5 Areas of Research for Family Counseling Doctoral Students

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Updated August 4, 2020

5 Research Topics for Ph.D. in Family Counseling Students

  • Ethnicity
  • Substance Abuse and Criminality
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
  • Military Families
  • Aging

Doctoral students in the field of family counseling are expected to write a Ph.D. thesis consisting of a book-length work based on extensive research that makes an original contribution to the field. Students normally choose a general study area based on their interests and career aspirations and narrow their topics by completing a "literature review", i.e. reading and summarizing existing work on the topic. During this process, a researcher should look for either a gap in what has been previously studied or some specific point on which the existing consensus appears to be wrong. For example, several recent studies have looked at sexual orientation of people on the autistic spectrum, but a doctoral student might find a gap in existing studies by asking whether sexual orientation and attitudes in Asian-American people on the autistic spectrum correlates with the number of generations of their family who have lived in the United States. The list below gives examples of some areas that doctoral students might choose to investigate.

Related Resource: 10 Most Affordable PhD in Family Counseling Online Programs 2018

1. Ethnicity

Ethnic traditions and differences affect many varied aspects of family dynamics and mental health. Many researchers study how ethnicity affects families, including traditions of child-rearing, nuclear versus extended family structures, patterns of divorce, age of child-bearing, and other issues. The problem of single motherhood in ethnic populations with high rates of incarceration has also been widely studied as have the effects of the average age at which women from different ethnic backgrounds bear children. Another important area of study is how cultural and ethnic differences affect such matters as gender identity and sexuality.

2. Substance Abuse and Criminality

The study of families intersects issues of criminality and substance abuse in two major ways. Scholars study how family environment can influence the probability of people committing crimes or abusing various substances in later life, as well as the way that having a family member commit a crime or develop an addiction affects other members of the family.

3. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Although LGBTQ people have far greater legal protections in the United States than in the past, including the right to marry, many still suffer from bullying and discrimination. More importantly, the growing fluidity of gender and sexual identity are opening up new areas of study in the field of family counseling.

4. Military Families

According to the American Counseling Association, the military is a unique segment of society requiring a special approach to counseling. Scholars can examine the distinctive features of how the "warrior culture" of the military affects soldiers, their spouses, and their children.

5. Aging

As people live longer, aging transforms families. Potential areas of study include dementia, the effect of aging parents on a "sandwich generation," the effects of retirement on older families, and the effects of death and bereavement on families.

Perhaps the most important element to consider in choosing a thesis topic is one's career goals. For example, a student who wishes to work with the military or veterans might investigate a topic pertaining to military families, while someone who aspires to work in a hospital or substance treatment center might focus on addiction. Selecting a research area in family counseling at the doctoral level is a key element in preparing oneself for a career in a specific subfield.

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