Bridging developmental theory and university counseling center practice

Geoffrey Vernon Steinberg (2004)

College and university counseling centers have been facing related challenges of increased demand for services and increased severity of students' psychopathology. These challenges have been met primarily with economic limits, and the present study articulated an alternative conceptual response. Given the counseling center's historical roots in student development, a theoretical study was undertaken to apply theories of development in the college years to counseling center practice. The research question was as follows: How would counseling centers ideally be organized if they were designed according to developmental theory? This question was addressed through reviewing literature on both developmental theories and counseling center practice. The theories were grouped according to three main lines of development pertinent to college students: (a) personality development, (b) constructive-epistemological development, and (c) political-identity development. Counseling center practice was critiqued on the basis of its relationship to each of these models. This effort resulted in identification of gaps between theory and practice. Major findings informed recommendations to bridge these gaps, as follows: (a) by practicing according to clinical need rather than economically imposed limits, the counseling center can foster deep character development and thereby reduce crises and their associated liability; (b) rather than playing an auxiliary role in relieving symptoms, the counseling center's ability to catalyze students' constructive-epistemological development implies that it can be an integral organization meriting equal standing to academic departments in the university; and (c) the counseling center's facilitation of students' political-identity development points to a social justice orientation for practice that extends beyond simple multiculturalism. Counseling centers can draw upon these recommendations to integrate developmental theory into a viable model for counseling center practice in the 21 st century.