Printer Friendly

A readiness hierarchy theory of counselor-in-training.

This article speaks to the relationship between counselors-in-training level of efficacy (achievement), their cognitive style (assimilator/accommodator) and their level of readiness (disposition). Further discussion is given to the roles of supervisors as it relates to counselors-in-training levels of readiness and cognitive style. It is hoped that such a discussion which incorporates both the established and emerging theories of counselors-in-training will provide clarity for challenges within the counseling supervision process.


In 1998, the American Counseling Association (ACA) approved nine knowledge base outcomes for clinical supervision. Counselor development is one of the knowledge bases that address various components of counselors-in-training experiences; specifically, knowledge outcomes. Integrated into these outcomes are: critical transition points, learning styles, experience levels, skill development levels, and cognitive levels. The complexity of counselor development makes it impossible to view it as a uniform or linear concept. The aforementioned issues of this construct may be divided into at least three aspects, with each raising a question. The first includes the counselor's-in-training cognitive level: Is it dualistic or relativistic? The second aspect is the readiness level in which the counselor-in-training exists: Is the trainee essentially in the dependent stage or the growth stage? The third aspect is the counselor's-in-training efficacy level: What are the thoughts that quantify their perceptions of their efficacy. Unfortunately, supervision literature limits its discussion on the relationship between cognition, readiness and efficacy.

As stated earlier, counselor development is complex; however, supervision literature has yet to ask the question: What underscores stage development of counselors-in-training. The answer is the constructs of assimilation and accommodation. To understand how the constructs of assimilation and accommodation influence counselors-in-training acquisition of an organized framework for counseling that assures internal consistency in case conceptualization, treatment planning, counseling practice and expected outcomes within the supervisory process may propel a more adequate response to supervision challenges within the trainee-client-and-supervisor triad (Magnuson & Wilcoxon, 1998; Neufeldt, Iverson, & Juntunen. 1995).

Counselor Efficacy

Beutler, Machado, & Neufeldt (1994) identified counseling self efficacy as stable and reliable characteristics that could be used for selecting and training counselors. According to Bandura, (1991) self efficacy is "peoples beliefs about their capabilities to exercise control over their own level of functioning and other events in their lives" (p. 257). Counselor self efficacy is directly correlated to both cognitive development and counselor readiness.

Researchers have found strong correlation between both counselors'-in-training level of efficacy and level of readiness in the therapeutic process. Readiness defines the affect of counselors-in-training. Specifically, their disposition, which is how they cope with uncertainty, the choice of task difficulty, the degree of risk taking and the quality of performance. Counseling competence, as noted by Lauver and Harvey (1997), "develops from the merging of three elements: the person (who the counselor is), counseling knowledge (what the counselor knows), and counseling skills (what the counselor can do)" (p.4). The three elements maintain ongoing reciprocal influences. Thus, while the person guides the level of knowledge and skills, skills determine performance and affect development; thereby generating a matrix of counselor competence.

Furthermore, Stolenberg & Delworth, (1987) explained further that the three elements are motivated by eight domains of professional competencies. They are intervention skills, assessment techniques, interpersonal assessment, client conceptualization, individual differences, theoretical orientation, treatment goals and plans, and professional ethics. For example, counselors-in-training with a high sense of efficacy will be more accurate in case conceptualization, implementation of effective techniques, less frequently defensive and more motivated to perfect their skills. In contrast, counselors-in-training with a low sense of efficacy will struggle with case conceptualization; implement ineffective techniques; more defensive and more reluctant to hone their skills (Larson & Daniels, 1998). Trainees with low efficacy remain stagnant in their cognitive development due to their inability to assimilate and/or accommodate information from new experiences (Ronnestad & Skovholt, (1993), Birk, (1972), and Arbuckle, (1965).

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development is a pervasive attribute that dictates an individual's life. worldview, perception and interpretation (Loevinger, 1976). Developmental theorists Piaget, (1970); Perry, (1970); Loveninger, (1976); and Kolhberg (1976) have described cognitive-development as a sequential qualitative change in reasoning patterns that act as filters through which an individual ascribes meaning to an event, issue or problem. Meaning is established when the individual is able to assimilate the data into present schemata or accommodate new data into his/her existing schema. Furthermore, Touchton, Wertheimer, Cornfeld and Harrison (1977) noted the variables important to cognitive developmental change:

1. Openness to Alternatives Perspectives--respect for others' opinions and thoughts.

2. Analysis--the ability to see more than one perspective.

3. Ability to Assume Responsibility--the ability to accept responsibility for decisions.

4. World-view--how an individual discerns his/her world.

5. Semantic Structure--communication styles and thought patterns.

6. Self Processes--objective assessment of self.

7. Interpersonal View - how an individual discerns his/her relationships.

The over all evidence indicates that higher levels of cognitive development is governed by an active construction process, in which counselors-in-training, through their own activities, build increasingly differentiated and comprehensive cognitive structures or schemas. A scheme is a systematic pattern of thoughts, actions, and problem-solving strategies that facilitate the individual management of particular intellectual challenges or situations. Moreover, supervision literature indicates that an individual's initial understanding of counselors-in-training environment is based on their present schemes.

Psychology of Assimilation/ Accommodation

Piaget's (1970), scheme of intellectual (cognitive) development is applied to the counselor supervision process because of the research findings on and the use and support for the concept adaptation. Arguably, the adaptation level of counselors-in-training may be the single most important determinant of their ability to successfully enhance their readiness and self efficacy. Individuals use their schemata to adapt and adaptation is cognitive development. According to Piaget (1970), adaptation comprises two overlapping components: assimilation and accommodation. The process of assimilation and accommodation guide the development of cognition. However, cognitive competence "efficacy" of counselors-in-training is often obstructed by their anxiety and desire to be right or to appear competent, thereby, impeding the praticum and/or intern experience. Stoltenberg & Delworth (1987) proposed that supervision must reflect the cognitive development of counselors-in-training.

Therefore, the comprehension of how cognitive development accentuates counseling competence is fundamental to supervision strategies and interventions. The information presented is based on supervision literature conducted by Blocher (1983), Hess (1986, 1987), Loganbill, Hardy, & Delworth (1982), Skovholt & Ronnestad (1992a, 1992b), and Stottenberg & Delworth (1987) and the author's work as a counselor, counselor educator and supervisor. The Readiness Hierarchy Theory may be a useful conceptual lens for supervisors working with practica students or interns as they struggle for self efficacy. The theory provides a framework for the supervision process thereby providing a more fluid understanding of the behavior and motivation of practica students and interns.

The first component, assimilation refers to the process of integrating new data into existing structures. Assimilators have an analytic cognitive style. According to Piaget (1970), as individuals learn they aspire to reach equilibrium, swinging between "assimilation of new experience to the old 'grammar' and the accommodation of the old 'grammar' to new experience." Cognitive consistency equilibrium involves encoding information and making it fit into one's schemata. When the information does not fit, existing schemas must be altered to incorporate the new information.

The second component, accommodation refers to the process of modification or transformation. The constant battle between the old and the new and the extent to which an individual negotiates the assimilation of the new concepts will result in a dynamic process or activity between the individual and the world in which he or she lives. Accommodators have a trial and error cognitive style.

Without extrapolating a definition to what is new and what is old, the individual fails to distinguish his/her own identity from that of the outside world or "others." Therefore a preliminary step to assimilation/accommodation is the step of meaning making. Meaning making can be defined as the ability to make order from chaos. How an individual navigates meaning from meaninglessness is dependent upon the way in which meaning has been structured in his/her life (Carlen, 1988; Vygotsky, 1977).

Vygotsky (1977) stated that the individual must construct his or her understanding in his or her mind. It is during this process that supervisors act as facilitators to support counselors-in-training while they strive for harmony between self-beliefs and competency. For example, during individual supervision the supervisor would encourage counselors-in-training to disclose performance areas of weakness; thus providing a moment for more realistic reflection of one's limitations.

In a therapeutic setting, counselors analyze client's uniqueness and their subjective meaning of experiences, and facilitate the process of making meaning from chaos. The supervisor's role is to assist counselors-in-training to structure information in meaningful integrated ways from both the client's, as well as their own, dilemmas. In short, a dilemma may result with counselors-in-training when they fail to process new information effortfully into their current knowledge.

In a typical supervisory sequence, trainees revisit client-counselor dialog to assess the effectiveness of the session and supervisors offer periodic feedback. Counselors-in-training with high efficacy levels have a greater probability of a positive affect, are motivated to engage in feedback, are open to self reflection and are ready to embrace suggestions for skill development. While, counselors-in-training with low efficacy would have a negative affect, are motivated to avoid feedback, are closed to self reflection and resistant to suggestions for skill development. The implication for these motivational orientations for learning is that positive affect facilitates while negative affect hampers acquisition of knowledge.

Counselors-in-Training Developmental Model (CTD)

According to Stolenberg & Delworth, (1987) there are three stages of counselor development: (a) dependency, (b) trial and turbulence, and (c) growth. The CTD model explains the developmental process of counselors-in-training and the subsequent attempts to restore equilibrium. Figure 1 displays the CTD model. Counselors-in-training progress through the stages by evaluating three overriding structures of: autonomy, motivation and self, and awareness. In the cyclical process to restore cognitive consistency; affect, meanings and motivations emanate. Counselors-in-training cycle through self-focus layered with increased levels of anxieties, fears and uncertainties to client emotional and cognitive focus. The cycle occurs as a result of counselors-in-training reliance on others, cognitive heuristics and social comparison to provide structure to information from the counseling experience. Consequently, counselors-in-training with the capacity to organize, elaborate on and evaluate the information to which they are exposed are able to move back and forth from his/her emotional and cognitive responses to the client's emotional and cognitive responses. Ultimately, supervisor roles are encouraged by the behavior of counselors-in-training


Counselors-in-Training Stage Development

Stage 1 (Dependency). Stages I counselors-in-training are highly motivated. They lack basic counseling skills but have a strong desire to perform effectively. Their focus is on how to perform a skill. The emphasis of skill mastery evokes performance anxiety or apprehension to perform intervention. This apprehension is representative of cognitive self-focus. Autonomy at this stage is absent but dependency is extreme. For example, counselors-in-training begin at a level of over-reliance on assessment instruments and as they develop counselors-in-training grow to critically assimilate and accommodate the use of assessment instruments.

Stage II (Trial and Turbulence). Stage II counselors-in-training vacillate from high to low motivation because of the theory-to-practice chasm. The break in cognitive structure causes performance anxiety which is the impetus for counselors-in-training to function by received knowledge driven by external expertise--the supervisor. As counselors-in-training move into stage II of their supervision experience, the dynamics shift. Supervisors focus on the interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects that direct the counselor-in-training to take on the role of counselor.

Stage III (Growth). Stages III counselors-in-training are highly motivated because of learned skills and acquired knowledge. Counselors-in-training are driven by internal expertise. The supervisor is no longer viewed as all truth and accurate. The supervisor's view becomes a part of counselors-in-training cognitive schema.

The supervisor also assumes one of three essential roles in counseling supervision process (Bernard & Goodyear 1979, 1997). The most prominent is teaching counselors-in-training basic counseling skills. The role of teacher is the most directive. As teacher, the supervisor assumes no responsibility for what counselors-in-training do and what adjustments are needed by counselors to enhance skill development. Second is the counselor, a role that consists of assisting counselors-in-training with personal adjustment and/or developmental problems that require attention. The third role involves supporting and enhancing counselors-in-training skill efficacy through consultation. In this role, supervisors are viewed as a resource. (See Figure 1.1).

Assimilation/Accommodation Process within Supervision

Self efficacy and the readiness levels of counselors-in-training are usually determined by their ability to successfully assimilate or accommodate new data into present schemata. Thou there are typical needs operating in each level, there are various exceptions.


Counselor skill development appears to be in a hierarchy, as illustrated in Figure 1.1. Ronnestad & Skovholt (1993) stated that counselors-in-training and entry level counselors enter counseling sessions dependent on the assistance of their supervisors. The dependency stage of skill competency requires teaching fundamentals of counseling by supervisors that is consistent with the "discrimination model" of Bernard (1979). Supervisors must be cognizant of their didactic role of teaching counseling skills and techniques (Hart, 1994; Worthington, 1987). For example, with counselors-in-training, supervisors explain the rationale for counseling strategies and interventions used in counseling, assist with case conceptualization, evaluate counseling sessions, model intervention techniques and instruct (Hart, 1994; Stolenberg & Delworth, 1987).

Counselors-in-training in the dependency stage may over assimilate information received from clients; fitting most information received into preconceived notions about the client's condition. As mentioned before, conceptualization follows from the stage I counselor-in-training-centered focus. On the other hand, counselors-in-training may over accommodate for any information received from supervisors, abandoning any preconceived assumptions about clients and replace all assumptions about the client with the voice of supervisors.

Empirical studies contend that the behavior of stage I counselors-in-training is typical of a period of strong dependence on supervisors, frequently seen as the expert to be emulated (Bear, 1994; Borders, 1990; Hess, 1986; Ronnestad& Skovholt, 1993). Because stage I counselors-in-training volley with this dichotomous construct, positive supervision is imperative for counselors-in-training to progress to the next stage of counselor competency. Therefore, supervisors' facilitation is necessary for an optimal balance between supports (structure) and challenge (evaluation) (Blocher, 1979).

Trial and Turbulence

As illustrated in Figure 1.1, once counselors-in-training self efficacy level is enhanced (in form of equilibrium within the person), and the desire for autonomy emerges they are then able to trust their basic counseling skills. The desire for autonomy is sometimes garnered by opposition towards the supervisor (Bernard & Goodyear, 1992; Bradly & Gould, 1994; and Ronnestad & Skovholt, 1993). It is typical for counselors-in-training to become combatant with supervisors as the need for autonomy grows.

According to Liddle (1986) counselors-in-training develop resistant behaviors to protect self from perceived inadequacy. During the antagonistic phase of stage II, the supervisor must affirm counselors-in-training competency and respond collegially and therapeutically (Worthington, 1987; Hart, 1994). The challenge for supervisors is to effectively facilitate counselors-in-training to process their emotions and defenses and their resistant to addressing their own issues in supervision. From clarification of emotions and defenses counselors-in-training are able to establish meaning from their behavior that evokes equilibrium which allows the trainee to move toward the next stage.

Stage II counselors-in-training are typically more likely to over accommodate for information received by clients as part of their tendency to overly focus on their client's development. On the other hand, they may maintain overly tight assimilation with their supervisors, often finding it difficult to adjust or restructure their present assimilation to accommodate any new information.

The inability to find a balance between assimilation and accommodation makes the movement from stage I to stage II delicate for supervisors. Therefore, supervisors may be deterred from important issues of supervision while keeping in mind the possible defensiveness of the counselor-in-training. The supervision focus shifts from reflection on processing data from the counselor/client relationship to the counselor-in-training performance anxiety. For example, the supervision focus may shift to counseling the counselor-in-training about their need to protect self when receiving feedback during supervision, instead of focusing on the counselor-in-training accuracy of case conceptualization.

The supervisor counselor role is characteristic of the period of resistance, avoidance and questioning the value of the supervisor's input or even whether the counselor-trainee has chosen the right profession (Bear, 1994; Hess, 1986). Therefore, a supportive approach is appropriate to enhance productivity to counselors-in-training in stage II (Hart, 1994; Stolenberg & Delworth, 1987).


As counselors-in-training discern their new sense of self, procure control of the counseling sessions, are able to conceptualize, can process a case and personalization, their interactions with the supervisor become collegial and the supervisor becomes more of a consultant, as shown in Figure 1.1 (Ronnestad & Skovholt, 1993). At the Growth Stage supervisors explore issues related to theoretical orientation, use of techniques, and personal style. The new collegial relationship between counselors-in-training and supervisors allows the supervisor to acknowledge, encourage and/or reflect on counselors'-in-training thoughts and concerns (Worthington, 1987; Hart, 1994).

Stage III counselors-in-training are distinguished by their ability to find a balance between assimilation and accommodation, with both clients and supervisors. The assimilation-accommodation concept becomes more fluid and flexible as counselors-in-training acquire confidence and progress towards increasing independence and a more collaborative/consulting relationship with the supervisor. A state of equilibration is reached, characterized by a period of acceptance of responsibility for one's behavior (Stolenberg & Delworth, 1987; Ronnestad & Skovholt, 1993; Hess, 1986; Bear, 1994). This level of development is less a need for skill competency. Thus during stage III is the desire to maximize counseling efficacy. As noted previously, counselors-in-training progress through three stages. Each stage builds on successful assimilation and/or accommodation of the preceding stage. The stages are not mutually exclusive. Many counselor's-in-training vacillate between stages. However, as counselors-in-training skill efficacy increases the stage shift becomes less cyclical.


The role of a supervisor may fluctuate from teacher to consultant as the rhythm of the environment dictates with counselors-in-training and entry level counselors to facilitate counseling competency as illustrated in Figure 1.2. The Supervision Conceptual Model shows that as counselors-in-training enhance cognition their readiness and efficacy levels increase. The Readiness Assimilation Accommodation Hierarchy Theory is not an all encompassing framework for counseling supervision, but rather a conceptualization pillar that may be useful in predicting readiness and self efficacy of counselors-in-training on a high or low probability basis. This theory prepares supervisors for the challenges of supervision. Consequently, further empirical studies are now needed to examine the reliability and validity of the theory.


Bandura, A. (1986). Self-efficacy. In A. Bandura (Ed.) Social foundation of thought and action: A social cognitive theory (pp.390-453). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Bandura, A. (1989). Human agency in social cognitive theory. American Psychologist, 37, 122-147.

Bandura, A. (1991). Social cognitive theory of self-regulation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 248-287.

Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist, 28,117-148.

Bear, T. M. & Kivlighan, D. M. (1994). Single-subjects examination of the process of supervision of beginning and advanced supervisees. Professional Psychologv: Research and Practice, 25, 450-457.

Bernard, J. M. (1979). Supervisor training: A discrimination model. Counselor Education and Supervision, 19, 60-68

Bernard, J. M. & Goodyear, R. K. (1992). Fundamentals of clinical supervision. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Blocher. D. H. (1983). Toward a cognitive developmental approach to counseling supervision. The Counseling Psychologist, 11, 27-34.

Borders, L. D. (1990). Developmental changes during supervisees first practicum. Clinical Supervisor, 8, 157-167.

Bradley, L.J. & Gould, L.I (1994). Supervisee Resistance. Eric Digest, 11-12. Carlsen, M. B. (1988). Meaning-making: Therapeutic processes in adult development. Norton & Co.: New York.

Hess. A. K. (1986). Growth in supervision: Stages of supervisee and supervisor development. Clinical Supervisor, 4, 51-67.

Hess, A. K. (1987). Psychotherapy supervision; Stages, buber and a theory of relationship. Professional Psychology: Therapy, Research and Practice, 18, 251-259.

Larson, L.M. (1998). The social cognitive model of counselor training. The Counseling Psychologist 26, 219-273.

Larson, L. M. & Daniels, A. (1998). Review of the counseling self-efficacy literature. The Counselors Psychologist, 26, 179-218.

Lauver, P. & Harvey, D. R. (1997). The practical counselor (3rd ed). Pacific grove, CA: Brooks / Cole.

Liddle, B. (1986). Resistance in supervision: A response to perceived threat. Counselor Education and Supervision, 26, 117-127.

Loganbill, C., Hardy, E., & Delworth, U. (1982). Supervision: A conceptual model. The Counseling Psychologist, 10, 3-42.

Magnuson, S., & Wilcoxon, S. A. (1998). Clinical supervision of pre-licensed counselors: A qualitative inquiry. The Alabama Counseling Association Journal, 24 (1), 54-68.

National Board for Certified Counselors. (1997). Code of ethics. Greensboro, NC:Author.

Neufedt, S. A., Iverson, J. N. & Juntunen, C. L. (1995). Supervision strategies for the first practicum. Alexandria, VA:American Counseling Association.

Piaget, J. (1970). Structuralism. Basic Books: New York.

Ronnestad, M. H. & Skovholt, T. M. (1993). Supervision of beginning and advanced graduate students of counseling and psychotherapy. Journal of counseling and development, 71, 396-405.

Rothstein, 5. (1989). Shockwave. Carlsbad, CA: Continental Publications.

Stoltenberg, C. D. & Delworth, U. (1987). Supervising counseling therapists: A developmental approach. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Skovholt, T.M. & Ronnestad, M.H. (1992a). Themes in therapist and counselor development. Journal of Counseling & Development, 70, 505-515.

Skovholt, T. M. & Ronnestad, M. H. (1992b). The evolving professional: Self stages and themes in therapist and counselor development. Winchester, England: Wiley.

Worthington, E.L, Jr. (1987). Changes in supervision as counselors and supervisors gain experience: A review. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 18, 189-208.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1977). The development of higher psychological functions. Soviet Psychology 16, 60-73. (Original work published 1929).

Jill M. Thompson, Ed. D., LPC, NCC, Assistant Professor, Counseling Program Director, Division of Education, Xavier University of Louisiana.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Jill Thompson, Assistant Professor, Counseling Program Director, Education and Counseling, Division of Education, 1 Drexel Drive, Box 59 A, New Orleans, LA;
COPYRIGHT 2004 George Uhlig Publisher
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Thompson, Jill M.
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Previous Article:Cooperative & collaborative learning ... with 4-8 year olds: how does research support teachers' practice?
Next Article:Are the developmental needs of children in America adequately addressed during the grief process?

Related Articles
Mental Health Counselors' Training to Work with Persons with HIV Disease.
Mental health counseling: toward resolving identity confusions. (Practice).
A survey of counselor attitudes towards sex offenders. (Research).
Incorporating prevention into mental health counselor training.
Collaborative relationships: school counselors and non-school mental health professionals working together to improve the mental health needs of...
The healthy tree: a metaphorical perspective of counselor well-being.
Psychotherapy-driven supervision: integrating counseling theories into role-based supervision.
Theory and practice submissions to the JMHC: keeping the "mental health" in mental health counseling.
Discovery and creation within the counseling process: reflections on the timeless nature of the helping encounter.
Sanctioned supervision: voices from the experts.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters