Development of Therapeutic Presence in Mental Health Counselors

Development of Therapeutic Presence in Mental Health Counselors

Author: 
Jean Miller
Program of study: 
Ph.D./HEA
Abstract: 
A minimal number of research studies exist concerning licensed mental health counselors’ development of therapeutic presence as an acquired characteristic of their clinical perceptions and skills. The purpose of the current study was to explore the lived experiences of licensed mental health counselors regarding their development of therapeutic presence through their counselor education and professional practice involvements. To accomplish this, 12 mental health counselors from Colorado completed a demographic inventory and participated in an in-depth phenomenological interview. The purposive sample consisted of mental health counselors licensed to practice in Colorado and who were within 10 years of graduation from either CACREP accredited and non-CACREP accredited counselor education programs. The data gathering continued until saturation was reached through the 12 participants interviewed. Using a Transcendental Phenomenology research approach, the interviews were first recorded and then transcripts made. The transcripts were carefully reviewed to identify emergent themes pertaining to the mental health counselors’ lived experiences of the development of therapeutic presence. Interpretation of those four core themes revealed that counselors could 1) benefit from participating in self-awareness activities, 2) that education pertaining to client encounters can help to develop therapeutic presence, 3) the role of counselor personal characteristics in therapeutic presence, and 4) the fluidity of therapeutic presence as a concept and acquired characteristic of practicing counselors working from different theoretical models. Recommendations relating to ways of enhancing relevant aspects of counselor education and future research possibilities are discussed.
Dedication: 
I dedicate the completion of this doctoral program to my family. To my mom and dad, who always placed a high value on education. You have always taught me to believe in myself, and you are always there to support me. Our personal mental health struggles within our family helped to point me towards the path of becoming a counselor, and I am proud to say that my experiences make me a better therapist and counselor educator. I love you both more than you’ll ever know. To my Mom (who didn’t have the opportunity to attend college, but is the smartest person that I know) – you always pushed me to excel in my education, and I hope that I have made you proud. To my Dad, your unending love and support means the world to me, and I look forward to our continued mental health advocacy work together. Who knew where the difficulties of the past would lead us?! Thank you for being my biggest supporters. We finally have a Doctor in the family! Thank you to my brothers, who have taught me how to be strong, even in the midst of family struggles. Thank you to my husband Don and our two incredible children, Donnie and Morgan. For all of the times that I was away and had to focus on my classes, homework, and dissertation, you never failed to support me. You gave me the strength to keep going, even when I felt like quitting many times. You speak so proudly of me to others. Although I am proud of this highest educational accomplishment, it doesn’t even compare to how proud I am to be your wife and mother. I would like to thank my friends and other loved ones who have supported me along the way.
Acknowledgements: 
I could not have completed this journey without the help of several incredible individuals. First of all, I would like to thank my Dissertation Chair, Dr. Rob Olding. Thank you for accepting me as a mentee so late in the process, and for constantly supporting me through the many hurdles and times of discouragement. You provided me with support, excellent resources, extensive feedback, incredible guidance, and never ending encouragement. You renewed my faith in this doctoral journey, and you made me believe in myself. Words cannot express how much I appreciate you Dr. O! I consider you a mentor, a colleague, and a friend. I would also like to thank my committee members, Dr. Mark Johnson and Dr. Faisal Aboul-Enein for your additional help and guidance. I would like to acknowledge my colleagues who have supported me throughout this long journey. Thank you to Kent Blumberg, my dissertation buddy and incredible Director. We completed this journey together Dr. Kent! Thank you to my other colleagues and friends who have supported me in this process; my PhD program partner and friend Jaime Primiano, Sharon Hastings, Lauren Young, Peter Wilms, Carol Gianfrancisco, Dr. Diane Gavin, and my supportive team in Academic Affairs at the Colorado campus. Thank you to the faculty and participants who have also supported me in various ways. Finally, I would like to acknowledge all the counselors who dedicate their lives to making this world a better place. I am proud to be one of you, and I only hope that in some small way, my research can help to advance our profession.