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Defining and examining school counselor advocacy.

Advocacy is an integral component to effective school counseling. Using focus group methodology with nine school counselors, this qualitative study examined how current school counselors define advocacy and how and when school counselors advocate on behalf of individual students. Further, this research also explored how school counselors have learned to be student advocates. Themes are presented and discussed as they relate to defining, practicing, and learning about advocacy beliefs and behaviors.

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Advocacy is a central theme in counseling, with historical roots that date back to the inception of the profession. The cultural eruption created by the Industrial Revolution served as the impetus for the guidance movement (Blocher, 1987; Gladding, 2000), which sought to provide direction for individuals who were displaced. In the year 2004, counselors continue to assist individuals and groups in society negotiate social and cultural circumstances which directly impact their ability to thrive as well-adjusted individuals.

An advocate is defined as one who pleads the cause of another or one that defends or maintains a cause (Merriam-Webster's, 1999). Kiselica and Robinson (2001) use the term advocacy counseling to describe the type of counseling whereby counselors go beyond providing traditional, direct services by also engaging in "indirect forms of helping that involve influencing the people and institutions that affect clients' lives" (p. 387). Earle (1990) describes a counselor/advocate as one who possesses a nonjudgmental attitude, patience and persistence, genuine belief that change can be achieved for a particular student, client, group or socio-cultural issue, and the capacity to negotiate and communicate effectively.

Sue et al. (1998) define qualities of a modern advocate which include an active helping style, comfort in conducting work outside of an office environment, an external focus that attempts to change environmental barriers, a philosophy that clients/students experience problems and that clients/students are not problematic, recognition of the need for prevention and intervention, and an increased commitment to effective counseling practice. Finally, Kiselica and Robinson (2001) describe the skills counselors need for advocacy as "the capacity for commitment and an appreciation for human suffering; nonverbal and verbal communication skills; the ability to maintain a multisystems perspective and to use individual, group and organizational change strategies; knowledge and use of the media, technology, and the Internet; and assessment and research skills" (p. 391).

Since the 1970s, there has been a consistent call to the profession (Dworkin & Dworkin, 1971; Lee & Walz, 1998) to acknowledge the array of problems in society and the counselor's ability to be a social change agent. Recent efforts by the American Counseling Association (ACA) have fostered the resurfacing of advocacy in the form of social action as a pressing issue for consideration by counseling practitioners, educators, and researchers. It is not uncommon for modern leaders of various counseling organizations to cite advocacy as an integral part of performing as a competent counseling professional (Bradley begins presidency 1998). Eriksen (1999) states that "advocacy efforts are critical to the future of the counseling profession" (p. 1). D'Andrea and Daniels (1999) state that, "counselors are professionally and ethically responsible for advocating for the rights and mental health of all socially devalued persons" (p. 2).

Advocacy is highlighted as an important role for school counselors in two current initiatives for enhancing the profession. In the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA) National Model for Comprehensive School Counseling Programs, advocacy is cited as an important responsive outreach service (Gysbers & Henderson, 2001). Specifically ASCA's position statement on Comprehensive School Counseling states that "As student advocates, professional school counselors participate as members of the educational team. They consult and collaborate with teachers, administrators and families to help students be successful academically, vocationally and personally" (ASCA, 1997).

The importance of advocating for the academic success of all students is expressed in the National School Counselor Training Initiative developed by the Education Trust (House & Hayes, 2002). School counselors stand on the front line daily, intervening and assisting students and parents with a myriad of social and cultural issues which influence academic success. Further, school counselors are in the unique and powerful position to be a student's voice when planning, consulting, or negotiating with teachers, administrators, and other support staff who seek to provide a school climate in which students may be successful.

For purposes of this study, advocacy is defined as an approach to school counseling in which the counselor goes beyond the traditional verbal "give and take," based on theoretical premises and techniques. A school counselor advocates on behalf of an individual student, a student group, or about a student issue; incorporates multicultural competence; provides meaningful information and additional helping resources; and lends support, including appropriate interventions, beyond the four walls of an office. School counselors who advocate also teach self-advocacy skills to students to foster an empowered frame of reference which students can use to leap future hurdles or challenges, whether they be academic, emotional, social, and/or environmentally based (e.g., discrimination). Most importantly, school counselors who are effective advocates monitor the school climate and environment to identify ways in which students' voices are not heard or are devalued.

Despite the need for student advocacy, literature within the school counseling profession is sparse when it comes to identifying and measuring essential advocacy behaviors of school counselors. This parallels the counseling profession as a whole, which has also failed to promote definitional clarity and discussion on advocacy behaviors of professional counselors (Toporek & Reza, 2001). Identifying specifically how a school counselor should advocate or how a school counselor develops into an advocate is relatively nonexistent in the counseling literature. Eriksen (1999) reports a complete absence of empirical research on advocacy. D'Andrea and Daniels (1999) report that advocacy is still underutilized in counseling practice. Finally, Bailey, Getch, and Chen-Hayes (2003) state that counseling "professional organizations appear to fall short of a directive statement that is a call to action for professional school counselors" (p. 415).

A vital component to enhancing an advocacy vision for the school counseling profession is to clearly define advocacy and understand how it is and, most importantly, should be operationalized. The purpose of the present research was to explore the definition and use of advocacy behaviors among school counselors who currently work in high school settings. Specifically identifying how current school counselors are defining and operationalizing advocacy behaviors will provide an initial frame of reference from which to examine school counselor advocacy beliefs and behaviors. What do school counselors believe about student advocacy? What advocacy behaviors are most important? How do school counselors develop advocacy beliefs and behaviors? Insight into these questions will cultivate an enriched discourse on advocacy beliefs and behaviors among professional school counselors.

METHOD

Currently no instrument exists which measures advocacy beliefs or behaviors. Further, due to the lack of literature and empirical investigation on the specifics of counselor advocacy, qualitative inquiry will aid the conceptualization of how advocacy is currently being defined and practiced, giving a baseline from which to build from. A semi-structured interview format was used with two focus groups. Focus group methodology was employed to achieve a "building effect" or possibility for elaboration on participants' responses through the interaction of the focus group members reflecting on each other's comments.

Participants

Nine school counselors from a southeastern state participated in two focus group interviews. Of the nine focus group members, three of the participants were African American and six were European American. Years of work experience as a school counselor ranged from 2 to 28 years. The mean years of work experience for the focus group member participants was 14.2 years. The focus group participants ranged in age from 24 to 67 years of age. The mean age of focus group participants was 45.3 years.

The five school counselors who participated in the first focus group work together in one counseling center in a moderately large high school (approximately 1,700 students) which includes grades 9-12. This school is located in a moderately large city consisting of approximately 120,000 people. All five participants were women; three were African American and two were European American.

Four school counselors participated in the second focus group. Each school counselor in this group works in the same county in separate high schools and is the only counselor at each respective school. Each high school is small with a student population between 400 and 600 students, grades 9-12. All four high schools are located in the same rural county, which has a population of approximately 55,000 people. Three females and one male made up this focus group and all participants were European American.

Measure

Interview questions were developed in order to access information on how school counselors currently conceptualize and enact advocacy on behalf of students. Again, because little literature exists on this construct, the questions attempted to access definitional clarity while also reaching into other areas of advocacy (e.g., how school counselors have learned to be advocates) to provide additional insights. Three counselor educators and researchers and one educator and researcher in psychology, all with different advocacy interests and agendas, reviewed the interview questions and offered suggestions for refining each question. After the revisions were complete, six interview questions remained.

The same six interview questions were used for both focus group interviews, which included: (a) How do you define advocacy? (b) What does advocacy in counseling mean to you? (c) What are the most important advocacy behaviors that school counselors can perform? (d) What evidence is there that you value advocacy in your practice? (e) How have you learned to be an advocate? (f) How does your environment strengthen or inhibit your ability to be an advocate on behalf of students? Each question was asked, and the participants had a chance to respond. If clarification was needed or if another question arose due to the responses that were given, the interviewer (researcher) would respond or ask a follow-up question.

Procedure

Data collection. Procedures for conducting each focus group interview were consistent. Rapport was established fairly quickly, and each focus group was given a brief overview of what the overall study was about. Each school counselor was given an informed consent form to read and sign. The form included a discussion of confidentiality and the purpose of taping the interviews. In order to collect information on gender, ethnicity, age, and years of work experience as a school counselor, a demographic questionnaire was distributed and completed by each focus group member.

Each focus group met one time to collect the data. Both groups were asked the same six research questions for the semi-structured interview; however, based on the participant responses, secondary, probing questions were different for both groups. At the conclusion of each focus group interview, information on how to contact the researcher with any questions, concerns, or interest in the final research product was provided.

Data analyses. Focus group methodology yields a phenomenological result as the research method accesses a description of "the difficult phenomena of human experience" (Giorgi, 1997, p. 237) in relation to advocacy behaviors among school counselors. Each focus group was asked the same six questions, although each person in the focus group was not required to answer each research question. Further, most participants did respond to each question and, at times, built upon their colleagues' responses, providing varied, detailed perspectives on each question posed.

Using a constant comparative method (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), common themes were sought among the school counselors' responses to the structured and secondary questions in order to make sense of the data. The researcher transcribed both interviews. After transcription, the researcher read each of the transcripts to gain perspective on overall content. Secondly, the transcripts were read again to select core components of the answers to each question. After listing all of the core components to each question, the core components were then reviewed to eliminate redundant responses. From this revised listing of core components, responses were categorized into major themes.

RESULTS

Defining Advocacy

The interview question "How do you define advocacy?" produced three main themes. The first theme emphasized going beyond business as usual or taking extra steps to assist students. Phrases such as "going the extra mile," "putting yourself out on a limb," and "will fight for that child" convey the meaning of going over and above status quo responses to student needs. All but one participant described advocacy in this manner. The one participant who did not verbally support this view elected to not address this particular interview question.

The second theme that emerged from this question included naming specific advocacy behaviors to illustrate advocacy. These behaviors included "supporting students," "writing letters," "making phone calls," "taking a stand," "finding ways around the red tape," and "talking to people who can effect what happens to students." Again, all but one respondent named specific advocacy behaviors to define advocacy.

The third theme that arose to explain advocacy included maintaining a focus on the student or operating from a case level (Brawley, 1997) of intervention. Phrases that support this theme include "helping young people," "we are here for the students," "taking the focus to the child," and "being a cheerleader for that person." It must be noted that the wording of the question does not direct counselors to how they should advocate for students. It is encouraging from the researchers' perspective that students/clients were the focus of the definition.

Meaning of Advocacy

Focus group responses to question two "What does advocacy in counseling mean to you?" represented four different themes. The first theme emphasized a focus on the individual, or again, intervening on the case level. One participant responded "I think like on a day-to-day basis with every interaction that I have with a child, I think, 'Am I doing all that I can to help this child?'" Another counselor stated that advocacy means to "stand up and help a child." Four respondents addressed this theme. A second theme that emerged was supporting counseling colleagues. One participant remarked, " I think that we can be advocates for one another" and "we support one another." Another stated, "We try to look out for each other." In all, four participants specifically mentioned the value of supporting each other.

A third theme was that advocacy efforts might be seen as stemming from an underlying ethical belief system or philosophy. One participant stated, "It's a belief system, a value system." One woman replied, "It's almost like a religion." Interestingly, five respondents mentioned this theme in their answers to this interview question. Counselors who adhere to an advocacy belief system would most likely find themselves beyond the parameters of educational "business as usual," which may cause them to be, in a sense, alone and operating from a different ethical perspective. This idea is represented well in a respondent's reply to this question. He states, "I think we have to be prepared, in the high school setting, to be unpopular ... we do those things that nobody else wants to do." This seems to indicate an ability to choose, at times, a different ethical course of action apart from what other school personnel believe to be most beneficial or would be willing to do.

Finally, a fourth theme that emerged involved advocating for the profession. The school counseling profession continues to struggle with its identity, namely due to being a mental health educator in an educational setting that often does not differentiate counselors from teachers or administrators. Two respondents mentioned advocating for the profession, yielding a theme with fewer responses but nonetheless important to name. One participant stated that advocacy in counseling means to "advocate for my position and my importance in the whole school function." Another stated "We have to be advocates of our profession because nobody else in the whole school understands our position and or what it is we are supposed to do ... it is a daily struggle, from my perspective, not to be dumped upon."

Most important Behaviors

The third interview question, "What are the most important advocacy behaviors that school counselors can perform?" offered three different themes, which represent not only advocacy behaviors but also personal qualities within the counselor in order to maintain a philosophy of advocacy. The first theme involves being flexible or having a broad range of skills in dealing with different people in different situations. This range of skills may elicit a variety of behaviors. For example, one participant discussed being able to assess the personality type of the administrator you are trying to advocate to on behalf of a student. She states "knowing how to respond--there are times to push and there are times not to push--being able to vary your approach." This flexibility is perhaps grounded in a counselor's awareness of the need for individuality for self and others. An ability to embrace differences and maintain emotional independence from others should only foster a counselor's ability to be aware and understand uniqueness among different personality types. Despite the variety of themes that emerged to this question, this theme was mentioned by four of the respondents.

The second theme included authentic acceptance of others while also being aware of one's own values and beliefs. Three respondents discussed acceptance and its importance in advocacy. For example, one participant stated that "accepting is a deep part ... being able to accept those things that maybe you don't agree with or is not your value." It is this researcher's opinion that a counselor's ability to understand his own biases and beliefs about others could interfere or enhance a counselor's capacity to practice genuine acceptance. A counselor's individual belief or behavioral system, which goes unchecked for bias or prejudice, may result in unethical practices which alienate students before advocacy, or even counseling intervention, can take place.

Another theme was having realistic expectations for the work that one can do. This theme may point to personal inhibition on the counselor's part or be a mechanism for ensuring sustainability of advocacy beliefs and behaviors, or avoiding counselor burn out. Three respondents spoke to the importance of realistic expectations. One participant remarked, "They need to understand that they cannot solve every problem and they need to know when they need to seek help from others. I can remember when I thought I was ready to take on the world when I got out of graduate school." Finally, two other concepts emerged that are not discussed as themes because they were each mentioned by one participant. However, both are worth mentioning due to their theoretical importance in answering this question. The first concept was being a voice for students. This echoes from a textbook version of advocacy but, nonetheless, is the heart of advocacy, in that counselors use their voice to bring student concerns, individually and collectively, to teachers, administrators, parents, and the community. Finally, the last concept is maintaining a sense of humor or "be(ing) able to laugh." This was well-stated by one participant when she remarked that "We laugh--but sometimes it is just to keep going--because things get that kind of frustrating--so I think in order to advocate for someone, you've got to be able to see the lighter side of things and even show them the lighter side."

In conclusion, the themes for interview question three were somewhat ironic in that the counselors define advocacy as maintaining a focus on the student in one theme, yet other themes focus on the wellness of the school counselor. Perhaps this question brought to light the difficulty these school counselors experience in attempting to grapple with overwhelming responsibilities in stressful circumstances, resulting in the school counselors being preoccupied with advocating for themselves. The responses may also suggest confusion or inability to name specific advocacy behaviors due to a lack of advocacy dialog within their school and perhaps in their professional circles. Finally, it also quite possible that counselors without training to specifically address advocacy behaviors may have difficulty identifying behaviors that are consistent with what their advocacy belief system may suggest.

Evidence of Valuing Advocacy in Practice

The fourth interview question, "What evidence is there that you value advocacy in your practice?" provides insight into outcomes of counselor advocacy efforts. Three themes became clearly identifiable in the respondents' remarks. The first theme involved positive feedback that counselors receive from students, parents, community agencies, and the like. Eight of the nine participants spoke specifically about the positive feedback they had received from a variety of sources. One participant stated, "kids wouldn't keep coming back if they felt like they weren't getting something from the encounter." Another stated, "the rapport and respect that I have with .the student body." Several counselors discussed graduated students who returned to thank them for their assistance or to seek additional guidance.

The second theme involved remaining consistent in demonstrating advocacy beliefs and behaviors. A few of the respondents reminisced about "changing the world" philosophies that guided them through graduate school and into their first professional positions. Despite the initial grandiose ambitions, upholding original advocacy practices throughout one's career, in the face of political and practical pressures as a school counselor, is indicative of valuing advocacy. This is stated clearly by one participant who stated, "my very goal in life is to help somebody ... my goal each day--to make a difference in somebody's life." Three participants spoke about remaining consistent in their advocacy practices.

Finally, the last theme involved support from administrators due to the administrators coming to value the perspective that a counselor lends on student issues. Although this theme was discussed the least, it is noteworthy to mention. One participant stated that "our administrators have learned to appreciate our strengths ... they have come to appreciate our role." School administrators are pivotal in the construction of an effective counseling program, particularly if the administrators identify student advocacy as an official duty of the school counselor.

Learn to be an Advocate

The fifth interview question was "How have school counselors learned to be advocates?" Four themes were found when analyzing responses to this interview question. The first theme involved formal training, namely counselor education programs, professional conferences, and workshops. Five of the nine respondents made reference to their counselor training in graduate school. A second theme involved more indirect training, featuring modeling by colleagues who possessed strong advocacy skills. Four of the nine respondents described different ways in which other counselors had influenced how they came to learn to practice advocacy behaviors. A participant asserted, "if you are in a supportive environment where people are doing the right thing--it's much easier to do the right thing yourself." In conjunction with modeling, some counselors mentioned informal and formal mentors who also demonstrated advocacy beliefs and behaviors, which in turn influenced the "mentee's" practices.

The third theme involved personality traits that lend themselves to helping or advocating for others. Instead of advocacy being learned, five participants discussed the idea that some elements of advocacy are innate. One participant stated, "I just grew up just knowing some how that I was going to be in the helping profession." Another stated, "It goes back to either your personality or the way you were reared." Another replied, "I think that it is something that is inbred. It was just there--caring, a feeling in your heart was there or we would never be in this profession." It is interesting to consider advocacy development in light of intrinsic, altruistic personality traits although counselors must still receive comprehensive training in how to be an effective advocate.

In conclusion, a fourth theme involved learning advocacy practices through trial and error, meaning that direct and indirect experience has taught lessons on what may be effective in a given situation. One participant described, "You learn what you can do and what you can't and you use it." Three respondents reflected on familial experiences in which family members, usually parents, advocated for a cause or a person, and thus taught lessons about what may or may not be effective with people. One person stated, "sometimes it's even the negative things you have seen or encountered sometimes that make you want to do something different."

Environmental Issues

Not surprisingly, three themes emerged when evaluating how the environment inhibits school counselors' ability to be advocates. The first theme involved a vague job description, which results in too much being expected of school counselors. Three respondents mentioned the amount of paperwork, administrative duties, and wearing multiple "hats" all at once, which often results in the counselors feeling like they do not have enough time to do real counseling. One participant remarked that "Parents expect 'this,' students expect 'this,' teachers expect 'this,' the principal expects you to do 'this,' and in all these expectations, nobody really communicates. There we are right back to the same dilemma--nobody knows what our job is."

The second theme may be linked to the first in that because of the lack of clarity in job description and expectation, four participants discussed how counselors are often undervalued; resulting in them not being treated as professional mental health educators. One participant explained, "I'm working, working, working, and I'm not getting anything, my pay is not that great, and you know I have all these responsibilities, and they keep adding more and more." Another remarked that "you don't feel any kind of professional treatment, even from the parents ... you've got a lack of professional respect that--that sometimes inhibits your energies because if you run into two, three, or four people like that a day, you start wondering yourself--'what am I?"? Another told the story of having to document all activities that were performed on a day-to-day basis. "That was a sad state of affairs that we had to justify our position by saying what we did every hour of the day." Another participant added, "there we go again having to constantly fight to prove our worth--YES--I do something every day!"

In association with being undervalued, three respondents remarked that there is a lack of communication among staff members about issues in which the counselor could and should intervene. This theme of "communication" may also be linked to the theme of vague responsibilities in that communication may not be taking place because teachers or staff members do not conceptualize a counselor's duties in a manner consistent with how counselor view their roles and responsibilities. For example, one participant stated "the lack of communication in referrals from administration, from attendance, from teachers. If we don't know a situation is happening, we cannot help the student and we get that a lot. They are gone--they are long-term suspended and we don't even know it." Another possibility is that the lack of communication may be a result of school counselors not promoting specific aspects of their school counseling programs.

Finally, two themes emerged when the participants were asked to comment on what strengthens their ability to be advocates for students. Four participants mentioned strengthening oneself through the support of colleagues. "Our strength is definitely in each other," one participant explained. One counselor stated that she "help (s) the other counselors to keep that balance." The second theme involved establishing professional boundaries. In explaining this, one participant remarked, "Boundaries. I am willing and able to do this much today and I--for whatever reason--can't do this much. I need to prioritize." She continued, "Balance is everything--balance and boundaries, those are everything." Another explained the concept of professional boundaries through the development of a yearly counseling program. "This is our plan for the year ... we showed them (administrators) how doing these things for our students could prevent some of the drop outs ... some of those things that we had in place strengthened our efforts of being advocates."

In conclusion, although not mentioned as a theme, it is notable that two individuals mentioned administrators as entities that both strengthen and inhibit a counselor's ability to be an advocate. Both commented on a principal's ability to create or dismantle a school climate that emphasizes the need for advocacy efforts on behalf of students.

DISCUSSION

Themes were uncovered which provide insight on the advocacy beliefs and behaviors of professional school counselors. Participants in this study defined advocacy as focusing on students, exhibiting specific advocacy behaviors, and going beyond educational business as usual. Current advocacy behaviors being practiced include supporting students, writing letters, making phone calls, standing up for students, negotiating bureaucracy, and appealing to individuals who have the power to make life better for students. Being flexible and having realistic expectations about their abilities to intervene in various issues were the most important advocacy behaviors that school counselors identified which impact them. Exercising acceptance of students and being a voice for students were the behaviors identified as the most important advocacy behaviors to be performed on behalf of students. Regardless of the need to continue to advocate for the school counseling profession, students rather than the school counselors, were the focus of how the focus group participants defined advocacy overall.

Each of the aforementioned behaviors is vital to advocating for students; however, it is notable that many of the behaviors fit within a reactive framework of school counseling or reacting to the individual student after a problem has existed for some time. Other than appealing to people in power, none of these behaviors focus on changing the systems that may be creating or contributing to students' academic, personal, or social problems. It appears as if things have not changed very much in the past 30 years. Three decades ago, Baker and Hansen (1972) reported that school counselors and counselor education students in a national sample preferred helping student clients help themselves over more active change agent helping options.

Bailey et al. (2003) emphasize that school counselors should engage in "becoming risk takers"(p. 413); yet, the behaviors listed above do not seem to add up to being risky. Little discussion explored courageous, proactive strategies to address student issues. Attempts to change aspects of the school climate that may be problematic or inhibit student growth and success were not mentioned. Proactive advocacy radically departs from business as usual. For example, instead of partaking in the time-consuming process of meeting with several students about the difficulty they are experiencing in a particular class, engaging the teacher in conversation about varied learning styles may be a more worthwhile strategy as it is an attempt to impact and or change the system.

Themes such as supporting counseling colleagues and advocating for the profession suggest that school counselors continue to invest energy into carving out their unique position within the schools, appearing challenged by the necessity of being an active member of the school community without having their professional identity merge with that of an administrator, teacher, or clerical support staff. Further, school counselors reported being inhibited from fully enacting their vital role as student advocate due to being overwhelmed by their workload or juggling a variety of responsibilities assigned by administrators.

Personal inhibition on the part of school counselors may also be a result of the failure of professional organizations or counselor education programs to stimulate school counselors to engage in advocacy actions. Although members of the focus group identified graduate school as a training ground for advocacy behaviors, it cannot be assumed that the departmental philosophy of each respective program included thorough training to produce change agents or counselors well-versed in applying advocacy beliefs. Further, some participants identified their advocacy beliefs as a personal set of helping ethics which were in place prior to making a commitment to the counseling profession. However, graduate programs cannot assume that that all new students are equipped with this belief system.

Additional research and dialog among school counseling professionals is needed, on a national to local level, to address the skills, collective and individual, which are needed to shift from reactive to proactive intervention within the social and cultural systems that may be creating or contributing to student problems. Finally, graduate programs that train school counselors must look at the way in which they embody and model advocacy behaviors as professionals as well as the way in which they train school counselors to be student advocates.

Limitations to this study include the methodology, which extends into different aspects of the focus group interviews. For example, the data for the qualitative portion was from only nine focus group participants. A larger number of participants may have added other findings as the focus group participants were permitted to build upon one another's responses. Second, the focus group interview procedures may have encouraged evaluation apprehension. Therefore, this may have influenced what the focus group participants were willing to say in front of their colleagues, possibly increasing the feasibility that participants would respond more favorably or positively about their advocacy efforts then if they were interviewed individually.

Further, a self-report method was used to gather data. This is of course the nature of qualitative scholarship; yet through triangulation or corroboration with other sources, a more complex view of the data may have resulted if supervisors, teachers, or students were also interviewed to assess the effectiveness of the counselors' advocacy efforts. It is possible that the dependability of the qualitative findings is questionable. Although coming from different counties, both focus groups were from the same southeastern state, which may be indicative of this state being more or less progressive in its legislative conceptualization of guidance and counseling in the high school setting, therefore, potentially influencing the job duties of school counselors.

Finally, only the main researcher reviewed the interview transcripts, which may have caused bias, influencing the themes that were extracted from the interview data. An independent auditor may have uncovered different themes, which would have potentially changed the direction of the qualitative findings.

This research adds to the limited amount of existing research on advocacy in school counseling. Focus group participants commented that they benefited from the dialog on school counselor advocacy. Sparse literature and empirical efforts to discover or name the specifics of operationalizing counselor advocacy suggests that school counselors may not possess an awareness of the benefits of advocacy, particularly on the overall school climate. More research is needed to investigate current advocacy beliefs and behaviors of school counselors

The findings in this study have implications for the counseling profession as a whole, especially as the counseling profession embraces an advocacy agenda and seeks to understand the dynamics of counselor advocacy in a more specific manner. More research is needed to further understand advocacy awareness, knowledge, and skills. Although this study focused on advocating for the individual, research is needed on how knowledge and skill sets may vary when advocating for a group or social-cultural issue.

In conclusion, Bailey et al. (2003) write, "Students need an advocate who will recognize when student needs are not being heard or met and when they are being squashed emotionally and intellectually by the very system designed to enhance their emotional, physical, and intellectual well-being" (p. 420). The professional school counselor is the ideal agent for organizing and leading advocacy efforts on behalf of students. It is time for the school counseling profession as a whole to endorse and embrace a proactive advocacy agenda.

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Julaine E. Field, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology at Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, PA. E-mail: julaine.field@sru.edu. Stanley Baker, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Counselor Education at North Carolina State University, Raleigh.
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Author:Baker, Stanley
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Words:6316
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