Ready or not: a qualitative investigation of the experiences of entry-level professional counselors working in community mental health settings and potential impacts to wellness

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Susan D. Blake (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Todd Lewis

Abstract: It is well known that professional counselors may experience physical and emotional symptoms that may ultimately affect their quality of work (Figley, 1995; Figley, 2002; Maslach, 2003). Furthermore, deficits in wellness of counselors can have significant consequences in the ethical care of clients (ACA, 2005; 2014; Kocet, 2006; Neumann & Gamble, 1995; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995). Specifically, entry-level professional counselors in community mental health (CMH) settings may be at a higher risk of experiencing these deficits to wellness compared to their more experienced counterparts (Farber, 1985; Lawson & Myers, 2011; Lent & Schwartz, 2012; Pearlman & MacIan, 1995; Sprang, Clark & Whitt-Woosley, 2007). In addition, entry-level counselors may not have the skills or support to maintain their wellness and thus protect them from impairment stemming from organizational variables within the CMH setting (Lawson, 2007; Farber, 1985; Pearlman & MacIan, 1995; Sprang et al., 2007). As such, the challenging clientele, organizational factors, and supervision experiences in CMH settings may have unique influences on entry-level professional counselors’ experiences with wellness. Unfortunately, a common trend in CMH agencies is that the least experienced counselors work with the most severe of client needs (Pearlman & MacIan, 1995; Wachter Morris & Barrio Minton, 2012). Researchers have begun to examine elements of wellness among counseling students (Lambie, Smith, & Ieva, 2009; Myers, Mobley & Booth, 2003; Perepiczka & Balkin, 2010; Roach & Young, 2007), counselor educators (Wester, Trepal, & Myers, 2009) and professional counselors (Lawson, 2007; Lawson & Myers, 2011; Lent & Schwartz, 2012; Mobley, 2004; Randolph, 2010). Surprisingly, however, greater emphasis on wellness and prevention of impairment as well as calls in the literature for managing impairment factors within the field of counseling (Lawson & Venart, 2005; Sheffield, 1998; Witmer & Young, 1996) has not spurred empirical investigation related to the experiences of entry-level professional counselors. Furthermore, the work environment of entry-level professional counselors, and how this impacts their experiences of wellness, has been largely neglected (Borders & Hamilton Usher, 1992; Fall & Sutton, 2003; Freadling & Foss-Kelly, 2014). As such, continuing to overlook the needs of entry-level professional counselors poses not only a risk to counselor wellness but also to client welfare (Lawson & Venart, 2005). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the experiences of entry-level professional counselors working within CMH agencies and how these experiences impact their wellness. In particular, the experiences of entry-level professional counselors were explored within the context of the clientele they typically serve, the organizational factors they face on a daily basis, and the supervision they receive as entry-level counselors. Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR) was utilized to analyze the interviews of 11 participants. Participants in this study identified multiple factors that impacted their experiences of working in the CMH setting. The research team reviewed data presented by participants and developed eight domains. These domains included categories that were labeled general, typical, and variant. The domains were developed based on literature review and participant responses. These included: (a) job title or role, (b) ProQOL experience, (c) career choice, (d) organizational factors, (e) client factors, (f) self-care/ wellness, and (g) supervision. Of the 42 categories, 3 were labeled general, 20 were labeled typical, and 19 were labeled variant.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
Community Mental Health, Counselors, Entry-Level counselors, Professional Quality of Life, Supervision, Wellness
Community mental health services
Mental health counselors $x Health and hygiene
Mental health counselors $x Mental health
Mental health counselors $x In-service training
Mental health counselors $x Supervision of

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