Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Counselor Identity: Conformity or Distinction?

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Counselor Identity: Conformity or Distinction?

Article excerpt

The authors explore 3 debates in other disciplines similar to counseling's identity debate in order to learn about common themes and outcomes. Conformity, distinction, and cohesion emerged as common themes. They conclude that counselors should retain their distinctive, humanistic approach rather than conforming to the dominant, medical approach.

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Many counselors think that clarifying counselor identity is critical for the future of the profession (Capuzzi & Gross, 2003; Gale & Austin, 2003; Gladding & Newsome, 2004; Heck, 1990; Myers, Sweeney, & White, 2002; Spruill & Fong, 1990). Weikel and Palmo (1989), for instance, argued nearly 20 years ago that lack of a counselor identity was "probably the most significant issue facing MHCs [mental health counselors]" (p. 10), whereas Spruill and Fong (1990) decried an "identity crisis" (p. 18) in counseling that had hindered the development of training standards. More recently, Remley and Herlihy (2007) reported that forging an identity was "vital to the long term success of a profession" (p. 22); they asserted that failure to forge an identity will leave counseling with "little chance of becoming a unified and socially recognized profession" (p. 42). However, whereas many counselor educators agree about its importance, there is much less agreement about what that identity should in fact be and how best to achieve it (Gale & Austin, 2003; Gladding & Newsome, 2004; Remley & Herlihy, 2007; Spruill & Fong, 1990).

This confusion over counselor identity ensues from two main sources. First, whereas other disciplines started as a whole and then developed specialties, counseling started as specialties and has pondered ever since whether to become a whole (Hershenson, Power, & Waldo, 1996). Counseling developed at the turn of the last century as at least three distinct specialties: school counseling, vocational counseling, and personal counseling (Hershenson et al., 1996; Remley & Herlihy, 2007). A second source of identity confusion was born of counseling's original fidelity to several core humanistic principles. Some of these are a reverence for the individual, a belief in the purposiveness of human conduct, a focus on promoting healthy development, and a stress on counseling as an educational process that empowers others. These principles stand in contrast to a traditional medical approach that emphasized, among other things, reductionism, determinism, and rational interventionism (Hershenson et al., 1996). To resolve their identity confusion, counselor educators have put forth several approaches as a potential basis for a common counselor identity (Gale & Austin, 2003; Hanna & Bemak, 1997). Social constructionism, psychoeducation, healthy development and wellness, and existentialism have each been put forth as such a basis (Bauman & Waldo, 1998; Dinkmeyer, 1991; Guterman, 1994; Hershenson, 1993; Ivey, 1989; Myers, 1991). However, other counselor educators (Fong, 1995; Hinkle, 1994; Hohenshil, 1993, 1996; Seligman, 2004) have countered that failure to embrace the currently dominant medical, diagnostic model will leave counselors at a serious disadvantage; this controversy shows no sign of resolving itself any time soon.

Thus, counselors have engaged in at least three debates over their professional identity. First, they have debated whether to strive to become one cohesive profession or remain an array of specialties (Gale & Austin, 2003; Gladding & Newsome, 2004; Remley & Herlihy, 2007). The overall consensus appears to favor one cohesive identity, albeit achieving it has proven elusive (Gerig, 2007; Gladding & Newsome, 2004; Hansen, 2007; Remley & Herlihy, 2007). Cohesion, as used in this article, refers to the degree of oneness or affinity among the members of a group (Burn, 2004; Forsyth, 1999). Second, counselors have debated whether to adopt one of the many approaches mentioned as a basis for their common identity; however, no consensus has emerged regarding the various approaches put forth. …

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