Counselor Education & Supervision • March 2015 • Volume 54 17
© 2015 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved.
Received 11/14/13 Revised 07/20/14
Accepted 07/22/14 DOI: 10.1002/j.1556-6978.2015.00067.x
A Grounded Theory of Master’s-Level Counselor Research Identity
Maribeth F. Jorgensen and Kelly Duncan
A grounded theory approach was used to examine the research identity of 17 master’s-level counseling trainees and practitioners. The emergent theory gave an understanding to sources of variation in the process and outcome of research identity. The authors provide recommendations for counselor educators to use with current and former students.
The concept of professional identity has recently gained attention and has motivated the counseling profession to more intentionally understand what it means to know oneself as a counselor (Dollarhide, Gibson, & Moss, 2013). The ACA Code of Ethics (American Counseling Association, 2014) promotes counselors conducting and using research to facilitate the scien- tific aspect of the counseling field. Furthermore, the universal definition of professional counselor identity calls for research-based practice behaviors (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011). Program standards (Council for Accredita- tion of Counseling and Related Educational Programs [CACREP], 2009) have also placed greater emphasis on research and evaluation standards by making these standards a category under each specialty area and using language such as critically evaluate, develop measurable outcomes, and analyze and use data.
The problem remains that the promotion of an identity as a researcher has primarily been the focus of doctoral training programs (Gelso, 2006; Lambie, Hayes, Griffith, Limberg, & Mullen, 2014; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011). Lambie et al. (2014) described how training environments are key to doctoral students establishing identities as researchers and shifting “from thinking like an educational practitioner to thinking like a scholar-researcher” (p. 141). Although there is a strong acknowledgment and program structure to encourage students who know themselves as researchers at the doctoral level, no attention has been paid to how master’s-level counseling students come to develop a research identity (RI). This seems especially critical considering that master’s training is the beginning preparatory experience for counselors who go on to work directly with clients, supervise other counselors-in-training, or become future counselor educators. By learning more about RI at the master’s level, programs may better prepare students to meet professional standards and capitalize on facilitating an RI in coun- selors at earlier points in their profession.
Maribeth F. Jorgensen and Kelly Duncan, Division of Counseling and Psychology in Educa- tion, University of South Dakota, Vermillion. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Maribeth F. Jorgensen, Division of Counseling and Psychology in Education, University of South Dakota, 414 East Clark Street, Vermillion, SD 57069 (e-mail: maribeth. email@example.com).
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RI Previous literature has focused on concepts such as research self-efficacy (Bishop & Bieschke, 1998), research interest (Kahn & Scott, 1997), research training envi- ronment (Gelso, 2006), and research competence (Wampold, 1986) in counseling students (Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011). Gelso’s (2006) Research Training Environ- ment (RTE) model was designed to promote specific research competencies and a researcher mind-set at the program level. The concept of RI may be similar to the goal (researcher mind-set and competence) of the RTE model (Gelso, 2006). To date, only a few studies (Akerlind, 2008; Dollarhide et al., 2013; Ponterotto & Grieger, 1999; Reisetter et al., 2004) have specifically used and focused on further understanding the term RI. In a theoretical article, Ponterotto and Grieger (1999) offered a subjective understanding of RI as “how someone perceives oneself as a researcher, with strong implications for which topics and methods will be im- portant to the researcher. Naturally, one’s research identity both influences, and is influenced by, the paradigm from which one operates” (p. 52).
Akerlind’s (2008) and Reisetter et al.’s (2004) studies included individual and focus-group interviews to learn more about how their participants developed an identity as a researcher. Akerlind conducted a phenomeno- logical study and interviewed 28 faculty members individually from various disciplines to examine how academics described their process of develop- ing a RI. Participants described that developing as a researcher related to feeling confident as a researcher, being productive as a researcher, being recognized as a researcher, increasing research productivity, and utilizing more sophisticated ways of approaching research. Akerlind found that par- ticipants who described positive attitudes and beliefs toward research also reported a strong RI. Furthermore, participants explained that they became better educators as a result of developing as researchers.
Reisetter et al. (2004) also used a phenomenological approach to examine how exposure to a qualitative research course affected six counselor education doctoral students. They identified the following themes: worldview congruence, theory and skill congruence, research identity and professional viability, and holistic experience. The theme of research identity and professional viability was described as participants experiencing a “cognitive and affective connec- tion to qualitative research” (Reisetter et al., 2004, p. 9). The participants described how qualitative research served as the catalyst for viewing research as an integral part of their student and practice behaviors. Akerlind (2008) also found that participants became stronger in other professional roles as they grew as researchers.
Previous research has focused on doctoral counseling students and academics (Akerlind, 2008; Bishop & Bieschke, 1998; Gelso, 2006; Kahn & Scott, 1997; Reisetter et al., 2004; Wampold, 1986). However, quantitative measures or qualitative approaches were used that did not fit the goal of our study. Although the replication of the previous quantitative studies (Bishop & Bieschke, 1998; Gelso, 2006; Kahn & Scott, 1997; Wampold, 1986) with master’s students would contribute to the body of knowledge, it would not allow for understanding RI through the detailed lens of participants and what factors influence that lens. Furthermore, past qualitative studies used a phenomenological approach to understand the lived experiences of par- ticipants (Akerlind, 2008; Reisetter et al., 2004); however, it may be useful
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to develop a theoretical framework of those experiences that references the conditions and consequences for the phenomenon of interest.
The purpose of our study was to provide a framework for understanding the phenomenon of RI and how it is developed. Both trainees and prac- titioners were included to examine if different points in training affected RI. The research questions investigated were the following: (a) How do master’s-level counseling students and practitioners give meaning to their own RI? (b) How is the outcome of RI achieved in master’s-level counseling students and practitioners? and (c) What influences the outcome of RI in master’s-level counseling students and practitioners?
The goal of this study was to explore the how of RI development within the context of master’s-level counseling students’ and practitioners’ profes- sional identities. Thus, the use of qualitative design allowed for the research questions to be appropriately explored. We also used a grounded theory framework to capture a systematic understanding of the theory of RI by examining the relationships between the categories, which are explained later (Creswell, 2013).
Because grounded theory framework can relate to a postpositivism paradigm (see Corbin & Strauss, 2008), it was important to consider how that paradigm fit with the research purpose to develop a model transferable to master’s- level trainees and practitioners. We followed strict data analysis procedures that assisted in giving meaning to the theory of RI and understanding the environmental and contextual factors that influence RI. Furthermore, we sought to minimize the impact of the counseling students’ and practitioners’ biases as they aimed toward a more generalized understanding about RI.
Researcher as an Instrument
Because researchers are the instruments of investigation, it is important to address reflexivity (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). Reflexivity involves researchers recognizing existing biases, beliefs, and knowledge and making intentional efforts to minimize how those skew their interpretations of the data (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). We both kept reflexive journals to document thoughts and feelings while gathering and analyzing data. Some of our biases related to our roles as counselor educators, our desire to foster a more positive rela- tionship between our students and research, and our beliefs that master’s students often have negative feelings about research.
Participants and Procedure
We initially used criterion-based and snowball recruitment procedures, with theoretical sampling used as the theory evolved. We used the following criteria to select participants for the individual interviews: people identify- ing as master’s-level counseling students or practitioners who (a) had a school counseling or clinical mental health counseling focus and appropri- ate credential practicing for at least 2 years and (b) were at the mid- (i.e., completed 12–30 credit hours) or end point of their training (i.e., in the process of internship or recently graduated). We used the same criteria for the focus group interview; however, we restricted the focus group interview
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to students because earlier data collection points revealed that the year in training was not a strong influence on the outcome of RI.
We recruited participants after we obtained institutional review board approval from both universities. The first author forwarded an e-mail that featured the study description, selection criteria, and the authors’ contact information to cur- rently enrolled students. Students were asked to contact us if they were interested in participating. This process was used for both the individual interviews and focus-group interview. Counselor educators at the two universities provided the names of practitioners. The first author contacted the practitioners via telephone and then e-mailed them the study description and criteria. Once an interest was expressed and fit was determined, participants were given a demographic sheet and an informed consent form. After the consent form was signed and demographic sheet was completed, the first author scheduled an interview that occurred either face-to-face or by telephone.
Participants (N = 17) included counselors-in-training or practitioners who were either current students (a 60-hour program) or graduates (a 48-hour program) of two (locations masked) CACREP-accredited counseling programs. One of the programs was master’s only, whereas the other had both master’s and doctoral counseling programs. Demographics of the 17 interviewees included (a) 10 women and seven men; (b) eight with school specialization and nine with clinical mental health specialization; and (c) five at the midpoint of their programs, seven at the end point of their programs, and five who had been practicing in the field for 2 or more years and were fully licensed or certified. In total, six participants were involved in the focus group, with two being involved in both an individual and focus-group interview. Demographics of the six focus-group interviewees were as follows: (a) four women and two men, (b) three with school specialization and three with clinical mental health specialization, and (c) six at the midpoint of their programs. To maintain confidentiality, we used pseudonyms and changed participant details.
Data collection included individual interviews and a focus-group interview, which were both completed by the first author. The interview formats fit well with the grounded theory approach because they offered participants the opportunity to share their experiences and brought us closer to the truth that recognized all participants’ lived experiences of RI (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). The focus-group interview triangulated the individual interview data by augmenting individual interviews, which gave participants the opportunity to integrate their own experiences with others and bring collective meaning to the phenomenon of RI.
The semistructured interviews included questions that were developed based on a literature review of research on self-efficacy (Bishop & Bieschke, 1998; Kahn & Scott, 1997), research competencies (Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011), the RTE model (Gelso, 2006), and interest in research (Bishop & Bieschke, 1998). Individual interviews involving 17 questions lasted around 35 to 60 minutes and were recorded via a digital voice recorder. One individual interview occurred face-to-face, and 16 individual interviews took place over the telephone. Some of the interview questions were as follows: (a) “What made you pursue the field of counseling?” (b) “What have you been taught about your identity as a re-
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searcher?” (c) “What messages have you received from faculty about research?” (d) “How have those messages affected your own interest in research?” (e) “How would you describe your attitudes about research?” and (f) “What behaviors do you display around research that manifests those attitudes?”
The focus-group interview lasted 60 minutes and took place face-to-face in an office setting. The questions for the focus-group interview were the same as the individual interviews in regard to focus; however, the wording adapted as questions became more succinct after having multiple individual interviews. There were eight questions asked in the focus group interview. Some examples of questions included (a) “How do you define research?” (b) “How did you come to that understanding of research?” and (c) “How have you come to know yourself as a researcher?”
We sought to meet trustworthiness criteria, such as transferability, confirm- ability, dependability, and credibility. Some specific strategies included keeping a reflexive journal, working with a peer debriefer, member check- ing, triangulating data sources, and providing thick description of the data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
The peer debriefing process included working with an objective peer (no vested interested in the research) and having her examine complete transcripts and codes. The peer was chosen based on her past experience with qualitative research. The peer debriefing process involved the peer examining original transcripts and completing open coding. She also reviewed the axial codes developed by us. These processes resulted in changing 10 open codes and the wording of two axial codes. Member checking involved participants providing feedback on their transcripts, axial codes, and quotes that supported the codes. Six of the 17 individual interview participants and three of the six focus-group participants responded. Other than two typographical corrections, no comments were made or concerns raised that related to the codes or quotes.
Triangulation of data sources was also sought by comparing and integrating data from individual interviews, the focus-group interview, reflexive journals, scholarly articles, member checks, and the peer debriefing process. During the process of converging findings from all data sources, the first author cross-checked and resynthesized information to create codes that captured the essence of what was being communicated through various data sources. The cross-check procedure caused the adjustment of 40 open codes and one axial code to allow for more accurate interpretations of the participants’ words as assessed and validated through member checks.
The data analysis began at the onset of data collection (Corbin & Strauss, 2008) to allow for constant comparison and ongoing refinement of data collection procedures. The data-analysis process consisted of systematic coding (i.e., open, axial, and selective). Data were analyzed for similar and dissimilar themes and patterns (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). After the open coding occurred, we initiated axial coding to refine and interconnect the categories by looking for similarities and differences in the data from each interview. The goal of axial coding was to create “causal conditions that influence the central phenomenon, the strategies
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for addressing the phenomenon, the context and intervening conditions of the strategies, and the consequences for undertaking the strategies” (Creswell, 2013, p. 205). Finally, the selective coding process involved identifying the core category as RI and linking each category with it to generate a theory.
Theory of RI
Professional identity development is affected by interactions with self, others, and the professional community (Auxier, Hughes, & Kline, 2003; Reisetter et al., 2004). Participants experienced changes in their RI by conducting in- trospection and placing their perceptions in the context of their interactions with supervisors, faculty, peers, practitioners, and the counseling profession. Participants often made sense of their own processes by comparing them with others, especially in the focus-group interview. For example, Shelly stated, “I think I’m at a different level in my research identity than Jason.” The level of RI did not seem to correspond with the year in training (e.g., participants of all degrees of RI were fairly equally dispersed across midpoint, end point, and practicing groups) in this study. Considering these findings, it may be important for programs and faculty to use this grounded theory to help establish an RI process that does correspond with the year in training. This perspective aligns with available developmental training models (i.e., Carlson, Portman, & Bartlett, 2006; Dollarhide et al., 2013; Gelso, 2006).
The process of fostering development that corresponds with the year in training may be more intentionally directed by first knowing the theory of RI. Previous literature has offered some contribution to the theory of RI (Pon- terotto & Grieger, 1999; Reisetter et al, 2004). This research has captured a more comprehensive theory of how master’s-level trainees and practitioners develop their RI. The emergent theory of RI is an integration of the follow- ing: (a) RI is considered an outcome that is initiated by the event of coming to understand what it means to be a counselor (professional identity); (b) RI is facilitated through the negotiation of internal facilitators, external facili- tators, faculty impacts, and beliefs about research; (c) RI is affected by the broader contexts of undergraduate major and area of specialization; (d) RI is enhanced by accepting fluid conceptualizations of research and professional identity; and (e) RI is manifested through research behaviors, attitudes toward research, and a level that symbolizes the various degrees of a student’s RI.
Thus, a theory of RI was captured by integrating data that gave meaning to what triggered RI, how RI was expressed through actions/interactions, the outcomes of the RI process, and sources of variations within the RI process (see Figure 1). The 12 axial codes identified include (a) professional identity development, (b) internal facilitators, (c) external facilitators, (d) faculty, (e) beliefs about research, (f) undergraduate major, (g) area of specialization, (h) conceptualization of research, (i) professional identity conceptualization, (j) research behaviors, (k) attitudes toward research, and (l) level of RI. Each code was placed within one of the categories based on its contribution to the theory.
The core category of RI was the phenomenon that anchored and gave mean- ing to the interconnection of all other segments of the grounded theory.
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Throughout the dialogue and research process, all participants began to link information back to the phenomenon of RI. They gave examples of their RI being influenced by many events and contexts, such as their professional identity development, faculty, undergraduate major, area of specialization, external and internal factors, view of research and practice, and other as- sociated beliefs and attitudes. Jessica discussed aspects of her RI. She stated,
I would say I have an identity as a researcher because as a school counselor I have to do that to keep dollars coming in my school to keep my job, to help kids, and see what’s effective with kids and so now I’d probably say, I’m a researcher. It took a long time to get to this point.
The causal condition was the event that triggered the phenomenon of RI, and professional identity development was the triggering event for RI. Re- gardless of their feelings about research, during the process of recognizing how to be an effective clinician, all of the participants recognized that they learned to value research as a part of their identity. To come to this conclu-
Theory of the Research Identity Model
Note. We created this model to provide a structure for organizing and understanding how themes connected to give meaning to the outcome of research identity in master’s-level counseling students and practitioners.
1. Professional identity development
1. Internal facilitators 2. External facilitators 3. Faculty 4. Beliefs about research
1. Conceptualization of research
2. Professional identity conceptualization
1. Research behaviors 2. Attitudes toward
research 3. Level of research
1. Undergraduate major 2. Area of specialization
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sion, they first had to start thinking about and understanding components of their professional counselor identity. Ellie gave an example of that process:
I think counselors like working with people and helping people and that’s why a lot of them go into the field. So then if they see research brings benefit to their work as a counselor, I think that a lot of them would say it’s worthwhile and beneficial.
Ellie gave another example of how her professional identity triggered her RI:
To me, it’s more of a duty to the clients I serve to be involved in research rather than I like it or it is really super fun or super interesting to me. But I want to be really good at what I do, and to do that, I have to be involved in research.
The intervening conditions were components that influenced the impact of causal conditions on the phenomenon of RI. The codes that were expe- rienced as intervening conditions included external facilitators, internal facilitators, faculty, and beliefs about research. Each of the intervening conditions influenced how professional identity development affected RI.
External facilitators. According to the participants, the code of external facilitators included program expectations and elements, messages from others (i.e., practitioners, supervisors, peers), directives from others (i.e., teachers, supervisors, practitioners), research courses, time, and program elements. External facilitators of RI interacted with the professional iden- tity development and other intervening conditions in that it seemed to influence the potential for research to be viewed within one’s identity as a counselor. Lindsey described an external facilitator that affected her RI:
Well, it was funny, the classes I took last spring, which were my first semester classes, we didn’t really do much formal research at all. Papers we had to write were very, they were just centered on our own beliefs. We didn’t really have to find any resources.
Lindsey and other participants often described classroom experiences as reinforcing a practitioner-oriented identity. Another participant, Nicole, shared a story about an external facilitator that promoted her RI. She stated,
There is a school counselor that’s at the school next to my district, and I think she is going to be my mentor, and I know that she’s very into research and she thinks that is important. She is also very involved in the state counseling association, and I know that if I want to be more involved, it will also help for me to present at conferences and be able to do that research and present my findings at the conferences and she’s shown me and given me an example of how important that is.
Internal facilitators. Participants explained the code of internal facilitators as self-motivation, time management, research self-efficacy, innate traits and thinking styles, interest, curiosity, enjoyment in the research process, willing- ness to take risks, being open-minded, and future goals. Bubba mentioned how his interest and self-motivation helped him persist through external factors (e.g., peers, faculty, classes) that suggested that research does not need to be a part of his counselor identity. He stated,
It started, honestly, it [program elements and messages] started to make me doubt that first of all that I was capable [of research], let alone that I was even interested [in research]. However,
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like now, I know I’m interested because it’s [research is] my driving force in this field and my future career. I want [research] to be a staple of my life. But it’s really made me doubt how important it is to the field and is this field credible because it’s not so interested in research because so many people aren’t actively pursuing it or acknowledging it and that’s probably a strong thing, is nobody is really talking about it. Then as a student, I feel like, well if no one is talking about it [research], no one is probably doing it; thus it’s not important and this field probably isn’t as credible as some other fields. But, at this point, after I’ve been a student for so long, I’ve taken the initiative to say it’s [research is] what I want to do. So it’s just working through the doubts and the mixed messages that I’ve received about research.
Other participants described internal facilitators that reinforced more of a prac- titioner-oriented professional identity. Rocky stated, “I don’t have the confidence to go out and do legit real research, I just feel like I’m a little unprepared to do that at this point.” Ellie discussed the notion that she, at times, does not even have the self-confidence to be a consumer. She stated, “There’s some research that to me is boring to read or I don’t maybe understand all they are talking about and I don’t really want to spend my time looking at it or figuring it.”
Faculty. The participants described receiving positive messages, negative messages, and mixed messages from faculty. The messages from faculty greatly affected how participants integrated RI within their overall professional identity. Jennifer described the faculty as salient to the process of research becoming a part of her counselor identity. She stated,
I would say that from all the encouragement from our professors and all the papers we have to write, it’s research focused, so I don’t know how that can’t become ingrained to keep doing once you are done; it’s part of who you are.
Other participants described covert messages that were received through faculty modeling. Lindsey stated,
[University name] faculty isn’t the most active in terms of their own research. Like we have some that do and then we have some that don’t. So I think [university name] is a little more practice oriented than research oriented.
Beliefs about research. Beliefs about research also affected the course of RI. Participants all shared a belief that research is important. The differences between participants related to beliefs about how much research is a part of professional identity. Kelsi shared a flexible belief on research and the role it plays in counselor identity. She stated,
I would say, it [research] does play a role in a counselor’s identity. Now, I think every counselor’s identity is going to vary because it depends on the purpose or the person and how much maybe they see research affecting them, but I do think it does play a role.
Many participants shared Kelsi’s ambivalence about how much and what type of research behaviors they needed to execute.
Contextual conditions were broader and included environmental influ- ences that affected RI. The codes that were experienced as contextual conditions included undergraduate major and area of specialization. Each of the contextual conditions gave a unique understanding about the fac- tors that affect RI.
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Undergraduate major. Participants often mentioned how their undergraduate major affected their views of research in their master’s-level training. Out of the 17 individual interviewees, seven majored in psychology and six reported an interest in research. The 10 participants who did not have a psychology undergraduate major described that as an important context to understanding their RI. Sally explained that not majoring in psychology put her at a disadvantage and affected her RI. She stated,
I think I mentioned before that I didn’t have a lot of experience or guidance with that [research] in my undergraduate like I know a lot of people with an undergrad in psychology get, and so I felt like I came into my master’s-level program at a deficiency in that area.
Area of specialization. Furthermore, the area of specialization also seemed to provide another contextual element that affected the outcome of RI. Out of the 17 individual interview participants, eight reported a lack of interest in research; out of those eight, five had an emphasis in school counseling. Nicole (school counseling focus) discussed how she viewed her cohort to be less research oriented. She stated, “I want to say other students, well, none of us, I don’t know if we really enjoyed research. I kinda got the feeling that for school counseling wise, that wasn’t one of our main priorities.”
Actions/interactions/routines were responses and actions that occurred as a result of all previous interactions between categories. The codes that were experienced as actions/interactions/routines included conceptualization of research and professional identity conceptualization. Each of the actions/in- teractions/routines was an important strategy that affected the outcome of RI.
Conceptualization of research. Participants described an action of revisiting previous conceptualizations of research. This theme was explained by how par- ticipants defined research. Many participants described an automatic thought of numbers and data, which they referenced as a major hindrance to their RI. Nicole described, “My whole thing against research was again the numbers. I only thought of it as statistics, and so they were really good at informing us that there’s another side to research.” Participants described that they benefited from accepting new conceptualizations of research by considering other methods such as qualitative. Bob stated, “If I were to be doing research it would be a face-to-face conversation, qualitative-type research.”
Professional identity conceptualization. The theme of professional identity con- ceptualization captured participants’ reasons for entering the counseling profes- sion and described how they envisioned themselves operating as professional counselors. The initial understanding of professional counselor identity evolved through the process of categories interacting. Participants often described that they entered the counseling field thinking they would not conduct research but later learned that it was important to consider research as a part of their role as a professional counselor. Mindy shared a perspective that the two identities of professional counselor and researcher are entwined and having a solid profes- sional identity also means being a researcher. She stated,
I think that you use research for best practice and that I think part of, part of being in- volved and working with human beings is that you are always observing and questioning, hypothesizing and making observations and drawing conclusions, so I guess that it sort of is just meshed in being a good counselor, that’s just a part of it.
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Consequences were the outcomes of all previous components in the RI pro- cess. The codes that were experienced as consequences included attitudes toward research, research behaviors, and level of RI. These outcomes gave a deeper understanding to participants lived experiences in relation to RI.
Attitudes toward research. Attitudes seemed to be the manifestation of how RI was negotiated and experienced in participants. This was primarily revealed through the language used to describe research. Lindsey and Nicole used strong language to describe how they viewed their counseling colleagues’ relationship with research. Nicole stated, “I got the impression that nobody else even wanted to touch that with a 10 foot pole.” Lindsey said, “I’ve heard a few people talk about how much they dread research methods, yeah, just a lot of fear surrounding in their talking about a project.” Jessica described a different attitude toward research. She stated:
I think it’s [research is] also what’s kept me here, research is what’s kept me in counseling because you can use an intervention, you can see someone change, you can see a person go from A to B by a certain intervention that’s evidence based and that’s really cool.
Research behaviors. Research behaviors also gave an observable, measurable un- derstanding of how participants were internally experiencing their RI. Research behaviors included reading journal articles, being a part of scholarly studies, constructing literature reviews, presenting research, and publishing research. Bubba described his research behavior:
I remember a time when I was working with my research partner and we spent 8 months trying to find any relevant literature that tied to our idea. And after 8 months, we were sitting in the library and we found it and we just jumped up and down and high-fived and everything because it was so exciting, so I guess those are the behaviors I exhibit in doing research.
Level of RI. Finally, the level of RI was an outcome of all conditions, ac- tions/interactions/routines, and other outcomes. It became apparent that RI could not be represented as a dichotomy. Although the participants described overlap in the RI process, they each seemed to be at a unique place in their RI development based on their lived experience and negotia- tion of aspects in the model. This difference directed the researchers to an understanding that RI can best be captured as an outcome that is fluid and further supported the importance of qualitatively exploring how trainees and practitioners define and develop their own unique RI (creating many different levels). Jackie provided a demonstration of this code when she said, “I want to be 50% researcher.”
What this research did not demonstrate (the influence of the year in train- ing on RI) actually seems to be most impactful on how this information may contribute to the field of counselor education. Although focused on doctoral training, previous research has demonstrated the importance of programs creating a curriculum and class sequence that aim at progressively develop- ing certain professional skills, abilities, and identities. Lambie et al. (2014)
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described that doctoral programs need to “integrate specific pedagogical strategies” (p. 151) so the year in training is more influential on concepts such as research knowledge, research self-efficacy, and research interests. Carlson et al. (2006) developed a program structure to effectively develop professional identity by implementing certain training/experiences during specific years of a students’ educational program. Dollarhide et al. (2013) described that doctoral students are moved along their professional identity development through transformational tasks, such as taking practicum courses, supervising master’s-level counseling students, and writing a dissertation. These previous empirical findings seem to support the need to implement the results of this study in ways that make year in training as influential on RI as it is on professional identity development (Auxier et al., 2003).
Gelso’s (2006) RTE model specifically focuses on how the training program can facilitate a greater relationship between students and science (focused on doctoral training). Gelso developed specific training environment ingre- dients to give a tangible application of his model. The ingredients include
1. Faculty model appropriate scientific behavior and attitudes. 2. Scientific activity is positively reinforced in the environment, both
formally and informally. 3. Students are involved in research early in their training and in a
minimally threatening way. 4. It is emphasized during training that all research studies are limited
and flawed in one way or another. 5. Varied approaches to research are taught and valued. 6. Students are shown how science and practice can be wedded. (Gelso,
2006, p. 6)
We considered how some of the ingredients may be woven into program- matic structures to further promote an outcome of RI in master’s counsel- ing students.
The way participants viewed research affected their RI. The conceptualization of research influenced how much participants viewed and honored research within their professional identity. This finding largely relates to faculty because conversations about research are crucial to the way students conceptualize research and develop as researchers (Gelso, 2006). Gelso (2006) suggested that students benefit from faculty openly communicating about research. Many of the participants in our study described being negatively affected by faculty not talking about research. An appropriate developmental sequence may include the following: (a) During student orientation, the faculty discuss their research interests and introduce the term and theory of RI; (b) during the 1st year of the program, faculty require students to consume research and draw what they think when hearing the words research or researcher (revisit this at future points in their training to allow for a fluid conceptualization); and (c) throughout the entire program, faculty encourage participation in a peer- supported (faculty-mentored) research group that allows for conversations about research and practice.
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Participants in a previous study (Reisetter et al., 2004) and in the current study described feeling more connected and confident with qualitative re- search. Unfortunately, exposure to the qualitative method seems to be espe- cially limited in master’s-level counseling programs (Reisetter et al., 2004). The conceptualization of research is largely science and quantitatively based because that is the traditional curriculum format. Gelso (2006) discussed the negative implications of linking research with statistics. He stated that many individuals entering helping professions rely more on verbal reasoning and connecting and may feel disconnected from and intimidated by the mathemati- cal conceptualization of research. This suggests a need for counselor educators to find ways to infuse knowledge of qualitative research into courses outside of research courses. An appropriate developmental sequence may include the following: (a) During the 1st year of training, students review qualitative research articles; (b) during the 2nd and 3rd years, students develop qualita- tive research proposals and/or are involved in qualitative research studies that are conducted by faculty; and (c) during the 3rd year, students complete a reflection journal about their research experiences and speak to how exposure to qualitative research has impacted their RI.
Research mentorship is another critical consideration to help students advance their RI development. The research training environment significantly affects student engagement in research (Gelso, 2006). Hu, Scheuch, Schwartz, Gayles, and Li (2008) and Hu, Scheuch, and Gayles (2009) demonstrated that mentor- ing and modeling are key to how students experience the research component in training programs. They also found that faculty involvement in research was an indicator of student involvement in research. An appropriate developmental sequence may include the following: (a) During the 1st year, the faculty should mentor students in reviewing, consuming, and citing scholarly research, with a particular focus on helping them connect to what they find interesting; (b) during the 2nd year, the faculty should mentor students in the process of writing research proposals and preparing these proposals for scholarly presentations; and (c) during the 2nd and 3rd years, the faculty should coresearch with stu- dents and introduce them to the publication process.
Finally, by sampling practitioners (although a small sample size), these researchers learned that practitioners in the field may struggle to see them- selves as researchers. Thus, it is important that faculty reach out to prac- titioners and suggest similar transformational tasks to help them develop and maintain an RI. All practicing counselor participants described feeling deficient in the area of research and not learning how to use research while in their program. This left many participants without an understanding of how research could be applied to their work with clients. For example, B. D. stated, “I don’t know if conducting more research possibly could increase my abilities as a practitioner. It probably could. It would probably cause me more pain than good if I ever had to do it.” Sally gave insight into how the lack of research self-efficacy affects the messages that counselors give each other: “Some of the counselors that I’ve talked to about getting my Ph.D., the feedback that I get is, ‘oh I wouldn’t want to do that because I don’t like research. I just want to counsel.’” These statements further emphasize the need to build in a curricular component that promotes an RI so that messages like these are not reverberating in the field.
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Limitations and Areas for Future Research
There are some limitations of our study, such as the use of potentially leading interview questions, not member checking the final model, conducting telephone interviews, not using a research team, interviewing participants and thus limit- ing engagement, and sampling from only two programs in the Midwest. These limitations should be considered when conducting future studies related to this topic. There are potential future research directions for both qualitative and quantitative designs that can build off the limitations of our study. The present study could be replicated with both master’s and doctoral counseling students in different regions. It may also be important to replicate this study with counselor educators because of how much faculty influenced the RI of participants in this study. A future study could sample more practitioners to further examine the RI in that population. Future studies also could quantitatively examine the concept of RI. This could be done by taking components of the theory and creating a questionnaire to administer to counseling students, professional counselors, or counselor educators.
The findings of our research offer a possible step toward achieving the 20/20 Principle of “expanding and promoting the research base of professional coun- seling” (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011, p. 369). As suggested in previous literature (Auxier et al., 2003; Woodside, Oberman, Cole, & Carruth, 2007), knowing one’s self as a counselor promotes internal thought processes, behaviors, and interpersonal interactions that support that identity. In our study, knowing one’s self as a researcher related to internal processes, behaviors, and interpersonal interactions that integrated and gave meaning to the theory of RI. Our research offers counseling programs an option that may facilitate RI in their students and support the expansion and promotion of research in the counseling profession.
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