A counselor educator is much more than a hybrid of counselor and professor. The job requires skills from both of these realms, as well as those of an administrator, mentor, researcher, collaborator, gatekeeper and many others.
It can be overwhelming if a person comes into the role unprepared, write Jane E. Atieno Okech and Deborah J. Rubel, co-editors of the American Counseling Association-published book Counselor Education in the 21st Century: Issues and Experiences.
“The life of a counselor educator is made of many roles and responsibilities and they are subject to a variety of relationships and stressors,” they write in the book’s first chapter. “It is not unusual for new faculty to feel somewhat helpless, confused, overwhelmed or disappointed. And it is not unusual for both new and more experienced counselor educators to experience burnout. Yet the counselor educator has many opportunities within these roles and responsibilities both to prosper personally and to effect positive change that can benefit colleagues, students and clients. New professionals who have an understanding of the reality of these roles and responsibilities and the broader context of higher education and their specific institution will be better able to cope, thrive and make positive changes.”
Okech is a professor of counselor education and chair of the Department of Leadership and Developmental Sciences at the University of Vermont, and Rubel is an associate professor and past discipline liaison at Oregon State University. Counseling Today sent the co-editors some questions via email to learn more.
Q+A: Counselor Education in the 21st Century
Responses co-written by editors Jane E. Atieno Okech and Deborah J. Rubel
You first met in graduate school. What inspired you to collaborate and create this book, years later?
We have collaborated continuously from the time we were in grad school, so there was no real point at which we decided “Let’s collaborate on a book.” The book was a natural outgrowth of our own development, positions in our universities and experiences. We had collaborated extensively on group work and group work supervision projects, and this was a small break from that. We wished to focus on our holistic experiences as counselor educators. It was also a time and opportunity to connect with many valued peers we have met over the years, including former professors, fellow graduate students, professional colleagues and former students, as well as make some new connections.
From your perspective, how has the growth of online graduate programs affected counselor education? What are the pros and cons?
Online education has made training as a counselor or counselor educator more accessible to people who might otherwise not be able to pursue these fields. It has forced counselor educators to be creative and forward-thinking in the development and delivery of counselor education curriculum and training experiences.
The financial structures surrounding online education have in some cases shifted counseling programs from marginal performers at universities to being the financial mainstay. This has benefits as well as drawbacks. Traditional counselor training was targeted towards in-person interactions in small groups of students. While there are exemplary models of online counselor education that push the envelope of human connection across distances, in some cases online counselor education means large numbers of students are receiving minimal interaction and oversight with their instructors and trainers.
The research and scholarship regarding counselor education and training modalities are grounded in the face-to-face model, [which] has yet to catch up to the rapidly expanding practice of online counselor education and supervision.
What is one thing you’d like counselor practitioners and master’s level students who are considering going into counselor education to know or keep in mind? Are there any misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
We would like them to consider the fact that counselor education is dynamic and complex, with counselor educators playing multifaceted roles within the academy (e.g., teacher, supervisor, advisor, mentor, counselor, administrator, etc.). While the profession is in service to the practice of counseling, counselor education is not counseling. It requires learning skills, roles and functions beyond those needed to be a professional counselor.
One main misconception is that a good counselor automatically becomes a good counselor educator. It does not always work out that way. The two professionals are critically different in role and function, and those aspiring to be counselors and counselor educators may want to be cognizant of that.
Why is a book on this topic relevant and needed now?
We noted that there wasn’t a book in the field that covered the broad spectrum of the experiences and tasks of counselor education. There were books and readings on the individual aspects of counselor education but not anything that covered all the aspects, settings and dimensions that we and our peers at other institutions encounter on a daily basis.
We both had memories of our early careers where we [thought], “Why have I not heard about this part of my job before?” and “Why was I not taught about this aspect of university life?” In this day and age, it is increasingly important, too, to understand counselor education in the context of the university or college and the university or college in the broader cultural and societal context.
We think that counselor education is expanding and thriving and is well-positioned to play a role in shaping and influencing the cultural context. And we were excited to lend a voice to that expansion and change process through this book.
Counselor educators wear many hats – from mentor and supervisor to researcher and administrator. What are some things that are key to balancing it all?
This is a very complex question and the answer relies upon the individual and their values and own view of balance, as well as the institution they work within. What our book encourages counselor educators to do is to never lose sight of their aspirations as counselor educators. As their roles and responsibilities shift over time, [remember to] lean back on the core principles of counseling, wellness and self-care. Our wish was to provide information and narratives that allow readers to understand their counselor educator roles and responsibilities better and to make better choices while attempting to balance their lives as counselor educators, administrators, advocates and leaders, among others.
Deborah’s key to balancing it all is [knowing] that you can’t take care of it all. To excel one needs to know what one values less and what is more important in the moment. Understanding the societal context, the university and the different roles and responsibilities of counselor education make those compromises easier.
Jane’s key to balancing lies, similarly, in having clear priorities and being willing to compromise.
What is your favorite thing about being a counselor educator? What would you want people to know about the work you do?
For Jane, the most exciting part of her job is the transforming and energizing experience of teaching and providing clinical supervision. Years of teaching have taught her that in many cases, the lessons don’t end at the end of the day and that a great class and supervision session continues to deepen and transform in terms of meaning, impact and the insight it provides for the educator and the learner. Many of these interactions with students have stayed with her and significantly influenced her teaching and supervision practice, and current students and alumni on whom she has had the same impact.
Deborah loves teaching and supervision but particularly enjoys advising doctoral students. It is very exciting to share their growth process from master’s level clinician to counselor educator, particularly when they find a research passion.
Counselor Education in the 21st Century: Issues and Experiences is available both in print and as an e-book from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/publications/bookstore or by calling 800-347-6647 ext. 222.
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