Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Stephen E. Craig

Second Advisor

Dr. Suzanne Hedstrom

Third Advisor

Dr. Jianping Shen


Counseling, Spanish-speaking, phenomenology, bilingual, counselor education, counselors


The Spanish-speaking population in the United States is growing. As the population grows, need for competent mental health services may also expand. Counselors are currently underprepared to provide these services (Furman, 2006; Lebrón-Striker, 2012). The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the experiences of counselors who work with Spanish-speaking clients, focusing on their motivations, preparation and work experiences, and recommendations for counselor education.

Two groups were selected for this phenomenological study: Counselors who use interpreters (CWUI) and counselors who do not use interpreters (CWDNUI). Themes that emerged related to motivation included helping others, inspirational and affirmative experiences, vocational calling, and career advancement. Themes that related to counselor preparation included cultural immersion experiences, education-related experiences, high cultural identification, and low cultural identification. Themes that related to counseling Spanish-speaking clients included high cultural understanding; anxiety, uncertainty, and skepticism; and low cultural understanding. Finally, themes that related to recommendations included knowledge of the growing demand for counselors to work with Spanish-speaking clients, meaningful immersion experiences, and humility.

While none of the participants set out to work with Spanish-speaking clients, all described finding themselves working with this population. Graduate training experiences were seldom mentioned as sufficiently preparing participants for their work. Although the purpose of this study was not to compare and contrast CWUI with CWDNUI, descriptions of their preparation and work experiences were different. CWDNUI reported high identification and understanding with their clients, while CWUI described low identification and lack of understanding. For CWUI, low understanding was not always overtly attributed to the use of an interpreter but instead was described as a barrier to making therapeutic contact. This finding suggests that while CWUI value the role that interpreters play, use of interpreters may also inhibit counselors’ ability to establish therapeutic rapport with clients.

Preparation for work with Spanish-speaking clients is a multifaceted and complex process. Participants indicated that their training programs, while important to their multicultural preparation, did not sufficiently prepare them for work with this population. Based on a synthesis of their experiences and recommendations, implications for the counseling profession and future research are discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access