Master's in Counseling students (left to right) Philip Schulte, Alex Mitchell and Jordan Leahy recently learned they will present at the Virginia Association for Counselor Education and Supervision conference for graduate students, while Michael McAndrew, Rebecca Wright, and Lisa Reo joined with Tija Krneta (not pictured) to place third in a national ethics competition sponsored by the American Counseling Association. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Graduate students excel in ethics and research, placing in American Counseling Association competition and earning invitations to present at a state conference

A team of students from Eastern Mennonite University earned honorable mention in this year’s American Counseling Association ethics competition.

Tija Krneta, Michael McAndrew, Lisa Reo and Rebecca Wright received the honor in the master’s division, competing against a nationwide field of teams. Nate Koser, assistant professor in EMU’s MA in Counseling program, served as their faculty mentor.

Only four teams were recognized at the master’s level this year. First through third place honors went to Northeastern Illinois University, the College of William and Mary and Neumann University, respectively. Winners, along with links to each team’s project, will be published in the ACA magazine Counseling Today.

“To receive honorable mention is a great recognition, because many teams participate in this competition across the country,” Koser said. “Our team consisted entirely of students in their first year, so it is quite likely that next year we will have another strong team.”

The competition consists of a case study involving a specific ethical dilemma, often with multiple layers and facets.

“This year, the case involved a number of situations that related to issues faced by clinicians working in rural settings,” Koser said. “Our team worked through the dilemma utilizing the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association, as well as additional research into the ethical principles that undergird the codes.”

Specifically, the ethical dilemma focused on “dual relationships,” defined by the American Psychological Association as occurring when a therapist “is in a professional role with a person and at the same time is in another role with the same person” or “with a person closely associated with or related to” that person. Examples might include a friend, family member or student of the therapist, which the APA says could compromise objectivity or effectiveness.

Reo said this year’s dilemma was “complex,” but said the team came together quickly even during “an academically stressful part of the semester.”

The faculty mentor cannot assist the team in any way with its research or in writing the response of up to 15 pages. According to the ACA website, each team must clearly identify the perceived dilemma, the action they would take, justification for those actions, and a description of the model they used to arrive at their decision. ACA Ethics Committee members serve as judges.

“This competition was one of the biggest challenges of my semester, even more so than the class projects,” said McAndrew. He said the rural focus of this year’s study was particularly apt in the team’s Rockingham County context. “Our project was very collaborative, and I think the final product reflects the best of all our thinking about contemporary ethical issues in counseling.”

Students to present research

Three graduate students  will present at Virginia Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (VACES) Graduate Counseling Student Conference Feb. 27 at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

Jordan Leahy, in “The Effects of Poverty and the Implications for Counselors,” will look at the effects that poverty can have on individuals who experience it, examining it as “an outside force that impairs the individual’s ability to function at their best and highest capabilities.” He recommends that poverty be added to the list of Adverse Childhood Experiences documented in earlier studies and looks at what this issue means for counselors.

Philip Schulte, in “Using Evolutionary Wisdom to Understand Mental Illness and Create Change,” will highlight the importance of the mind/body connection. “Specifically, diet, exercise, community and connection with nature provide excellent ways for individuals to both prevent and decrease struggles with mental health,” Schulte writes.

Alex Mitchell, in “The Relationship between Trans-Generational Trauma and Diagnosis Rates of Personality Disorders in Minority Populations,” will examine whether trans-generational trauma (trauma transferred from one generation to the next) is misdiagnosed as a personality disorder in some groups.