Date of Award

Fall 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling & Human Services



Committee Director

Tim Grothaus

Committee Member

Amber Pope

Committee Member

Stacie Raymer


Professionals within the fields of social science predominantly identify as liberal (Woessner & Kelly-Woessner, 2015) and many issues related to politics, such as power and oppression, are inherent and central to the social science fields (Lerner, 2020). Past research has shown the potential for political bias in academia, which has been linked to the lack of representation of various political identities. Most research on political academic bias is not current, making it difficult to find relevant research on this topic published within the last ten years. Currently, there has been no identified research or scholarly production that specifically explores self-identified politically conservative students’ experiences within graduate counseling programs. Without addressing the divergence of political ideologies within counselor education, counselors may subconsciously model political bias amongst colleagues, clients, potential and current employees, and counselors in training.

This study utilized consensual qualitative research (CQR) to explore this phenomenon. The research team was comprised of the lead researcher, two research team members, and one independent auditor. Participants included nine individuals who self-identified as politically conservative and were, at the time of their interview, either currently enrolled as students or had recently completed a graduate counseling program in a public university in the U.S. The data collection process involved one semi-structured interview and a follow up survey as the units of analysis. Data analysis included the creation of domains from portioned interview data, development of core ideas which summarized the data within the domains, and conduction of a cross-analysis to formulate common themes across participants (Hill et al., 2005; Hill et al., 1997; Thompson et al., 2012). Five domains and 21 categories were created. The five domains included external factors influencing expression of conservative viewpoints, reactions from others, personal reactions to program experience involving politics, expectations vs. reality of public, and perceptions of self and others. Member checking was used to demonstrate respondent validation and analyze the credibility of results. Efforts to manage the bias of research team members were made through the use of memos, bracketing, reflexive journaling, research team consensus, and thorough discussion of assumptions and biases. The findings suggest that self-identified politically conservative graduate counseling students interviewed here are not engaging in discussions which have political content or implications due to negative reactions from others, fear of retaliation, the political environment of their programs, or negative generalizations and assumptions observed from others in their programs. More research is needed on this topic to increase guidance on ways to support this population that has previously been overlooked in the literature within the field of counseling.


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