Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Counseling and Educational Leadership

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Dana Heller Levitt

Committee Member

Harriet Glosoff

Committee Member

Kathryn Herr

Committee Member

Catherine Roland


Adolescence is a crucial life stage involving aspects of identity development and decision-making that have potential life-long consequences. Researchers have found that a sense of meaning and purpose is related to a number of beneficial factors during adolescence, including resilience, healthy self-esteem, academic engagement, and overall well-being. Spirituality is a main avenue through which many individuals find a sense of meaning and purpose and may be one of the mediating factors between adolescent meaning-making and well-being. Despite this knowledge, there is a lack of research involving the use of meaning-based counseling in the schools. There is also evidence that students are discouraged from exploring or expressing their spiritual beliefs and questions in the school setting. This qualitative interview study was designed to investigate middle school counselors’ perspectives and practices in regard to exploring meaning and spirituality with their adolescent students. Analysis of ten individual interviews and a focus group revealed that the school counselor participants did believe it was important to work with students around meaning and did so primarily through the overarching theme of identity. Interviewees described how they supported students with many aspects of meaning and identity exploration through avenues such as their suffering and challenging circumstances, behavior and choices, and connections with others and things they care about. Spirituality, however, was an aspect of students’ identities that participants reported avoiding in their work with adolescents in the schools. Analysis of participants’ perspectives suggested that avoidance of this area was due to the participants’ own identities as public school employees, fear of perceived repercussions, and connotations with the risk of imposing their own values. Practical implications for both school counselors and counselor educators, as well as directions for future research, are addressed.