Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


Educational Studies


Counselor Education

First Advisor

Donna Gibson


The purpose of this qualitative grounded theory study was to investigate practicing counselors' professional identity development at various points during their career lifespan. Similarities and differences between years of experience and counselors' setting were analyzed and the catalysts for the changing identity were investigated. Through the use of 6 focus groups 26 participants shared their lived experiences as counselors. Focus groups were recorded, transcribed, and coded. From the data six themes emerged: adjustment to expectations, confidence and freedom, separation and integration, experienced guide, work with clients, and continuous learning. The data suggested a process that includes transformational tasks at each point during the professional life span. Beginning counselors work through the issue of idealism versus realism. Experienced counselors face the issue of burnout versus rejuvenation, and expert counselors work through compartmentalization versus congruency. Counselors accomplish each task through work with clients, continuous learning, and an experienced guide. Results from this study provide more information about the overall process of counselors' professional identity and normalize the struggles counselors' face. Further research is needed relating to school counselors' level of practice and additional research can include other specialty areas of the counseling profession.


© 2011, Julie M. Moss