A struggle for “grace and truth”: a qualitative investigation of counselor education’s effects on white evangelical identity

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Rebecca M. Cash (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Carrie Wachter Morris

Abstract: Since religious identity is known to influence one’s self-concept, moral judgments, and worldview (Allport, 1950; Johnson & Grim, 2013; Tragakis & Smith, 2010; Ysseldyk, Matheson, & Anisman, 2010), it is imperative for counselor educators to understand how counselors-in-training are integrating their religious identity with their professional identity, especially as legal cases such as Ward v. Wilbanks (2009) and Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley (2010), and the ethical conflicts they present, challenge the field of counselor education. A religious identity that may face particular challenges in the counselor education environment is Evangelical Protestants, as their faith practice tends to emphasize Biblical literalism, missionary efforts, and socio-political stances that can conflict with the values presented in the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) Code of Ethics (ACA, 2014; Balmer, 2006; National Association of Evangelicals [NAE], n.d.; NAE, 2018a). If a counselor-in-training is struggling to rectify their evangelical identity with the Code of Ethics, it is likely that the student is experiencing cognitive dissonance and identity incongruence, which can cause negative effects in the student’s mental health (Burke & Stets, 2009; Festinger, 1957). Social Identity Theory can be helpful in understanding the processes of social identities and how humans tend to navigate conflicts in verifying their social identities (Burke & Stets, 2009). The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experiences of evangelical-identifying counselors in their counselor education, in order to better inform counselor educators on the challenges of integrating potentially conflicting identities of faith and profession. Four participants who self-identified white evangelical women shared their lived experiences during their counselor education program via semi-structured interviews. The research team summarized common themes and experiences using the methodology of Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). The fourteen common themes that arose across the interviews were sorted into three phases: Pre-Program (Influential communities, Core beliefs, Identity standard, Decision to become a counselor, and Program selection), During Program (Challenging program content, Perceived program rejection of the white evangelical identity, Role of faculty, Identity distress, Coping with identity distress, Ripple effects into faith community, and Experiences of congruence between counselor and white evangelical identities), and Post-Program (Effects on personal faith and Effects on career). After developing these themes through the IPA process, Social Identity Theory (Burke & Stets, 2005) was used as a model to examine the phenomenon in an effort to build a conceptual understanding of white evangelical identity distress and integration before, during, and after counselor education programs.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2020
White evangelical, Identity, Counselor education
Counseling $x Religious aspects
Counselors $x Training of
Counselor trainees
Identity (Psychology)
Evangelical college students

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