Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Foster

Second Advisor

Dr. Joseph Morris

Third Advisor

Dr. Regina Garza Mitchell


School counseling, complexity, urban, lived experiences, navigating system, students


Urban School Counselors (USC) are continuously making decisions, prioritizing responsibilities, and acting in ways that best serve the needs of students, while up against complex factors and challenges (Dye, 2014). Though research has explored critical factors and provided conceptual understanding of the school counselor role, few studies have offered specific ways USCs actually implement and navigate their role in its full context (Dye, 2014; Lee, 2005; Mitcham et al., 2009). Thus, this study differed from other empirical literature in that it aimed to understand USCs holistic experiences, rather than focusing solely on one aspect of their role (e.g., leadership activities). Specifically, this study was interested in how the interaction and interplay of factors, such as school climate, USC responsibilities, environment, and relationships can influence the USC role. Therefore, an interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) design, which utilized in-depth interviews and a focus group, was used to increase understanding into the lived experiences of USCs and how they make sense of their role within their schools.

Of the eligible participants (n = 15), six school counselors volunteered and were from six different Title I schools within one urban district. Four participants worked with high school aged students, while two worked in a middle school. The sample self-identified as predominately White, including 83% White (n = 5), and 16% Hispanic (n = 1). Additionally, 83% identified as female (n = 5 female, n = 1 male). Offering USCs an opportunity to share real experiences, stories, and perceptions was essential to this study and provided insight into the complexity and diverse influences. Findings of this phenomenological study were reviewed in relation to the research questions and five themes and six subthemes emerged from the data: (1) USC Activities: Fusion of Knowledge, Variability, and Affect: (1.1) Differentiators for How USCs Adapt, (1.2) COVID-19, (1.3) Purposefulness; (2) Building Relationships and Providing Support: (2.1) Trauma and Challenges; (3) Relationships with Administration and Staff; (4) Experiential and Educational Support; (5) Urban School Culture: (5.1) Influences, (5.2) Competency and Empathy. Greater understanding into the lived experiences and affective states of USCs, how they make decisions, prioritize responsibilities, serve students, understand their role, and manage challenges has the potential to extend general instructional efforts to include more targeted training and supervision opportunities, which could positively influence urban school communities-at-large (Paisley & McMahon, 2001). The study’s implications and imitations are explored, along with a discussion about future research.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access