Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education

Major Professor

Shawn L. Spurgeon

Committee Members

Melinda M. Gibbons, Lauren Moret, Maribeth Coleman


The concept of professional identity of counselors is a recent area of focus within the counseling profession. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs standards for counselor education programs of all specialties reflect the trend towards establishing a strong professional identity for counselors. One factor shown to be influential in professional identity development has been experiential learning opportunities, which allow counselors-in-training to develop an individual professional identity through application of educational content in real-world scenarios. The literature suggests experiential learning is a pivotal opportunity for professional identity development for entry-level counseling students. One opportunity for experiential learning, which may inform professional identity development, is the small group experience with the Group Counseling and Group Work requirements of the accreditation standards. The current study explored the small group experiences of entry-level counseling students enrolled in accredited universities. This study employed three, online hermeneutic phenomenological focus groups including nine participants as a method for discovery of the professional identity development within the small group experience. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of online focus groups yielded themes professional identity development and dual relationships. Discussion of themes and subthemes of parallel process and barriers to disclosure discovered through analysis, include illustration with exemplar quotes from participants. This dissertation offers discussion of findings, implications for practice, considerations for future research, and limitations of the current study.

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