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1 This article was downloaded by: [ ] On: 26 August 2015, At: 05:26 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: Registered office: 5 Howick Place, London, SW1P 1WG The Journal for Specialists in Group Work Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: The Preparation of Professional School Counselors for Group Work Sam Steen a, Sheri Bauman b & Julie Smith b a George Washington University, b University of Arizona, Published online: 09 Sep To cite this article: Sam Steen, Sheri Bauman & Julie Smith (2008) The Preparation of Professional School Counselors for Group Work, The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 33:3, , DOI: / To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content ) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content. This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan,

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3 The Preparation of Professional School Counselors for Group Work Sam Steen George Washington University Sheri Bauman Julie Smith University of Arizona An online survey about the group work training experiences of school counselors was completed by 802 members of the American School Counseling Association (ASCA). Most respondents had one course in group work; a minority had the opportunity to observe or co-lead groups with children and=or adolescents as part of their training. Qualitative analysis of comment data provided more depth and insight about school counselors training in group work. Implications of the findings are discussed. Keywords: adolescents; children; group training; online survey; school counselor Research evidence has consistently demonstrated the value of group counseling in schools (Bailey & Bradbury-Bailey, 2007; Becky & Farren, 1997; Bemak, Chung, & Sirsoskey-Sabdo, 2005; Brannigan, 2007; Brigman & Campbell, 2003; Brigman & Goodman, 2001; Cook & Kaffenberger, 2003; Gerrity & DeLucia-Waack, 2007; May & Housley, 1996; Phillips & Phillips, 1992; Prout & Prout, 1998; Riva & Haub, 2004; Webb & Brigman, 2007). Much of the research on group counseling for children and adolescents has been conducted in school settings, and more groups for this age group are offered in schools than in other settings (Corey & Corey, 2006). Working with students in a small group format is an effective way to address developmental, situational, and academic issues (Newsome & Gladding, 2003). Group counseling is often used to work with students who are experiencing challenging life Sam Steen is an Assistant Professor of School Counseling in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at The George Washington University. Sheri Bauman is an Associate Professor of School Counseling in the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. Julie Smith is a doctoral candidate in the Center for Higher Education Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sam Steen. THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK, Vol. 33 No. 3, September 2008, DOI: / # 2008 ASGW 253

4 254 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / September 2008 situations or failing grades (Gladding, 2003; Steen & Kaffenberger, 2007). Working with students in a small group modality has been found to be a viable way to assist students who are not achieving academically to their fullest potential and who may be experiencing emotional or behavioral issues (Shechtman, Gilat, Fos, & Flasher, 1996). Many factors contribute to the effectiveness of group counseling. For example, in school groups, children can experience universality, the knowledge that others have similar challenges (Greenberg, 2003). In addition, small groups provide a milieu for peer interaction and observation of peer role models (Brigman & Goodman, 2001). Students not only receive support from others, but have the opportunity to be helpful to others, which may increase self-esteem (Yalom, 1995). Moreover, group counseling provides opportunities for students to rehearse and practice new and appropriate behaviors (Corey & Corey, 2006). Group counseling is one of the most promising interventions for school counselors interested in showing the impact of their services on student achievement and behavior (Brigman & Campbell, 2003; Sciarra, 2004). Davis (2006) observed that group counseling is an effective means to provide services to elementary, middle school, and high school students on a range of topics. With the constant political pressure for students to be academically successful in school and for professional school counselors to show they are contributing to student success, group work within the schools offers a viable method to achieve both goals. Further challenges arise when considering the rapidly increasing linguistic and ethnic diversity of the student population in schools. Nonetheless, professional school counselors are called on to provide effective, relevant, and sensitive services to culturally diverse students, and small groups can be effective in this regard (Bemak & Chung, 2004; Holcomb-McCoy, 2003). The flagship organization for group work practice, training and research is the Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW). Training Standards articulated by ASGW in the Professional Standards for the Training of Group Workers (ASGW, 2000) describe the knowledge and skills that should be included in coursework preparing group workers. In fact, ASGW recommends a two semester course sequence of group work (2000) in group. One model has been outlined in the literature (Furr & Barret, 2000). The scope of preparation in group work is broad, and the study of theoretical foundations of group work, observation of and practice in groups, participation as a group member, and the opportunity for leadership and co-leadership are considered basic components of training. However, the four methods of training recommended by Dies (1980) are still utilized. These include academics and role play, observation of groups, personal experience as a member, and supervised experience leading groups.

5 Steen et al.=school COUNSELORS AND GROUP WORK 255 Next, counselor educators have noted the challenge of delivering all these components in an ethical and effective manner in the one course most programs provide (Akos, Goodnough, & Milsom, 2004). Gillam (2004) suggested that the task of adequately preparing counselors to facilitate small groups cannot be accomplished in only one or two courses (p. 75). Nevertheless, a majority of professional school counselors entering the field will have had only one group counseling course (Akos, Goodnough, & Milsom, 2004). The scope and content of training presents a significant challenge for counselor educators who typically struggle to provide necessary knowledge and experiences within a single three-credit course (O Halloran & McCartney, 2004). An additional challenge when preparing future school counselors to facilitate groups is that training specific to children and adolescents is very limited, and training for conducting groups with adults does not generalize well to the younger populations (Riva & Haub, 200). The dynamics of groups with children are quite different from those with adult clients (Greenberg, 2003); children and adolescents have shorter attention spans, need more structure, have less experience expressing feelings, and have less control over their life circumstances than adults (DeLucia- Waack, 2000). Issues of confidentiality are different for minors, and the school context adds a level of complexity with many logistical issues not present in other settings. According to Pérusse, Goodnough, and Noel (2001), despite these unique aspects of groups in schools, specific training for conducting groups for children and adolescents in the school context is rare in counselor education programs. A national survey of 189 programs found that while 98% required a group work course for future school counselors, only 14% had a course required and designed specifically for school counseling students (Pérusse, Goodnough, & Noël, 2001). The nature of group work training for school counselors and the relationship between training and practice are important questions that have not been adequately investigated to date. Therefore, the research questions for this study are: Which components of training have participants experienced? How well prepared do professional school counselors believe they are to implement group work (small group counseling) in their schools? What aspects of training are most beneficial, and which components are lacking or insufficient? METHOD Participants Survey respondents were 802 school counselors, all of whom were members of ASCA who consented to having their addresses

6 256 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / September 2008 listed in the ASCA Membership Directory. Of the participants, 84% were female (n ¼ 675). The vast majority (90%, n ¼ 721) worked in public schools, with 9% (n ¼ 71) working in private schools, and less than 1% each at charter and Department of Defense schools (n ¼ 6, n ¼ 4, respectively). Regarding community context, 29% (n ¼ 234) were located in urban areas, 43% (n ¼ 341) in suburban communities, and 28% (n ¼ 227) in rural schools. Age of participants was distributed in the sample as follows: 17% (n ¼ 136) were years old, 24% (n ¼ 193) were 31 40, 26% (n ¼ 209) were 41 50, 29% (n ¼ 235) 51 60, and 4% (n ¼ 29) were 60 years old or older. Caucasians accounted for 87% (n ¼ 700) of participants, with 4% (n ¼ 30) describing themselves as African American, 3% (n ¼ 26) as Hispanic=Latino, 1% (n ¼ 8) as Asian American, and 2% (n ¼ 19) checking other for this item. Native American was provided as a possible response, but no participants selected that ssscategory. Nineteen participants omitted this item. Although participants who worked in high schools were the largest group of participants (31%, n ¼ 249), other levels were well-represented, with 25% (n ¼ 201) working in elementary schools, 18% (n ¼ 143) in middle or junior high schools, 20% (n ¼ 159) in K 8 schools, and 6% (n ¼ 50) in K 12 schools. The largest group in terms of years of school counseling experience was the group with five years or less (46%, n ¼ 370). The balance of participants was distributed as follows: 21% (n ¼ 168) had 6 10 years experience, 14% (n ¼ 109) had years, 10% (n ¼ 81) had years, 5% (n ¼ 43) had years, and 4% (n ¼ 31) had 26 or more years of experience as a school counselor. Instrument A survey was developed specifically for this study by the first author, with input from the second author and ten other counselor educators. The items on the current survey emerged from prior survey questions in a study conducted surveying ASCA members regarding small group guidance and counseling in schools (Bowman, 1987). The current survey adds to Bowman s work, by including questions about ASGW training standards, the Diversity Principles in Group Work, as well as the ASCA National Model and Standards for School Counseling Programs, all of which were not yet published in the ASGW or ASCA professional organizations respectively. Because of the nature of the survey, internal consistency measures are unsuitable, and temporal stability data were not obtained. The survey has a high degree of face validity, as items were about training experiences and the practice of group work. Demographic information was

7 Steen et al.=school COUNSELORS AND GROUP WORK 257 requested, and a space for additional comments was provided. The survey is included as an Appendix to this article. The results of the parts of the survey that deal with group counseling practice are considered in another article. Procedure Once the survey was finalized and the Institutional review board (IRB) approval obtained, an online version was created and put on the Internet. The online format for conducting this survey was chosen because of the benefits of internet surveys over traditional survey methods. Although internet surveys may have lower response rates compared to traditional mail surveys, they require minimal (if any) expense, less time commitment, simplify data entry, and are relatively easy to execute (Dillman, 2000; Granello & Wheaton, 2004; Schonlan, Fricker, & Elliot, 2001). Experts recommend that web surveys use graphics infrequently, rarely force participants to answer questions, use passwords to access web surveys, and ensure confidentiality (Granello & Wheaton, 2004; Schonlan, Fricker, & Elliot, 2001). These recommendations were followed when creating the web survey for the present study. Three messages were sent to potential participants. The first was an alert to prepare participants for the upcoming invitation. One week later, the actual invitation to participate was sent. A follow-up message was sent one week after the invitation, thanking those who had completed the survey and reminding those who had not done so that there was still the opportunity to do so. s were sent to 8,352 addresses listed in the ASCA Membership Directory; 314 were invalid addresses, so 8,038 invitations reached ASCA members. The invitation included the internet address (url) for the welcome page to the survey, and the password required to enter the site. After the welcome page, respondents who chose to proceed were taken to a disclaimer page which provided information about the voluntary nature of participation, their freedom to withdraw at any time without penalty, and their right to omit items. Contact information for the second author and the university s Human Subject Protection office were listed. Participants choice to go on to the survey after reading the disclaimer was considered informed consent to participate. At the time the invitations were mailed, 37% (n ¼ 6,855) of the total ASCA membership were either retired or student members, who were not eligible to participate in the survey (Mera Smith, membership director for ASCA, personal communication, March 14, 2006). Since a membership category was not included in information in the online Membership Directory, invitations were sent to all addresses listed, with recipients of the told that participation was restricted

8 258 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / September 2008 to current school counselors. If we assume that a similar percentage of the sample (as in the population of ASCA members), to whom invitations were mailed were retired or student members then the response rate is 16% of those who were invited and eligible to participate. Further, some members (counselor educators for example) also may not have been school counselors therefore making them ineligible as well. RESULTS Data Analysis All quantitative analyses were done using SPSS 14.0 software. An alpha level of.05 was selected for all analyses. The data analysis strategy for the qualitative data will be discussed at the beginning of that section. Conducting Groups Eighty-eight percent of participants indicated that they conducted groups in their schools. Chi-square analyses were conducted for all variables related to training to determine whether there were differences in whether or not respondents conducted groups by the training items. The only significant difference detected was for leading or co-leading groups during training (v 2 (1, N ¼ 802) ¼ 6.31, df ¼ 1, p <.01). Examination of cell standardized residuals revealed that those without a training or co-leadership experience were disproportionately less likely to conduct groups in their schools. Training for Group Work Respondents varied in the type and quantity of training experiences for group work. Most (64%, n ¼ 510) had only one course in group work as part of their training; 27% had two courses (n ¼ 214), and 10% (n ¼ 78) had three or more courses. Approximately two-thirds (67%, n ¼ 538) observed others leading groups as part of their training, with 45% (n ¼ 357) observing only one session, and 43% (n ¼ 343) observing four or more sessions. More than half of those who observed groups observed groups composed of their classmates (52%, n ¼ 159), and another 20% (n ¼ 61) observed groups with adult members. Only 28% (n ¼ 84) of those who observed groups viewed groups with children or adolescents members. Eighty-one percent of participants led or co-led a group as part of their training, with group members being classmates in 39% of cases. Next, 52% (n ¼ 314) had the opportunity to lead or co-lead a group of children or adolescents. Supervisors observed these groups for 92% (n ¼ 734) of

9 Steen et al.=school COUNSELORS AND GROUP WORK 259 the participants, and for 54% of participants, one session was observed. Only 18% (n ¼ 147) reported that all sessions were observed by a supervisor. In response to a question about whether respondents groups were theory-based, 30% (n ¼ 237) indicated that this is always the case, while 26% (n ¼ 207) usually have a theoretical basis, 36% (n ¼ 286) sometimes do, and 9% (n ¼ 72) never base their groups on a theory. Participants were divided into two groups for further analysis: those with 5 years or less experience as a school counselor, and those with more experience because the preparation may have been different due to the time in which they were matriculated through their counseling program. When those two groups were compared on whether they agreed or disagreed with the item My counselor preparation program adequately trained me to plan for small groups in school, the difference was significant [v 2 (1, N ¼ 802) ¼ 10.80, p <.001]. The phi coefficient was the measure of effect size, and equaled.12, a moderate effect. Examination of the standardized residuals revealed that those with fewer than five years of experience as a school counselor had disproportionately fewer who agreed with that statement, and those with more than five years had disproportionately more who agreed. That is, school counselors with less than five years experience felt less prepared by their counselor preparation program to plan for small groups in their schools than those school counselors with more than five years of experience. Qualitative Analysis At the end of the survey, respondents had an opportunity to provide comments on their training experiences for small group counseling. The third author performed a qualitative analysis of the data provided in the comment section. Following the guidelines of Strauss and Corbin (1998), open coding was the initial step in data analysis. The codes assigned to each comment were then searched to discover themes, or groups of related codes with commonalities. Notes were made on recurring themes, with representative quotations identified. The themes were then grouped into conceptual categories. Comments in each category were counted. Once the categories had been identified, the relationships and networks among them were induced from the data and a model of these relationships created (Miles & Huberman, 1994). This is presented graphically in Figure 1. A common theme in the responses was the level of preparation that counseling programs provided. Of the respondents to the survey who mentioned their preparation for using group counseling in the schools, the majority reported negative experiences and cited inadequate or no training as the reason that they did not utilize group counseling in

10 260 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / September 2008 Figure 1 Training needs of school counselors. their schools (see Table 1). Preparation programs attended by the respondents had varied areas of foci including career preparation, gang and drug counseling, psychological programs, and administrative preparation, but few reported any training in the use of groups as either a method of instruction or as a means to address the interests of students in the schools. The level at which the counselor worked (primary, intermediate, middle school, or high school) was not a determining factor in the amount of group training preparation received. Some of the counselors responding to the survey referred to group training that they had received in other programs; mainly programs in adult education or counseling outside of education. They have been able to adapt some of these skills to their current counseling assignments but acknowledged that they did not feel comfortable doing so. One respondent stated, I felt very unprepared to be leading groups with young children. The skills I was taught in school were more effective with adults. I struggled to find activities to do with the students to keep them engaged in the discussion. This level of frustration was present in many of the responses of those who attempted to use group counseling in their programs but felt that they did not receive adequate levels of preparation. The majority of the counselors, who felt they did not receive the training they believe necessary to successfully lead group counseling sessions in their schools, showed a great interest in the use of groups. In fact some of them have gone out on their own to find training either Table 1 Counseling Program Preparation for Group Counseling Adequate Preparation Experience Mixed Experience Negative Preparation Experience No Mention of Preparation Total Number of respondents Percentage of respondents

11 Steen et al.=school COUNSELORS AND GROUP WORK 261 through additional courses, research, or practical experience. One counselor...continued to seek additional training outside my counseling program in a therapeutic setting to continue to develop my skills as a group facilitator... Another stated, I have taken a few courses since my master s to work specifically on group work. It is an area that I am always improving upon. The overall theme of the responses from counselors who felt their programs did not prepare them for group counseling situations focused on the importance of groups as a method of effectively counseling their students and a need for more training as a required part of counseling programs. Although the majority of respondents reported a negative feeling towards the training they received in their counseling programs, a significant number of respondents reported sufficient training through their programs which allowed them to utilize small group counseling with a high level of confidence. These respondents attended counseling preparation programs that required one or more courses that specifically addressed group counseling and provided structured training. Additionally, the majority of these programs provided internships that included facilitating group counseling sessions with children. Two respondents specifically mentioned the opportunity to major in group counseling in their programs. While respondents that reported adequate training levels were not as specific in the description of the programs as those reporting negative or inadequate training experience, the overall theme to the responses focused on the presence of specific group counseling courses and well supervised internship programs. A small number of counselors reported mixed feelings about their training. While they had some opportunity to learn about group counseling in their programs and felt relatively comfortable in the role of group facilitator, they felt that more could have been done. Some of the respondents cited course work, but no practical application while others were products of sink or swim internship programs that expected them to facilitate groups with no prior training working with children and adolescents. DISCUSSION The findings from this survey provided tentative answers to the research questions that guided this study: Which components of training have participants experienced? How well prepared do professional school counselors believe they are to implement group work (small group counseling) in their schools? What aspects of training are most beneficial, and which components are lacking or insufficient? Most respondents had one course in group work, but programs varied in

12 262 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / September 2008 the amount of observation and practice that was included in the course. Clearly, the opportunity to lead or co-lead in training was a valuable component. Many did not receive training specific to children and adolescents in the school context. Some respondents had sought such training on their own, but most felt that their graduate training programs were remiss in not preparing them more thoroughly in this important skill area. On the other hand, those school counselors who had good practicum and internship experiences that included small group work felt much better prepared to offer this service in their schools. The findings in this study reveal that the supervised practice offered in internships is highly valued for several reasons. Many of the other training experiences such as group observation are conducted with adults. Yet, school counselors need group counseling experiences with children and adolescents (Van Velsor, 2004). Internships provide that experience, and also add the school context. The school setting involves many considerations that are not relevant in agency or institutional settings, and the school counselor needs to understand these environmental elements in order to be effective. Working with teachers, scheduling, length and duration of meetings, etc. all must be understood as they relate to having small group counseling programs in schools, and direct experience is clearly the best way to develop an appreciation for all of these factors. In theory, the practicum and internship experiences of school counselor trainees should be selected with an eye to the importance of group work and the skill and attitude of the site supervisors relevant to group work (Akos, Goodnough, & Milsom, 2004). As a practical consideration, it can be difficult to find site supervisors who provide the necessary quality training experience; those who have the qualifications cannot be overburdened by continuous or multiple trainee placements. The results in the current study suggest that school counseling programs would do well to alter the current group counseling course taken by school counselors to incorporate content and experiences focused on addressing issues relevant to children and adolescents (Van Velsor, 2004). It is believed that this would help future school counselors be exposed to the developmental needs of younger group members and factors specific to the school context. In addition, it is essential that good mentors who are effectively delivering group counseling programs in schools be encouraged to work with pre-service school counselors and provide opportunities for them to first observe and then co-lead groups when possible with experienced and effective school counselors. The most alarming finding was that the counselors with the least experience in their job as a school counselor believed their training program had not prepared them well to plan for small group counseling. This suggests that programs may not be providing training experiences that were available when more experienced counselors

13 Steen et al.=school COUNSELORS AND GROUP WORK 263 received their training. The question inquired about training, not experience, so the additional time on the job cannot explain the difference in participants response to this item. School counselors with less than five years of experience are likely to be the most recently trained. Given the recent increased emphasis on academic achievement in many schools, students are discouraged from missing academic instruction to attend other activities, including group counseling interventions. One consequence may be that there are fewer groups available for students to observe and fewer opportunities for such experiences during practice and internships. Regardless of the explanation, this is important information for counselor educators who train future school counselors. More focused training in group work that includes supervised practice is likely to better prepare school counselors for this important part of their job. In addition, careful attention to placements in practicum and internship sites with site supervisors skilled in group work, and who are currently offering groups in schools, should be an essential component of training. Limitations In order to sample school counselors, a directory of members of the national school counseling organization was utilized. This sampling strategy clearly did not produce a representative or unbiased sample. School counselors who are not members of the organization were not invited to participate, and only those who listed s in the directory could be contacted. No data regarding those who did not participate was available; no comparisons could be made between the sample and the population to assess representativeness. It is certainly likely that those school counselors who had some interest in group counseling would be more likely to complete the survey. Nevertheless, much school counseling research is limited by the same challenges, and while the findings must be interpreted with caution, they should not be discounted. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The lack of sufficient training for school counselors in facilitating groups is an area for future development (Corey & Corey, 2006). Training for school counselors in conducting groups may need to be more specialized (Van Velsor, 2004). Since most programs offer only one course, and that course typically focuses on groups with adults, those who conduct groups in schools must either seek additional

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