An Exploration of the Experiences of College Counselors Using Relational Competencies with Suicidal Students




McNiel, Meredith S.

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College student suicide is a rampant and complex phenomenon that has a multitude of relational features involved. College counselors are the front line staff that assist students who have serious mental health conditions and suicidal ideation. There is a copious amount of research supporting the claims that a lack of social relationships and feelings of isolation greatly contribute to college student suicidal ideation. Suicide can be perceived as a relational phenomenon and appears paradoxical (Jobes, 2012). In opposition of traditional interventions to suicide counseling, Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT) tends to the many needs of suicidal students who may desire connection in authentic relationships. The purpose of the current phenomenological study was to understand the experiences of college counselors working in a university setting and how they use relational competencies with students at risk for suicide. Ten college counselors participated in the study through one-on-one interviews. Individual syntheses were developed for each participant using Constructivist Theory and Relational Cultural Theory as guiding theoretical frameworks. Following the individual syntheses, the group experience was analyzed to find the essence of the phenomenon. The following five overarching themes emerged from the data analysis phase: 1) the characteristics of working as a college counselor with suicidal students, 2) use of relational competencies, 3) college student suicide treatment, 4) impact of education and training on suicide treatment preparedness, and 5) implications for future college counselors, educators, and institutions. Additionally, there were seventeen subthemes that emerged: university environment, observations of college student experiences, challenges that college counselors encounter, needs of college counselors, meaning, connection and disconnection, authenticity and honesty, the counseling relationship, needs of suicidal students, promoting growth in students, assessment methods, assessment factors, interventions, protocols and resources, personal approach, master's program experience, and specialized suicide trainings. Implications for the profession, limitations to the study, and suggestions for future research are provided in the concluding chapter.


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College counseling, Counseling, Phenomenology, Qualitative, Relational Approach, Suicide