- Understanding the development of professional identity of graduate counseling students is crucial as it contributes to and fosters the overall identity of the counseling profession. Several studies (e.g., Dollarhide, Gibson, & Moss, 2013; Gibson, Dollarhide, & Moss, 2010; Nugget & Jones, 2009) have examined the professional identity development (PID) of graduate level counseling students. Examining the factors that foster students’ PID is pivotal to help counselor educators better train and prepare their students for the counseling profession (Howard, Inman, & Altman, 2006), both as counselors and counselor educators. However, there is a lack of research that examines the relationship between ecological variables and the professional identity of master’s and doctoral level counseling students. In this dissertation, based on Bronfenbrenner’s (1994) ecological theory, I conducted two studies that examined various ecological variables as predictors of professional identity of CACREP-accredited (a) master’s-level counseling students (Study 1) and (b) counselor education doctoral students (Study 2). There were 229 master’s-level students in the first study and 140 doctoral students in the second study.
The first study examined if the advisor-advisee relationship, training environments, and instructional environment (online vs. traditional, in-person delivery format) could predict the professional identity of master’s-level counseling students. The research question guiding the first study was: “To what extent do advisor-advisee relationship, training environment, and instructional environment predict the professional identity of master’s-level counseling students after controlling for the number of courses they have taken?” To address this question, I used a hierarchal linear regression to analyze the data. The bivariate analysis showed that advisor-advisee relationship and training environment were the only significant predictors of CACREP-accredited master’s-level PID. The results in the regression model indicated that advisor-advisee relationship and the number of counseling courses completed by students were significantly positively correlated with the professional identity of master’s-level students. However, instructional environment was not significantly correlated with professional identity while training environment was approaching significance (p = .07). The combined predictor variables in the first study explained 9% of the variance in the PID of master’s-level counseling students. Interestingly, the number of courses students had completed acted as a suppressor variable and enhanced the prediction.
The second study explored the associations between advisor-advisee relationships, peer collaboration, training environments, instructional environment, and the various aspects of professional identity of counselor education doctoral students. The question for the second study was: “To what extent does advisor-advisee relationship, peer collaboration, training environment, instructional environment (online vs. traditional, in-person delivery format) predict the professional identity of counselor education doctoral students after controlling for the number of years they have worked in the counseling field?” The results in the bivariate analysis indicated that advisor-advisee relationship, counseling training environment, peer collaboration (in professional activities) were positively and significantly correlated with the various subscales of the Professional Identity Scale in Counseling (PISC). Additionally, the hierarchical linear regression model showed that advisor-advisee relationship, peer collaboration, and training environment significantly predicted various aspects of doctoral students’ professional identity. Similar to the first study, instructional environment was not significantly correlated with professional identity of doctoral students. In the second study, all of our predictor variables, except instructional environment, were significant predictors in some aspects of the development of students’ professional identity.
The findings in both studies revealed similarities and differences in the PID of master’s-level students and doctoral level students. These results suggest the importance of considering various ecological factors in understanding the development of students’ professional identity, including students’ training level. It is also pivotal for counselor educators and counseling students to understand the importance of advisor-advisee relationship in the development of students’ professional identity. Furthermore, program administrators, faculty, and students should consider evaluating the degree to which their training environment promotes PID among students, especially doctoral students. Overall, findings from both studies contribute to the growing body of knowledge of PID in the counseling field.