Chi Sigma Iota Chapter Leadership and Professional Identity Development in Early Career Counselors

Article excerpt

As the academic and professional honor society of counseling, Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) has been recognized in developing advocacy, leadership, and professional identity in student and professional members. A qualitative, grounded theory, study was conducted to investigate experiences of 15 early career counselors who were CSI chapter leaders as graduate students. An emergent theory of CSI chapter leadership and professional identity development in early career counselors is presented. Implications are discussed for counselor educators. CSI leaders, and counseling students and professionals, with suggestions made for future research.

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Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) is the academic and professional honor society for counselor educators, professional counselors, and counseling students (CSI, n.d.). Founded in 1985, CSI has as its mission "to promote scholarship, research, professionalism, leadership and excellence in counseling" (CSI, 2009, CSI Mission Statement and Sample Chapter Mission Statement section, para. 1). As of May 31, 2010, CSI has 270 chapters, 14,189 active members, and 70,289 initiated members (CSI, n.d.), with the addition of a new chapter averaging one each month (Sweeney, 2007b). As a professional organization, CSI has established six advocacy themes to, among other things, "ensure students graduate with a clear professional identity" (Wester & Lewis, 2005, para. 5).

Research has supported the need for advocacy for professional counselors in the development of professional identity (Myers & Sweeney, 2004). Numerous authors have observed the important influence of CSI within the field of counseling in general and in promoting leadership, advocacy, and professional identity development in student and practitioner members in particular (Myers, Sweeney, & White, 2002; West, Osborn, & Bubenzer, 2003). A lack of consensus exists within the literature as to what constitutes professional identity (Gale & Austin, 2003; Hanna & Bemak, 1997), how it is operationally defined, or with what instruments and in what ways it can be reliably measured (Bernard, 2006; Hanna & Bemak, 1997; Van Hesteren & Ivey, 1990; Zimpfer, 1993, 1996).

Professional Identity

Abundant theoretical literature focused on professional identity exists. Solomon (2007) purported that professional identity is both a cognitive process and psychological resource that enables individuals to sustain motivation and make meaning of their work. Furthermore, he postulated that professional identity links the personal and professional selves through contexts, thoughts, feelings, and experiences. These links can provide a conduit through which complementary and contradictory information is integrated and professional balance achieved. In addition, unearned benefits derived from the privileges of gender, class, and race within professional training programs can inadvertently interfere with the integration of personal and professional identity for students whose personal identities were dissonant with their chosen fields (Costello, 2005). Costello's (2005) work challenged the notion that the professional identity development process is the same for all individuals or that all individuals have access to the same opportunities related to professional identity. Within counselor education, Brott and Myers (1999) discussed professional identity as a cognitive frame of reference to determine counseling roles and responsibilities. Ethical standards and professional membership have also been described as core aspects of professional identity (Etringer, Hillerbrand, & Claiborn, 1995; Wester & Lewis, 2005). Theories of professional counselor development (i.e., Loganbill, Hardy, & Delworth, 1982; Skovholt & Ronnestad, 1992) have included several stages: confusion, anxiety, dependency, confidence, competence or autonomy, and a sense of collegiality (Nelson & Jackson, 2003). Professional identity has been recognized as one aspect of counselor development. …