Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Glinda Rawls

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephen Craig

Third Advisor

Dr. Patricia Reeves


Trauma, African American, counselor(s), secondary trauma, race-based trauma, qualitative research


Nearly 83% of Americans are exposed to a traumatic event (Benjet et al., 2016). Given this, every counselor will more than likely work with trauma survivors (Trippany et al., 2004). Because of the high percentage of exposure to trauma, mental health professions who service individuals who experience trauma are at risk for secondary trauma (Ivicic & Motta, 2016), vicarious traumatization (Culver et al., 2011), and shared trauma (Hope & Edward, 2013). African American counselors have not been recognized in the counseling literature; thus their work with trauma survivors and their training experiences remain relatively unknown. Most of the research pertaining to Black counselors’ training experience discusses the lack of racial representation in their graduate programs (Walker et al., 2001), the challenges they face navigating White spaces (Rasheem & Brunson, 2018), isolation as a Black student (Haskins et al., 2013; Rasheem & Brunson, 2018), and multicultural training competence (Bowie et al., 2011). The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the lived experiences of African American counselors, in Chicago, and their reactions to working with trauma survivors. Specifically, this study explores the unique experiences of African American counselors through the lens of trauma theory.

To guide this study, there was one overarching research question and five sub-questions. The overarching question was: How do practicing counselors who serve clients from Chicago’s 11 most violent neighborhoods experience and make personal and professional meaning of their work with trauma clients? The sub-questions were: (1) What are the clinical experiences of African American counselors in Chicago? (2) What experiences do African American counselors have working with clients who have experienced trauma? (3) What experiences do African American counselors have with secondary traumatic stress, vicarious traumatization, and shared trauma? (4) How do these experiences shape their interactions and responses to their trauma? (5) How do African American counselors draw upon their counselor education training to work with trauma clients? Where do they draw upon services outside their training?

Eight African American counselors who work in or with clients from 11 of the most violent neighborhoods in Chicago participated in this study. The researcher conducted semistructured interviews, which revealed 10 themes. When asked about their clinical experiences, African American counselors in this study described their diverse work experiences, awareness, and understanding. They also described how challenging, complex, and rewarding it was to work with trauma survivors. When asked about their experience with secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma, and shared trauma, African American counselors in this study described their personal impact and clients’ well-being. Additionally, they described how their awareness of their clients increased, as did their self-care practices. When asked about their counselor education training, African American counselors in this study described their limited preparedness and the need for more trauma training, specifically urban trauma training. Implication for counselor education and future research was discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access