Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

A Model of Professional Identity Expression for Mental Health Counselors

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

A Model of Professional Identity Expression for Mental Health Counselors

Article excerpt

Because professional identity is one of the most controversial and confusing issues within counseling, it is often studied and discussed. Yet there are no studies examining how professional identity is actually expressed. Because the topic is theoretical and sometimes abstract, counseling students in particular may struggle to understand how to express professional identity. This article fuses ideas expressed by Buyer (1990) in Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate and the concept of practical intentionality into a theory-grounded model to help counselors to conceptualize, contextualize, and express their professional identity through application, discovery, teaching, and integration.


Professional identity persists as a topic of debate within counseling. Yet a unified professional identity for counselors remains elusive (Myers, Sweeney, & White, 2002), and the confusion, controversy, and challenges to establishing such an identity are well-documented (Gale & Austin, 2003; Goodyear, 2000; McLaughlin & Boettcher, 2009; Mellin, Hunt, & Nichols, 2011; Myers, 1995; Myers et al., 2002; Pistole & Roberts, 2002). As a result, professional identity is one of the most examined subjects within the profession. The vanguard principle of the American Counseling Association's 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling (ACA, 2009) reads "Sharing a common professional identity is critical for counselors" (para. 2). The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP, 2009) mandates that by 2013, all new faculty in counseling programs must have earned doctoral degrees in counselor education and supervision. These statements by ACA and CACREP, coupled with the consistent presence of professional identity in the counseling literature (Calley & Hawley, 2008), demonstrate the significance counseling has placed on professional identity.

Consequently, professional identity has been addressed in a variety of ways. Authors have examined such aspects of the subject as professional identity development (Carlson, Portman, & Bartlett, 2006; Gibson, Dollarhide, & Moss, 2010; Luke & Goodrich, 2010) and professional identity and diagnosis (Eriksen & Kress, 2006; Hansen, 2003). Attempts have been made to define what professional identity is (Auxier, Hughes, & Kline, 2003; Nugent & Jones, 2009; Reisetter et al., 2004); and the role of the professional identity of contributors to counseling publications has been debated (Goodyear, 2000; Weinrach, Thomas, & Chan, 2001).

Most publications about professional identity have focused on developing professional identity in counseling students (e.g. Gibson et al., 2010) and clarifying confusion about professional identity (e.g., McLaughlin & Boettcher, 2009). While clarity and development do deserve continued attention, another equally important aspect, how to approach the expression (observable behaviors) of professional identity, has been overlooked. There are studies that encourage counselors to engage in certain professional activities (see Myers et al., 2002), but none that provide students with a tangible schema to apply when approaching the expression of professional identity. The purpose of this article is therefore to provide mental health counselors (MHCs) and counseling students with the Professional Identity Expression (PIE) model to help them conceptualize, contextualize, and express their professional identity. This singular model integrates the seminal work of Boyer (1990) with the concept of intentionality (Owen, 2009).


A brief preliminary review of the concept of professional identity, and specifically the professional identity of counselors, is warranted. The concept of professional identity has been defined as integrating professional training and personal attributes within the context of a professional community (Nugent & Jones, 2009). …

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