Assessing Student Dispositions in
Counselor Training Programs:
Implications for Supervision, Program
Policy, and Legal Risk Management
Julie L. Williams, MS. Ed., PC-CR, Turning Point Counseling Center, Youngstown, OH
Demetrius D. Williams, MS. Ed., PC-CR, D & E Counseling Center, Youngstown, OH
Melanie Kautzman-East, MS. Ed., PC-CR University of Akron (doctoral candidate)
Alicia L. Stanley, (master’s candidate), Youngstown State University
William J. Evans, Ph.D., LPC (PA), Slippery Rock University
Kenneth L. Miller, Ph.D., PCC-S, Youngstown State University
Presented at the Ohio Association for Counselor Education and Supervision Winter Meeting
January 31, 2014
Columbus, OH
Learning Objectives
Understand the role of dispositions as a critical
variable for consideration in admissions, retention,
and dismissal decisions in counselor education
programs
Understand the role of dispositions in the context of a
Model of Fitness for Professional Duty
Understand the process of developing an instrument
designed to measure dispositions
Know implications of the use of dispositions
assessment for supervision, program policy, and
legal risk management
Evolution of Our Research
2009 – Initial discussions about apparent but unaddressed problems
related to counseling student and faculty impairment
2010 – Development of the Survey of Personal/Professional
Impairment (SOPPI, Student and Faculty Versions) - data collected
2011 – Presented SOPPI findings at a national conference –
“impairment focus” challenged by attorney in the audience
2012 – Changed focus from “impairment” to “fitness” and ultimately to
“dispositions”
2012-2013 - Development of the Professional Dispositions Scale
(Student and Faculty Versions)
2014 – A National Study of Counseling Student and Faculty
Dispositions will commence in February
Phase 1: A Study of
Counselor Impairment
TWO FORMS OF IMPAIRMENT
Academic
• Easy to define & identify
• Strong support for dismissal
Non-Academic
• Difficult to define & identify
• Varied support for dismissal
NON-ACADEMIC IMPAIRMENT
Numerous authors have identified
various personality factors, interpersonal
variables, and behavioral indicators
that suggest non-academic impairment
Lack of agreement on a universal term
Lack of agreement on a universal definition
General agreement that a problem exists
12 Constructs from Professional Literature that
Define Personal/Professional Impairment
Inability/
Unwillingness
to accept
supervisory
feedback
Unprofessional/
Inappropriate
professional
behavior
Poor personal/
professional
boundaries
Violations of
professional ethical
standards
Violations of
laws/organizational
policies
Substance
abuse/dependency
Mental/Emotional
Disorders
(Axis I)
Personality
Disorders
(Axis II)
Inappropriate
emotional reactions
that interfere with
professional
functioning
Deficient
interpersonal
skills
Personal/
Professional
immaturity
Any problematic
behaviors related to
suitability for the
profession
SUBJECTS
Institution A
Institution B
Midsized
Public University
Small
Liberal Arts College
Master’s Level
Counseling
Students
Master’s Level
Counseling
Students
Faculty
Faculty
SUBJECTS: STUDENTS
Students: 53 students provided usable surveys (40 from Institution A, 13
from Institution B)
White n=49; Black n=3; Hispanic n=1
Female=47 (89%); male=6
Average age=30 years (range 22 to 50)
Median income $40,000 to $50,000
Single n=27; married n=25
12 (23%) held Master’s Degree
46 (87%) reported personal experiences that created a greater
awareness of psychological problems
26 (49%) reported involvement as a client in counseling/psychotherapy
(mean=13.46 months)
About 1/3 of subjects identified “School Counseling”, 1/3 “Clinical
Counseling”, and 1/3 of Other (e.g., Addictions, College, Community)
SUBJECTS: FACULTY
13 faculty provided usable surveys (9 from Institution A, 4 from
Institution B)
White n=11; Black n=1 , No response n=1
Female=9 (69%); male=4 (31%)
Average age=41.5 years (range 30 to 64)
Median income $80,000 to $90,000
Single n=4; Married n=8; Other n=1
INSTRUMENTATION
Survey of Personal/Professional ImpairmentStudent Version (SOPPI-S)
• 34 Items
Survey of Personal/Professional ImpairmentFaculty Version (SOPPI-F)
• 28 Items
Student Survey Results: Frequency
Top 5 Ranked Indicators of Student Impairment
1. 37.7% (n=20)
Personal/Professional Immaturity
2. 26.4% (n=14)*
Inability to accept supervisory feedback
26.4% (n=14)*
Deficient Interpersonal Skills
26.4% (n=14)*
Any problematic behaviors that question
suitability for profession
3. 17.0% (n=9)
Inappropriate emotional reactions
Notes. N = 53. Frequency Observed was Occasionally or Often. *Tied Rank
Student Survey Results: Severity
Top 5 Ranked Indicators of Student Impairment
1. 26.4% (n = 14) Personal/professional immaturity
2. 24.5% (n = 13) Any problematic behaviors that question
suitability for profession
3. 22.6% (n=12)
Deficient interpersonal skills
4. 13.2% (n=7)
Inability/unwillingness to accept
supervisory feedback
5. 11.3% (n=6)*
Inappropriate emotional reactions
11.3% (n=6)*
Unprofessional/inappropriate professional
behavior
Notes. N = 53. Severity was either moderate or severe. * Tied Rank
Student Survey Results:
Student Perceptions of Faculty Awareness
and Response to Impaired Behaviors
Top 3 Ranked Indicators of Student Impairment
1. 20.8% (n=11)
Inability to accept supervisory feedback
2. 13.2% (n=7)
Personal/professional immaturity
3. 11.3% (n=6)*
Unprofessional/inappropriate professional
behavior
11.3% (n=6)*
Note. N = 53. *Tied Rank
Any problematic behaviors that question
suitability for profession
Student & Faculty Survey Results
about Student Impairment
Percent of students in your program
who meet one of more of the 12
criteria of impairment.
0-20%
Students
N (%)
Faculty
N (%)
48 (91%)
12 (82%)
21-40%
4 (8%)
1 (8%)
41-60%
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
61-80%
1 (2%)
0 (0%)
81-100%
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
Phase 2: From
Counselor Impairment to
Counselor Dispositions
Assessing Student
Dispositions: Literature Review
Student trainees in counselor education programs are expected to
demonstrate personal and professional competency beyond theory and basic
skill acquisition (Kerl, Garcia, McCullough, & Maxwell, 2002).
The process of gatekeeping is designed to ensure that those who matriculate
throughout the program and graduate are competent and ethical in their
interactions as a professional counselor (Miller, J. J., & Koerin, 2001).
It has long been an ongoing and evolving process for professionals to
regulate their standards and ethics (Enochs, 2004).
Gatekeeping is a process that begins at admission (Miller & Koerin, 2001)
and requires attention to all aspects of student performance, including those
not linked to grades (Crawford & Gilroy, 2012).
Kerl et al. (2002) called for the inclusion of clear behavioral definitions of
personal and professional attitudes and clinical behaviors throughout
counselor education programs to insure that potential clients are protected
from possible harm and that impaired student trainees are identified and
addressed.
Assessing Student
Dispositions: Literature Review
While monitoring the competency of student counselor trainees has always
been important, little has been published regarding effective policies and
procedures for student review and retention, in light of the subjective nature
of evaluating personality characteristics and non-academic performance
(Lumadue & Duffey, 1999).
Elman and Forest (2007) noted that the term impairment had been the most
common term used to describe performance and behavioral problems among
trainees, although Shepherd, Britton, and Kress (2008) noted that impaired
and incompetent are used throughout the literature to refer to students
demonstrating substandard performance.
J. J. Miller and Koerin (2001) emphasized the need for consistent terms and
definitions of counseling student trainee impairment in order to improve the
effectiveness of policy and procedure regarding intervention, remediation,
and dismissal of impaired students.
Huprich and Rudd (2004) reported that only 58% of doctoral training
programs in counseling, clinical, or school psychology indicated a formal
program or policy to manage trainee impairment.
Assessing Student
Dispositions: Literature Review
Gaubatz and Vera (2006) pointed out that a missing key perspective, the
student trainee’s, could offer invaluable insight regarding the design of
effective gate-keeping interventions.
Foster and McAdams (2009) also highlighted the notion that student
perceptions and perspectives are lacking in the literature.
Overall, research on impaired counselors, as well as student counselors,
is limited (Enochs & Etzbach, 2004).
Counselor educators and supervisors should be wholly invested in the
identification, intervention, and dismissal (if necessary) of impaired
student counselor trainees due to ethical mandates of nonmaleficence
and potential legal ramifications (Fame & Stevens-Smith, 1995).
Despite having legal and ethical mandates, there is a lack of common
agreement and uniform approach in how to best address intervention and
remediation among impaired student counselor trainees (Bemak, Epp, &
Keys, 1999).
Assessing Student Dispositions:
Relevant CACREP Standards
K. Admission decision recommends are made by the academic unit’s selection
committee and include consideration of the following:
Each applicant’s potential success in forming effective and culturally relevant
interpersonal relationships in individual and small-group contexts. Each applicant’s
aptitude for graduate-level study.
Each applicant’s career goals and their relevance to the program (CACREP Standards
2009).
P. The program faculty conducts a systematic developmental assessment of each
student’s progress throughout the program, including consideration of the
student’s academic performance, professional development, and personal
development. Consistent with established institutional due process policy and the
American Counseling Association’s (ACA) code of ethics and other relevant
codes of ethics and standards of practice, if evaluations indicate that a student is
not appropriate for the program, faculty members help facilitate the student’s
transition out of the program and, if possible, into a more appropriate area of
study (CACREP Standards 2009).
Assessing Student Dispositions:
Relevant CACREP Standards
AA. Program faculty members engage in continuous systematic program
evaluation indicating how the mission, objectives, and student learning
outcomes are measured and met. The plan includes the following:
A review by program faculty of programs, curricular offerings, and
characteristics of program applicants.
4. Assessment of student learning and performance on professional
identity, professional practice, and program area standards (CACREP
Standards 2009).
Assessing Student Dispositions:
Relevant ACA Ethical Standards
F.5.a. Evaluation
Supervisors document and provide supervisees with ongoing
performance appraisal and evaluation feedback and schedule
periodic formal evaluative sessions throughout the supervisory
relationship.
F.5.d. Endorsement
Supervisors endorse supervisees for certification, licensure,
employment, or completion of an academic or training program
only when they believe supervisees are qualified for the
endorsement. Regardless of qualifications, supervisors do not
endorse supervisees whom they believe to be impaired in any way
that would interfere with the performance of the duties associated
with the endorsement.
Definition
For purposes of this study, we used the following definition:
Dispositions - A person's inherent qualities of mind and
character.
Role of Dispositions in a Proposed
Model of Fitness for Professional Duty
1. Physical Fitness
Physical ability to meet essential
communication/interaction
competencies for the profession
2. Moral Fitness
Periodic Criminal Background
Checks and reporting criminal
convictions
Assessments of Moral Reasoning
Ethical Code Compliance
3. Academic Fitness
GRE Scores
Grade Point Average
Writing Sample
Comprehensive Exam Scores
4. Psychological Fitness
Interview
Assessment of
Psychopathology - MMPI,
MCMI, etc.
Assessment of Normal
Personality – NEO-PI-R, 16PF,
etc.
5. Dispositional Fitness
Based on 8 Core Areas of
CACREP Accreditation
Standards
Dispositional Measures –
Professional Dispositions Scale
Counselor Dispositions Study: Participants
Participants selected for inclusion in this study were drawn from a national
cluster sample of U. S. states. The U.S. Federal Regions Map, which consists
of ten regions, was examined to determine states in each federal region.
Within each region, one state was randomly selected and all CACREPaccredited counselor education programs within that state were selected for
inclusion in this study. Faculty and students in these programs were subjects
in this study.
Counselor Dispositions Study: Participants
States randomly selected for inclusion in this study are:
1. Vermont
2. New York
3. Kentucky
4. Maryland
5. Ohio
6. New Mexico
7. Iowa
8. Utah
9. Arizona
10. Oregon
Development of the Professional
Dispositions Scale: Instrumentation
The Professional Dispositions Scale-Counseling Student Version
(PDS-CSV) is a 74-item (11 Demographic items; 59 Survey items; 2
Ratio items; and, 2 Confidence items) survey designed to collect
the following types of data for counseling student respondents:
(a) demographic data;
(b) data on professional education and experience;
(c) evaluations of the extent to which counseling program students
and faculty demonstrate 59 dispositions identified in the
Professional Dispositions Scale (PDS); and,
(d) a determination of the ratios of Suitable/Unsuitable (as defined
in the PDS) students and faculty in selected counselor education
programs.
Development of the Professional
Dispositions Scale: Instrumentation
The Professional Dispositions Scale-Counseling Faculty Version
(PDS-CFV) is a 76-item (13 Demographic items; 59 Survey items; 2
Ratio items; and, 2 Confidence items) survey designed to collect
the following types of data for counseling faculty respondents:
(a) demographic data;
(b) data on professional education and experience;
(c) evaluations of the extent to which counseling program students
and faculty demonstrate 59 dispositions identified in the
Professional Dispositions Scale (PDS); and,
(d) a determination of the ratios of Suitable/Unsuitable (as defined
in the PDS) students and faculty in selected counselor education
programs.
Development of the Professional
Dispositions Scale: Procedures
•
C0-principal investigators will email a hyperlink to the survey for students
and faculty to the department chair of each identified counseling program,
with a request to utilize only university email to forward the link to students
and faculty for participation.
•
A hyperlink for the PDS-CSV will be included in emails to all students and a
hyperlink for the PDS-CFV will be included in emails to all program faculty
in all of the counseling programs identified above during the week of
February 10, 2014.
•
These emails will include a brief description of the study and an invitation to
participate.
•
Exactly one week after the initial email is sent (i.e., February 17, 2014), a
reminder email will be sent to all respondents reminding them of the
opportunity to participate in this study. Exactly one week later (i.e.,
February 24, 2014), a final reminder email will be sent to all respondents
requesting their participation.
Development of the Professional
Dispositions Scale: Data Analysis
 Researchers will use Statistical Package for Social Sciences
(SPSS, V21) to analyze data. Microsoft ® Excel software will be
used to report results graphically.
 Analyses will include:
 Descriptive statistics
 Determinations of disposition score differences for student and
faculty respondents
 Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA)
 Determination of factor and instrument reliability coefficients
 Determination of student and faculty confidence levels in disposition
assessments
Implications for Clinical Supervision
Dispositional expectations should be:
Criteria for successful counseling/clinical performance
Clearly communicated to supervisees
Dispositional assessments should be:
Included on all clinical supervision evaluation forms
Developmentally sensitive and used along the continuum
of counselor development throughout career
Results of dispositional assessments should be:
Used with other assessment data to develop individual
professional development plans as well as systemic
professional trainings
Implications for Program Policy
Dispositional expectations should be:
Clearly indicated in program policies and admission
materials
Dispositional assessments should be:
Administered during the admission process
Incorporated into evaluation procedures throughout the
counseling program at regular intervals
Results of dispositional assessments should be:
Used to make admissions, retention, and dismissal
decisions
Used with other assessment data to develop individual
Professional Development Plans
Implications for Program Policy
Training programs should
develop policies and procedures
for students to report
inappropriate student, faculty, or staff
behaviors that may suggest
dispositional incompetence,
without penalty or prejudice for the
reporting student.
Implications for Risk Management
Dispositional assessment instruments must:
Possess psychometric properties (i.e., reliability and validity coefficients)
appropriate for making individual decisions
Be used in compliance with current ethical standards and legal statutes
Have consensual faculty, staff, and institutional support
Supervisors and Faculty must:
Clearly delineate uses of dispositional assessments in department
policies and procedures
Demonstrate competence to administer and evaluate dispositional
assessments
Provide due process rights to students/supervisees
Conclusions
Problematic, non-academic behaviors demonstrated by
counseling students and supervisees are commonplace.
Ethical standards require gatekeeping through evaluating
performance, including those intangible variables (e.g.,
dispositions) that may lead to counselor “impairment.”
There are currently no reliable and valid measures of counselor
dispositions.
The Professional Dispositions Scale (PDS) is designed to
remedy this problem.
Questions and Answers
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