Students, faculty from COE Department of Counseling and Higher Education receive national awards

By Mary Murphy

The American Counseling Association recently announced its recipients for the annual ACA National Awards. This year, six out of 35 awards were presented to University of North Texas students and professors for their distinguished achievements.

Dee Ray, Counseling and Higher Education professor and director of the Child and Family Resource Clinic, received the Don Dinkmeyer Social Interest Award for her contributions to the counseling field that positively influence children and their families; Cynthia Chandler, Counseling and Higher Education professor and director of the Consortium for Animal Assisted Therapy, received the ACA Professional Development award for her pioneering and continuing work on Animal Assisted Therapy; and Cynthia Bevly, a doctoral student at UNT, received the Ralph Berdie Memorial Research Award to support a pilot study for her dissertation concerning the assessment of psychostimulant misuse among college students.

Included in the ACA National Awards are the ACA Best Practices Awards, which are given to three nominees each year for their outstanding research projects. Both Yung-Wei Dennis Lin, a former UNT doctoral student, and Jenifer Balch, a senior lecturer at UNT, received an ACA Best Practice Award.

Although Lin is now an assistant professor at New Jersey City University, he received this award for his UNT Ph.D. dissertation research.

"I am so humbly grateful for all the training and support I received in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at UNT, particularly the Center for Play Therapy," Lin said. "Without all the care, support and training there, this meta-analysis study would never be completed."

Balch received this award for her groundbreaking dissertation research study, which was the first study to be considered an evidence-based design exploring play therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The study demonstrated the importance of attending to interpersonal dynamics in children with ASD, and future researchers can build on Balch's study to create a better understanding of how and to what degree play therapy is helpful for children with ASD.

"I put my heart and soul into my dissertation research and am honored to receive this award as a result of it," Balch said. "I am extremely passionate about working with and advocating for the mental health needs of the autism population and truly believe in the power of play therapy. I hope to see future research and advocacy develop from my study."    

The ACA's International Association for Offender Counselors (IAAOC) also awarded an annual one-recipient research grant to Bryan Stare, a doctoral candidate from the UNT College of Education. Stare will use the grant for his dissertation entitled "African American Males' Experiences of Treatment Mandated by Mental Health Court: A Phenomenological Study."

"I believe that [Bryan's] research can have important implications in the field of counseling, thereby offering skills and techniques to practicing counselors to better understand and serve individuals who fall under the umbrella of addiction and offender counseling," said Delini Fernando, the UNT Counseling and Higher Education professor who nominated Stare for the research grant.

According to Stare, African American men are overrepresented in the judicial system and underrepresented in research on mental health courts, a form of specialty court. Specialty courts are designed to help offenders confront mental health or substance abuse issues in order to reduce the likelihood that those factors lead to a return to prison. Stare plans to study African American males' perceptions and experiences of the mental health services offered at a mental health court (MHC) diversion program in Dallas County to understand what the program is like for participants.

"I feel honored and encouraged receiving this grant," Stare said. "The study I am preparing is very meaningful to me personally and professionally. As my research plan materialized I picked up incredible support along the way from my peers, committee, research team, and now a national organization. I feel very fortunate."

The number of ACA National Awards presented to UNT professors, former students and current students represents the accomplishments and positive impact of those in the College of Education's Department of Counseling and Higher Education, said Janice Miner Holden, department chair.

"I think it's noteworthy that there are hundreds of counseling programs across the U.S., but six of the total 35 [ACA National] award recipients are affiliated with UNT," she said. "We are disproportionately well-represented among award recipients."

The ACA National Awards will be formally presented to recipients at an awards ceremony during the ACA 2016 Conference and Expo in Montreal, Canada, in April.


Above, Jenifer Balch, COE senior lecturer and recipient of an ACA Best Practice Award.