My philosophy of counselor education prioritizes student identity diversity, student wellness and the diversity of students’ needs for support in learning and practice (Gleason & Hays, 2019; Harrichand et al., 2021; Haskins & Singh, 2015; Ratts et al., 2015). As a diverse student in counseling, I often struggled to learn from faculty and literature that perpetuated White American normativity in a manner that was oppressive and suppressive, and I do not want other diverse students to experience that (Haskins & Singh, 2015). I sought a doctoral degree in counselor education to advocate for representation of diverse identities within the field of counseling, counselor education and clinical supervision, to celebrate counselors who identify as wounded healers (73.9%; Barr, 2006), and to encourage aspiring counselors to serve clients in a manner that is culturally sensitive, social justice minded and accessible (ACA, 2014; Ratts et al., 2015).
I believe that counselor education is intended to produce competent and effective counselors, who can advocate for themselves, the field of counseling and for their clients (Peters & Vereen, 2020). For that purpose, counselor education emphasizes the fundamental development of theoretical knowledge, practical capacity and skill, multicultural competence, goals for perpetuating social justice and strong professional identity (ACA, 2014). As a component of competence, addressing inequities that disrupt learning and/or access to advanced education in counseling is imperative to the advancement of the field (Haskins & Singh, 2015).
Conceptualization of Learning
The way that I understand learning comes from my own experience as a student, as well as my experiences of providing workshops, trainings, and guest lectures to adult learners in various contexts. People learn best when they are open, ready, and willing to learn. That is to say, learners must be intrinsically motivated to attend to and pick up information, insight, and lessons (Wood et al., 2016). In line with my philosophy of success in counseling, that people change what they are ready to change, I believe that students do the same. Adult learning is often about challenging, mediating, and shifting previously held beliefs. Learners who are not open, ready, and willing to learn will struggle to challenge beliefs that otherwise serve them. That in mind, I conceptualize learning as an integration of the Self-Directed, Experiential and Transformation learning theories (Wood et al., 2016).
In counselor education, students and instructors share responsibility for students’ personal and professional development as well-equipped, ethical, and effective counselors (Wood et al., 2016). The student’s decision to pursue counseling education is a personal one, more often than not based on a desire to mediate their own adverse experiences and similar experiences in other people (Barr, 2006). Learning happens when students are exposed to information, situations, experiences, and opportunities that challenge their perceptions of themselves, other people, and the world. As a developmental process, counseling students collaborate in learning through gradual exposure – from theoretical coursework to independent (supervised) practice (Wood et al., 2016). Successful learning occurs when counseling students develop an understanding of themselves, diverse client needs for counseling and how to practice counseling ethically and effectively.
Conceptualization of Teaching
As an emerging counselor educator, I see myself as an advocate, advisor, and mentor for aspiring counselors. I view the role of counselor educator as a model of the guiding principles of counseling (autonomy, justice, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and fidelity) and the commitment to lifelong learning (ACA, 2014; Forester-Miller & Davis, 2016). In support of student development, the educator is a collaborator in each individual student’s journey of success. That is to say, the educator meets the student where they are in their personal and professional development, assesses the student’s needs for support in learning, provides that support reflexively with ongoing assessment of mutual growth, and commits to challenging the student through provision of new information, insight, experiences, and by encouraging critical reflection (Fong, 1998; Haskins & Singh, 2015; Wood et al., 2016).
Goals for Students
When I consider goals for counseling students, I consider educational success, intrapersonal development, interpersonal functioning, and professional identity development. These are markers of the well-developed counselor.
As detailed in both my conceptualization of learning and teaching, I believe that learning occurs best with collaboration. That is to say, that although instructors are “experts” in some sense or another, developing collaborative relationships with students to identify their unique needs and learning styles allows instructors to challenge themselves and their students in more dynamic ways (Wood et al., 2016). My role as instructor is to create a safe and brave learning environment, in which students can feel confident and capable of expressing themselves, their ideas and needs (Ambrose et al., 2015). Such a dynamic fosters meaningful relationships within the classroom and beyond – into the student’s clinical practice, and professional identity development. Additionally, I believe that fostering safety and bravery promotes wellness, leadership and advocacy at micro and macro levels (Peters & Vereen, 2020).
Assessment of Proximity to Student Learning Outcomes
My perspective that learning is more integrative than nested in anyone learning theory is in line with the dynamic, developmental approach to the establishment and assessment of Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). SLOs have been established by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and are designed to frame the minimum standards to be met for successful completion of counseling curriculum (2016). Even as there are standards identified, the manner in which the standards are approached and mastered can be reflective of dynamic didactic learning to foster a personalized experience of the educational material and skill development. That said, I support a balance of structured and semi-structured assessments of learning, including but not limited to exams, papers, journals, experiential and immersion assignments, class facilitation and presentation, group projects, and activity demonstrations (Vela, 2020). I am less inclined to advocate for collaboration in determination of SLO assessments, and more so inclined to employ transparency in the development and incorporation of various means for assessment that would allow for students to demonstrate their grasp of transferred knowledge.
Adherence to Ethical Standards
A primary goal for counselor education is for students to develop ethical clinical practices. As counseling professionals, we learn and adhere to ethics codes published by the American Counseling Association (ACA, 2014), the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC, 2016), and for mental health counselors the American Mental Health Counseling Association (AMHCA, 2015, 2020). To me, a student’s capacity to adhere to ethical standards in clinical practice demonstrates a effective balance of humanity, knowledge and care for others.
Leadership & Advocacy
Indicated in my own motivation for pursuing advanced tutelage in counseling and counselor education is my desire to promote and inspire diverse student counselors to pursue positions of leadership and advocacy within client communities and within the field of counseling (Eagly & Chin, 2010; Peters & Vereen, 2020). I believe that increased diversity in leadership and advocacy will impact (a) the ways that diverse client populations view and understand counseling, (b) the means by which diverse populations gain access to counseling, (c) the rates of undiagnosed and misdiagnosed mental illness, learning and cognitive disabilities and family dynamic issues, (d) the pronounced face of counseling and therapy providers and recipients, (e) the emphasis of multiculturalism, cultural humility and social justice, and (f) the ways in which future counselors are educated and trained.
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