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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are at disproportionate risk for stigmatizing and discriminatory experiences in schools, including alarmingly high rates of school-based bullying, harassment, and biased language (Harris Interactive & GLSEN, 2005; Kosciw, Greytak, Palmer, & Boesen, 2014). School-based victimization has been linked to LGB youths' increased risks for health and mental health problems (Burton, Marshal, Chisolm, Sucato, & Friedman, 2013; Shields, Whitaker, Glassman, Franks, & Howard, 2012) and academic problems among LGBT youth (Kosciw et al., 2014; Kosciw, Palmer, Kull, & Greytak, 2013). The school counselor--who is tasked with providing support to students whose experiences jeopardize their academic and psychological well-being--is uniquely positioned to be an invaluable resource to LGBT students. Therefore, the need is urgent to understand the factors and dynamics underlying school counselors' efforts to support and improve school climate for LGBT students.

The School Counselor's Role in Supporting LGBT Students

Research suggests that certain school resources and supports can lead to better academic performance and fewer victimization experiences for LGBT students (e.g., Kosciw et al., 2014). As such, safe school advocates endorse specific recommendations and guidelines for comprehensive LGBT-related school counseling practices, such as direct services to LGBT students in need and improving the school climate (Goodrich, Harper, Luke, & Singh, 2013). The American School Counselor Association's (ASCA) position statement on LGBT youth and the ASCA National Model highlight the need for school counselors to engage in comprehensive efforts to support the social, emotional, and academic well-being of all students, including those who are LGBT (ASCA, 2012, 2013). Despite these recommendations, educators in general have been found to intervene only infrequently in the victimization of LGBT students (Harris Interactive & GLSEN, 2005; McCabe & Rubinson, 2008), with about one fourth to one half of school-based mental health professionals never providing services to LGBQ students (Sawyer, Porter, Lehman, Anderson, & Anderson, 2006). Unfortunately, research to identify the barriers school counselors may face in providing comprehensive services to LGBT students is lacking.

School Counselors' LGBT-Related Education and Training

Research suggests that mental health professionals in general (Bidell, 2005; Graham, Carney, & Kluck, 2012; Murphy, Rawlings, & Howe, 2002) and school counselors specifically (Bidell, 2012; Farmer, Welfare, & Burge, 2013; Schmidt, Glass, & Wooten, 2011) may feel unprepared to work competently with LGBT clients/students. A lack of LGBT-specific school counselor training--such as graduate education and ongoing professional development (e.g., in-service training)--might contribute to counselors feeling unprepared. For example, school mental health professionals have cited a lack of LGB-specific training as a primary barrier to providing services to LGB students (Sawyer et al., 2006).

Despite evidence that mental health professionals in general receive some graduate-level exposure to LGBT-related topics (Luke, Goodrich, & Scarborough, 2011; Martin et al., 2009; Sherry, Whilde, & Patton, 2005), the quality and breadth of their LGBT-related education may be insufficient. School mental health professionals have reported that their education and training did not sufficiently prepare them to meet LGB youths' needs (McCabe & Rubinson, 2008; Savage, Prout, & Chard, 2004; Sawyer et al., 2006), and studies suggest that school counselors receive little exposure to LGBT-related graduate education (Jennings, 2014; Luke et al., 2011). For example, Luke, Goodrich, and Scarborough (2011) found that graduate counseling trainees primarily received LGBT-related information within a single class or lecture.

Ongoing professional development for school counselors may be a critical component of their preparedness to engage in LGBT-supportive efforts. Studies of educators (including school counselors) have demonstrated positive effects of formal training or workshops on LGBT-related competencies, such as attitudes, knowledge, and intentions to intervene in LGBT-related bullying and harassment (Greytak & Kosciw, 2010; Greytak, Kosciw, & Boesen, 2013). However, a paucity of research exists examining school counselors' exposure to LGBT-related ongoing professional development and whether such training predicts school counselors' practices.

The Role of School Counselors' LGBT-Related Self-Efficacy

Insufficient LGBT-specific training could translate into lower confidence (i.e., self-efficacy) in school counselors' abilities to provide LGBT-related student support. Self-efficacy--a person's belief about their capacities to engage in challenging tasks (Bandura, 1977)--has been shown to be an important predictor of teacher interventions in LGBT-specific bullying (Greytak & Kosciw, 2014). Although research on mental health professionals has examined factors related to their LGB-related self-efficacy (Burkard, Pruitt, Medler, & Stark-Booth, 2009; Dillon & Worthington, 2003), the connection between school counselors' self-efficacy and their efforts to support LGBT students is not currently understood. Given the evidence that graduate education and professional development relate to self-efficacy in general (Bidell, 2013; Greytak & Kosciw, 2010), more research is needed that explores the role of self-efficacy in school counselors' LGBT-related practices.

The current study fills a gap in our knowledge by examining the predictors of school counselors' LGBT-supportive efforts. The research team hypothesized that: (a) greater exposure to graduate education and ongoing professional development predict higher self-efficacy and more frequent LGBT-related practice with students; and (b) graduate education and ongoing professional development are indirectly related to LGBT-related practice through self-efficacy, such that more exposure to education/training predicts higher self-efficacy, which, in turn, predicts more frequent LGBT-related practice.


The authors selected a subsample of school counselors from a national survey of school mental health professionals, Supporting Safe and Healthy Schools (SSHS). The SSHS study was an Internet-based survey of public and private secondary school counselors, psychologists, and social workers conducted by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and its research partners: the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), the American Council for School Social Work (ACSSW), and the School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA). Participants were primarily obtained through email invitations (including follow-up) sent to research partners' membership lists in May 2013 with information about the survey and a link to the survey-hosting website. The authors also invited partner organizations and their state affiliates to publicize information about the study through their preferred modes of electronic communication (e.g., digital newsletters, websites, and social media). Invitees were eligible to participate if they were currently employed in a U.S. public or private school and identified themselves as a school counselor, psychologist, or social worker who was working with students from 5th-12th grades at the time of the survey. The full SSHS sample consisted of 1,741 U.S. public and private school counselors (35.4%), psychologists (52.0%), and social workers (12.6%).

The current study's authors were also the principal investigators of the SSHS survey and therefore had access to the original dataset. Only those participants who identified themselves as school counselors (n = 617) were selected for data analysis for the current study. Cases with missing data on key study variables were deleted, leaving 466 school counselors in the sample. Demographic and school setting characteristics of the school counselor sample are presented in Table 1.


GLSEN Research--in collaboration with partner organizations and other educational experts--developed the SSHS study and survey instrument. Items and scales were largely adapted from GLSEN's previous research examining the perspectives and competencies of school staff and administration (GLSEN & Harris Interactive, 2008; Greytak & Kosciw, 2010; Harris Interactive & GLSEN, 2005), and from scales that measure LGB-related counseling competencies and self-efficacy (Bidell, 2005; Burkard et al., 2009; Dillon & Worthington, 2003). Univariate characteristics of the following measures are presented in Table 2.

Graduate education. Three items assessed respondents' exposure to LGBT-related competency training in their graduate coursework. The items specifically asked to what extent participants were exposed to competency training with LGB populations, transgender populations, and LGBT youth in their graduate coursework (0 = Not at all to 3 = Extensively). A total mean score for the three items was calculated, with higher scores representing more exposure to LGBT-related competencies in graduate coursework.

Professional development. Respondents identified the frequency of engaging in LGBT-specific professional development activities in their careers, including in-service training, conference panels or workshops, peer consultation and supervision, reading research and professional literature, and workshops or trainings conducted by educational organizations (e.g., GLSEN). A five-point scale, ranging from 0 (Never) to 4 (Frequently), indicated school counselors' frequency of engaging in these five professional development activities. A mean score was calculated for the five items, with higher scores reflecting more exposure to LGBT-related professional development. Internal reliability for the scale was high (five items; [alpha] = .874).

Self-efficacy. Participants were administered a 19-item, Likert-type scale that measured respondents' beliefs in their abilities to support LGBT students. Respondents were asked how much they agree with the statement, "I am confident in my ability to ..." followed by items representing direct practice skills (e.g., "Use culturally sensitive terminology when talking with or about lesbian, gay, and bisexual people") and school-wide interventions (e.g., "Advocate for school and district policies and procedures that improve school climate for LGBT youth"). A total mean score was calculated for each respondent's ratings on a four-point scale, ranging from 0 (Not at all confident) to 3 (Very confident). The scale demonstrated high internal reliability (19 items; [alpha] = .945).

LGBT-related practice. A 16-item scale measured the frequency of LGBT-related practice with or on behalf of LGBT youth. The practice scale measured two categories of interventions, individual-level (e.g., counseling and support to LGBT students) and school-level (e.g., promoting inclusive policies and procedures practices). Respondents were asked about their frequency (0 = Never to 4 = Frequently) of engagement in each of the activities in their professional careers. A mean score was calculated with higher scores representing more frequent interventions with LGBT students. The scale demonstrated high internal reliability (16 items; [alpha] = .942).

Data Analysis

The research team used the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS, version 22.0) for data analysis. The team tested the first hypothesis through two separate hierarchical ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions predicting LGBT-related practice and self-efficacy (dependent variables). Hierarchical analyses allow for predictor variables to be entered into the equation in separate steps in order to better understand their contributions to the dependent variables, above and beyond variables entered in previous steps. After entering the control variables region, locale, grade level, and years since graduation in the first step, we then entered graduate education and professional development (independent variables) in the second and third steps, respectively, to assess their contribution to the dependent variables above and beyond the control variables. We tested the second hypothesis using regression-based path analysis to examine whether self-efficacy mediated the relationship between the training variables and LGBT-related practice. Put another way, we expected that the effects of training on counselors' practices would be partly explained by the effects of training on counselors' self-efficacy. The PROCESS macro created for SPSS (Hayes, 2013) was used to test the mediation model.


School counselors who reported more exposure to LGBT-related graduate education and professional development also reported higher self-efficacy and more frequent LGBT-related practice. Table 3 shows the results from the hierarchical regression analyses, including the standardized coefficients ([beta]) when all variables were entered into the final equation. Therefore, a coefficient with a significant p value indicates that the corresponding independent variable is a significant predictor of the outcome when all other variables are held constant. Both graduate education and professional development remained significant predictors of LGBT-related practice and self-efficacy in the final models (see Table 3). The values in the column labeled "Adj. [DELTA] [R.sup.2]" represent the incremental change in the amount of variance explained in the dependent variables by the independent variables in that step. Each of the steps in both regression equations significantly improved prediction of the dependent variables (p < .001), which indicates that both graduate education and professional development contributed to a significant increase in the variance in self-efficacy and LGBT-related practice above and beyond variables in the previous step (see also Table 3). As shown in the bottom row (Total [R.sup.2]), the final models explained more than one third (35.6%) of the variance in self-efficacy and four tenths (42.5%) of the variance in LGBT-related practice (see Table 3).

The size of the professional development coefficients (self-efficacy - [beta] = .48; practice - [beta] = .57) relative to the size of the coefficients for graduate education (self-efficacy - [beta] = .19; practice - [beta] = .10) in both models suggests that professional development plays a considerably larger role in self-efficacy and practice behaviors than graduate education. For example, a one-unit increase in the frequency of receiving professional development results in a .57 increase in the frequency of LGBT-related practice, compared to a one-unit increase in graduate education, which results in a .10 increase in LGBT-related practice. Furthermore, professional development resulted in the largest relative change in [R.sup.2] among the predictor variables, accounting for an additional 20.2% of the variance in self-efficacy and an additional 28.0% of the variance in interventions.

As illustrated in Figure 1, results from the mediation tests supported the second hypothesis. The indirect effects of graduate education, b = 0.07, SE = 0.01, 95% CI = 0.04, 0.11, and professional development, b = 0.15, SE = 0.02, 95% CI = 0.11, 0.20, on LGBT-related practice through self-efficacy were significant. In other words, more exposure to graduate education and professional development predicted higher self-efficacy, which in turn predicted more frequent LGBT-related interventions. For example, a one-unit increase in the frequency of professional development resulted in a .15 increase in the frequency of interventions due to the positive effects of professional development on school counselors' self-efficacy. Furthermore, the indirect effects of professional development appeared to have a relatively larger impact on practice than graduate education.


Safe school advocates (e.g., Goodrich et al., 2013) and ASCA (2012, 2013) have endorsed comprehensive guidelines and frameworks for school counselors' efforts to support vulnerable students, especially LGBT students. Findings from this study can help further school counselors' mission to support LGBT students by highlighting the central role of LGBT-related training and self-efficacy. However, it is concerning that the large majority of school counselors participating in the SSHS study received little to no exposure to LGBT-related competency training in their graduate education; this is consistent with findings from studies suggesting that mental health professionals in general receive insufficient exposure to LGB issues in their graduate education (Murphy et al., 2002; Savage et al., 2004).

It is urgent that graduate schools better prepare counselors to support LGBT students. At a minimum, counselors' graduate programs should adhere to accreditation standards that require the development of counselor competence in working with LGBT populations (CACREP, 2009). Furthermore, accreditation standards requiring that graduate schools assess students' LGBT-related competencies could encourage graduate programs to evaluate their programs' effectiveness in preparing counselors for LGBT-related practice. Unfortunately, graduate mental health programs seem to rarely engage in such assessments (Martin et al., 2009; Sherry et al., 2005). Perhaps future research should more closely examine the barriers that graduate programs face in implementing education and training that demonstrates efficacy in improving counselors' LGBT-related self-efficacy and competencies.

Findings from this study also suggest that ongoing, LGBT-specific professional development can play an important role in school counselors' efforts, above and beyond the effects of graduate education. LGBT-specific in-service training, conference workshops, and support from colleagues could fill gaps in or enhance LGBT-related graduate education. However, findings from the SSHS study and similar research suggest that mental health professionals more frequently engage in self-directed professional development activities (e.g., reading) as opposed to more formal, in-service training experiences (Kull, 2015; Murphy et al., 2002; Sawyer et al., 2006). Schools and districts may lack the necessary funding, resources, or motivation to provide LGBT-specific in-service school counselor trainings. Therefore, it is critical that safe school advocates and educational organizations understand and address any barriers that school districts face in providing LGBT-related school counselor training.

Some research suggests education and training can have an impact on counselors' LGB-related competencies (Bidell, 2013; Rutter, Estrada, Ferguson, & Diggs, 2008); however, little research has been conducted on methods to increase school counselors' LGB-related self-efficacy and none exists on building transgender competencies. Our findings suggest that schools and districts should implement educator trainings that increase LGBT-related self-efficacy. Formal LGBT-related trainings that demonstrate effectiveness (e.g., New York City Department of Education's Respect for All) can be replicated and implemented by localities and states, and could have a broad impact on the experiences of LGBT students within and across school districts. Findings from this study could also encourage school counselor educators and trainers to evaluate the effectiveness of their training interventions by utilizing self-efficacy measures. Assessing whether in-service trainings affect school counselors' actual efforts may not be feasible; therefore, measuring their LGBT-related self-efficacy could be a useful proxy and predictor for future behavior.

Study Limitations

This study was cross-sectional and only examined school counselors' experiences at one point in time; therefore, the research team cannot claim a causal relationship among the study variables. Furthermore, a number of alternative causal sequences could have explained school counselors' behaviors in this study. For instance, a reciprocal relationship between self-efficacy and practice could exist; school counselors may have higher self-efficacy as a result of engaging in more LGBT-related practices. Furthermore, the study only narrowly focused on graduate education and professional development as predictors; presumably variables that were not included in the analyses could have yielded a more complete or alternative explanation of the study's findings.

The SSHS study relied on scales that had not been previously tested or validated. Despite the scales' high internal reliability, future research could further explore the psychometric properties of these measures. In the current study, certain survey items were combined (i.e., calculated a mean score) to present a general picture of the relationships between training, self-efficacy, and practice. Therefore, we could not determine how training in each distinct area (e.g., training related to LGB vs. transgender youth) may have independently related to the outcomes examined. Furthermore, a specific item in the professional development scale (e.g., consultation) could possibly explain much or all of the effect observed between professional development and LGBT-related practice or self-efficacy. Future research should disaggregate the scale-related findings to provide a more nuanced understanding of these relationships.

Potential response and selection bias among participants was a concern. Caution should be taken in generalizing findings to the larger school counselor population, given that the sample was obtained through professional membership organizations. Those who held more positive attitudes towards LGBT issues and practice may have been more motivated to participate in the study, especially if they were aware of the study's sponsorship by GLSEN. Finally, the SSHS study relied on self-report, which may be prone to social desirability. For example, respondents may have over- or under-reported their level of confidence, exposure to training, or frequency of engaging in practice. Future studies should rely, ideally, on less subjective measures of training experiences, competence, and practice behaviors.

This study's findings have important ramifications for graduate programs that prepare school counselors for school-based practice with LGBT students, and for schools and school districts who are responsible for the professional development of school counselors and the safety of LGBT and all students.

DOI: 10.5330/1096-2409-20.1a.13

Ryan M. Kull, Ph.D., is director of the Kull Initiative for Psychotherapy and an adjunct professor at New York University. Email: Joseph G. Kosciw, Ph.D., is chief research and strategy officer and Emily A. Greytak, Ph.D., is director of research, both with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).


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Characteristics                      n    (%) (a)     M      (SD)

Race and ethnicity
  White or European American        359    (77.0)
  Hispanic or Latino, any race       19     (4.1)
  African American or Black          18     (3.9)
  Asian or Pacific Islander           5     (1.1)
  Middle Eastern or Arab              1     (0.2)
  American, any race
  Native American, American
  Indian, or Alaska Native            1     (0.2)
  Multiracial                        25     (5.4)
  Other                              38     (8.2)
Gender (b)
  Cisgender female                  351    (81.8)
  Cisgender male                     78    (18.2)
Age                                                 44.36   (11.47)
Years since receiving                               10.81    (8.71)
graduate degree
Grade Level
  High school                       222    (47.6)
  Middle school                     146    (31.3)
  Secondary school                   34     (7.3)
  K-8                                31     (6.7)
  K-12                               33     (7.1)
School Type
  Public                            366    (83.9)
  Public charter                     18     (4.1)
  Private, non-religious             20     (4.6)
  Private, religious                 32     (7.3)
  Northeast                          91    (19.5)
  Midwest                           132    (28.3)
  South                             141    (30.3)
  West                              102    (21.9)
  Rural                             145    (33.1)
  Suburban                          158    (36.1)
  Urban                             135    (30.8)

(a) Due to rounding, percentages may not add up to 100%.

(b) Respondents were given the option of identifying as
transgender. However, no respondents identified as such.


                                                      M      (SD)

Graduate education (total) (a)                       1.11   (0.81)
  Competencies with LGB populations                  1.27   (0.87)
  Competencies with transgender populations          0.98   (0.83)
  Competencies with LGBT youth                       1.11   (0.88)
Professional development (total) (b)                 1.56   (0.96)
  LGBT-related in-service training                   1.13   (1.15)
  LGBT-related conference panel/workshop             1.40   (1.21)
  Consultation/supervision regarding LGBT students   1.86   (1.15)
  Reading LGBT-related research or literature        2.05   (1.14)
  LGBT-related training from educational/           1.36   (1.21)
  professional organizations
Self-efficacy (c)                   1.90   (0.59)
LGB-related practice (d)            0.98   (0.69)

(a) 4-point scale (0 = Not at all to 3 = Extensively) measuring
frequency of exposure to competency training in graduate school.

(b) 5-point scale (0 = Never to 4 = Frequently) measuring frequency
of engaging in professional development activities.

(c) 4-point (0 = Not at all confident to 3 = Very confident),
19-item, Likert-type scale that measured respondents' beliefs
in their abilities to provide services to LGBT students.

(d) 5-point (0 = Never to 4 = Frequently), 16-item scale measured
the frequency of LGBT-related practice with or on behalf of LGBT



                      Adj. [DELTA]
                        [R.sup.2]        [beta]   S[E.sub.[beta]]

Step 1                  .044 ***
                    F(7, 435) = 3.73
Region (a)
  Midwest                               -.14 **         .05
  South                                 -.11 *          .05
  West                                  -.05            .05
Locale (b)
  Suburban                              -.10 *          .05
  Rural                                 -.14 **         .05
School level (c)                         .02            .04

Step 2                  .097 ***
                    F(1, 434) = 49.22
LGBT-related                            .19 ***         .04

Step 3                  .200 ***
                   F(1, 433) = 132.93
LGBT-related                            .48 ***         .04
Total [R.sup.2]           .356

                                 LGBT-related practice

                      Adj. [DELTA]
                        [R.sup.2]        [beta]   S[E.sub.[beta]]

Step 1                  .087 ***
                    F(7, 431) = 6.93
Region (a)
  Midwest                                -.08           .05
  South                                  -.10 *         .05
  West                                    .01           .05
Locale (b)
  Suburban                               -.02           .04
  Rural                                  -.11           .04
School level (c)                          .11 **        .04

Step 2                  .059 ***
                    F(1, 430) = 30.22
LGBT-related                              .10 **        .04

Step 3                  .276 ***
                   F(1, 429) = 210.32
LGBT-related                             .57 ***        .04
Total [R.sup.2]         .437

(a) Reference group: Northeast; (b) Reference group: Urban;
(c) High school vs. other school levels

* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
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Author:Kull, Ryan M.; Kosciw, Joseph G.; Greytak, Emily A.
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2017

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