A Phenomenological Investigation of Licensed Professional Counselors' Perspectives of Clinical Intuition
The purpose of this study was to investigate the essence of the experience of clinical intuition through the perspective of licensed professional counselors. Despite the attention that intuition had been given in other professional fields, a lack of research that was specific to the counseling profession existed on this topic. This dearth of literature existed despite the apparent connection between counselor development and intuition. For instance, models of counselor development depicted how counselors increase their awareness of themselves, their clients, and the counseling relationship as they gain more clinical experience, while theories on the nature of intuition suggested that experience and awareness produce intuitive knowledge. In spite of that association, clinical intuition in the field of licensed professional counselors had not been examined. Given that counselors' clinical intuition was little understood, a phenomenological design was selected for this investigation. This type of qualitative study provided a way to discover the core essential meanings of clinical intuition. Furthermore, it created the foundation for future studies in this area. The participants were comprised of nine licensed professional counselors in the state of North Carolina and all met the criteria for this study. Their experience ranged from 5 years to 36 years. These counselors worked in diverse settings and had acquired various kinds of postgraduate training. Interviews were conducted in the offices where counselors usually work with clients. Transcriptions of those interviews yielded the data that were analyzed and synthesized based on Moustakas' (1994) phenomenological method. That process involved the Epoche, phenomenological reduction, imaginative variation, and synthesis. The data revealed six core themes: (1) unconscious associations; (2) conscious associations; (3) moments preceding the arrival of intuitive knowledge; (4) initial appearance; (5) manifestation of intuitive knowledge; and (6) the nature of the intuitive information. Each of the six themes was composed of clusters. Within the first theme of unconscious associations, participants made inferences about clinical knowledge and countertransference reactions that had occurred outside of their conscious awareness. The second theme of conscious associations contained counselors' attention to their identification and resonance with clients as well as their countertransference to clients. This theme also included awareness of clinical knowledge and clients' nonverbal and verbal communication. The third theme concerned the accepting, present, and expectant qualities that preceded the arrival of the intuitive knowledge. The fourth theme captured the holistic, immediate, certain, and sacred characteristics that seemed to imbue the presentation of the intuitive information. The fifth theme captured the way clinical intuition manifested in counselors, and it seemed to conform to the sixth theme which described the degree and quality of that information. Clinical intuition appeared to be a slow development of increasing levels of unconscious and conscious associations. In a state of alert receptivity, something in the clinical situation seemed to catalyze those developing connections. Counselors experienced that moment as a felt sense, gut feeling, recognition of a pattern, or symbolic representation. The manner in which clinical intuition arrived seemed to correspond with the degree of consciousness and the amount of affective and cognitive material contained in the knowledge. These findings were reviewed in relation to the relevant literature on intuition. The implications of this study to the field of counseling were also offered. Furthermore, suggestions for future studies on this topic were provided.