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Helm, Heather

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College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, Applied Psychology and Counselor Education, APCE Student Work

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While existing literature clearly indicates that the relationship between counselor and client is important and crucial for therapeutic progress (e.g., Norcross & Wampold, 2011), little research has been done on the experiences of counselors within the therapeutic relationship. Vulnerability has been noted as an important component of growth-fostering relationships (e.g., Jordan, 2008), however research is lacking on how counselors experience vulnerability with their clients. Within the field of counseling, men are underrepresented (Michel, Hall, Hays, & Runyan, 2013) and little research exists exploring their unique experiences as counselors. Additionally, due to gender role socialization, men are likely to struggle with the vulnerability required of them as counselors (Wester & Vogel, 2002). This dissertation study addresses this gap in the literature through a phenomenological examination of 11 male counselors’; experiences of vulnerability in the counseling relationship. Results indicate that male counselors’; experiences of vulnerability are impacted by their relationship with the concept of vulnerability, and are characterized by an attention to balancing the counselor role with vulnerability, as well as having intense reactions and growing pains. Furthermore, results suggest that vulnerability moments are a type of critical incident, and that they are impacted by various aspects of the person-of-the-therapist. Implications of the findings include that counselor educators and supervisors can assist male counselors by fostering self-awareness about one’s relationship with the concept of vulnerability, addressing vulnerability explicitly throughout counselor training, and providing supervisory support that is informed by the findings of this study. Specific recommendations for counselor educators and supervisors are presented. Areas for future research include examination of the impact of counselor vulnerability on clients and exploration of best practices for addressing vulnerability in counselor education programs.


Counseling, Counseling relationship, Counselor education, Counselor supervision, Male counselors, Vulnerability


265 pages

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