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A grounded theory investigation into process and effects of service-learning in counselor education
Jill Snodgrass, Associate Professor, Loyola University Maryland [jlsnodgrass@loyola.edu]

Joseph Stewart-Sicking, Associate Professor, Loyola University Maryland, [jastewartsicking@loyola.edu]

Keywords: Counselor education, constructivist grounded theory, graduate students

Conference track: Higher education student outcomes

Format: Research/Scholarly paper

Summary
This study employed a case study design (Creswell, 2009), focusing in detail on the impact of service-learning on graduate students enrolled in “Introduction to Community Counseling” at a private, Jesuit university in the Eastern United States. Data were collected from 40 students. The bulk of the data was derived from weekly, online reflection essays. Additional data was gathered through final reflection and the analysis of a final paper in which students were asked to address the role of counseling in promoting a just society. Data were examined using grounded theory approaches as described by Charmaz (2006).

Findings indicate that students began the course with a moderately stable sense of counselor identity. They began connecting with service-learning by relating it to theoretical knowledge, past experiences, and political beliefs and values. Through discussions and reflections on service-learning experiences, students became overwhelmed with the scope and complexity of an ecological model of counseling and the recognition of systemic influences on problems and circumstances presented in counseling. This coincided with decreased stability in counselor identity. To work through this overwhelmed feeling, students began to adjust their expectations of themselves and of the counseling profession. These adjustments seemed to aid students as they began to articulate a new sense of counselor identity that matched their own sense of call to the profession but also the broader ecological perspective. Students were then able to include issues of advocacy and social justice in their reconstructed definitions of counseling. This is significant as, without direct service-learning experience, students may have chosen instead to re-trench their definitions of professional counseling in the traditional therapy hour and resolve to work more closely with referral sources. This process resulted in an even more stable counselor identity and understanding of the discipline of counseling, with greater awareness of the importance of multicultural competencies, social justice, and advocacy.

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