offered herself “as a person” to students:

When you sign on to . . . work with me on a dissertation, you don’t just get my technical expertise, you get me as a person . . . and that’s what you get first, actually. So again, it’s not a relationship that’s contained in a box. Hopefully, this is something that grows and actually is something we both are learning from and continues to sustain.

Similarly, Participant 9’s relationships with students extended beyond discussions of dissertations:

I try to talk to [the students I chair] about personal stuff as well as just the dissertation stuff. Because it’s not little neat cubby holes that they put their lives in. What’s going on in their personal life is what’s impacting their progress towards completion. Sometimes it’s just a sigh [of] relief when I ask them “How’s your wife doing? Is the baby walking?” And it gives them a chance to just decompress for a moment and regroup.

Participant 5 described a mutuality in learning through an intense working relationship:

It’s not really a top-down thing, but it’s about learning a craft, and intensely working together to learn that craft . . . it’s a formative process. We’re learning about ourselves as we’re going through it. And I learn from my students as well, while I’m chairing their projects . . . this is a career-building, life-extending experience.

Growth in Student Autonomy
     Participants (n = 8) described the importance of using the dissertation relationship to help students take initiative and learn to conduct research on their own. Often participants set clear expectations and boundaries in their relationships to help students do this. For example, Participant 9 encouraged students to take accountability over maintaining momentum in the working alliance:

The student has to recognize this as a partnership, and I can’t react until the student acts. So to me, if I don’t see any action taking place, it’s much more difficult to give you feedback, to give you some kind of response. So that working alliance, I keep pushing that to a student. “What’s your responsibility. What’s my responsibility?”

Participant 2 talked about how he wanted students to be autonomous in planning their dissertations while offering resources:

I’m not the timekeeper. I’m not the helicopter parent. . . . “This is your dissertation, right? This is . . . your life. I will help get you resources, figure out what you need to do to get it done, you know? Beg, buy, borrow, and steal resources to get it done, but you gotta come to me with that.” I’m not gonna say, “Okay, you’re done with stuff a. Stuff b is this. Here’s what you need to do.”

Participant 8 did not want to micromanage students even if students expected that of her:

I don’t want to be your mother. . . he’s like this helpless person. So, I was a little worried that he was continuing to perpetuate these types of dynamics in his life where he was looking for maybe strong women to just come in and take care of things for him . . . I’ve had to be really, really clear about that.

     In the authenticity theme, nearly all participants (n = 13) described valuing genuine conversations with students, in which there was a mutuality in sharing vulnerable parts of themselves. These conversations involved discussing both parties’ roles and responsibilities in the relationship. Participants co-constructed the dissertation process by inviting students into honest discussions of the abilities of both parties. For example, Participant 3 described facilitating authentic conversations:

It’s not a one-size-fits-all model . . . every student is different and . . . the process of having the conversation about what they need is a really good relationship-building conversation. And I’m quick to say, “There may be things you want that I can’t provide,” just because I don’t have this skill set or the capacity or the bandwidth in a given day . . . just having those conversations that start that co-constructed collaborative process and empowering them to do their work.

Additionally, participants transparently revealed vulnerable parts about themselves to help students overcome anxiety or other challenges. For example, Participant 12 described the importance of mutual authenticity to facilitate using immediacy to address issues that were causing students to get stuck:

I really need to be able to call out what I see if [the student] may be stuck . . .  there needs to be that mutual authentic exchange too . . . authentic relating is my really being able [to feel] like there’s someone for me to call out when I noticed there might be something obstructing [the student’s] capacity to keep moving forward.

Participant 7 viewed being humble and inviting students to share their knowledge as part of being genuine:

I mentioned having that mutual learning attitude and when you do that, that’s being open and honest and genuine with them. Not acting like you know everything. I may be perceived as an expert in some areas, but I don’t want to come off that way actually sometimes. I’ve done a lot of this stuff, but I’m not an expert on this particular area. Tell me what you know. Tell me what you think you know. Tell me what you don’t know that you want to do and I will help you try to get there.

Safety and Trust
     In the safety and trust theme, participants (n = 10) discussed how trust and safety served as the foundation for their chairing relationships. Participants acknowledged how mutual trust deepened their connections and helped students feel like their chairperson would help them grow without leaving them floundering. Participants believed safety and trust helped assure students they were going to complete their dissertation and they were not going to be abandoned. For example, Participant 7 discussed the importance of students’ trusting her to offer consistent support:

[Students should] trust me that we can work collaboratively together to make it a good study, that I have the background or I know where to get [help], if you don’t as a student, to help figure out methodology, how to write that prospectus, how to write period. . . . You have to trust me to know how to do that or at least have the resources to help you figure it out, and to trust me that we’re going to be in this together. I’m not going to leave you hanging.

Numerous participants conceptualized students’ needs for safety in terms of expressing and processing strong and often hidden emotions. For example, Participant 5 discussed how students coped with their vulnerability and shame of not feeling good enough:

They need to feel safe . . . I think there’s a lot of shame that goes into developing as a student and maybe even overt or covert. It’s just really tough. It’s such a vulnerable time in your life. I think that doc students, when you get them into groups, they just are very sure and confident. . . . I think that’s such a defensive mechanism to kind of bolster themselves and to kind of propel themselves forward because they’re really trying to, at times, step into these very big roles.

Similarly, Participant 3 conceptualized safety in terms of helping students of color feel like they could make mistakes with him as they navigate biased academic systems:

I really try to bring my years of experience, but I also try to diminish the hierarchy as much as I can. So we have conversations about why we might go this way or why we might go that way rather than it being an edict from me. And I think students appreciate that. I think they feel respected. I think they feel valued. One of the things that I feel very grateful for is that I’ve had the opportunity to have a lot of students of color select me as their dissertation chair. . . . And I think part of that, as they navigate a system that’s still kind of incredibly White and largely biased . . . they feel safe . . . it’s safe to make mistakes . . . They’re going to hand in some versions of drafts that are just not very good. And that’s part of the learning process.

Adaptation to Student Needs
     In the adaptation to student needs theme, participants (n = 12) discussed assessing their students’ personalities and tailoring their approaches to meet unique student needs with a mix of support and challenge. For example, Participant 3 described making adjustments based on students’ levels of self-efficacy:

There are some students that I think have a lot of self-efficacy and don’t want me to sugar-coat anything. I can just be very direct and they want me to be direct. They tell me they want me to be direct, but I also recognize for some students, what they’re going to respond better to is more a carrot, less stick. And so, even how I language a comment or something, I’m paying attention to that based on my sense of the student and what they can navigate. If I have a draft of something that it feels like I’ve kind of bled all over and I’ve done a real hatchet job on . . . I’m going to make sure that in the body of the email . . . I’m encouraging.

Similarly, Participant 4 discussed how she personalized encouragement based on students’ needs:

I think of a student I had who needed a lot of validation in the moment, of, “Hey, you’re doing really well. You have all these strengths. These are all the things you’re doing well and I know you can do this. I believe in you.” And then, for others, I know that they needed to sit in the stress or the disappointment a little bit. So to say like, “I hear you. You are struggling right now and I’m going to give you the space for that. And when you’re ready, I’ve got a lot of positive things to say about you. So you let me know when you’re ready for that feedback. It doesn’t sound like you’re ready for it right now.”


Because developing as researchers is important for doctoral students (CACREP, 2015) and research mentorship is critical for this purpose (Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015), we investigated counselor educators’ experiences of relationship dynamics with doctoral students when chairing dissertations. Participants reported the complex and mutually influenced dynamics of expansive connections, growth in student autonomy, authenticity, safety and trust, and adaptation to student needs. Our finding of dissertation-chairing relationship dynamics as wide-reaching broadens the focus of previous researchers who have explored these relationships in terms of a series of strategies used by the chairperson (Ghoston et al., 2020) or a list of components contributing to successful dissertation completion (Jorgensen & Wester, 2020). Participants viewed chairing relationships as fluid, mutually influenced, and non-compartmentalized (Purgason et al., 2016), involving a blending of personal and collegial connection that could offer shared learning and fulfillment. Numerous researchers (e.g., Burkard et al., 2014; Flynn et al., 2012) have found that supportive dissertation-chairing relationships can have positive impacts on doctoral students. Yet, a unique finding of this study is that chairing relationships can also positively affect dissertation chairs. Participants discussed growing and experiencing feelings including pride, frustration, and fulfillment from their chairing relationships.

In the growth in student autonomy theme, numerous participants discussed helping students develop more independence and step into a more collegial role in their dissertation-chairing relationships. To a degree, this theme aligns with how Jorgensen and Wester (2020) and Ghoston and colleagues (2020) highlighted the need for accountability and developing doctoral students’ researcher identities in chairing relationships. However, our participants framed helping students become more autonomous as a mutually influenced working alliance that required doctoral student initiative and effort for their chairs to reciprocate. In other words, it seems that dissertation chairs believed doctoral students’ steady effort played a role in creating positive relational momentum throughout a consistent pattern of feedback and support. Additionally, for some participants, fostering student autonomy involved discussing boundaries and the navigation of transference and countertransference within the relationship dynamic. Completing a dissertation can be a challenging process in which students face numerous emotional roadblocks (Lamar & Helm, 2017; Pyhältö et al., 2012) and, for some participants, promoting student autonomy involved exploring and discussing how dependence may function as a defense mechanism for students to cover up their embarrassment, fear, or low self-efficacy.

Our findings also deepen the previous research on the importance of authenticity in dissertation-chairing relationships (Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020; Purgason et al., 2016). Many participants directed the relationship toward mutually vulnerable places relevant to students’ dissertations. For example, some participants initiated authentic conversations when students felt stuck. When conflict in a relationship is unacknowledged, the person with less power in the relationship often responds in inauthentic ways; therefore, chairs should take the lead in venturing into vulnerable areas to help move the dissertation forward (Jordan, 2000). For participants, vulnerability included helping students overcome roadblocks and honest discussions and broaching of relationship dynamics, emotions, life experiences, and culture (Jordan, 2010; Purgason et al., 2016).

Our theme of adaptation to student needs highlights the way feedback plays out in mutually impacted relationship dynamics (Ghoston et al., 2020; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020). For example, numerous participants described how they adjusted their feedback styles to meet students’ sensitivity levels. In these cases, participants seemed to be using anticipatory empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to covert and contextual life circumstances that influence a person (Jordan, 2010). These individualized and emotionally aware strategies can help students overcome barriers in their dissertation processes (Purgason et al., 2018). Additionally, consistent with relational pedagogy (Noddings, 2003), participants viewed dissertation-chairing relationships characterized by trust and safety as critical for helping reduce students’ feelings of shame or inadequacy and helping them feel safe in making mistakes. For many participants, developing trust seemed intertwined with their consistent availability and responding to students with empathy instead of judgment (Purgason et al., 2016).

Interestingly, no participants discussed specific methods they used to evaluate their dissertation-chairing relationships despite previous researchers’ calls to strengthen evaluation of research mentoring relationships (Protivnak & Foss, 2009; Purgason et al., 2018). Utilizing evaluative instruments or conversations in combination with reflection of prior or current experiences with dissertation chairing may help chairs intentionally adjust their feedback and relational styles (Ghoston et al., 2020). The list of items contributing to dissertation chair success developed by Jorgensen and Wester (2020) in their Delphi study of expert dissertation chairpersons may serve as a starting point to develop of such an instrument or help facilitate authentic conversations of needs and expectations between chairs and students. 

Doctoral Students
     Because chairing relationships can have broad impacts and can evolve into other professional relationships after dissertation completion, doctoral students might recognize the importance of choosing a chairperson—if they have that luxury—with whom they see potential for deeper connection. Identifying their needs in a chairing relationship might help them choose a chair. To do this, doctoral students might reflect on questions such as: “Which characteristics of a dissertation chairperson are most important to me?” or “What do I need to feel safety and trust in a dissertation-chairing relationship?” Additionally, doctoral students may want to learn more about their program faculty before selecting a chairperson. Doctoral students might interview potential chairs and ask them questions about their relationship styles. Such questions might include: “What did being authentic look like for you in previous chairing relationships?” and “How do you adapt your dissertation chairing to meet student needs?” Doctoral students might also consider their feelings and intuitions about relationships with faculty by assessing the levels of safety, trust, and authenticity they experience with various faculty members.

Ideally, dissertation chairs should facilitate authentic conversations about roadblocks for doctoral students throughout the dissertation process. However, sometimes chairs might be unaware of these roadblocks and doctoral students might consider taking risks to share their insecurities and relational needs with their chairs. Depending on the relational dynamics and power differential, doctoral students might consider the potential benefits and downsides of sharing such information and gauge the level of trust and safety they feel in the relationship. If a dissertation-chairing relationship does not feel safe, a student may consider broaching the topic with their chairperson or, depending upon the culture and policies of their program, switching to another chairperson who feels safer. Alternatively, doctoral students could work on their insecurities and roadblocks with others in their lives, including possibly in their own personal counseling. Personal counseling may be a more appropriate venue to discuss some issues as opposed to the dissertation-chairing relationship. Finally, given the prevalence of intense feelings doctoral students can experience during the dissertation process (Lamar & Helm, 2017; Pyhältö et al., 2012), they might reflect on their insecurities related to their dissertations and the ways their insecurities might affect their dissertation-chairing relationships. As participants discussed in the growth in student autonomy theme, discussing these thoughts and feelings through open and honest dialogue within trusting and safe relationships with their dissertation chairs might help deepen relationships and allow for opportunities to receive more personalized support. 

Counselor Educators
     To help doctoral students overcome roadblocks and insecurities, dissertation chairs can help students feel more connected through intentional creation of mutually empathic, safe, trusting, and authentic relationships. As the individuals with more power in the relationship, chairs should be ready to initiate conversations that are authentic and help set expectations, including conversations where they broach culture (Jordan, 2010; Purgason et al., 2016). For example, dissertation chairs may consider sharing vulnerable stories from their dissertation journeys or their lives to validate and normalize students’ experiences. Similarly, they might demonstrate humility by admitting the limits of their knowledge and skills and apologizing to students for relational ruptures when appropriate. For instance, a chairperson might admit their lack of knowledge about the methodology a student is using in their dissertation while helping them develop autonomy to seek out resources (e.g., other faculty, books, videos) to get the support they need. Additionally, consistently responding to students with empathy and encouragement if they make mistakes or do not meet deadlines may help build trust and self-confidence for students, creating an environment where they feel safer taking risks interpersonally and with their research. A safe and supportive relational foundation is essential for the trust-building required for learning to take place (Noddings, 2003).

Finally, authentic conversations might also include using immediacy to talk about relationship and cultural dynamics. Utilizing relational-cultural theory (Jordan, 2010; Purgason et al., 2016) may help chairs develop skills for initiating authentic and culturally infused conversations with their students. These conversations might happen throughout the dissertation-chairing relationship. Toward the beginning of the relationship, chairs might ask: “What do you need to build trust and safety in a relationship?” or “How do our cultural differences impact our work together?” At this phase in the relationship, chairs may also openly share their cultural backgrounds and their dissertation styles, including strengths and areas for growth as a dissertation chairperson. Closer to the completion of the dissertation, counselor educators can facilitate discussions with students on the wide-reaching impact of their relationships given the non-compartmentalized nature of dissertation relationships. Chairs might ask students questions such as “How are you different because of our relationship?” or “In what ways has our relationship helped you overcome barriers in your dissertation process?” and be willing to share how the relationship has affected them as well. Acknowledging and reflecting on that shared growth in conversation together may help both parties learn and feel more connected (Purgason et al., 2016).

Counselor educators can use ongoing reflective practice to develop and hone intentional approaches to building dissertation-chairing relationships. Counselor educators might ask themselves, “What relational qualities do I have to offer that contribute to helpful dissertation-chairing relationships?”, “How do I believe that mentoring relationships impact mentees’ development as researchers?”, or “What theories drive my research mentorship philosophy?” As a tangible output for addressing these questions, counselor educators can write philosophy of research mentorship statements, similar to philosophy of teaching or supervision statements. These statements can help counselor educators comprehensively define their approaches to research mentoring relationships. Counselor educators might revisit these statements throughout their careers as research on mentoring and their beliefs about dissertation chairing evolve. Additionally, counselor educators might create and share advisor disclosure statements with doctoral students to help clarify roles and expectations (Sangganjanavanich & Magnuson, 2009). Advisor statements may help alleviate role confusion and emphasize to students early in the relationship that doctoral students should grow as autonomous researchers and contribute to building a working alliance.

Counseling Programs
     Numerous researchers have called for doctoral counseling programs to integrate more purposeful research mentorship in structured and systematic ways that could help offer more supportive relationships for doctoral students (Lamar & Helm, 2017; Perera-Diltz & Sauerheber, 2017). Counseling programs could establish structures that allow counselor educators and doctoral students to build trust early on in students’ programs. Connections developed between dissertation chairs and students in research apprenticeships; research teams; and co-teaching, advising, and informal program gatherings may provide relationships space to grow before students start their dissertations. Counseling programs might also establish methods for helping counselor educators evaluate dissertation-chairing relationships (Protivnak & Foss, 2009). Gaining an understanding of how students internalize feedback may help dissertation chairs better adapt to student needs and intentionally build expansive relationships (Ghoston et al., 2020). In line with CACREP’s requirement that counseling programs comprehensively evaluate their effectiveness, programs could regularly send out surveys to doctoral students who have recently completed their dissertations or withdrew during the dissertation stage to seek feedback on former students’ experiences of dissertation-chairing relationships (CACREP, 2015, Section 4). Such surveys might ask former students about their experiences of receiving feedback, the impact of their dissertation-chairing relationship, time and resources their chairperson dedicated to them, and challenges and successes they faced during the dissertation process. Program faculty could then use this feedback to improve their research mentoring programs by developing strategic plans including both individual and programmatic concrete goals (Purgason et al., 2018). Alternatively, dissertation chairs could conduct exit interviews with students.

     We identified several limitations in our study. First, all research team members identified as White, which may have limited our data analysis process based on our shared, privileged racial/ethnic identity. A coding team with different races and ethnicities may have arrived at a different thematic structure and may have more heavily emphasized cultural considerations in dissertation-chairing relationship dynamics. Second, in our interview protocol and demographic data survey, we did not ask many questions eliciting depth on the culture of participants’ institutions. Knowing more about the structures of participants’ programmatic and institutional supports and stressors for faculty members (e.g., teaching loads, policies that may contradict supporting student success) may have helped us analyze our data with a richer appreciation of contexts (van Manen, 1990; Hays & Singh, 2012). Third, our worldviews possibly influenced the questions we did not ask participants regarding how they navigated cultural differences with their students. Even though a few participants talked about navigating cultural differences, we do not have a clear sense of how cultural differences influenced participants’ chairing relationships. Cross-cultural mentorship relationships in counselor education are influenced by a myriad of complex relational and contextual factors related to racial/ethnic identity and White racism inherent in the field of counseling (Brown & Grothaus, 2019). These cross-cultural relationships warrant more focused investigation. Fourth, counselor educators who emphasized relationship-building in their dissertation chairing may have been more likely to participate in our study because they believed in the importance of our topic. Therefore, our findings may not reflect the relationships of those who do not emphasize relational approaches to dissertation chairing. Fifth, we did not explore dissertation relationships that took place in virtual programs. Chairs may experience relationship dynamics differently when interactions only occur virtually as opposed to mostly in person.

Directions for Future Research
     First, future researchers might explore how counselor educators and doctoral students navigate power dynamics and cultural context in dissertation-chairing relationships (Borders et al., 2012; Jorgensen & Wester, 2020; Neale-McFall & Ward, 2015; Purgason et al., 2018). Fostering mutually fulfilling connections in dissertation-chairing relationships may help counselor educators attend to the unique needs of underrepresented students (Purgason et al., 2016) and help make research more accessible to doctoral students from more collectivist cultural backgrounds. Given the importance of authentic conversations and egalitarian relationships expressed by participants, further exploration of how counselor educators approach cultural, country of origin, worldview, gender, and other differences in dissertation-chairing relationships between themselves and students seems warranted. Second, participants in this study mostly talked about positive outcomes of dissertation-chairing relationships and helpful strategies they used to build relationships. Given the prevalence of negative dissertation relationships reported by doctoral students and their harmful impact on completion rates and mental health (Flynn et al., 2012; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Protivnak & Foss, 2009; Rigler et al., 2017), future researchers might examine ways that dissertation chairs can identify, navigate, and heal relational ruptures. Third, outcome research could illuminate the positive and negative impacts that dissertation-chairing relationships can have on students’ researcher self-efficacy, researcher identity development, and future research productivity. Because participants described tailoring their feedback styles to meet students’ unique needs but did not clearly describe evaluating the impact of their feedback, future researchers might examine the impact that different forms and styles of feedback have on students. Fourth, future researchers should explore institutional and programmatic factors that complicate chairs’ abilities to provide research mentorship to students. Finally, there are numerous theories of counseling supervision and adult learning that may apply to dissertation-chairing relationships but few theories specific to research mentorship or dissertation-chairing relationships in counselor education (Purgason et al., 2016). Future researchers might develop theories in this area by asking counselor educators about values, beliefs, and attitudes that drive their research mentorship philosophy and practice or by writing conceptual articles applying existing counseling theories to dissertation chairing.


Our research offers insights from counselor educators on how to foster supportive dissertation-chairing relationships. Counselor educators may utilize our findings to facilitate reflection regarding their relationship-building skills in dissertation-chairing relationships. Counselor educators intentionally build dissertation-chairing relationships to help their students overcome barriers to completing their dissertations and preparing them as future scholars.

Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.


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Phillip L. Waalkes, PhD, NCC, ACS, is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. Daniel A. DeCino, PhD, NCC, LPC, is an assistant professor at the University of South Dakota. Maribeth F. Jorgensen, PhD, NCC, LPC, LMHC, LIMHP, is an assistant professor at Central Washington University. Tiffany Somerville, MS, is a doctoral student at the University of Missouri – Saint Louis. Correspondence may be addressed to Phillip L. Waalkes, 415 Marillac Hall, 1 University Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63121,

Group Differences Between Counselor Education Doctoral Students’ Number of Fieldwork Experiences and Teaching Self-Efficacy

Eric G. Suddeath, Eric R. Baltrinic, Heather J. Fye, Ksenia Zhbanova, Suzanne M. Dugger,
Sumedha Therthani


This study examined differences in 149 counselor education doctoral students’ self-efficacy toward teaching related to their number of experiences with fieldwork in teaching (FiT). Results showed counselor education doctoral students began FiT experiences with high levels of self-efficacy, which decreased after one to two FiT experiences, increased slightly after three to four FiT experiences, and increased significantly after five or more FiT experiences. We discuss implications for how counselor education doctoral programs can implement and supervise FiT experiences as part of their teaching preparation practices. Finally, we identify limitations of the study and offer future research suggestions for investigating FiT experiences in counselor education.

Keywords: teaching preparation, self-efficacy, fieldwork in teaching, counselor education, doctoral students


Counselor education doctoral students (CEDS) need to engage in actual teaching experiences as part of their teaching preparation (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Barrio Minton, 2020; Swank & Houseknecht, 2019), yet inconsistencies remain in defining what constitutes actual teaching experience. Fortunately, several researchers (e.g., Association for Counselor Education and Supervision [ACES], 2016; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Suddeath et al., 2020) have identified examples of teaching experiences, which we aggregated and defined as fieldwork in teaching (FiT). FiT includes the (a) presence of experiential training components such as co-teaching, formal teaching practicums and/or internships, and teaching assistantships (ACES, 2016); (b) variance in amount of responsibility granted to CEDS (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Barrio Minton & Price, 2015; Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020); and (c) use of regular supervision of teaching (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Suddeath et al., 2020). Findings from several studies suggested that a lack of FiT experience can thwart CEDS’ teaching competency development (Swank & Houseknecht, 2019), contribute to CEDS’ feelings of insufficient preparation for future teaching roles (Davis et al., 2006), create unnecessary feelings of stress and burnout for first-year faculty (Magnuson et al., 2004), and lead to feelings of inadequacy among new counselor educators (Waalkes et al., 2018). Counselor education (CE) researchers reference FiT experiences (Suddeath et al., 2020) among a variety of teaching preparation practices, such as co-teaching (Baltrinic et al., 2016), supervision of teaching (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a), collaborative teaching teams (CTT; Orr et al., 2008), teaching practicums (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Hall & Hulse, 2010), teaching internships (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011), teaching to peers within teaching instruction courses (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020b; Elliot et al., 2019), and instructor of record (IOR) experiences (Moore, 2019).

Participants across studies emphasized the importance of including FiT experiences within teaching preparation practices. Both CEDS and new faculty members reported that engaging in actual teaching (e.g., FiT) as part of their teaching preparation buffered against lower teaching self-efficacy (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Elliot et al., 2019; Suddeath et al., 2020). These findings are important because high levels of teaching self-efficacy are associated with increased student engagement (Gibson & Dembo, 1984), positive learning outcomes (Goddard et al., 2000), greater job satisfaction, reduced stress and emotional exhaustion, longevity in the profession (Klassen & Chiu, 2010; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2014), and flexibility and persistence during perceived setbacks in the classroom (Elliot et al., 2019; Gibson & Dembo, 1984).

FiT Within Counselor Education
     Existing CE teaching literature supports the presence and use of FiT within a larger framework of teaching preparation. Despite existing findings, variability exists in how FiT is both conceptualized and implemented among doctoral programs and in how doctoral students specifically engage in FiT during their program training. Current literature supporting FiT suggests several themes, which are outlined below, to support our gap in understanding of (a) whether FiT experiences are required, (b) the number of FiT experiences in which CEDS participate, (c) the level and type of student responsibility, and (d) the supervision and mentoring practices that support student autonomy within FiT experiences (e.g., Baltrinic et al., 2016, 2018; Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020).

Teaching Internships and Fieldwork
     Teaching internships are curricular teaching experiences in which CEDS co-teach (most often) a master’s-level course with a program faculty member or with peers while receiving regular supervision (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011). These experiences are offered concurrently with pedagogy or adult learning courses (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011) or after taking a course (Waalkes et al., 2018). Teaching internships typically include group supervision (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a), though the frequency and structure of supervision varies greatly (Suddeath et al., 2020). Participants in Baltrinic and Suddeath’s (2020a) study reported that teaching practicum and internship experiences are often included alongside multiple types of internships (e.g., clinical, supervision, and research), which led to less time to process their own teaching experiences. The level of responsibility within FiT experiences also varies. Specifically, CEDS may take on minor roles, including “observing faculty members’ teaching and . . . contributing anecdotes from their counseling experiences to class discussion” (Baltrinic et al., 2016, p. 38), providing the occasional lecture or facilitating a class discussion, or engaging in administrative duties such as grading and making copies of course materials (Hall & Hulse, 2010; Orr et al., 2008). Research also suggests that CEDS may share the responsibility for designing, delivering, and evaluating the course (Baltrinic et al., 2016). Finally, CEDS may take on sole/primary responsibility, including the design and delivery of all aspects of a course (Orr et al., 2008).

Co-Teaching and CTT
     It is important to distinguish formal curricular FiT experiences such as teaching practicums and internships from informal co-curricular co-teaching experiences. For example, Baltrinic et al. (2016) identified co-teaching as a process of pairing experienced faculty members with CEDS for the purpose of increasing their knowledge and skill in teaching through supervised teaching experiences. CEDS often receive more individual supervision and mentoring in these informal experiences based on individual agreements between the CEDS and willing faculty members (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a). One example of a formal co-teaching experience (i.e., CTT) comes from Orr et al. (2008). In this model, CEDS initially observe a course or courses while occasionally presenting on course topics. The CEDS then take the lead for designing and delivering the course while under the direct supervision (both live in the classroom and post-instruction) of counseling faculty members.

Instructor of Record
     At times, CEDS have the opportunity to teach a course as the sole instructor, what Moore (2019) and Orr et al. (2008) defined as an instructor of record (IOR). In these cases, IORs are fully responsible for the delivery and evaluation components of the course, including determining students’ final grades. CEDS may take on IOR roles after completing a progression of teaching responsibilities over time under supervision (Moore, 2019; Orr et al., 2008). In some instances, CEDS who serve as IORs are hired as adjunct or part-time instructors (Hebbani & Hendrix, 2014). Ultimately, it seems like a respectable outcome of teaching preparation in general, and specifically FiT, to prepare CEDS to transition into IOR roles. CEDS who attain the responsibility of IOR for one class are partially prepared for managing a larger teaching workload as a faculty member (i.e., teaching three classes per semester; 3:3 load).

Impact of Teaching Fieldwork
     Overall, researchers identified FiT experiences as essential for strengthening CEDS’ feelings of preparedness to teach (Hall & Hulse, 2010), for fostering their teaching identities (Limberg et al., 2013; Waalkes et al., 2018), and for supporting their perceived confidence and competence to teach (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Orr et al., 2008). CE research suggests several factors that contribute to the relative success of the FiT experience. For example, Hall and Hulse (2010) found fieldwork most helpful when the experiences mimicked the actual roles and responsibilities of a counselor educator rather than guest lecturing or providing the occasional lecture. Participants in Hunt and Weber Gilmore’s (2011) study echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of experiences related to the design, delivery, and evaluation of a course. Important experiences included developing or co-developing course curriculum and materials (e.g., exams, syllabi, grading rubrics), facilitating class discussions, lecturing, and evaluating student learning. Additionally, these experiences helped CEDS to translate adult learning theories and pedagogy into teaching practice, which is an essential process for strengthening CEDS’ teaching identity (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Waalkes et al., 2018). CE literature also points to the importance of providing CEDS with multiple supervised, developmentally structured (Orr et al., 2008) FiT experiences to increase levels of autonomy and responsibility with teaching and related duties (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Orr et al., 2008). Hall and Hulse found that teaching a course from start to finish contributed most to CEDS’ perceived preparedness to teach. The CTT approach (Orr et al., 2008) is one example of how CE programs developmentally structure FiT experiences.

Research affirms the integration of supervision across CEDS’ FiT experiences (e.g., Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Elliot et al., 2019; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011). CEDS receive the essential support, feedback, and oversight during supervision that helps them make sense of teaching experiences and identify gaps in teaching knowledge and skills (Waalkes et al., 2018). Research suggests that structured, weekly supervision is most helpful in strengthening CEDS’ perceived confidence (Suddeath et al., 2020) and competence in teaching (Orr et al., 2008). Baltrinic and Suddeath (2020a) and Elliot et al. (2019) also identified supervision of FiT as an essential experience for buffering against CEDS’ fear and anxiety associated with initial teaching experiences. Both studies found that supervision led to fewer feelings of discouragement and perceived failures related to teaching, as well as increased confidence in their capabilities, even when teaching unfamiliar material. Elliot et al. attributed this to supervisors normalizing CEDS’ teaching experiences as a part of the developmental process, which helped them to push through the initial discomfort and fear in teaching and reframe it as an opportunity for growth.

Self-Efficacy Toward Teaching
     Broadly defined, self-efficacy is the future-oriented “belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1997, p. 3). Applied to teaching, it is confidence in one’s ability to select and utilize appropriate teaching behaviors effectively to accomplish a specific teaching task (Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998). Research in CE has outlined the importance of teaching self-efficacy on CEDS’ teaching development, including its relationship to a strengthened sense of identity as a counselor educator (Limberg et al., 2013); increased autonomy in the classroom (Baltrinic et al., 2016); greater flexibility in the application of learning theory; increased focus on the teaching experience and students’ learning needs instead of one’s own anxiety; and pushing through feelings of fear, self-doubt, and incompetence associated with initial teaching experiences (Elliot et al., 2019). Previous research affirms FiT as a significant predictor of teaching self-efficacy (Olguin, 2004; Suddeath et al., 2020; Tollerud, 1990). Recently, Suddeath et al. (2020) found that students participating in more FiT experiences also reported higher levels of teaching self-efficacy.

Purpose of the Present Study
     In general, research supports the benefits of FiT experiences (e.g., increased self-efficacy, strengthened teaching identity, and a better supported transition to the professoriate) and ways in which FiT experiences (e.g., multiple, developmentally structured, supervised) should be provided as part of CE programs’ teaching preparation practices. Past and current research supports a general trend regarding the relationship between CE teaching preparation, including FiT experiences, and teaching self-efficacy (Suddeath et al., 2020). However, we know very little about how the number of FiT experiences, specifically, differentially impacts CEDS’ teaching self-efficacy. To address this gap, we examined the relationship between the number of CEDS’ FiT experiences and their reported self-efficacy in teaching. Accordingly, we proceeded in the present study guided by the following research question: How does CEDS’ self-efficacy toward teaching differ depending on amount of FiT experience gained (i.e., no experience in teaching, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, five or more experiences)? This research question was prompted by the work of Olguin (2004) and Tollerud (1990), who investigated CEDS’ reported differences in self-efficacy toward teaching across similarly grouped teaching experiences. We wanted to better understand the impact of FiT experiences on CEDS’ teaching self-efficacy given the prevalence of teaching preparation practices used in CE doctoral programs.


Participant Characteristics
     A total of 171 individuals responded to the survey. Participants who did not finish the survey or did not satisfy inclusionary criteria (i.e., 18 years or older and currently enrolled in a doctoral-level CACREP-accredited CE program) were excluded from the sample, leaving 149 usable surveys. Of these 149 participants, 117 (79%) were female and 32 (21%) were male. CEDS ranged in age from 23–59 years with a mean age of 34.73. Regarding race, 116 CEDS (73%) identified as White, 25 (17%) as Black, six (4%) as Asian, one (0.7%) as American Indian or Alaskan Native, and one (0.7%) as multiracial. Fifteen participants (10%) indicated a Hispanic/Latino ethnicity. Of the 149 participants, 108 provided their geographic region, with 59 (39%) reportedly living in the Southern United States, 32 (21%) in the Midwest, 10 (7%) in the West, and eight (5%) in the Northeast. Participants’ time enrolled in a CE program ranged from zero semesters (i.e., they were in their first semester) to 16 semesters (M = 6.20).

Sampling Procedures
     After obtaining IRB approval, we recruited participants using two convenience sampling strategies. First, we sent counselor education and supervision doctoral program liaisons working in CACREP-accredited universities a pre-notification email (Creswell & Guetterman, 2019), which contained an explanation and rationale for this proposed study; a statement about informed consent and approval; a link to the composite survey, which included the demographic questionnaire; a question regarding FiT experiences; the Self-Efficacy Toward Teaching Inventory (SETI; Tollerud, 1990); and a request to forward the recruitment email (which was copied below the pre-notification text) to all eligible doctoral students. Next, we solicited CEDS’ participation through the Counselor Education and Supervision Network Listserv (CESNET-L), which is a professional listserv of counselors, counselor educators, and master’s- and doctoral-level CE students. We sent two follow-up participation requests, one through CESNET-L and the other to doctoral program liaisons (Creswell & Guetterman, 2019) to improve response rates. We further incentivized participation through offering participants a chance to win one of five $20 gift cards through an optional drawing.

Data Collection
     We collected all research data through the survey software Qualtrics. CEDS who agreed to participate clicked the survey link at the bottom of the recruitment email, which took them to an informed consent information and agreement page. Participants meeting inclusionary criteria then completed the basic demographic questionnaire, a question regarding their FiT experiences, and the SETI.

     We used a composite survey that included a demographic questionnaire, a question regarding FiT experiences, and a modified version of the SETI. To strengthen the content validity of the composite survey, we selected a panel of three nationally recognized experts known for their research on CEDS teaching preparation to provide feedback on the survey items’ “relevance, representativeness, specificity, and clarity” as well as “suggested additions, deletions, and modifications” of items (Haynes et al., 1995, pp. 244, 247). We incorporated feedback from these experts and then piloted the survey using seven recent graduates (i.e., within 4 years) from CACREP-accredited CE doctoral programs. Feedback from the pilot group influenced final modifications of the survey.

Demographic Questionnaire
     The demographic questionnaire included questions regarding CEDS’ sex, age, race/ethnicity, geographic region, and time in program. Example items included: “Age in years?,” “What is your racial background?,” “Are you Hispanic or Latino?,” and “In which state do you live?”

Fieldwork Question
     We used CE literature (e.g., ACES, 2016; Baltrinic et al., 2016; Orr et al., 2008) as a guide for defining and constructing the item to inquire about CEDS’ FiT experiences, which served as the independent variable in this study. In the survey, FiT was defined as teaching experiences within the context of formal teaching internships, informal co-teaching opportunities, graduate teaching assistantships, or independent teaching of graduate or undergraduate courses. Using this definition, participants then indicated “the total number of course sections they had taught or cotaught.” Following Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004), we also grouped participants’ FiT experiences into four groups (i.e., no experience, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, five or more experiences) to extend their findings.

Self-Efficacy Toward Teaching
     To measure self-efficacy toward teaching, the dependent variable in this study, we used a modified version of the SETI. The original SETI is a 35-item self-report measure in which participants indicate their confidence to implement specific teaching skills and behaviors in five teaching domains within CE: course preparation, instructor behavior, materials, evaluation and examination, and clinical skills training. We modified the SETI according to the expert panel’s recommendations, which included creating 12 new items related to using technology in the classroom and teaching adult learners, as well as modifying the wording of several items to match CACREP 2016 teaching standards. This modified version of the SETI contained 47 items. Examples of new and modified items in each of the domains included: “Incorporate models of adult learning” (Course Preparation), “Attend to issues of social and cultural diversity” (Instructor Behavior), “Utilize technological resources to enhance learning” (Materials), “Construct multiple choice exams” (Evaluation and Examination), and “Provide supportive feedback for counseling skills” (Clinical Skills Training). The original SETI produced a Cronbach’s alpha of .94, suggesting strong internal consistency. Other researchers using the SETI reported similar findings regarding the internal consistency including Richardson and Miller (2011), who reported alphas of .96, and Prieto et al. (2007), who reported alphas of .94. The internal consistency for the modified SETI in this study produced a Cronbach’s alpha of .97, also suggesting strong internal consistency of items.

     This study used a cross-sectional survey design to investigate group differences in CEDS’ self-efficacy toward teaching by how many FiT experiences students had acquired (Creswell & Guetterman, 2019). Cross-sectional research allows researchers to better understand current beliefs, attitudes, or practices at a single point in time for a target population. This approach allowed us to gather information related to current FiT trends and teaching self-efficacy beliefs across CE doctoral programs.

Data Preparation and Analytic Strategy
     After receiving the participant responses, we coded and entered them into SPSS (Version 27) for conducting all descriptive and inferential statistical analyses. Based upon previous research by Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004), we then grouped participants according to the number of experiences reported: no fieldwork experience, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, and five or more experiences. We then ran a one-way ANOVA to determine if CEDS’ self-efficacy significantly (p < .05) differed according to the number of teaching experiences accrued, followed by post hoc analyses to determine which groups differed significantly.


We sought to determine whether CEDS with no experience in teaching, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, or five or more experiences differed in terms of their self-efficacy toward teaching scores. Overall, individuals in this study who reported no FiT experience indicated higher mean SETI scores (n = 10, M = 161.00, SD = 16.19) than those with one to two fieldwork experiences (n = 37, M = 145.59, SD = 21.41) and three to four fieldwork experiences (n = 32, M = 148.41, SD = 20.90). Once participants accumulated five or more fieldwork experiences (n = 70, M = 161.06, SD = 19.17), the mean SETI score rose above that of those with no, one to two, and three to four FiT experiences. The results also indicated an overall mean of 5.51 FiT experiences (SD = 4.63, range = 0–21).

As shown in Table 1, a one-way ANOVA revealed a statistically significant difference between the scores of the four FiT groups, F (3, 145) = 6.321, p < .001, and a medium large effect size (h2 = .12; Cohen, 1992). Levene’s test revealed no violation of homogeneity of variance (p = .763). A post hoc Tukey Honest Significant Difference test allowed for a more detailed understanding of which groups significantly differed. Findings revealed a statistically significant difference between the mean SETI scores for those with one to two fieldwork experiences and five or more experiences (mean difference = −15.46, p = .001) and for those with three to four and five or more experiences (mean difference = −12.65, p = .018). There was no significant difference between those with no FiT experience and those with five or more experiences, and in fact, these groups had nearly identical mean scores (i.e., 161.00 and 161.06, respectively). Although the drop is not significant, there is a mean difference of 15.40 from no FiT experience to one to two experiences. These results suggest that perceived confidence in teaching, as measured by the SETI, began high, dropped off after one to two experiences, slightly rose after three to four, and then increased significantly from 148.41 to 161.06 after five or more experiences, returning to pre-FiT levels.

Table 1

Means, Standard Deviations, and One-Way Analysis of Variance for Study Variables

Measure No FiT 1–2 FiT 3–4 FiT 5 or More FiT F (3, 145) h2
M SD         M    SD M    SD M   SD
SETI 161.00 16.19     145.59  21.41 148.41   20.90 161.06 19.17 6.321* .12

Note. SETI = Self-Efficacy Toward Teaching Inventory; FiT = fieldwork in teaching.
*p < .001.



The purpose of this study was to investigate whether CEDS with no experience in teaching, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, or five or more experiences differed in terms of their self-efficacy toward teaching scores. Overall, one-way ANOVA results revealed a significant difference in SETI scores by FiT experiences. Post hoc analyses revealed an initial substantial drop from no experience to one to two experiences and a significant increase in self-efficacy toward teaching between one to two FiT experiences and five or more experiences as well as between three to four FiT experiences and five or more experiences.

The CE literature supports the general trend observed in this study, that as the number of FiT experiences increases, so does CEDS’ teaching self-efficacy (e.g., Baltrinic & Suddeath 2020a; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Suddeath et al., 2020). Many authors have articulated the importance of multiple fieldwork experiences for preparing CEDS to confidently transition to the professoriate (e.g., Hall & Hulse, 2010; Orr et al., 2008). Participants in a study by Hunt and Weber Gilmore (2011) identified engagement in multiple supervised teaching opportunities that mimicked the actual teaching responsibilities required of a counselor educator as particularly helpful. Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004) found that the more teaching experiences individuals acquired during their doctoral programs, the higher their self-efficacy toward teaching. Encouragingly, nearly half of CEDS in this study (47%) indicated that participating in five or more teaching experiences increased their teaching self-efficacy. This increase in teaching self-efficacy may be due to expanded use of teaching preparation practices within CE doctoral programs (ACES, 2016).

Participants in the current study reported an initial drop in self-efficacy after their initial FiT experiences, which warrants explanation. Specifically, the initial drop in CEDS’ self-efficacy could be due to discrepancies between their estimation of teaching ability and their actual capability, further supporting the idea of including actual FiT earlier in teaching preparation practices, albeit titrated in complexity. Though one might assume that as participants acquired additional teaching experience their SETI scores would have increased, the initial pattern from no experience to one to two FiT experiences did not support this. However, self-efficacy is not necessarily a measure of actual capability, but rather one’s confidence to engage in certain behaviors to achieve a certain task (Bandura, 1997). It is plausible that participants may have initially overestimated their own abilities and level of control over the new complex task of teaching, which may explain the initial drop in self-efficacy among participants. For participants lacking FiT experience, social comparison may have led them to “gauge their expected and actual performance by comparison with that of others” (Stone, 1994, p. 453)—in this case, with other CEDS with more FiT experiences.

Social comparisons used to generate appraisals of teaching self-efficacy beliefs may be taken from “previous educational experiences, tradition, [or] the opinion of experienced practitioners” (Groccia & Buskist, 2011, p. 5). Thus, participants in this study who lacked prior teaching experience may have initially overestimated their capability as a result of previous educational experiences. When individuals initially overestimate their abilities to perform a new task, they may not put in the time or effort needed to succeed at a given task. Tollerud (1990) suggested that those without any actual prior teaching experience may not realize the complexity of the task, the effort required, or what skills are needed to teach effectively. In the current study, this realization may be reflected in participants’ initial drop in mean SETI scores from no teaching experiences to one to two teaching experiences.

The CE literature offers clues for how to buffer against this initial drop in self-efficacy. For example, CE teaching preparation research suggests the importance of engaging in multiple teaching experiences (Suddeath et al., 2020) with a gradual increase in responsibility (Baltrinic et al., 2016) and frequent (i.e., weekly) supervision from CE faculty supervisors, as well as feedback and support from peers (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a, 2020b; Elliot et al., 2019). These authors’ findings reportedly support students’ ability to normalize their initial anxiety, fears, and self-doubts; conceptualize their struggle and discomfort as a part of the developmental process; push through perceived failings; and reflect on and grow from initial teaching experiences. Elliot et al. (2019) noted specifically that supervision with peer support increased participants’ (a) ability to access an optimistic mindset amidst self-doubt, (b) self-efficacy in teaching, (c) authenticity in subsequent teaching experiences, and (d) facility with integrating theory into teaching practice. Overall, the current findings add to the CE literature by suggesting CE programs increase the number of FiT experiences (to at least five, preferably) for CEDS.

Our findings also reflect similarities in CEDS’ self-efficacy patterns to those of Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004). Similar to Tollerud and Olguin, we grouped participants according to the number of FiT experiences: no fieldwork experience, one to two experiences, three to four experiences, and five or more experiences. This study identified the same pattern in teaching self-efficacy as observed by Tollerud and Olguin, with those who reported no FiT experience indicating higher mean SETI scores than those with one to two FiT experiences and three to four FiT experiences. Although scores slightly increased from one to two FiT experiences to three to four FiT experiences, it was not until CEDS accumulated five or more FiT experiences that the mean SETI score rose above that of those with no FiT experiences. The consistency of this pattern over the span of 30 years seems to confirm the importance of providing CEDS several FiT opportunities (i.e., at least five) to strengthen their  self-efficacy in teaching. Though responsibility within FiT experiences was aggregated in this study as it was in Tollerud and Olguin, research (e.g., Baltrinic et al., 2016; Orr et al., 2008) and common sense would suggest that CEDS need multiple supervised teaching opportunities with progressively greater responsibility and autonomy. However, future research is needed to examine how CEDS’ self-efficacy toward teaching changes over time as they move from having no actual teaching experience, to beginning their FiT, to accruing substantial experiences with FiT.


For many counselor educators, teaching and related responsibilities consume the greatest proportion of their time (Davis et al., 2006). As such, providing CEDS multiple supervised opportunities (Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020) to apply theory, knowledge, and skills in the classroom before they transition to the professoriate seems important for fostering teaching competency (Swank & Houseknecht, 2019) and, ideally, mitigating against feelings of stress and burnout that some first-year counselor educators experience as a result of poor teaching preparation (Magnuson et al., 2006). Given the initial drop in self-efficacy toward teaching as identified in this study and the relationship between higher levels of self-efficacy and increased student engagement (Gibson & Dembo, 1984) and learning outcomes (Goddard et al., 2000), greater job satisfaction, reduced stress and emotional exhaustion (Klassen & Chiu, 2010; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2014), and flexibility and persistence during perceived setbacks in the classroom (Elliot et al., 2019), several suggestions are offered.

Although it is an option in many CE doctoral programs, some CEDS may graduate without any significant FiT experiences (Barrio Minton & Price, 2015; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Suddeath et al., 2020). Although not all CEDS want to go into the professoriate, for those interested in working in academia, it is our hope that programs will provide students with multiple—and preferably at least five—developmentally structured supervised teaching opportunities. Whether these are formal curricular FiT experiences such as teaching practicums and internships or informal co-curricular co-teaching or IOR experiences (and likely a combination of the two), CE literature suggests that these experiences should include frequent and ongoing supervision (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a) and progress from lesser to greater responsibility and autonomy within the teaching role (Baltrinic et al., 2016; Hall & Hulse, 2010; Orr et al., 2008). These recommendations for the structuring of FiT are important given the incredible variation in this aspect of training (e.g., Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020) and the consistency in the observed pattern of self-efficacy toward teaching and the number of FiT experiences (Olguin, 2004; Tollerud, 1990).

To help buffer against the initial drop in self-efficacy toward teaching scores from zero to one to two teaching experiences in this study and previous research (Olguin, 2004; Tollerud, 1990), research emphasizes the importance of increased oversight and support of CEDS before and during their first teaching experiences (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Elliot et al., 2019; Stone, 1994). CE faculty members who teach coursework in college teaching, are instructors for teaching internships, and/or are providing supervision of teaching for FiT experiences should normalize initial anxiety and self-doubt (Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a; Elliot et al., 2019) and encourage realistic expectations for students’ first teaching experiences (Stone, 1994). Stone (1994) suggested that fostering realistic expectations in those engaging in a new task may actually “increase effort, attention to strategy, and performance by increasing the perceived challenge of tasks” (p. 459). This was evident in Elliot et al.’s (2019) study in which CEDS reframed the initial struggles with teaching experiences as opportunities for growth and development. On the other hand, individuals who overestimate or strongly underestimate self-efficacy may not put in the time or effort needed to succeed at a given task. For example, those who overestimate their capabilities may not increase their effort, as they already believe they are going to perform well (Stone, 1994). Similarly, those who underestimate their ability may not increase effort or give sufficient attention to strategy, as they perceive that doing so would not improve their performance anyway. These findings support the need for CE programs to provide oversight and support and engender realistic expectations before or during students’ first FiT experiences.

Limitations and Future Research
     Limitations existed related to the sample and survey. Representativeness of the sample, and thus generalizability of findings, is limited by the voluntary nature of the study (i.e., self-selection), cross-sectional design (i.e., tracking efficacy beliefs over time), and solicitation of participants via CESNET-L (i.e., potential for CEDS to miss the invitation to participate) and doctoral program liaisons (i.e., unclear how many forwarded the invitation). Another limitation relates to the variability in participants’ FiT experiences, such as the assigned role and responsibility within FiT, frequency and quality of supervision, and whether and how experiences were developmentally structured. Additionally, self-report measures were used, which are prone to issues of self-knowledge (e.g., over- or underestimation of capability with self-efficacy, accurate recall of FiT experiences) and social desirability.

Future research could utilize qualitative methods to investigate what components of FiT experiences (e.g., quality, type of responsibility) prove most helpful in strengthening CEDS’ self-efficacy and how it changes with increased experience. Given the limitations of self-efficacy, researchers could also investigate other outcomes (e.g., test scores, student evaluations) instead of or alongside self-efficacy. Although this study identified the importance of acquiring at least five FiT experiences for strengthening SETI scores, little is known about how to developmentally structure FiT experiences so as to best strengthen self-efficacy toward teaching. Researchers could use quantitative approaches to investigate the relationship between various aspects of CEDS’ FiT experiences (e.g., level of responsibility and role, frequency and quality of supervision) and SETI scores. Researchers could also develop a comprehensive model for providing FiT that includes recommendations as supported by CE research (e.g., Baltrinic et al., 2016; Baltrinic & Suddeath, 2020a, 2020b; Elliot et al., 2019; Orr et al., 2008; Suddeath et al., 2020; Swank & Houseknecht, 2019). Finally, instead of investigating FiT experiences of CEDS and their impact on teaching self-efficacy, future research could investigate first-year counselor educators to determine if and how their experience differs.


Investigating teaching preparation practices within CE doctoral programs is essential for understanding and improving training for future counselor educators. Although research already supports the inclusion of multiple supervised teaching experiences within CE doctoral programs (Suddeath et al., 2020), the results of this study provide greater clarity to the differential impact of FiT experiences on CEDS’ teaching self-efficacy. Given the consistently observed pattern of teaching self-efficacy and FiT experiences from this and other studies over the last 30 years, doctoral training programs should thoughtfully consider how to support students through their first FiT experiences, and ideally, offer students multiple opportunities to teach.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.



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Eric G. Suddeath, PhD, LPC-S (MS), is an associate professor at Denver Seminary. Eric R. Baltrinic, PhD, LPCC-S (OH), is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Heather J. Fye, PhD, NCC, LPC (OH), is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Ksenia Zhbanova, EdD, is an assistant professor at Mississippi State University-Meridian. Suzanne M. Dugger, EdD, NCC, ACS, LPC (MI), SC (MI, FL), is a professor and department chair at Florida Gulf Coast University. Sumedha Therthani, PhD, NCC, is an assistant professor at Mississippi State University. Correspondence may be addressed to Eric G. Suddeath, 6399 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton, CO 80120,

A Q Methodology Study of a Doctoral Counselor Education Teaching Instruction Course

Eric R. Baltrinic, Eric G. Suddeath

Many counselor education and supervision (CES) doctoral programs offer doctoral-level teaching instruction courses as part of their curriculum to help prepare students for future teaching roles, yet little is known about the essential design, delivery, and evaluation components of these courses. Accordingly, the authors investigated instructor and student views on the essential design, delivery, and evaluation components of a doctoral counselor education teaching instruction (CETI) course using Q methodology. Eight first-year CES doctoral students and the course instructor from a large Midwestern university completed Q-sorts, which were factor analyzed. Three factors were revealed, which were named The Course Designer, The Future Educator, and The Empathic Instructor. The authors gathered post–Q-sort qualitative data from participants using a semi-structured questionnaire, and the results from the questionnaires were incorporated into the factor interpretations. Implications for incorporating the findings into CES pedagogy and for designing, delivering, and evaluating CETI courses are presented. Limitations and future research suggestions for CETI course design and delivery are discussed.

Keywords: teaching instruction course, Q methodology, pedagogy, counselor education, doctoral students


Counselor education doctoral students (CEDS) need teaching preparation as part of their doctoral training (Hall & Hulse, 2010; Orr et al., 2008), including the completion of formal courses in pedagogy, adult learning, or teaching (Barrio Minton & Price, 2015; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Suddeath et al., 2020). Teaching instruction courses may occur within or outside of the counselor education curriculum. Within counselor education, counselor education teaching instruction (CETI) courses are those doctoral-level seminar or semester-long curricular experiences designed to provide CEDS with the basic foundational knowledge for effective teaching (Association for Counselor Education and Supervision [ACES], 2016). CETI courses are cited as an important foundational training component for preparing CEDS for success in fulfilling future teaching roles (ACES, 2016). Additionally, simply possessing expert knowledge in one’s field (e.g., counseling) is not sufficient to support student learning in the classroom (ACES, 2016; Waalkes et al., 2018), a reality recognized in counselor education some time ago by Lanning (1990).

To increase the attention to and strengthen the rigor of teaching preparation, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) developed standards for fostering students’ knowledge and skills in teaching through curricular and/or experiential training (CACREP, 2015). Specifically, within the CACREP (2015) teaching standards, CEDS need to learn “instructional and curriculum design, delivery, and evaluation methods relevant to counselor education” (Section 6, Standard B.3.d.). Although programs may use teaching internships (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011), structured teaching teams (Orr et al., 2008), coteaching (Baltrinic et al., 2016), and teaching mentorships (Baltrinic et al., 2018) to address standards and train CEDS for their future roles as educators, teaching coursework is cited as the most common preparation practice (Barrio Minton & Price, 2015; Suddeath et al., 2020; Waalkes et al., 2018). Despite our knowledge that teaching coursework is commonly used for teaching preparation (Barrio Minton & Price, 2015; Suddeath et al., 2020), little is known about how counselor educators design and deliver these courses within counselor education. Although a few studies in counselor education and supervision address teaching coursework (e.g., Suddeath et al., 2020; Waalkes et al., 2018), it is in a cursory way or as one part of a broader inquiry into teacher preparation processes.

Perceived Effectiveness of CETI Courses
     Ideally, teaching coursework, whether offered within counselor education specifically or not, should provide doctoral students with a basic framework for effective teaching. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, little is known about what constitutes a CETI course. Moreover, the few studies that address this training component suggest inconsistency in its perceived value and effectiveness. For example, early research by Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004) found no difference in terms of teaching self-efficacy between those with and without coursework, regardless of the number of courses taken. Similarly, in Hall and Hulse’s (2010) study examining counselor educators’ doctoral teaching preparation and perceived preparedness to teach, participants found their teaching coursework least helpful for preparing them to teach. To improve the effectiveness of their coursework, participants in Hall and Hulse’s study indicated a desire for multiple courses with a greater focus on the practical aspects of teaching, approaches for teaching adult learners, and more opportunities to engage in actual teaching during the course.

In a recent study by Waalkes et al. (2018), participants expressed similar sentiments reporting a general lack of emphasis and rigor in teacher preparation as compared to other core areas of development and especially for teaching coursework. Specific deficiencies included a lack of emphasis on pedagogy and teaching strategies and a discrepancy between their teaching coursework and their actual teaching responsibilities as current counselor educators (Waalkes et al., 2018). Given their experience, participants indicated a desire for greater integration of doctoral-level teaching coursework throughout their programs as well as “philosophy and theory, pedagogy/teaching strategies, understanding developmental levels of students, course design, assessment, and setting classroom expectations” (Waalkes et al., 2018, p. 73).

Unlike Tollerud (1990) and Olguin (2004), Suddeath et al. (2020) found that formal teaching coursework significantly predicted increased self-efficacy toward teaching. Furthermore, participants indicated that formal coursework strengthened their self-efficacy toward teaching slightly more than their fieldwork in teaching experiences. However, it is unclear from this study what aspects of the CEDS’ coursework contributed to increased self-efficacy. In a study by Hunt and Weber Gilmore (2011), CEDS identified elements such as the creation of syllabi, exams, rubrics, and a philosophy of teaching and receiving support and feedback from instructors and peers as most helpful in their coursework experiences. Those who did not find the course helpful expressed a desire for more opportunities to engage in actual teaching. Overall, the literature addressing the relative effectiveness of teaching coursework suggests the need to (a) improve teaching courses, (b) connect teaching courses to additional teaching experiences, and (c) make it a meaningful and impactful experience for CEDS.

Instructor Qualities and Course Delivery
     Counselor education research also suggests that instructor qualities and course delivery influence the learning experiences of counseling students (Malott et al., 2014; Moate, Cox, et al., 2017; Moate, Holm, & West, 2017). Regarding instructor qualities, two recent studies examining novice counselors’ instructor preferences within their didactic (Moate, Cox, et al., 2017) and clinical courses (Moate, Holm, & West, 2017) found that, overall, participants preferred instructors who were kind, supportive, empathic, genuine, and passionate about the course. Likewise, Malott et al. (2014) reported that instructors who were caring, which included characteristics such as respect, interest, warmth, and availability, were “essential in motivating learning” (p. 295). Moate and Cox (2015) also emphasized the importance of cultivating a supportive and safe learning environment for increasing students’ active participation and engagement in their learning.

Regarding course delivery, overall participants in didactic and clinical courses preferred instructors who were pragmatic and connected course material to their actual work as counselors (Moate, Cox, et al., 2017; Moate, Holm, & West, 2017). Within didactic courses specifically—which included career counseling, theories, ethics, and diagnosis—Moate, Cox, et al. (2017) emphasized students’ lack of preference for instructors who primarily utilized lecture or PowerPoint for instruction. This relates to the topic of teacher-centered versus learner-centered approaches. Those who use teacher-centered approaches utilize lecture as the primary mode of delivery and focus on the transmission of content through lecture from the experienced expert to the inexperienced novice, which may foster passive learning (Moate & Cox, 2015). In contrast, those who use learner-centered approaches emphasize shared responsibility for learning, which encourages active learning and application of course content through collaborative learning activities to tap into the collective knowledge of the group as well as supporting students’ active engagement and application of course content (Malott et al., 2014; Moate & Cox, 2015).

Although Moate, Cox, et al. (2017) and Moate, Holm, and West (2017) focused on master’s-level versus doctoral-level students, their findings suggested the importance of instructor qualities and approaches as well as student perspectives within course design and delivery. Moate, Cox, et al. (2017) and Moate, Holm, and West (2017) did not link instructor qualities to the training they received within doctoral CETI coursework, but having an understanding of these connections may aid doctoral instructors’ design and delivery of CETI courses to better meet student needs.

Regarding instructor qualities and approaches to course delivery within doctoral CETI courses specifically, our literature search identified two studies that minimally addressed these components. Participants in the studies of both Waalkes et al. (2018) and Hunt and Weber Gilmore (2011) emphasized the importance of feedback from professors and classmates within CETI courses for strengthening their preparedness to teach. Neither study described exactly how this feedback supported their preparedness to teach, the type of feedback received, or the instructor’s approach to delivering feedback.

The Current Study
     Teaching preparation is an essential component of CEDS’ training (ACES, 2016), as teaching and related responsibilities (a) consume a greater proportion of time than any other responsibility of a counselor educator (Davis et al., 2006) and (b) impact CEDS’ confidence and feelings of preparedness to teach (Hall & Hulse, 2010; Suddeath et al., 2020). Still, some findings suggest a lack of rigor concerning teaching preparation compared to other core doctoral training areas (e.g., research and supervision; Waalkes et al., 2018). Although teaching preparation research in general is gaining momentum, there are no findings clarifying what components of formal coursework most support students’ development as teachers. In fact, findings are mixed regarding its effectiveness (e.g., Suddeath et al., 2020; Waalkes et al., 2018). Furthermore, no in-depth research exists on how counselor educators implement formal teaching courses within counselor education or how those teaching courses are designed and delivered by counselor educators and experienced by CEDS. Yet, our experience tells us and research confirms (e.g., Waalkes et al., 2018) that counselor education programs increasingly require CEDS to engage in CETI courses as one way to develop teaching competencies, with some citing it as the most widely utilized way in which programs train CEDS to teach (ACES, 2016; Barrio Minton & Price, 2015; Suddeath et al., 2020).

As variability exists in how respective programs deliver CETI courses (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011), we studied a single CETI course as a way to illustrate an example of common issues and potential discrepancies faced by students and instructors engaged in a doctoral CETI course. We examined this course, taking into account both experienced instructor and novice student views, to (a) reveal common views on ideal course design, delivery, and evaluation components among participants navigating a common curriculum; (b) identify any similar or divergent views between the instructor and students; and (c) determine how to design course content and instruction to meet the future needs of students. The study was guided by the research question: What are instructor and student views on the essential design, delivery, and evaluation elements needed for a CETI course?


     Q methodology is a unique research method containing the depth of qualitative data reduction and the objective rigor of by-person factor analysis (Brown, 1993). Researchers have effectively utilized this method in the classroom setting to facilitate personal discovery and to increase subject matter understanding (Watts & Stenner, 2012). Specifically, students’ self-perspectives are investigated and then related to other students’ views, which are then related to nuances within their own views (Good, 2003). Q methodology has also been effectively used as a pedagogical exercise to examine subjectivity in intensive samples of participants (McKeown & Thomas, 2013). Focusing on intensive samples, and even single cases, allows researchers to retain participants’ frames of reference while concurrently revealing nuances within their views, which may be lost within larger samples (Brown, 2019). Yet, the rigor of findings from intensive samples derived from Q factor analysis remains.

We selected Q methodology for the current study versus a qualitative or case study approach (Stake, 1995) to reveal common and divergent viewpoints in relation to common stimulus items (i.e., a Q sample composed of ideal design, delivery, and evaluation of CETI course components from the literature). We also wanted both the instructor and students participating in the sampled doctoral CETI course to provide their subjective views on the optimal design, delivery, and evaluation components of a doctoral CETI course, while incorporating the rigorous features of quantitative analysis (Brown, 1980).

Concourse and Q Sample
     Specific steps were taken to develop the Q sample, which is the set of statements used to assist participants with expressing their views during the Q-sorting process. The first step is selecting a concourse, which is a collection of opinion statements about any topic (Stephenson, 2014). Many routes of communication contribute to the form and content of a concourse (Brown, 1980). The concourse for this study was composed of statements taken by the authors from select teaching literature and documents (e.g., ACES, 2016; McAuliffe & Erickson, 2011; West et al., 2013).  After carefully searching within these sources, researchers selected statements specifically containing teaching experts’ views on essential components for teaching preparation, in general, and CETI courses in particular. The concourse selection process resulted in over 240 concourse statements, which was too many for the final Q sample (Brown, 1970, 1980).

Second, the concourse of statements was reduced by the first author using a structured deductive Q sample design shown in Table 1 (Brown, 1970). Data reduction using a structured design results in a reduction of concourse statements into a manageable Q sample (McKeown & Thomas, 2013). Accordingly, data reduction proceeded with the removal of unclear, fragmented, duplicate, or unrelated statements until there were eight items for each of the types, resulting in the structured 48-item sample shown in the Appendix.


Table 1

Structured Q Sample

Dimensions Types N
1. Design a. Materials
(Items 4, 5, 10, 13, 14, 23, 28, 39)
b. Experiences

(Items 3, 22, 24, 25, 36, 37, 43, 45)

2. Delivery


c. Content
(Items 2, 15, 17, 18, 26, 27, 35, 38)
d. Process

(Items 6, 8, 12, 30, 32, 41, 44, 46)



3. Evaluation e. Formative
(Items 7, 20, 21, 29, 33, 40, 42, 47)
f. Summative

(Items 1, 9, 11, 16, 19, 31, 34, 48)



*Q-set = D (Criteria) (Replications); D ([1₂] [2₂] [3₂]) (n); D (2) (2) (2); D = 8 combinations;
D (2) (2) (2) (6 replications); D = 48 statements for the Q sample.


Third, the 48-item Q sample was then evaluated by three expert reviewers using a content validity index (Paige & Morin, 2016). Expert reviewers who had a minimum of 10 years of experience as counselor educators, had designed and delivered doctoral CETI courses, had published frequently on teaching and learning, and were familiar with Q methodology were solicited by the first author. Accordingly, expert reviewers rated each of the 48 items on a 4-point scale using three criterion questions: 1) Is the statement clear and unambiguous as read by a counselor educator? 2) Is the statement clear and unambiguous as read by CEDS? and 3) Is the statement distinct from the other statements listed here? Items receiving a score of 3 (“Mostly”) or 4 (“Completely”) were included; items receiving a score of 2 (“Somewhat”) were reviewed and modified by the authors for appropriateness; items receiving a score of 1 (“Not at all”) were discarded from the sample. After the three expert evaluators completed the content validity index, the authors refined the Q sample by rewriting two items to improve clarity, eliminating one duplicate item, and adding an item the reviewers thought important. For the final step, two of the experts completed Q-sorts to assure the final Q sample facilitated the expression of views on supervisee roles. The results of these two pilot Q-sorts were not included in the data analysis.

Participant Sample
     Researchers followed McKeown and Thomas’ (2013) recommendations for selecting an intensive participant sample (i.e., fewer than 20 participants), which included a combination of purposeful and convenience sampling strategies (Patton, 2015) to obtain participants for the study. We purposefully selected the doctoral CETI course and the instructor because it was offered within a reputable, CACREP-accredited doctoral program; developed by a counselor educator known for teaching excellence and professional contributions; and taught and refined in an on-campus, in-person program by that same instructor for over 16 years. Additionally, the participants engaged in the course at the time of investigation constituted a convenience sample of eight first-year CEDS. Participants collectively represented a group of individuals holding similar theoretical interests and the ability to provide insight into the topic of investigation (Brown, 1993).

All nine participants were from a large, top-ranked counselor education program located in the Midwest. Seven of the students identified as White cisgender females, and one as a cisgender Asian male. Four student participants were in the 25 to 30-year-old range, and four were in the 31 to 35-year-old range. The instructor was in the 50 to 55-year-old range, who identified as a White cisgender male. None of the student participants reported having previous teaching experience.

Data Collection
     After obtaining IRB permission, the first author collected the initial consent, demographic, Q-sort, and post–Q-sort written data from the students and instructor using a semi-structured questionnaire. The nine participants (n = 8 students; n = 1 instructor) were each asked to rank-order the 48 items in the Q sample along a forced choice grid from most agree (+4) to most disagree (-4). The conditions of instruction used for the students’ and instructor’s Q-sorts stemmed directly from the research question. After completing this Q-sort, participants were asked by the first author to provide written responses, using a semi-structured questionnaire, for the top three items with which they most (+4) and least (-4) agreed and were asked to comment on any other items of significance.

The first author asked the course instructor to respond in writing to three questions, in addition to those prompts contained in the semi-structured questionnaire. This was done to add nuance and context to the results. The additional questions and highlights from the instructor’s responses are shown in Table 2.

Data Analysis

Nine Q-sorts completed by participants were each entered into the PQMethod software program V. 2.35 (Schmolck, 2014). A correlation matrix was then generated reflecting the “nature and extent of relationships” among all the participants’ Q-sorts in the data set (Watts & Stenner, 2012, p. 111). The correlation matrix served as the basis for factor analysis, which was completed using the centroid method (Brown, 1980). Essentially, factor analysis allows researchers to examine the correlation matrix for patterns of similarity among the participants’ Q-sorts. In the current study, we were interested in similar and divergent patterns among the instructor’s and students’ Q-sorts on essential doctoral CETI course components. In other words, data analysis in Q studies is possible because all participants rank-order a Q sample of similar items, which allows researchers to inter-correlate those Q-sorts for subsequent factor analysis.

Given the low number of participants, we initially extracted five factors from the correlation matrix,  which yielded fewer significant factor loadings (i.e., a correlation coefficient reflecting the degree to which a participant’s Q-sort correlates with the factor). Therefore, we extracted three factors, which yielded a higher number of factor loadings. The three factors were rotated using the varimax method, which we selected because (a) we had no preconceived theoretical notions regarding the findings, (b) we were blind to participant identifying information in the data, and (c) we intended to obtain dominant views among participants within the same course (Watts & Stenner, 2012). The varimax factor rotation method helps researchers to identify individual factor loadings “whose positions closely approximate those of the factor” (Watts & Stenner, 2012, p. 142). In Q methodology, a factor is a composite or ideal Q-sort to which individual participants correlate (Watts & Stenner, 2012). Overall, data analysis steps yielded a 3-factor solution containing at least two significant factor loadings on each factor, which is the minimum suggested number of factor loadings for a factor to hold significance (Brown, 1980). Notably, the final 3-factor solution contained significant factor loadings for all nine of the study participants, which suggests the rigor of the collective viewpoints (i.e., factors) discussed in the results.


Table 2

Summary of Instructor Responses

Interview Question Interview Responses (Factor A Exemplar)
1. What is important for planning, delivering, and evaluating doctoral-level counselor education teaching instruction courses? I think of the different elements that go into teaching and I think these are the things that students need to be exposed to, such as: developing a teaching philosophy, creating a syllabus, evaluating other instructors’ syllabi, making selections on textbooks, looking at equity in the classroom, backwards design of curriculum, having a small group teaching experience, having a large group teaching experience, using experiences in the classroom for developing reflective practice, and reviewing essential readings in the teaching field. I also think it is essential that we teach students how to use online platforms, so they have exposure and, to what degree we can, competency, to online platforms.
2. What are some significant lessons learned over the past 16 years as an instructor of a counselor education teaching instruction course? This course is a change in pace for most students in my program. For that reason, students generally seem excited about this course. Having them excited about taking the course makes teaching the course a pure joy. Along with the excitement, students bring a level of naïveté to the topic. They have been students, but they do not have a lot of exposure to being a teacher. In my field of counseling, students at the doctoral level have exposure to counseling, so they come in with a level of exposure and expertise in that area, but in teaching it seems all new to them. And that makes a course fun for me.


I believe the hardest thing for students to learn is to set aside their own passions and misconceptions about what their students need to know in service of what they must know to be an effective counselor. What their passions are and what students need to know are not always the same thing. I notice students are generally apprehensive about their performance when it comes to teaching. I have to constantly remind myself that it doesn’t come automatically to them as it does to me, having taught many years. So I have to reintroduce myself to the idea of performance anxiety in the classroom. That’s where I think the in-class reflective practice piece fits in nicely for them. They get a chance to think and talk through their anxiety about teaching.

3. What role does a counselor education teaching instruction course serve for preparing doctoral students to teach? I can’t imagine a program that does not have a teaching instruction course, preferably taught within the program, that would be able to adequately prepare students for future faculty roles. Most of my career has been to emphasize the need for good faculty instruction on teaching in the counseling field.



The data analysis revealed three significantly different viewpoints (i.e., Factors A, B, and C) on the essential design, delivery, and evaluation elements needed for a doctoral CETI course. All participants in the study were significantly associated with one of the three factors. Specifically, one student participant and the course instructor were significantly associated with Factor A (i.e., had factor loadings of .37 or higher; .50 and .84, respectively). Five of the eight student participants were significantly associated with Factor B (.72, .70, .66, .78, and .60, respectively). Two of the eight student participants were significantly associated with Factor C (.75 and .87, respectively). Select participant quotes from participants’ post-sort questionnaires were incorporated into the factor interpretations below to provide contextual details for each factor.

Factor A: The Course Designer
     Factor A is most distinguished by the view that CETI courses should result in students having the ability to design their own counseling courses, which differs from Factors B and C (Item 37; +4, 0, 0, respectively). This pervasive opinion is contained in the instructor’s semi-structured questionnaire response to Item 37:

I cannot imagine the purpose of having a course for teaching in counselor education without the purposeful outcome being to create a course. The ability to do course development, to me, is the skillset that doctoral graduates should have from a teaching course.

The student associated with this factor added, “I want this course to help me be successful, which means I have to practice . . . making a syllabus, working with students . . . the basis of the entire course is to learn to teach!” Learning how to design evaluations of the teaching and learning process (Item 48, +2) is also considered an essential CETI course component for Factor A. For Factor A, CETI courses need to include discussions about selecting textbooks (Item 14, +2) and opportunities to learn about classroom management (Item 18, +2). There was even stronger agreement that CETI courses need to include information about designing a syllabus (Item 39, +3) and constructing related course objectives (Item 33, +3), which would culminate in a plan for actual teaching experiences (Item 35, +3). Given the preference for technical and design elements in CETI courses, the authors have named Factor A The Course Designer.

Factor A placed less emphasis on the developmental level (Item 25, -3) and cultural differences (Item 38, -1) of students as essential components of a CETI course. But that does not suggest these elements are unimportant, as one participant illustrated: “All instructors need to be mindful of students’ cultural differences. Learning can only be effective in an environment conducive of understanding students’ differences.” Importantly, the Factor A view was not limited to just design and technical components. In fact, Factor A, like B and C, viewed having some type of teaching experience as an essential element of a CETI course (Item 46; +4, +4, +1, respectively).

Factor B: The Future Educator
     The Factor B viewpoint, which the authors named The Future Educator, placed importance on the use of interactive (Item 6, +4) and experiential (Item 45, +3) activities, more so than course design, as essential elements of a CETI course. In contrast to Factors A (-4) and C (-4), Factor B participants believed in the helpfulness of teaching to their peers (Item 44, +2). However, Factor B was most distinguished from Factors A (+1) and C (-1) in its belief that CETI courses should prepare students for future faculty roles (Item 43, +4). Collectively, individuals on this factor all agreed that the role of a CETI course was to help them be successful as future faculty members, and as one student stated, “Students need to be prepared for future faculty roles including teaching, so students need to be prepared to teach.”

     Factor B differed from Factors A and C on the importance of evaluation of students’ learning (Item 20, -1) and textbook selection (Item 14, -2), but agreed that videotaping students’ experiences is not an essential component of CETI courses (Item 11, -4). Regarding Item 11, participants noted, “Video recordings may not demonstrate the entire experience, including feelings and opinions of students and teachers.” Additionally, CEDS noted that being video-recorded could potentially “make students in the class act differently,” and, “if there is live evaluation” contained in a CETI course, “including guided reflection and time to process feedback, then video isn’t necessary.” This is an interesting finding given that many of the participants were trained in counseling programs that used video work samples as the basis for supervision feedback related to counseling skills development.

Factor C: The Empathic Instructor
     Factor C represented a preference for instructor qualities and intentional communication (i.e., delivery) more so than design issues (Factor A) or future faculty preparation (Factor B). For instance, Factor C participants believed that instructors of CETI courses should be passionate about teaching (Item 30, +4), compared to -1 and 2 for Factors A and B, respectively. As one student put it, “I feel as though passion fuels everything else in the course: effort, preparation, and availability of the instructor. Passion is everything.” According to Factor C, CETI instructors should be approachable (Item 32, +4), model and demonstrate how to provide feedback for future student encounters (Item 26, +3), and check in often with students to determine their level of understanding (Item 21, +3). However, when designing, delivering, and evaluating CETI courses, Factor C participants highlighted the developmental level (Item 25, +2) and cultural differences (Item 38, +4) of students, which contrasts with Factors A and B. Factor C simply placed higher importance on these items compared to the other factors.

Factor C was also distinguished by what is not essential for a CETI course, such as planning for a teaching experience (Item 35, -1), processing fellow classmates’ teaching experiences (Item 29, -3), and being able to design evaluations of teaching and learning (Item 48, -4), which, as one participant stated, are “usually dictated by the institution where you are employed.” Factor C placed less emphasis on specific feedback (i.e., content-oriented) instructors provide to students on their teaching (Item 42, -1) in favor of the instructor’s approachability. As one participant described, “There is not growth without feedback . . . if the instructor is approachable then the student will feel as if they can approach the instructor with any concerns, including any items on this Q sample.” Given the preference for instructor qualities and communication, the authors have named Factor C The Empathic Instructor.

     Despite the distinguishing perspectives contained in each individual factor, significant areas of consensus existed among factors with respect to particular Q sample items. For example, Factors A, B, and C believed that designing a syllabus is an important aspect of a CETI course (Item 39; +3, +3, and +2, respectively). All three factors commonly acknowledged that CETI course instructors ought to consider the pedagogy used for course delivery (Item 10; 0, +1, and +1, respectively), and that CETI courses should prepare doctoral students for teaching internships (Item 22; 0, +1, 0). CETI courses should address classroom management issues as well (Item 18; +2, +1, and 0, respectively). Finally, CETI courses should contain intentional student engagement efforts (Item 3; +2, +1, and +2) with regular and relevant discussions (Item 8; +1, +3, and +2, respectively).

Consensus among factors also existed around the non-essential elements of a CETI course. Specifically, all three factors expressed that midterm (Item 16; -3, -3, and -2, respectively) and final course exams (Item 19; -3, -4, and -3, respectively) were not essential components of a CETI course. One male participant summarized this point: “I think students’ progress can be evaluated by exploring what students think they learn, how much insight they gain, and how they plan to apply what they learn in the class, rather than using exams or pre/post-tests.” Similarly, another female participant cited, “Exams will not show progress in teaching skills. You need real life experiences and discussion.” Overall, participants across factors believed that exams promote memorization of content more so than the fair and commensurate evaluation of teaching knowledge and skills. In other words, they believed that CETI courses should be more experiential in nature.


The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the essential design, delivery, and evaluation elements needed for a CETI course. The results produced three unique views on this topic. In addition, although participants’ views varied, with Factor A emphasizing the technical components of creating a course, Factor B emphasizing experiential components and future faculty roles, and Factor C emphasizing the character and qualities of the instructor, there were several areas of consensus. Specifically, participants across all three factors agreed on the importance of CETI courses for (a) preparing CEDS for teaching internships (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Orr et al., 2008; Waalkes et al., 2018); (b) using pedagogy to guide CETI course delivery (ACES, 2016; Waalkes et al., 2018); (c) designing syllabi (Hall & Hulse, 2010; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011); and (d) developing teaching skills such as classroom management, engaging students, and facilitating class discussions (Hall & Hulse, 2010; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011; Waalkes et al., 2018). As indicated above, these points of consensus align with previous counselor education literature, including participants’ desire for CETI courses to prepare them for teaching as counselor educators (Baltrinic et al., 2016).

An expected finding within Factor C is the influence of the instructor’s qualities (e.g., approachability and passion) and delivery (e.g., seminar format) on participants’ views of the CETI course (Moate, Cox, et al., 2017). The instructor delivered the course in a seminar format emphasizing student leadership for content sharing and de-emphasizing the use of lecture, which relates to consensus factor scores on Item 40, “In a teaching course, I should be evaluated on my ability to do a lecture.” However, it is unclear from the data how participants understood the purpose or role of lectures for engaging students in the classroom. It is notable to mention, however, that participants delivered counseling content to master’s-level students as part of their teaching experiences for the course and would thus benefit from feedback on their performance.

Many have suggested that utilizing lecture as the principal mode of delivery fosters passive learning and does not necessarily support students’ engagement in course content or development of decision-making, problem-solving, or critical-thinking skills (e.g., Malott et al., 2014; Moate & Cox, 2015). Participants in Waalkes et al.’s (2018) study indicated that their training primarily equipped them to lecture, which they reported did not fully prepare them for their roles as educators. Although Moate and Cox (2015) do not recommend utilizing lecture as the only method for helping students engage with course content, both they and Brookfield (2015) emphasized the false dichotomy that exists between teacher-centered approaches, which are typically characterized by lecturing, and learner-centered approaches, which often rely on using discussions as a primary mode of teaching.

Rather than dismissing lectures entirely, instructors can utilize lectures to provide a broad overview of the course content, to explain difficult or complex concepts with frequent examples, to generate students’ engagement and interest in a topic, and/or to model the types of skills and dispositions instructors would like to foster in students (Brookfield, 2015; Malott et al., 2014; Moate & Cox, 2015). Thus, lectures can serve as a starting point to model and frame course content for further discussion and application using other teaching methods (Moate & Cox, 2015). Overall, we believe that it is important for students to possess a variety of teaching methods for engaging students with course content and understand when and how to apply various methods effectively, which requires CETI instructor feedback and support.

Surprising results included participants’ low rankings of Item 12 regarding the importance of role-playing, of Item 7 regarding the importance of peer feedback, and of Item 11 regarding the use of video recordings of teaching—this latter finding contrasts with participant responses in Hunt and Weber Gilmore’s (2011) study, who found “sharing and critiquing a video of us teaching” an especially valuable component of their coursework (p. 147). Current counselor education research consistently affirms the importance and reported desire for formal coursework to incorporate practical teaching components related to the actual work of a counselor educator (Hall & Hulse, 2010; Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011). Instructors who employ learner-centered approaches often emphasize the role of peers and the use of peer feedback to enhance student learning (Moate & Cox, 2015). It could be that participants assumed that role-plays pertain to practicing counseling-related interventions. As such, it may prove helpful if counselor educators consider situational uses for role-plays, such as a way of managing difficult situations in the classroom (e.g., classroom management), or for addressing sensitive topics related to multicultural concerns, among others (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011). Instructors can model how to facilitate these skills, which can be followed up with dyadic or triadic student role-plays.

Additionally, participants did not place importance on peer feedback over the instructor’s feedback or learning how to provide feedback to their future students in the instructor role. Instead, participants favored feedback from the instructor on their own teaching skills, the proposition here being that instructors can provide feedback from a position of experience, more so than peers who do not have teaching experience. It is plausible that CEDS attending CETI courses need feedback about how to provide feedback and perceive this as an important teaching skill (Hunt & Weber Gilmore, 2011). This is important because students in CETI courses are likely (a) learning the course-related content and (b) learning the pedagogy for delivering counseling-related content in their future classrooms (ACES, 2016).

     Findings support two important implications for counselor educators, the first of which is illustrated by the instructor from this study: “What students’ passions are and what students need to know are not always the same thing.” One can reasonably expect discrepancies between the perceptions of the instructor and those of students as evidenced by some participants’ dissatisfaction with the content and delivery of their CETI courses (e.g., Hall & Hulse, 2010; Waalkes et al., 2018). However, we encourage counselor educators as they teach to consider students’ views (i.e., factors) even if they feel their own views and curriculum support best practice. We also acknowledge that some instructors may have limited autonomy in the construction of CETI course syllabi and assignments because of accreditation requirements.

In thinking about the implications for counselor educators, to the extent possible, tailoring a CETI course to the reported preferences/needs of the students seems essential for preparing them for future teaching (Waalkes et al., 2018) as well as for increasing student engagement (e.g., Moate & Cox, 2015). For example, counselor educators can incorporate technology, curricular, and course design elements into CETI courses (Factor A). Counselor educators can link teaching experiences to future faculty roles by exploring them in the context of accreditation requirements, their impact on tenure and promotion practices (Davis et al., 2006), and managing teaching loads in the context of other duties and institutional demands (Silverman, 2003; Factor B). Finally, counselor educators can incorporate Factor C views into their CETI courses by attending to the instructor qualities, modeling passion, demonstrating approachability, and frequently checking in on students’ progress (Malott et al., 2014). Additionally, the authors suggest that counselor educators incorporate aspects of all three factors into their own teaching practice and link the CETI course to future supervised teaching experiences such as teaching practicum or internships as suggested by Waalkes et al. (2018).

Second, counselor educators should obtain and incorporate CEDS’ perspectives early when designing, delivering, and evaluating CETI courses, which can be helpful for investigating (formally or informally) the impact of those instructional strategies and curriculum on CEDS’ teaching skill development and is recommended as a best practice by Malott et al. (2014). It is common practice to collect student opinions of instruction at the end of the semester, and many instructors collect ongoing data on how students are progressing in the semester. Q methodology could be used in ways similar to this study to help instructors positively influence CEDS’ learning. Additionally, counselor educators could utilize Q methodology to identify factors and use those factors to improve their own performance, to design other teaching-related courses, and to affect CEDS’ classroom experiences and learning outcomes. Counselor educators could also compare their CETI courses with other instructors’ courses to see trends or use Q methodology to identify factors within or between CETI courses over time.

Limitations and Future Research
     Q methodology studies gather and rigorously analyze data to reveal common viewpoints among participants. Factors do not generalize in Q studies the same way as findings from traditional factor analysis (i.e., R methodology; Brown, 1980). Rather, factors are simply collections of opinion, the structure of which may or may not exist in other counselor education settings. However, CETI instructors can test this proposition by having students in other CETI courses complete Q-sorts with the current Q sample or by developing and testing relevant Q samples of their own design. In fact, because the Q sample was used in one class, researchers are encouraged to test propositions with larger samples across programs to see if the factors exist in multiple settings. Finally, because the participants in the current study were a convenience sample from a brick-and-mortar program composed mostly of White females within a single course, participant diversity was lacking. Future studies could examine the views of students of color and international students in larger samples across multiple courses and multiple formats (e.g., online and hybrid programs).

Additional conditions of instruction could be added to expand teaching instruction viewpoints using a single-case design approach (Baltrinic et al., 2018). Supporting Q findings with qualitative information from in-depth interviews from student and instructor factor exemplars would add more nuance to the existing factors as well. Finally, following in our footsteps, researchers could develop and administer their own teaching instruction Q-sorts before beginning a CETI course to tailor the development and delivery of the course to the needs of their students. This would allow CETI instructors to develop studies, which may reveal idiosyncratic and shared experiences (Stephenson, 2014) related to programs’ CETI course design, delivery, and evaluation.

     We proposed in this article that doctoral CETI courses offer a starting point for CEDS’ teaching preparation. We elaborated further that despite accreditation guidelines and the anecdotal experiences of counselor educators in various programs, little is known about what specifically to include in a CETI doctoral course. Counselor educators and CEDS alike can honor course variability, anecdotal experiences, and academic freedoms, while providing some structure to their CETI courses. This goal can be achieved by acknowledging that CETI course design, delivery, and evaluation include professional-level, student, and instructor perspectives. The Q factors in the current study revealed one way to include multiple perspectives and to identify preferred and recognizable CETI course components.


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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College Teaching Q Sample Statements and Factor Array

# Q Sample Statement A B C
1 Peers should be able to review the courses I develop as part of a teacher training course. -1 -2 -2
2 Teacher training courses should have case examples. -2  0  1
3 Designing student engagement is important for a course on teaching.  2  1  2
4 Courses in teacher training should have relevant technology resources.  1 -2 -2
5 Learning how to assess students’ learning is important in a teaching course.  3  0  2
6 Courses in teacher training should have interactive activities.  0  4  1
7 I should have student feedback for the classes I teach while a student in a teacher
training course.
-2  0  2
8 Teacher training courses should have relevant discussion.  1  3  2
9 Teacher training courses should have student feedback mechanisms for the instructor.  0  0  0
10 A teaching course should consider the pedagogy used for course delivery.  0  1  1
11 I believe that my teaching should be videoed in my teacher training course. -1 -4 -1
12 Having role-plays on teaching is important for a teaching course. -4 -3  0
13 Teaching instruction courses should incorporate adult learning theories.  0 -1  0
14 Selecting a textbook is an important part of learning in a teaching course.  2 -2  1
15 Content in teacher training courses should be up to date. -1  1 -1
16 Teacher training courses should have midterm evaluations of my work in the course. -3 -3 -2
17 Teacher training courses should have breakout groups. -3 -3 -3
18 Teacher training courses should address classroom management.  2  1  0
19 Teacher training courses should have course exams. -3 -4 -3
20 A method to evaluate students’ learning is important to course design.  2 -1  1
21 Instructors of teacher training courses should check in often with students to determine their level of understanding. -1  0  3
22 Teaching instruction courses should prepare students for teaching internships.  0  1  0
23 Teacher training courses should have assigned readings on varied aspects of teaching
and learning.
 1 -2 -1
24 Considering students’ personal and cultural characteristics is important in designing a teaching course.  0  2  1
25 Considering students’ developmental level is important in designing a teaching course. -3 -1  2
26 Learning how to provide feedback to future students is important for a teaching course.  1  0  3
27 In a teacher training course, I should be expected to create a teaching philosophy.  4  1  3
28 Teacher training classes should have supplemental learning materials. -1 -2 -2
29 I should process fellow classmates’ teaching experiences as a part of a teacher
training course.
 1 -1 -3
30 The instructor in a teacher training course should be passionate about teaching. -1  2  4
31 In a teacher training course, I should be able to design a teaching instruction course. -4 -1 -4
32 Instructors of teacher training courses should be approachable.  0  2  4
33 Creating course objectives are important to a teaching course.  3  0  3
34 Teacher training courses should have pre/posttest of students’ learning. -2 -4 -3
35 Planning for a teaching experience is an important part of the course.  3  2 -1
36 Portions of teacher training courses should include lectures. -2 -1 -2
37 In a teacher training course, I should be able to design a counseling course.  4  0  0
38 Instructors of teacher training courses should anticipate students’ cultural differences. -1  2  4
39 Designing a syllabus is an important aspect of a teaching course.  3  3  2
40 In a teaching course I should be evaluated on my ability to do a lecture. -2  1 0
41 Decisions on how you will use media are important in designing a teacher training course.  0 -2 -2
42 Instructors of teacher training courses should provide appropriate feedback to students
on teaching.
 2  3 -1
43 Teaching instruction courses should prepare students for future faculty roles.  1  4 -1
44 In a teaching training course, I should have the opportunity to teach to my peers. -4  2 -4
45 Experiential activities are important in a teaching instruction course.  1  3  0
46 Having a teaching experience is important for a course on teaching.  4  4  1
47 In a teacher training course, I should be able to use technology to collect evaluation data. -2 -3 -2
48 In a teacher training course, I should be able to design evaluations of teaching and learning.  2 -1 -4


Eric R. Baltrinic, PhD, LPCC-S, is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Eric G. Suddeath, PhD, LPC, is an assistant professor at Mississippi State University – Meridian. Correspondence can be addressed to Eric Baltrinic, Graves Hall, Box 870231, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487,

Promoting Doctoral Student Researcher Development Through Positive Research Training Environments Using Self-Concept Theory

Margaret R. Lamar, Elysia Clemens, Adria Shipp Dunbar


Conceptualizing doctoral training programs as research training environments (RTEs) allows for the exploration of theory to help counselor educators facilitate doctoral students’ development from practitioners toward counseling researchers. Researchers have proposed self-concept theory as a way to understand identity development. In this article, the authors applied self-concept theory to understand how researcher identity may develop in a counseling RTE. Organizational theory also is described, as it provides insight for how doctoral students are socialized to the profession. Suggestions are made for how counselor education programs can utilize self-concept theory and organizational theory to create positive RTEs designed to facilitate researcher development.


Keywords: doctoral students, development, researcher identity, research training environments, self-concept theory



Conceptualizing doctoral training programs as research training environments (RTEs) allows for the exploration of theories to help counselor educators facilitate doctoral students’ development from having an identity primarily focused on being a helper toward a research identity (Gelso, 2006). Gelso (2006) defined RTEs as all “forces in graduate training programs . . . that reflect attitudes toward research and science” (p. 6). The RTE includes formal coursework; interactions with faculty, other students, and staff; informal mentoring experiences; and institutional culture that promotes or devalues research. However, there is little information about how counselor educators can practically develop a systematic approach to creating positive RTEs that facilitate the development of counselor education and supervision (CES) doctoral student researchers.


It is important to attend to the RTE because it has an impact on the researcher’s identity, researcher self-efficacy, research interest, and scholarly productivity of CES doctoral students (Borders, Wester, Fickling, & Adamson, 2014; Gelso, 2006; Gelso, Baumann, Chui, & Savela, 2013; Kuo, Woo, & Bang, 2017; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Lambie, Hayes, Griffith, Limberg, & Mullen, 2014; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011). Researchers have found that CES doctoral student research self-efficacy and research interest were related to productivity (Kuo et al., 2017; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011). Research self-efficacy is defined as the belief one has in their ability to engage in research tasks (Bishop & Bieschke, 1998). A related but separate construct, research interest is the desire to learn more about research. Lambie and Vaccaro (2011) found that doctoral students with scholarly publications had higher research self-efficacy and research interest, while Kuo et al. (2017) found that scholarly productivity can be predicted by research self-efficacy and intrinsic research motivation. Given that most CES doctoral students enter their programs with little research experience (Borders et al., 2014), the RTE likely contributes to a doctoral student’s ability to gain research and publication experience. However, much of the early exposure to research in counselor education rests primarily on research coursework, not extracurricular experiences, such as working on a manuscript with a faculty member (Borders et al., 2014). Though some programs provide systematic extracurricular non-dissertation research experiences, about half of the CES programs surveyed by Borders et al. (2014) offered no structured research experiences early in the program sequence or relied on doctoral students to create their own opportunities. Lamar and Helm (2017) found that the RTE, including faculty mentoring and research experiences, was an essential part of CES doctoral student researcher identity development. Given prior findings (Borders et al., 2014; Kuo et al., 2017; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011), it seems crucial for CES doctoral faculty to systematically create an RTE that is conducive to CES doctoral student researcher identity, research self-efficacy, and research interest development.


Leadership in the counseling field has stressed the importance of research in furthering the profession by stating that “expanding and promoting our research base is essential to the efficacy of professional counselors and to the public perception of the profession” (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011, p. 372). Therefore, it is essential to strengthen the training of future researchers so they are successful at achieving this vision. Thus, there are two primary purposes of this manuscript: 1) propose that the state of research in the field of counselor education is a reflection, in part, of an RTE issue; and 2) provide practical ways for programs to facilitate researcher development among doctoral students. The authors provide insight on how self-concept theory and organizational development theory may be a useful means for conceptualizing researcher development and facilitating change in RTEs.


Self-Concept Theory


Self-concept theory provides a framework for conceptualizing the way a person organizes beliefs about themselves. Purkey and Schmidt (1996) defined self-concept theory as “the totality of a complex and dynamic system of learned beliefs that an individual holds to be true about their personal experience” (p. 31). Learned beliefs are subjective and not necessarily based on reality but instead are reflections of individuals’ perceptions of themselves. These perceptions are related to past experiences and expectations about future goals. Purkey and Schmidt (1996) suggested conceptualizing the self-concept using the following categories: (a) organized, (b) learned, (c) dynamic, and (d) consistent. Discussions of each of these categories are presented in the context of applying self-concept theory to researcher development.


Current counselor training literature has discussed the development of student professional counselor identity (e.g., Prosek & Hurt, 2014); however, until recently (e.g., Jorgensen & Duncan, 2015; Lamar & Helm, 2017), counseling professional identity literature has not included a focus on how research is integrated into a student’s identity. Self-concept theory can be used to conceptualize the inclusion of researcher identity into the professional identity of CES doctoral students.


Organization of the Self-Concept

Purkey and Schmidt (1996) used a spiral as a visual representation of how the self is organized (Figure 1). They referred to the sense of self, or overarching view of who you are, as the central I, and placed it at the very center of the spiral. In addition, people also have other specific identities, or what Purkey and Schmidt termed me’s, that inform their global identity. These multiple identities can be considered hierarchical, meaning that one of the me identities might be more important to a person than another aspect of their identity and is placed more proximal to the central I on the spiral than more distal me’s. Developmentally, it makes sense that a beginning CES doctoral student, for example, may have a stronger counselor me (located closer to their central I), whereas their researcher me might be located closer to the periphery of the spiral. This is confirmed through previous research findings suggesting that CES students enter doctoral programs with stronger helper identities and integrate research into their self-concept throughout their academic experience (Gelso, 2006; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011). It would be expected that these me’s would be more likely to shift throughout the course of a doctoral program with greater exposure to a positive RTE. The relative importance of these identities to a doctoral student’s professional identity is illustrated for exemplary purposes in Figure 1. Faculty have a significant role in creating positive RTEs so that a doctoral student’s researcher me can be strengthened and become more fully integrated into their self-concept.

Figure 1. Self-Concept Spiral




Learning for a Lifetime

     Developing the self-concept is a task that takes a lifetime of learning (Purkey & Schmidt, 1996). Self-
concept learning occurs in three ways: (a) exciting or devastating events, (b) professional helping relationships, and (c) everyday experiences. Individually, and in combination, these experiences can reorganize and shape a person’s self-concept. For example, receiving a first decision letter from an editor can be an exciting or devastating event that influences a doctoral student’s self-concept. Faculty members can process and contextualize the experience so a doctoral student’s researcher self-concept is positively promoted (e.g., a lengthy revise and resubmit letter can feel overwhelming but is a fantastic outcome; Gelso, 2006; Lamar & Helm, 2017). Similarly, the counseling RTE can promote positive research attitudes for doctoral students on a daily basis (e.g., displaying examples of student and faculty research).


Dynamic and Consistent Self-Concept Processes

Self-concept is dynamic; it is constantly changing and has the potential to propel doctoral student researchers forward (Purkey & Schmidt, 1996). Change occurs when a doctoral student incorporates new beliefs into existing ones. When new information is presented to the doctoral student, contrary to what they currently believe about themselves (e.g., ability to understand the methods section of an article), they are challenged to merge the new information with their current beliefs (e.g., “I’m a clinician,” and skip to the implications section). As they revise their belief system, they may be able to behave in new ways (e.g., making connections between the methods section and clinical application or engaging in critical discussions of research). However, reconciling new beliefs about their self-concept and demonstrating new research skills can be challenging. Consistency is highly valued by doctoral students faced with a need to adopt new ideas into their self-concept (Purkey & Schmidt, 1996). A doctoral student may experience what is commonly known as imposter syndrome, which occurs when a student is unable to internalize their accomplishments and attributes their success to good luck (Parkman, 2016). As CES doctoral students become proficient in research pursuits, they may still have difficulty seeing themselves as researchers (e.g., articulating hesitancy to share findings with peers or at professional conferences). They might tell others they are a counselor, a teacher, or a supervisor and they also conduct research, thus distancing that identity from the core of their self-concept (Lamar & Helm, 2017). They may need to repeatedly have their new researcher identity confirmed by faculty and their own personal experiences before they can communicate a fully integrated self-concept to others.


As learning occurs, the self-concept reorganizes toward a more stable professional identity. Incorporation of a researcher identity into their self-concept is likely to be dynamic, with consistency increasing throughout the doctoral students’ academic program. As CES doctoral students move into new stages of their career, their researcher identity is likely to become a more fixed aspect of their self-concept.


Development of the self-concept occurs in a CES doctoral program, which exists within the larger academic culture. Doctoral students are initially presented with the challenge of navigating a new culture. The culture of academe has its own processes, language, and roles. In addition to development of their researcher self-concept, doctoral students also must integrate their roles within higher education into their self-concept.


Organizational Development


A primary goal of doctoral education is to prepare and acculturate doctoral students to their future professional life as counselor educators (Austin, 2002; Johnson, Ward, & Gardner, 2017; Weidman & Stein, 2003). Many doctoral students in CES programs will pursue a CES faculty position within higher education organizations. Higher education organizations demonstrate various forms of culture and socialization processes (Tierney, 1997). University cultural norms include expectations for how to act, what to strive for, and how to define success and failure. Graduate education literature has included discussions on helping doctoral students transition into faculty life and university organizational culture (e.g., Austin, 2002; Austin & McDaniels, 2006). This socialization process has not been extensively discussed in the counselor training literature, yet there is potential for it to be useful in creating positive RTEs.


Socialization Into the Academy

     Socialization is the process by which doctoral students learn the culture of an institution, including both the spoken and unspoken rules (Johnson et al., 2017). The process of socializing doctoral students to graduate school is a part of a greater socialization to higher education (Gardner & Barnes, 2007). Weidman, Twale, and Stein (2001) described four stages and characterized three elements of socialization—knowledge acquisition, investment, and involvement—that are experienced over the four stages. These stages provide insight for doctoral programs looking to provide intentional support for their students acclimating to the RTE within higher education.


Anticipatory stage. Doctoral students begin developing an understanding of the organizational culture even before they start a program of study (Clarke, Hyde, & Drennan, 2013; Weidman et al., 2001). During recruitment and introduction to the program, doctoral students gather information about the program (knowledge acquisition), decide to enroll (investment), and begin to make sense of organizational norms, expectations, and roles (involvement). CES doctoral students are, therefore, entering counseling programs with preconceived ideas about their roles as students, including their function as student researchers.


 Formal and informal stages. The formal and informal stages co-occur but are differentiated in that the formal stage is more faculty or program driven, whereas the informal stage is peer socialization (Gardner, 2008; Weidman et al., 2001). Some of the formal stage methods of socialization can include classroom instruction, faculty direction, and focused observation. Courses grounded in the 2016 Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards related to doctoral professional identity or research are part of the formal socialization process. Out-of-classroom conversations with faculty and other university staff orient doctoral students to the value of research in the program and university. Doctoral students learn through faculty direction and observation about networking at conferences, publishing, and what types of research are considered valuable in the field. Students also observe faculty working around obstacles to keep their own research active. These examples are all consistent with knowledge acquisition.


Informal socialization happens as new doctoral students observe and learn how more advanced students and incoming cohorts define norms (Gardner, 2008). This stage has many parallels to existing research about how faculty acculturate to new organizations. Tierney and Rhoads (1994) proposed new faculty members learn the culture of the organization in mostly informal ways. As they observe the established tenured faculty, new faculty learn what is important to the department and develop understanding about the institution’s priorities. This acculturation process is important because it is likely to impact the RTE faculty create for doctoral students.


Similarly, doctoral students learning about culture, investment, and involvement in research are likely guided by the knowledge they acquire through observing and engaging with more advanced doctoral students in their programs of study (Gardner, 2008; Gelso, 2006). Acquisition of knowledge, occurring “through exposure to the opinions and practices of others also working in the same context” (Mathews & Candy, 1999, p. 49), creates norms among doctoral students. Norms regarding participation in research, such as whether it is done only to meet degree requirements or with more intrinsic motivation, may be conveyed across cohorts. Lamar and Helm (2017) found CES doctoral students were intrinsically motivated by their research when it was connected to their counselor identity and they could see how their research would help their clients. Jorgensen and Duncan (2015) identified external facilitators, such as faculty, coursework, and program expectations, that shaped the researcher identity development of master’s counseling students. Faculty communicated the culture of the institution and indirectly communicated their own intrinsic motivation, or lack of it, through their research activity. New students also gain insight from advanced doctoral students about the degree to which research should be aligned with faculty members and the more subtle messages about departmental expectations. For example, is qualitative research supported and valued as much as quantitative? Are certain research methodologies prioritized by faculty or the institution? The combination of formal and informal socialization leads to an understanding of the academic organization and counselor education profession.


Personal stage. During this final stage, doctoral students internalize and act upon the role they have taken within their organization (Gardner, 2008; Weidman et al., 2001). They solidify their professional identity at the student level and have, perhaps, begun to integrate their researcher identity into their self-concept. They also can use the knowledge they have acquired to make purposeful decisions about investment and involvement in research. Doctoral students make decisions about their course of study and the amount of time dedicated to developing as a researcher compared to other aspects of counselor education such as teaching, supervision, and service. In this stage, it is important for faculty to attend to whether doctoral students feel caught in the role they occupy within the program. Some doctoral students might more quickly adopt research into their self-concept and find opportunities to engage in research, while others take longer to develop their researcher identity and might not find themselves with as many options to get involved in faculty research projects. Additionally, those students’ strong helper identities might make them valuable doctoral-level supervisors or clinicians that programs can lean on to train master’s-level students. They may feel stuck in their clinical roles and miss out on opportunities to gain informal research experience. This is not to diminish doctoral students who are primarily interested in a CES degree with the goal of strengthening their clinical work. It is the position of these authors that scholarship is an integral part of all clinical work and, therefore, programs should provide equitable opportunities for all doctoral students, regardless of their professional goals, to engage in the research process.


Implications for Counselor Education RTEs


Thinking about CES programs as RTEs allows for a programmatic approach to researcher identity that can be informed by self-concept identity theory and organizational development literature. Specifically, there are implications for the RTE connected to fostering researcher identity, increasing both research self-efficacy and research interest, and attending to the process of socializing doctoral students to academia (Gelso et al., 2013). The strategies presented in this section are written with the goal of integrating self-concept identity theory and organizational development theory. They are designed based on the assumption that programs want to train researchers and celebrate that aspect of counselor education identity.


Transparency Regarding Identity Development

Formal socialization of doctoral students to the program should include intentional conversations about identity development (Lamar & Helm, 2017; Prosek & Hurt, 2014). Programs can choose to be transparent about the expectation that part of the transition from counseling to counselor education is strengthening their researcher identity. Attending to doctoral student development and class-based activities can be part of monitoring this transition.


Much like counselor educators assess and address the identity development of master’s students through student learning outcomes (CACREP, 2015), programs might choose to intentionally include researcher development in the systematic review of doctoral students’ progress. This could be accomplished through advising conversations, faculty feedback forms, and standardized instruments such as the Interest in Research Questionnaire (Bishop & Bieschke, 1998), Research Identity Scale (Jorgensen & Schweinle, 2018), or the Research Self-Efficacy Scale (Bieschke, Bishop, & Garcia, 1996). Considering this information at the program level, in addition to individual student level, can provide insight into opportunities to improve the RTE for program-level assessment and to impact the broader professional understanding of doctoral research education (e.g., does research interest or research self-efficacy consistently shift at identifiable points in a CES doctoral program?).


One class-based strategy is to use Purkey and Schmidt’s (1996) self-concept spiral to raise doctoral students’ awareness of professional identity transition. Counselor educators can consider asking students as a class to brainstorm all of the me’s that are part of counselor education. Individually, doctoral students can then create a list of me’s that are part of their identity in general (e.g., parent, musician). Once the counselor education and personal identity lists are generated, invite doctoral students to depict on the spiral the me’s from both lists that apply to their identity today and organize them relative to the central I (or center of the spiral). Next, encourage students to indicate with a star or asterisk aspects of their identity they want to remain stable throughout their doctoral program. Use a triangle, which symbolizes delta or change, to identify aspects of their identity they would like to shift as they progress through their doctoral program. Doctoral students might want to indicate in a space near the spiral counselor education me’s that are not currently part of their identity but that they would like to incorporate. Figure 1 is an example of a completed self-concept spiral. This spiral helps doctoral students visualize how their researcher identity relates to their other professional and personal identities. Faculty can facilitate conversation with doctoral students about their hopes, fears, concerns, and anticipation around their researcher identities. It would be even more valuable for doctoral students to hear their faculty’s researcher development using the spiral (e.g., draw one representing their years as a student and draw one where they see themselves now or at other points in their professional development).


Counselor educators can consider assigning research articles that address different aspects of counselor researcher development. Students can read about CES doctoral student researcher identity development (e.g., Jorgensen & Duncan, 2015; Lamar & Helm, 2017), RTEs (e.g., Borders et al., 2014; Gelso, 2006; Gelso et al., 2013), research self-efficacy and research interest (e.g., Kuo et al., 2017; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011), and counseling research competencies (Wester & Borders, 2014). These articles provide insight for a doctoral student’s individual development and also demonstrate the applicability of research in the profession.


Sequencing of Research Experiences

Most incoming CES doctoral students have little or no research experience, which means their research self-efficacy and research interest is likely to be low and vary substantially (Borders et al., 2014; Gelso at al., 2013; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011). This makes the sequencing of coursework and extracurricular research experiences important to consider (Borders et al., 2014; Gelso et al., 2013). Students on the extreme ends of research self-efficacy and research interest may see a quicker transition into a stable identity. Those with a higher research self-efficacy and research interest might more quickly identify as a researcher, while those with a lower research self-efficacy and research interest can move away from research toward other areas of focus. It is important, therefore, to sequence research experiences that can help doctoral students with higher levels of both research self-efficacy and research interest capitalize on that momentum without further disenfranchising students with lower research self-efficacy and research interest. The strategies presented in this section are described with the modifiers of higher and lower self-efficacy and interest for clarity purposes; however, individual doctoral student’s research self-efficacy and research interest could be anywhere on the continuum from very high to very low.


Determining a doctoral student’s sequence of research coursework or experiences can be accomplished through advising with the student (Kuo et al., 2017). A positive RTE is one in which care is taken to create developmentally appropriate research opportunities for all doctoral students (Borders et al., 2014; Kuo et al., 2017). Students with higher research self-efficacy and research interest might be ready to engage in a statistics sequence at the start of their program and then transition quickly into conducting independent research or engaging in data analysis. Doctoral students with lower research self-efficacy and research interest might benefit by first being exposed to research in a conceptual rather than technical environment, such as a counseling research seminar. Focusing on developing research ideas and reviewing the literature might be a better introduction to research for lower self-efficacy or interest doctoral students than a statistics course (Gelso, 2006). Kuo et al. (2017) found that it was important for CES programs to offer research opportunities that presented a small risk to doctoral students in order to foster researcher development.


For the optimal researcher development, it is important to provide doctoral students research experiences outside of their coursework (Borders et al., 2014; Kuo et al., 2017; Lamar & Helm, 2017). Providing doctoral students with opportunities to do “minimally threatening” research early in their program is consistent with a positive RTE (Gelso, 2006, p. 6). What each student might consider to be minimally intimidating research is likely connected to research self-efficacy (Kuo et al., 2017). Engaging in conversations with doctoral students about what might be a good first research experience is a way to help students intentionally sequence their experiences. Faculty can take an active role in connecting doctoral students with opportunities that are developmentally appropriate (Borders et al., 2014; Kuo et al., 2017; Lamar & Helm, 2017; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011). Lambie and Vaccaro (2011) found that doctoral students with published work had higher levels of research self-efficacy than those who did not. This is an important finding for faculty to consider when creating research opportunities for doctoral students. One possible explanation for this result could be that doctoral students with a published work already have higher levels of research self-efficacy prior to their publication. If this is the case, it is important for researchers to investigate what other factors are contributing to their research self-efficacy. Nevertheless, an RTE that facilitates doctoral student confidence around research, regardless of their pre-existing research self-efficacy, is one where faculty are helping students publish, either on their own or in or in partnership with faculty actively engaged in research (Gelso, 2006; Kuo et al., 2017; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011).


It is important to consider a doctoral student’s level of autonomy when planning sequencing of research experiences. Early experiences might be more positive if there is a community or social aspect to the research experience, rather than independent research projects, which can be isolating (Gelso et al., 2013). Additionally, Cornér, Löfström, and Pyhältö (2017) found that having an increased sense of a scholarly community helps doctoral students feel supported during their dissertations. Love, Bahner, Jones, and Nilsson (2007) found positive social interactions in research teams could positively influence research self-efficacy. Additionally, Kuo et al. (2017) found that the advisory relationship was instrumental in a doctoral student’s engagement in research, suggesting that faculty can make research a fun, social process in which students want to continually engage. It is evident that doctoral students can benefit from experiencing research as a social activity throughout their studies. Therefore, faculty might consider structuring research opportunities that encourage research as a social activity throughout the doctoral program. For example, first-year doctoral students can be encouraged to join research groups that are already in place or join a faculty member working on a manuscript for publication, while students working on a dissertation might create a weekly writing group.


Faculty should be intentionally thoughtful of doctoral student dynamics, including individual student need, research self-efficacy, and research interest, when designing research partnerships. Research partnerships can take the form of class research projects, informal research dyads, or research mentorships (Lamar & Helm, 2017; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011). When deciding class research groups, faculty can connect doctoral students who can create a positive research group environment for each other (Love et al., 2007). Groups may be based on research interests or personality variables. Advisors might have insight into certain doctoral student characteristics that would negatively impact a research partnership. Negative group experiences, such as group conflict, do not contribute positively to research self-efficacy (Love et al., 2007). However, it is important for faculty to balance letting research groups form organically with formal assignment of such partnerships.


Attending to Subtle Messages About Research

Socialization to a doctoral program occurs formally through faculty- and program-driven processes and informally through interactions with peers (Gardner, 2008; Weidman et al., 2001). Neither formal nor informal socialization is synonymous with intentional socialization. There are likely subtle messages occurring through the socialization processes that contribute to the RTE and impact researcher development (Gelso, 2006). It is important to point out that program faculty and administrators might also send messages about research that are not subtle. These messages (e.g., a good dissertation is a done dissertation, or just get through your stats classes) are likely sent with the best of intention to help a student complete their degree successfully, but communicate values around research that can damage a doctoral student’s researcher identity development, research self-efficacy, and research interest. Recognizing and intentionally attending to all messages sent by students, faculty, and the program are part of shaping the RTE.


     Student messages. Individual doctoral student and cohort dynamics may impact students’ research identity development both positively and negatively (Lamar & Helm, 2017). Different career aspirations among cohort individuals can also impact the RTE. For example, doctoral students who are interested in pursuing academic careers might have a higher level of motivation to involve themselves in research early in their graduate program. Students who plan to pursue other careers and do not have a strong interest in research might receive subtle messages from their peers or faculty about a hierarchy within the doctoral student body of “researchers” versus “practitioners.”


It is important for faculty to encourage positive interactions regarding research and to intervene should negative messages damage the RTE (Gelso, 2006; Lamar & Helm, 2017). Continuing with the above example, faculty can facilitate doctoral student discussions around the science–practitioner model. Focusing on the importance of integrating research into practice (and vice versa) can motivate all doctoral students in their research endeavors. The majority of students enter their doctoral program with their identities structured around helping others (Borders et al., 2014; Gelso, 2006). This value can be reinforced throughout the research process (Wachter Morris, Wester, Vaishnav, & Austin, 2018). For instance, faculty can facilitate discussion about how a doctoral student’s research can impact practitioners’ work and, ultimately, a client’s life. Additionally, faculty can reinforce subtle messages that contribute to the development of a positive RTE. For example, intentionally developing a culture of supportive inquiry, talking with each other about idea development, and celebrating each other’s research achievements can be encouraged and lauded (Gelso et al., 2013).


     Faculty messages. Subtle messages faculty send about doctoral students’ abilities may influence students’ research self-efficacy and researcher identity development (Gelso, 2006; Lamar & Helm, 2017). Reflecting on the patterns of how research opportunities are provided to doctoral students may yield opportunities to improve the RTE. Consider if the culture to disseminate research-related opportunities includes all doctoral students or if opportunities are offered more frequently to a subset of students. If the latter proves to be true, faculty can send a subtle and unintentional message. Borders et al. (2014) found that doctoral students in many CES programs get involved in research opportunities by coincidence rather than by program intentionality. Students can receive a subtle message that not all doctoral students are welcome to participate in research or that faculty do not engage in research themselves. Similarly, messages about research ability can come in the form of differential faculty responses to doctoral students’ research-related work. Heightening awareness around the balance of feedback that is given to doctoral students when discussing their research ideas can contribute to an improved RTE. In addition, reflection on the rigor of the discussion helps faculty become more intentional about the messages they are sending.


     Program messages. While programs often tout research-related accomplishments, faculty can contextualize those celebrations by talking about their process, not just the final products (Gelso, 2006; Gelso et al., 2013; Lamar & Helm, 2017). Orienting doctoral students to the substantial amount of time it takes to conduct research and to write for publication is part of intentionally socializing students to academia. Making the process more visible can be as simple as having a research project list visible in faculty offices or indicating blocks of time on office hour sign-ups that are set aside for writing. These are subtle messages that are designed to indicate that research takes dedicated time and that productivity is more than one manuscript at a time but having a variety of projects at different points in the pipeline. Similarly, Gelso (2006) recommended faculty share their failures as well as successes, as this sends doctoral students a message that research is a process. When faculty are transparent about research outcomes, both good and bad, and still maintain positive attitudes, they communicate subtle but important messages about the process of research (Gelso, 2006; Gelso et al., 2013; Lamar & Helm, 2017).


Directions for Future Research


Researchers (Gelso et al., 2013; Lambie et al., 2014; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011) to date have focused primarily on identifying constructs that relate to research engagement and productivity of CES doctoral students. Increasing attention to understanding doctoral student researcher developmental processes and connecting those investigations to theory are important next steps. This could come in the form of investigations that explore experiences of doctoral students in the context of their RTEs. It also is important to increase understanding about how counseling master’s-level students and practitioners develop as researchers, specifically around the constructs of researcher identity, research self-efficacy, and research interest, as they provide important information about the state of researchers in the field and of doctoral students entering CES programs. As mentioned above, it would be valuable to understand if researcher identity, research self-efficacy, or research interest develops at specific points in a doctoral program or if certain doctoral benchmarks (e.g., comprehensive exams, dissertation proposal) contribute to the development of those variables. Researchers can look at educational interventions designed to increase research self-efficacy, research interests, and researcher identity for both doctoral and master’s counseling students. This is valuable for program evaluation and for informing the profession at large. Researchers also can test the relevance of the theoretical frameworks applied in this manuscript to the outcomes of the research competencies suggested by Wester and Borders (2014).




Counselor education doctoral programs as RTEs are the foundation for creating a programmatic climate that fosters the development of strong researchers. Faculty members are encouraged to take an intentional approach to promoting the development of researcher identity and research self-efficacy of doctoral students. This intentionality includes assessing the formal and informal socialization that occurs in a doctoral program. Program faculty can actively engage in the research identity development of doctoral students through the use of interventions, including attending to subtle messages, sequencing developmentally appropriate research experiences, and encouraging research as a social activity. Additionally, program faculty should be transparent about the research identity development process and attend to research self-efficacy beliefs through providing interventions designed to boost research self-efficacy and research interest.



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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Margaret R. Lamar, NCC, is an assistant professor at Palo Alto University. Elysia Clemens is Deputy Director of the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab. Adria Shipp Dunbar is an assistant professor at North Carolina State University. Correspondence may be addressed to Margaret Lamar, Palo Alto University, 1791 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304,






Becoming a Gatekeeper: Recommendations for Preparing Doctoral Students in Counselor Education

Marisa C. Rapp, Steven J. Moody, Leslie A. Stewart

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards call for doctoral preparation programs to graduate students who are competent in gatekeeping functions. Despite these standards, little is understood regarding the development and training of doctoral students in their roles as gatekeepers. We propose a call for further investigation into doctoral student gatekeeper development and training in gatekeeping practices. Additionally, we provide training and programmatic curriculum recommendations derived from current literature for counselor education programs. Finally, we discuss implications of gatekeeping training in counselor education along with future areas of research for the profession.

Keywords: gatekeeping, counselor education, doctoral students, programmatic curriculum, CACREP


Gatekeeping practices in counselor education are highly visible in current literature, as counselor impairment continues to be a significant concern for the mental health professions (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2015; Homrich, DeLorenzi, Bloom, & Godbee, 2014; Lumadue & Duffey, 1999; Rapisarda & Britton, 2007; Rust, Raskin, & Hill, 2013; Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010). V. A. Foster and McAdams (2009) found that counselor educators are frequently faced with counselors-in-training (CITs) whose professional performance fails to meet program standards. Although gatekeeping practices in counselor education have been cursorily examined over the past 40 years (Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010), more recent literature indicates a need to further address this topic (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2016; Burkholder, Hall, & Burkholder, 2014).

In the past two decades, researchers have examined the following aspects of gatekeeping: student selection; retention; remediation; policies and procedures; and experiences of faculty members, counseling students, and clinical supervisors (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2013, 2015, 2016; V. A. Foster & McAdams, 2009; Gaubatz & Vera, 2002; Homrich et al., 2014; Lumadue & Duffey, 1999; Parker et al., 2014; Rapisarda & Britton, 2007; Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010). Although the aforementioned areas of study are needed to address the complex facets of the gatekeeping process, there is a noticeable lack of research examining how counselor education programs are preparing and educating future faculty members to begin their role as gatekeepers.

Because doctoral degree programs in counselor education are intended to prepare graduates to work in a variety of roles (Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs [CACREP], 2015), program faculty must train doctoral students in each of the roles and responsibilities expected of a future faculty member or supervisor. Authors of previous studies have examined constructs of identity, development, practice, and training in the various roles that doctoral students assume, including investigations into a doctoral student’s researcher identity (Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011), supervisor identity (Nelson, Oliver, & Capps, 2006), doctoral professional identity transition (Dollarhide, Gibson, & Moss, 2013), and co-teaching experiences (Baltrinic, Jencius, & McGlothlin, 2016). Studies investigating the various elements of these roles are both timely and necessary (Fernando, 2013; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011; Nelson et al., 2006); yet, there is a dearth of research examining the complex development of emergent gatekeeper identity. In order to empower counseling programs in training the next generation of competent and ethical professional counselors, the development of doctoral students’ gatekeeping skills and identity must be more fully understood.


The Complexity of Gatekeeping in Counselor Education

Gatekeeping is defined as a process to determine suitability for entry into the counseling profession (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2015). When assessing this professional suitability, academic training programs and clinical supervisors actively evaluate CITs during their training as a means to safeguard the integrity of the profession and protect client welfare (Brear, Dorrian, & Luscri, 2008; Homrich et al., 2014). Evaluators who question a CIT’s clinical, academic, and dispositional fitness but fail to intervene with problematic behavior run the risk of endorsing a student who is not ready for the profession. This concept is referred to as gateslipping (Gaubatz & Vera, 2002). Brown-Rice and Furr (2014) found that consequences of gateslipping can impact client care, other CITs, and the entire counseling profession.

Gatekeeping for counselor educators and supervisors is understood as an especially demanding and complex responsibility (Brear & Dorrian, 2010). Potential complications include personal and professional confrontations (Kerl & Eichler, 2005), working through the emotional toll of dismissing a student (Gizara & Forrest, 2004), lack of preparation with facilitating difficult conversations (Jacobs et al., 2011), and fear of legal reprisal when assuming the role of gatekeeper (Homrich et al., 2014). Homrich (2009) found that although counselor educators feel comfortable in evaluating academic and clinical competencies, they often experience difficulty evaluating dispositional competencies that are nebulously and abstractly defined. To complicate the gatekeeping process further, counselor educators are often hesitant to engage in gatekeeping practices, as discerning developmentally appropriate CIT experiences from problematic behavior (Homrich et al., 2014) may be difficult at times. Thus, more clearly defined dispositional competencies and more thorough training in counselor development models may be necessary to assist counselor educators’ self-efficacy in gatekeeping decisions. The proceeding section examines doctoral students in counselor education preparation programs and their involvement in gatekeeping responsibilities and practices.


Doctoral Students’ Role in Gatekeeping

Doctoral students pursuing counselor education and supervision degrees are frequently assigned the responsibility of supervisor and co-instructor of master’s-level students. Consequently, doctoral students serve in an evaluative role (Dollarhide et al., 2013; Fernando, 2013) in which they often have specific power and authority (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2015). Power and positional authority inherent in the role of supervisor (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014) and instructor permit doctoral students ample opportunity to appraise CITs’ development and professional disposition during classroom and supervision interaction (Scarborough, Bernard, & Morse, 2006). Doctoral students frequently consult with faculty through the many tasks, roles, and responsibilities they are expected to carry out (Dollarhide et al., 2013). However, relying solely on consultation during gatekeeping responsibilities rather than acquiring formal training can present considerable risks and complications. The gatekeeping process is complex and leaves room for error in following appropriate protocol, understanding CIT behavior and development, supporting CITs, and potentially endorsing CITs with problematic behavior that may have been overlooked.

Despite the importance of doctoral student education in the counseling profession and a substantial body of research on gatekeeping over the past two decades (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2013, 2015, 2016; V. A. Foster & McAdams, 2009; Gaubatz & Vera, 2002; Lumadue & Duffey, 1999; Parker et al., 2014; Rapisarda & Britton, 2007; Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010), there is an absence in the professional discourse examining the identity, development, practice, and training of doctoral students for their role of gatekeeper. No counseling literature to date has explored how counselor education programs are supporting doctoral students’ transition into the role of gatekeeper, despite the latest accreditation standards calling for doctoral preparation programs to graduate students who are competent in gatekeeping functions relevant to teaching and clinical supervision (CACREP, 2015, Standard 6.B). A lack of specific literature is particularly problematic, as the process of gatekeeping can be difficult for faculty members. It is reasonable to assume that if faculty members struggle to navigate the responsibilities of a gatekeeper, then less experienced doctoral students would struggle in this role as well. Furthermore, most incoming doctoral students have not had an opportunity to formally engage in gatekeeping practices in academic settings as an evaluator (DeDiego & Burgin, 2016).

Although doctoral students have been introduced to the concept of gatekeeping as master’s-level students (e.g., gatekeeping policies), many counselors do not retain or understand gatekeeping information (V. A. Foster & McAdams, 2009; Parker et al., 2014; Rust et al., 2013). These research findings were further examined through an exploratory study in August of 2016. The first two authors of this article assessed beginning doctoral students’ gatekeeping knowledge and self-efficacy prior to doctoral training or formal curricula. Areas of knowledge assessed included general information on the function of gatekeeping, standard practices, and program-specific policies and procedures. Preliminary findings of six participants indicated that incoming doctoral students lacked understanding for their role in gatekeeping. This supports existing research (V. A. Foster & McAdams, 2009; Parker et al., 2014; Rust et al., 2013) and aligns with DeDeigo and Burgin’s (2016) assertion that doctoral students are often unsure of what the role of gatekeeper “even means, let alone how to carry it out” (p. 182). Consequently, attention must be given to preparing doctoral students for their gatekeeping role to meet CACREP standards and, most importantly, prepare them to gatekeep effectively in an effort to prevent gateslippage.

DeDiego and Burgin’s (2016) recommended counselor education programs support doctoral students’ development through specific programmatic training. Despite the established importance of specific training (Brear & Dorrian, 2010), no corresponding guidelines exist for content of material. To address this gap, we provide recommendations of content areas that may assist doctoral students in becoming acquainted with the complex role of gatekeeper. We derived our recommendations from a thorough review of professional literature. Recommendations compiled include current trends related to gatekeeping within the counseling profession, findings from various studies that state what information is deemed important in the realm of gatekeeping, and considerations for educational and professional standards that guide best practices as a counselor educator.



Recommendations contain general areas of knowledge that should accompany program-specific material for introductory gatekeeping role information. Providing doctoral students with program-specific policies and procedures related to gatekeeping practices, such as remedial and dismissal procedures, is of utmost importance. This information can be dispersed in a variety of methods such as orientation, gatekeeping-specific training, coursework, and advising. We view these areas of content as foundational in acquainting doctoral students with the role of gatekeeper. We included four general content areas of knowledge pertaining to gatekeeping practices and the role of gatekeeper: current variation of language espoused by the counselor education community; ethics related to gatekeeping; cultural considerations; and legal and due process considerations. Each of these recommended content areas will be briefly discussed with relevant literature supporting the importance of their inclusion.


Adopted Language

Current terminology in the field of counselor education describing CITs who struggle to meet professional standards and expectations is broad and lacks a universal language that has been adopted by counselor educators (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2015). Consequently, a plethora of terms and definitions exists in the literature describing CITs who are struggling to meet clinical, academic, and dispositional competencies. As described earlier, the lack of consensus regarding gatekeeping and remediation language may contribute to the lack of clarity, which many counselor educators perceive as a gatekeeping challenge. Terms appearing in gatekeeping literature that describe students of concern include: deficient trainees (Gaubatz & Vera, 2002), problems of professional competence (Elman & Forrest, 2007; Rust et al., 2013), impaired, unsuitable, unqualified, and incompetent (J. M. Foster, Leppma, & Hutchinson, 2014), with varying definitions describing these terms. Duba, Paez, and Kindsvatter (2010) defined counselor impairment as any “emotional, physical, or educational condition that interferes with the quality of one’s professional performance” (p. 155) and defined its counterpart, counselor competency, as an individual demonstrating both clinical skills and psychological health. It is important to emphasize potential complications and implications associated with the term impairment, which can have close association with disability services, rendering a much different meaning for the student, supervisee, or colleague (McAdams & Foster, 2007).

Introducing these terms to doctoral students not only familiarizes them with the definitions, history, and relevance of terms present in the counseling community, it also provides a foundation in which to begin to conceptualize the difference between clinical “impairment” versus emotional distress or developmentally appropriate academic struggle. In upholding responsibilities of gatekeeping, one must be aware of the differentiating aspects of emotional distress and impairment in order to be able to distinguish the two in professionals and students. In further support of this assertion, Rust et al. (2013) stated that counseling programs must be able to distinguish between problems of professional competence and problematic behavior related to normal CIT development. Including a review of relevant terms existing in the counseling literature in the program’s training will allow doctoral students to begin to understand and contextualize the language relevant to their new roles as gatekeepers.

Although it is essential to educate doctoral students on language common to the counseling community, familiarity with language adopted by the department and institution with which they are serving as gatekeepers is vital to training well-informed gatekeepers (Brear & Dorrian, 2010). Having a clear understanding of the terminology surrounding gatekeeping ensures that doctoral students and faculty are able to have an open and consistent dialogue when enforcing gatekeeping practices. Homrich (2009) described consistent implementation of gatekeeping protocol as a best practice for counseling programs and faculty. Additional best practices include the establishment of expectations and communicating them clearly and widely. In the recommendations offered by Homrich (2009), a common language is needed within the department in order to successfully implement these practices to improve and sustain gatekeeping procedures. After doctoral students are situated in the current climate of gatekeeping-related terms and language, an exploration of professional and educational ethics can ensue.


Ethics Related to Gatekeeping

Professional and ethical mandates should be identified and discussed to familiarize doctoral students with the corresponding ethical codes that they are expected to uphold. Three sources that guide ethical behavior and educational standards for counselor educators that must be integrated in curricula and training include the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (2014), the 2016 CACREP Standards (2015), and the National Board for Certified Counselors Code of Ethics (2012). Doctoral preparation programs should draw specific attention to codes related to the function of gatekeeping. These ethical codes and professional standards can be introduced in an orientation and discussed in more depth during advising and formal courses.

Doctoral preparation programs have flexibility in introducing standards and ethical codes during doctoral students’ academic journey. We recommend relevant standards and ethics be introduced early and mentioned often during doctoral training, specifically in terms of gatekeeping. Doctoral students should have prior knowledge of the ethical codes before engaging in gatekeeping or remedial functions with CITs. Moreover, if doctoral students have an understanding of the educational standards that are required of them, they can strive to meet specific standards in a personalized, meaningful manner during their training. Referencing CACREP standards addressed in a course syllabus is required for accreditation and helpful for students; yet, educational standards should be incorporated in training to foster deeper meaning and applicability of standards. As doctoral students are being trained to take leadership positions in the counselor education field, a more thorough understanding of educational principles and ethical codes is vital, particularly in the area of gatekeeping. Faculty members leading doctoral courses are encouraged to speak to standards related to gatekeeping throughout the duration of a course. Faculty intentionally dialoguing about how these standards are being met may allow for doctoral students to provide informal feedback to whether they believe they understand the multifaceted role of gatekeeper. During the review of codes and standards, focused attention should be given to “cultural and developmental sensitivity in interpreting and applying codes and standards” (p. 207) in gatekeeping-related situations (Letourneau, 2016). One option for attending to such sensitivity is the introduction of a case study in which doctoral students participate in open dialogue facilitated by a trainer. The inclusion of a case study aims to engage doctoral students in critical thinking surrounding cultural and diversity implications for gatekeeping practices. The following section will draw further attention to the importance of cultural awareness in gatekeeping practices and responsibilities.


Cultural Considerations

It is vital for doctoral students to have an understanding and awareness of the cultural sensitivity that is required of them in making sound gatekeeping-related decisions. Not only do ethical codes and educational mandates expect counselor educators to possess a level of multicultural competency (American Counseling Association, 2014; CACREP, 2015), but recent literature draws attention to cultural considerations in the gatekeeping process (Goodrich & Shin, 2013; Letourneau, 2016). These cultural considerations provide doctoral students with valuable information on conceptualizing and interacting with gatekeeping practices in a more culturally sensitive manner.

Letourneau (2016) described the critical nature of taking into account students’ cultural influences and differences when evaluating their assessment of fitness for the profession, while Goodrich and Shin (2013) called attention to “how cultural values and norms may intersect” (p. 43) with appraisal of CIT counseling competencies. For example, when assessing a CIT’s behavior or performance to determine whether it may be defined as problematic, evaluators may have difficulty establishing if the identified behavior is truly problematic or rather deviating from the cultural norm (Letourneau, 2016). This consideration is essential as culture, diversity, and differing values and beliefs can influence and impact how perceived problematic behaviors emerge and consequently how observed deficiencies in performance are viewed (Goodrich & Shin, 2013; Letourneau, 2016). Examining the cultural values of the counseling profession, counselor education programs, and the community in which the program is embedded can shed light on what behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are valued and considered norms. This examination can prompt critical awareness of how CITs differing from cultural norms may be assessed and evaluated differently, and even unfairly.

Jacobs et al. (2011) described insufficient support for evaluators in how to facilitate difficult discussions in gatekeeping-related issues, specifically when the issues included attention to diversity components. Doctoral students must be given ample opportunity to identify cultural facets of case examples and talk through their course of action as a means to raise awareness and practice looking through a multicultural lens in gatekeeping-related decisions and processes. Of equal importance is familiarity with legal and due process considerations, which are addressed in the section below.


Legal and Due Process Considerations

Three governing regulations that are often discussed in the literature, but left to the reader’s imagination in how faculty members actually understand them, include the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 2000, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and a student’s rights and due process policy within an institution. Presenting these three concepts and their implications to the gatekeeping process is warranted, as doctoral students are assumed only to have the understanding of these concepts from a student perspective. Although FERPA, the ADA, and the due process clause may be covered in new faculty orientation, how these regulations interface with gatekeeping and remediation are generally not reviewed during standard university orientations. It is recommended that training and curricula include general knowledge and institution-specific information related to the regulations. Institution-specific material can include university notification of rights; handbook material directly addressing student rights; remediation policy and procedures; and resources and specific location of campus services such as the disability office. Inclusion of general and program-specific information will help future faculty members in possessing a rounded and well-grounded understanding of how legal considerations will apply to students and inform their gatekeeping practices. Lastly, doctoral students should be informed that the regulations detailed below may limit their access of information due to master’s-level student privacy. To begin, doctoral students should intimately understand FERPA and its application to the CITs they often supervise, teach, and evaluate.

FERPA. General information may consist of the history and evolution of FERPA in higher education and its purpose in protecting students’ confidentiality in relation to educational records. Doctoral students must be introduced to the protocol for ensuring confidentiality in program files. Program files include communication about CIT performance and may be directly related to gatekeeping issues. Doctoral students must recognize that, as evaluators communicating CIT assessment of fitness, including dispositional competencies, they must abide by FERPA regulations, because dispositional competencies are considered educational records.

Educational programs often utilize off-site practicum and internship programs that are independent from the respective university (Gilfoyle, 2008), and this is indeed the case with many CACREP-accredited counselor training programs. Doctoral students must have an understanding of the protocols in place to communicate with site supervisors who are unaffiliated with the university, such as student written-consent forms that are a routine part of paperwork for off-site training placement (Gilfoyle, 2008). Although doctoral students may not be directly corresponding with off-site evaluators, their training should consist of familiarizing them with FERPA regulations that address the disclosure of student records in order to prepare them in serving CITs in a faculty capacity. Understanding how to communicate with entities outside of the university is crucial in the event that they are acting as university supervisors and correspondence is necessary for gatekeeping-related concerns. An additional governmental regulation they are expected to be familiar and interact with is the ADA.

The ADA. Introducing doctoral students to the ADA serves multiple functions. First, similar to FERPA, it would be helpful for doctoral students to be grounded in the history of how the ADA developed and its purpose in protecting students’ rights concerning discrimination. Second, general disability service information, such as physical location on their respective campus, contact information for disability representatives, and protocols for referring a student, provides doctoral students the necessary knowledge in the event that a CIT would inquire about accommodations. If a CIT were to inquire about ADA services during a class in which a doctoral student co-teaches or during a supervision session, it would be appropriate for the doctoral student to disseminate information rather than keeping the CIT waiting until after consultation with a faculty member. Lacking general information relevant to student services may place the doctoral student in a vulnerable position in which the supervisory alliance is undermined, as the doctoral student serving in an evaluative role is not equipped with the information or knowledge to assist the CIT. Finally, presentation of the ADA and its implications for gatekeeping will inform students of the protocols that are necessary when evaluating a CIT who has a record of impairment. For example, if a CIT has registered a disability through the university’s ADA office, appropriate accommodations must be made and their disability must be considered during the gatekeeping process.

 Due Process. The introduction of students’ fundamental right to basic fairness is essential, as many doctoral students may not understand this concept outside of a student perspective because of a lack of experience in instructor and supervisor positions. Examples of such basic fairness can be illustrated for doctoral students through highlighting various components in a counselor training program that should be in place to honor students’ right to fair procedures and protect against arbitrary decision-making. These include but are not limited to access to program requirements, expectations, policies, and practices; opportunity to respond and be heard in a meaningful time in a meaningful way; decisions by faculty members, advisors, or programs to be supported by substantial evidence; option to appeal a decision and to be notified of judicial proceedings; and realistic time to complete remediation (Gilfoyle, 2008; Homrich, 2009). McAdams and Foster (2007) developed a framework to address CIT due process and fundamental fairness considerations in remediation procedures to help guide counselor educators’ implementation of remediation. It is recommended that these guidelines (McAdams & Foster, 2007) be introduced in doctoral student training to generate discussion and included as a resource for future reference. In educating doctoral students about considerations of due process through a faculty lens, formal procedures to address student complaints, concerns, and appeals also should be included in training.


Implications for Counselor Education

Doctoral preparation programs are charged with graduating students who will be prepared and competent for the various roles they will assume as a counselor educator and clinical supervisor. The lack of professional literature exploring the development and training of gatekeepers indicates a clear call to the counseling profession to investigate the emergence of counselor educators into their role of gatekeepers. This call is fueled by the need to understand how doctoral preparation programs can support students and ensure competency upon graduation. Generating dialogue related to doctoral student gatekeeper development may consequently continue the conversation of standardization in gatekeeping protocol. Accordingly, this sustained dialogue also would keep the need for more universal gatekeeping nomenclature in the forefront. Continued emphasis on a common gatekeeping language will only strengthen gatekeeping protocol and practices and in return provide an opportunity for training developments that have the potential to be standardized across programs.

The recommended content areas we have offered are intended to prepare doctoral students for their role of gatekeeper and aim to enhance the transition into faculty positions. These recommendations may be limited in their generalizability because gatekeeping practices vary across programs and department cultures, indicating that information and trainings will need to be tailored individually to fit the expectations of each counseling department. These differences hinder the ability to create a standardized training that could be utilized by all departments. As gatekeeping practices continue to receive research attention and the call for more universal language and standardization is answered, standardization of training can be revisited. Nonetheless, general recommendations in training content can serve as groundwork for programs to ensure that students are receiving a foundation of basic knowledge that will allow doctoral students to feel more confident in their role of gatekeeper. The recommended content areas also serve to help incoming doctoral students begin to conceptualize and see through an academic—rather than only a clinical—lens.

Implementation and delivery of recommended content areas may be applied in a flexible manner that meets doctoral preparation programs’ specific needs. The recommendations offered in this article can be applied to enhance existing curricula, infused throughout coursework, or disseminated in a gatekeeping training or general orientation. Faculty creating doctoral curricula should be cognizant of when doctoral students are receiving foundational gatekeeping information. If doctoral students are expected to have interaction with and evaluative power over master’s-level students, recommended gatekeeping content areas should be introduced prior to this interaction.

There are several avenues for future research, as the proposed recommendations for content areas are rich in potential for future scholarly pursuit. The first is the call to the profession for investigations examining training efforts and their effectiveness in preparing future faculty members for the multifaceted role of gatekeeper. The complexity and import of gatekeeping responsibilities and identity development may be a possible reason for the lack of studies to date on this role. Nevertheless, both qualitative and quantitative inquiry could lend insight to gaps in training that lead to potential gateslippage. Quantitative research would be helpful in examining how many programs are currently utilizing trainings and the content of such trainings. In consideration of the number of CACREP-accredited doctoral programs within the United States, a large sample size is feasible to explore trends and capture a full picture. Conducting qualitative analysis would expand and deepen the understanding of how faculty and doctoral students have been trained and their processes and experience in becoming gatekeepers.

In conclusion, doctoral preparation programs can be cognizant to infuse the aforementioned recommended content areas into doctoral curricula to meet CACREP standards and prepare doctoral students for the complex role of gatekeeper. Counselor education and supervision literature indicates that more focused attention on training could be beneficial in improving gatekeeping knowledge for doctoral students. Training recommendations derived from existing literature can be utilized as guidelines to enhance program curriculum and be investigated in future research endeavors. With a scarcity of empirical studies examining gatekeeping training and gatekeeper development, both quantitative and qualitative studies would be beneficial to better understand the role of gatekeeper and strengthen the overall professional identity of counselor educators and clinical supervisors.


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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Marisa C. Rapp, NCC, is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Parkside. Steven J. Moody, NCC, is an associate professor at Idaho State University. Leslie A. Stewart is an assistant professor at Idaho State University. Correspondence can be addressed to Marisa Rapp, 264 Molinaro Hall, 900 Wood Rd., Kenosha, WI 53144-2000,