From Counselor-in-Training to Professional School Counselor: Understanding Professional Identity Development

By Gibson, Donna M.; Dooley, Brenda A. et al. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

From Counselor-in-Training to Professional School Counselor: Understanding Professional Identity Development


Gibson, Donna M., Dooley, Brenda A., Kelchner, Viki P., Moss, Julie M., Vacchio, C. Bryan, Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Professional identity development of counselors is ever evolving throughout counselors' training and careers. Professional school counselors may experience some role confusion if they do not adhere to national and state models that promote them as leaders, advocates, collaborators, and researchers. In this article, the development of professional identity in counselors will be reviewed and serve as the foundation for school counselors' professional identity as it evolves in the unique setting of schools.

Establishing a professional identity has been characterized in the literature as developmental and constantly evolving (NystrÖm, Dahlgren, & Dahlgren, 2008). It involves the process of integrating professional training with personal attributes in the context of a professional community (Nugent & Jones, 2009). Within this process, the professional begins to self-label as a professional, integrate skills and attitudes as a professional, and perceives self in the context of a professional community. Ultimately, congruence develops between the professional's personal worldview and professional view as a competent professional (Reisetter et al., 2004).

Professional identity receives inconsistent attention in the literature for the profession of counseling. Recently, more attention has been given to the professional identity development of counselors-intraining (Auxier, Hughes, & Kline, 2003; Gale, & Austin, 2003; Gibson, Dollarhide, & Moss, 2010; Nelson & Jackson, 2003) and early career counselors (Luke & Goodrich, 2010). However, the majority of research on counselor professional identity development has not differentiated among the various types of counselors (e.g., community and school counselors), Specifically, school counselors may wrestle with a central identity issue related to being an educator and/or counselor (Paisley, Ziomek-Daigle, Getch, & Bailey, 2007).

Although differences may exist in professional identities among the different types of counselors, there is evidence of similar transformational tasks that counselors-in-training experience in the early stages of forming their professional identities as counselors (Gibson et al., 2010). This does not negate the uniqueness inherent in the different counseling settings that counselors work. In this article, the process of forming a counselor professional identity will be explored with further examination of the uniqueness of the school counselor professional identity.

Professional Identity Development of Counselors

As can be inferred from the previous explanation of the professional identity development process, intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects are required (Auxier et al., 2003). Brott and Myers (1999) described the intrapersonal aspect as a process of individuating that results from a cycle of autonomy and dependence that occurs when a counselor-in-training acquires professional counseling skills. During this process, there is a reliance by the counselor-in-training on external authorities for expert guidance (faculty and supervisors) in all aspects of their learning. This includes their conceptual learning, experiential learning, and external evaluation during their graduate programs.

Similar to these findings, Gibson et al. (2010) found that counselors-in-training needed external validation and reassurance from experts throughout their training but more distinctly at the beginning of their training. This need lessened over time in the program, and the ability to internally evaluate self as a professional counselor increased. Hence, paralleling the cycle of autonomy and dependence where new professionals move toward an internal locus of évaluation as they examine, process, and internalize external evaluations (Auxier et al., 2003; Brott & Myers, 1999). This ability to self-evaluate, integrating their experienee with theory (personal with professional identities), solidifies professional identities as professional counselors. …

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