Ultimate Mission: Turnkey Empowerment of Counselors to Clients

By Nicole M. Arcuri Sanders and Emily Raymond

Sometimes the best course of action is not for counselor educators and supervisors to demonstrate the most innovative teaching trends, but rather to encourage counselors-in-training (CITs) to understand the counseling process at its core. Searles (1955) was the first to suggest that the therapeutic relationship between client and counselor can mirror, at least somewhat, the relationship between counselor-in-training and supervisor. This notion suggests the importance for counselor educators to discern when, in training CITs, they should transition from supervising to empowering CITs. By doing this, CITs can come to understand empowerment through their own educational and professional journey, in parallel to development of the counselor and client relationship.

Counselor educators empower their counselors-in-training (CITs) with the purpose of CITs being able to empower their clients. By the time counselor educators and supervisors endorse CITs for graduation, CITs must be able to cultivate a professional identity that incorporates the importance as well of the dynamics involved in empowering clients.

For the helping profession, empowerment can be defined as

an iterative process in which a person who lacks power sets a personally meaningful goal oriented toward increasing power, takes action toward that goal, and observes and reflects on the impact of this action, drawing on his or her evolving self-efficacy, knowledge, and competence related to the goal. (Cattaneo & Chapman, 2010, p. 647)

With this definition in mind, why is it important to distinguish between helping and empowerment? This skill development is a twofold necessity since (a) CITs must feel capable to service clients independently as professionals, and (b) understand when their clients have reached the point at which they feel empowered to make a change on their own will.

Several models of counselor development (McWhirter, 1991, 1998; Stoltenberg, 1981) relate to the concept of empowerment. According to Stoltenberg’s (1981) counselor complexity model, counselors develop in four stages: first they are (a) dependent upon the supervisor, and then they experience (b) a dependency autonomy conflict, and (c) conditional dependency, finally becoming (d) master counselors. Counselor educators must adjust their training goals accordingly. The fourth stage, master counselor, probably is not reached until after graduation, and reminds graduates of the importance of life-long learning, and the idea that their training is never truly over. Similarly, counselors have the ethical duties to ensure they are continuously monitoring their skills. According to Stoltenberg’s (1981) counselor complexity model, counselor educators helping CITs is most closely associated with the first stage where the CITs are dependent upon the supervisor. Counselor educators and supervisors provide CITs with the knowledge needed to understand effective theory and skill implementation with clients while also considering multicultural implications. As CITs’ knowledge of the counseling process increases, they transition to stages 2 and 3, wherein the dependency-autonomy conflict (and shift to conditional dependency) are key. These change the nature of the supervisory process, as CITs claim their power, and experience personal empowerment themselves. They learn that to empower goes beyond helping. In their own development as counselors, CITs experience the processes “where people create or are given opportunities to control their own destiny and influence the decisions that affect their lives” (Zimmerman, 1995, p. 583). The ultimate goal for counselor educators is to have CITs take theories, skills, and techniques taught to them, practice with support and guidance, and then feel confident enough to effectively provide services to clients without the assistance of counselor educators or supervisors.

Implications for Counselor Educators and Supervisors

What does this mean for counselor educators and supervisors? As we develop our program curricula, courses, and course syllabi, we need to be mindful of this developmental approach with CITs and provide them with opportunities to experience the creation of a safe supervisory place, even as they are creating a safe counseling place for their clients. By directly experiencing this, CITs can understand the powerful interpersonal dynamics associated with feeling vulnerable, asking questions, and asking for help. Supervisors can remind CITs of how their experience can mirror what clients feel with their counselors. Having CITs to process the power-differential they have in supervision can remind CITs how their clients may view them.

Furthermore, the counselor educator then needs to help lead the CITs to feel confidence in their newly acquired knowledge by recognizing their strengths, being self-aware in identifying areas in need of growth, and then creating a plan to help them continue to develop. This is yet another parallel process to the counseling relationship between counselor and client. Having CITs recognize how to practice self-awareness and their experience with this process, when in a power differential with their counselor educators and supervisors, can provide CITs with a first-hand experience of how clients may react to them in the role of counselor.

Lastly, as CITs begin to complete practice and development opportunities in their program with each topic, skill, and course, providing them with experiences to gain autonomy to put into practice what was learned can be pivotal. CITs ultimately prepare to be an independent practitioner. These experiences mimic client attainment of goals and moving to the next goal as well as termination. Despite what course you teach to CITs, the empowerment process with your CITs is vital to preparing future counselors to effectively work with today’s and tomorrow’s clients.

Additional Resources

American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Cattaneo, L. B. & Chapman, A. R. (2010). The process of empowerment: A model for research and practice. American Psychologist, 65(7), 646-659. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018854

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs [CACREP].
(2016). 2016 Standards for Accreditation. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Ronnestad, M. H., & Skovholt, T. M. (2003). The journey of the counselor and therapist:
Research findings and perspectives on professional development. Journal of Career Development, 30, 5-44.

Stoltenberg, C. (1981). Approaching supervision from a developmental perspective: The counselor complexity model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 28, 59-65.

Zimmerman, M. A. (1995). Psychological empowerment: Issues and illustrations.
American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 581-99.

Nicole Arcuri SandersNicole M. Arcuri Sanders, Ph.D., LPC, ACS, NCC, BC-TMH, SAC, is currently core faculty at Capella University within the School of Counseling and Human Services. Clinically, Dr. Arcuri Sanders engages in practice with the military-connected population. Within this specific area of focus, she has also completed researched, published, and presented at local, regional, and national conferences with an interest of advocating for effective clinical services to meet this population’s needs. In the past, Dr. Arcuri Sanders worked as DoDEA District Military Liaison Counselor, Substance Awareness Counselor, School Counselor, Psychiatric Assessment Counselor, Anti-Bullying Specialist, and teacher. Dr.Arcuri Sanders can be reached at Nicole.ArcuriSanders@capella.edu.


Emily RaymondEmily Raymond, MS, NCC, is currently Director of Behavior Supports for Skills of Central PA Inc.  She is a graduate of Lock Haven University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a specialization in support veterans as well as children and adolescents.  She currently works supporting individuals with an intellectual disability and problematic behaviors as well as mental health challenges.  She can be reached at eraymond@skillsgroup.org

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