Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Experiences of the Rural School Counselor

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Experiences of the Rural School Counselor

Article excerpt

Although the rural context is not an unusual topic within education programs, there is a notable lack of systematic investigation regarding the daily experiences of rural school counselors among counselor educators (DeBlassie & Ludeman, 1973; jeffery, Lehr, Hache, & Campbell, 1992; Sutton, Southworth, & Pearson, 1990). Sutton and Southworth (1990) contended that despite the need to learn more about rural education issues and effective delivery systems, systematic investigation regarding the concerns of rural school counselors was minimal. Almost a decade later, this scenario remains unchanged. This situation is disconcerting when considering the lack of information that is available to prospective rural school counselors in academic programs (Murray & Keller, 1991) and the significant role that school counselors can play in the lives of children (e.g., Mustaine, LaFountain, & Pappalardo, 1993). Realizing that counseling students are about to embark on a career involving unique cultural demands, the need for specialized instruction and related research becomes apparent (McIntire, Marion, & Quaglia, 1990).

The purpose of this article is to provide information that can potentially inform counselor educators, practicing professionals, and aspiring counselors. To this end, this article provides a comprehensive review of the rural school counselor literature, elaborates on the findings of a qualitative study, discusses implications for the counseling profession, and suggests directions for future research.

Literature Review

A literature review revealed an abundance of information regarding rural school counseling. Pron-dnent issues affecting these professionals, although primarily based on personal impressions, were isolation, boundary spanning activities, and community pressures. Specific information regarding how these issues directly relate to the personal lives and work experiences of rural school counselors follows.


Feelings of isolation may be experienced by rural school counselors on both a personal and professional level. Sutton (1988) reported that counselor anxiety regarding the need for personal boundaries may result in social withdrawal and ultimately contribute to increased isolation. The lack of a natural support system can leave counselors coping with feelings of loneliness. Fear of isolation, however, can prompt counselors to extend themselves to others.

Poor road conditions, hazardous terrain, and the distance between rural communities and urban centers (McLesky, Huebner, & Cummings, 1984) can limit a counselor's access to social activities and preclude communication with and stimulation and support by other professionals. Consequently, rural counselors may have a thinner, social-support network in contrast to their urban counterparts. DeBlassie and Ludeman (1973) remarked that the majority of rural school counselors rarely exchange ideas with colleagues and have little opportunity for professional growth. Helge (1981) reported that these limitations are the major reason why young professionals leave rural positions.

The difficulty rural counselors experience integrating into the community may also contribute to a sense of isolation (Murray, 1984). Their situation is likened to being a stranger in a strange land (Benson, Hanson, & Canfield, 1982). Huebner and Huberty (1984) and Marrs (1984) noted that urban professionals who relocate to rural settings often experience culture shock and are likely to leave at the first opportunity.

Findings by Sutton (1988) are supported by McIntire et al., (1990), who stated that, "rural guidance professionals are often the only trained counselors in their schools and even in their districts" (p. 169). Consequently, appropriate supervision may not be forthcoming when a principal or superintendent also serves as a counselor's direct supervisor. Sutton and Southworth (1990) discovered that 90% of all school counselors in Maine were supervised by their principal or another administrator. …

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