Title

Clarifying the Definitional Boundaries and Essential Characteristics of Impaired Counseling Students: A Delphi Study

Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

Impairment is a general term used to identify a wide array of academic, personal, and interpersonal deficiencies leading to diminished ability to be effective with clients. Within the literature, a plethora of definitions of impairment exists; these definitions are often conflicting and lack empiricism and consensus, leading to confusion regarding the identification and remediation of impaired counseling students. In addition, there exists disagreement within the field of counseling and psychology as to the most appropriate term to signify counselor deficiencies as well as which behavioral characteristics indicate impaired performance. Impairment exists in many forms and is, unfortunately, a common occurrence within counselor training programs. It is the primary responsibility of counselor educators to ensure client welfare; however, counselor educators currently lack a formalized evaluation protocol to adequately identify and remediate impaired behaviors. The lack of evaluation procedures might lead to counselor educators performing subjective, idiosyncratic evaluations of students regarding nonacademic behaviors. Therefore, there is an abundant need to have a formal agreed upon evaluation protocol. However, to obtain such concrete procedures, the profession must first arrive at an agreed upon definition and essential descriptors of counselor impairment. The purpose of the current study was to create an empirically derived set of descriptors of student impairment that might ultimately lead to a more effective and accurate evaluation protocol. This investigation utilized the Delphi method, which attempted to create a group communication process for a panel of experts to reach consensus regarding the definition and essential descriptors of impaired behavior. The panel consisted of 11 counselor educators (four males and seven females) who were identified as experts in counselor impairment. Panelists responded to a series of questions investigating the complexity of counselor impairment that spanned over three rounds of inquiry, reaching higher levels of agreement as rounds ensued. The results demonstrated difficulty among panel members to agree in many areas, which mirrored the current confusion within the field regarding the topic of impairment. Items that did reach consensus generated (a) a continuum of problematic behaviors often identified as impaired ranging from severe to moderate to mild, and (b) lists of problematic behaviors (aligning with counselor competency areas) that were identified as concerning beyond the normal developmental trajectory of a counselor-in-training. The implications of this study discussed considerations for admissions processes, training master’s and doctoral level students, assistance for counselor educators in student evaluations, reconsidering counselor training pedagogy, and an understanding that the confusion and need for additional research was more about protocol and procedure than a term. This study represented an initial attempt to reach expert consensus regarding the definitional boundaries and essential characteristics of counselor impairment. This study generated some consensus regarding various elements of counselor impairment; however, it was clear that counselor educators must continue to increase their ability to identify and remediate impaired students.it was clear that counselor educators must continue to increase their ability to identify and remediate impaired students.