Alicia V. Fahr
Degree of: Doctor of Philosophy
Department: Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology
Title: Representation of the Elderly in Counselor Education Textbooks
Committee: Dr. Suzanne M. Hedstrom, Chair
Dr. Gary H. Bischof
Dr. Carl Woloszyk
Date: Friday, November 5, 2004 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Grand Rapids Graduate Center-Downtown, President's Board Room
Abstract: The aged have been a largely invisible group in American culture. When the elderly are present in society, they are often viewed negatively. Older adults are subject to many misperceptions, stereotypes, and ageist attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.
The counseling profession requires multicultural competence in meeting the needs of diverse groups. Since older adults are one of the diverse groups in society, counselors must develop competence when working with the aged. The responsibility for training counseling students to work effectively with the elderly falls upon counselor educators.
Textbooks contribute to what is learned by counseling students. In addition, texts chosen for training convey cultural values to students. Specifically, textbooks may contribute to how counseling students think about older adults and aging issues. This study was designed to determine how older adults and aging issues are represented in popular counselor education texts.
The textbooks used most frequently by 11 randomly selected master's degree, Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP, 2001) accredited programs were identified in these areas: counseling techniques, career development, counseling theory, issues and ethics, tests and measurement, research methods, multicultural counseling, and group counseling. Textbooks were examined for representations of the aged and aging issues, and whether the representations were ageist, non-ageist (refuting ageism), or unbiased (neither supporting nor negating ageism). The texts were searched for opportunities that were missed to represent older adults, especially when other diverse groups and age groups were discussed. Examples of more realistic representations of the aged and aging issues were provided, especially when the texts represented the elderly inappropriately. Many discussions, case studies, illustrations, and activities which included older adults and aging issues were created for each counseling text.
The methodologies chosen for this study were grounded in social learning theory and reader-response theory. A textual analysis was utilized in this study. Each textbook passage was examined at the interpretive level.
The most important finding in this study was the invisibility of older adults in counselor education textbooks. An examination of each of the eight core counseling texts used to train counselors revealed a consistent lack of representation of the elderly. On the occasions when older adults were represented in textual passages, the representations were mostly unbiased. There were some occasions that supported ageism. On rare occasions, the representations of older adults negated ageism. An examination of each of the counseling textbooks revealed a slight pattern of representations of the aged and aging issues, but none were sufficient to be categorized as themes.
Recommendations were made for further research which related to general strategies to reduce ageism on the individual, community, and societal levels. Additional recommendations for future research pertained more specifically to counselor education.
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