New PhD students talk a lot about their fears of doing research. Math anxiety seems to bleed its way into statistics and research methods courses. The consequence is that students develop a lot of self-defeating talk that centers around beliefs that the art of counseling does not marry well with scientific approaches to problem solving. Blame it on many things- that counselors do not typically score “I”s on the Holland, that counselor educators don’t do enough research and therefore do not mentor students in preparing them, that inadequate time and dollars are allocated for counselors to carrying out research projects. All of these things, indeed, hold grains of truth. However. I’ve found that a great deal of research on human experiences is best served by the skills and values that are the domain of the counseling profession. To illustrate this, I’ll share my experiences in my new case study. I decided that I wanted to explore experiences for transsexual women of color. Not surprisingly, the topic has been under-researched. What surprised me of the studies I found was that the dominant focus was on pathology- referring often to these women’s “disorders.” There were also a few studies on depression, suicidality, and substance abuse- all focusing on aspects of risk for the population. Of note, none of these studies had been conducted by counselors. I believe in strengths-based perspectives as a fundamental in counseling. My research, then, is a logical extension of my professional identity as a counselor. The study that I’m conducting examines resiliency in the lives of transsexual women of color. My interviews draw from counseling skills, serving as invitations for participants to reflect on personal triumphs in their histories. I found my most recent interview to be particularly moving for both the participant and me. It felt not dissimilar from a counseling session in the insight that emerged from its depth. Were I to come from a different behavioral health background, I’m not sure that I would have 1) reached the level of clarity that I sought; 2) conceptualized the entire interview as a model of strength. Yet, both of these were achieved. My wish is to see counselors doing more of the research that informs evidence-based practice. Our profession is unique in its focus on human strength and resilience. In addition, counselors contributing to the body of research serves to legitimize our profession. It is time that we take our place in the scientific exploration of human experience.
Stacee Reicherzer is a counselor, a faculty member at Walden University, and a private consultant with special interests that include: transgender issues in counseling, lateral (within-group) marginalization, and sexual abuse survival.