Professional identity construction of school counselors in rural communities:
Grimes, Tameka Oliphant
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This phenomenological study explores the experiences of school counselors in rural communities navigating their professional identity construction process as early career school counselors. While much is known about the strengths and struggles of school counselors in rural communities, little is known about the process of professional identity construction and how it is impacted by these factors. A transcendental phenomenological approach, using a constructivist lens, was employed to understand elements of this experience. Data collection occurred through semi-structured interviews with six currently practicing school counselors in rural areas of the southeast United States. The transcribed interviews were inductively analyzed through line by line coding procedures. Member checks, bracketing and reflexivity, as well as a coding team, were used to ensure trustworthiness. Findings indicate that the process of professional identity construction of school counselors in rural communities moves from chaotic to confident as expressed through the following themes: (1) triage and chaos, (2) getting the hang of this counselor thing, (3) proactive and prevention-focused, and (4) there is always more to learn. This process is dynamic in nature and the school counselor describes a sense of evolving as new experiences lead them to grow in their professional identity. Elements of the rural context that informed these experiences included (a) a tight-knit community, (b) permeable professional/personal boundaries, and (c) fewer resources. Implications for counselor educators, practicing school counselors in rural communities, and rural school districts are considered.