University of Limerick
McDonnell_2020_Phenomenological.pdf (2.58 MB)

A phenomenological approach to understanding guidance counsellor resilience in a context of post-primary school reform

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posted on 2023-02-13, 15:27 authored by Eimear McDonnell

The provision of “appropriate guidance” in Irish post-primary schools is a statutory requirement under the Education Act 1998 (Section 9(c) p.13), and prior to 2012, student enrolment determined the allocation of hours for guidance by the Department of Education and Skills. In a radical change to the sector, guidance counselling provision was devolved to school management with the removal of the ex-quota position in 2012. Consequently, the impact to the resilience of guidance counsellors on the front line is of interest, given the complex nature of the role and how the allocation of hours for guidance had been identified as a recurring policy issue before 2012.

The research for this thesis employed an empirical, qualitative investigation within a constructivist paradigm to examine the subjective world of post-primary guidance counsellors. Phenomenology was used to illuminate the direct impact of policymaking on lived experience, including the factors involved in resilience, the meanings made from experiencing resilience, and the holistic experience of resilience over time. Data generated from semi-structured individual interviews with guidance counsellors (n=14) at two time points (2013 and 2015) were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to help uncover layers of meaning (Smith et al. 2009).

Participants realigned their working lives within the new landscape of guidance and demonstrated a strong commitment to the profession over the two years. Participants’ experience of resilience is informed by the interaction of individual, relational, and contextual factors at a point in time. Successful navigation of guidance counsellor identity was central to resilience developed across multiple themes.

The thesis concludes with an interrogation of the implications for practice, policy and research together with recommendations in light of policy discourse which has broadened the guidance remit to reflect the focus on wellbeing within education. The recommendations foster agency, but caution is advised with how terms such as ‘resilience’ can become embedded in the educational discourse at the expense of individual wellbeing within an increasingly pressurised neoliberal landscape. Moreover, this study recommends a systemic approach among school management, policymakers, and other stakeholders in education to address the antecedents of stress and adversity within guidance counselling.



  • Faculty of Education and Health Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Lucy Hearne

Second supervisor

Patricia Mannix McNamara

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