Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Education and Human Services


Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling & Counseling Psychology

Committee Chair

Jeff Daniels

Committee Co-Chair

James Bartee

Committee Member

Reagan Curtis

Committee Member

Shelley Savage

Committee Member

Christine Schimmel


In this study I explore what coal mining means to underground miners in Appalachia, and how these meanings interact with participants' cultural and vocational identities. Using narrative data from eight underground coal miners, the study investigates the connections between cultural values, career, and personality. These connections are singularly intertwined in Appalachia, where economic and social landscapes have been heavily influenced by coal mining for over a century. The resulting relationships have blurred the lines of identity among career, family, and community. This qualitative study is based on data from semi-structured interviews; participant language was analyzed using grounded theory to create a theory of cultural and vocational development while also exploring the meaning of work. In exploring the core concept of underground coal mining in Appalachia, early knowledge of coal mining and early explorations of options and values emerged as significant influential conditions. Demographic factors, personality, and individual vocational development emerged as contextual factors. In addition, four intervening conditions (experienced miner development, work-home balance, disadvantages of mining, and pride) impacted participants' conceptualizations of the meanings of coal mining. Ultimately, six branches of meaning became apparent: mining as family, mining as survival/power, mining as self-determining, mining as social connection, mining as personal identity, and mining as cultural identity. Each of the above components is described in participants' own language and contexts. Clinical implications, limitations and strengths, and recommendations for future research are discussed.