Professors, Students Team Up for Research

Dec 13, 2018

Presenting at a conference can fast-track a graduate's career, professors say.

student research

Shannon Kovalchick (left) and Sarah Walters.

Two clinical mental health counseling students joined Cal U professors to present at the 50th Annual Pennsylvania Counseling Association in Pittsburgh.

Shannon Kovalchick and Sarah Walters, along with Cal U Department of Counselor Education faculty members Dr. Grafton Eliason, Robert Mehalik, and Dr. Jacqueline Walsh participated in the three-day event, “Professional Counseling Identity: Working in the Present, Defining our Future.”

Kovalchick and Eliason were selected by the PCA — the state branch of the nationwide American Counseling Association — to lead an education session about regret therapy. Walters, Mehalik and Walsh presented research and fostered discussions about managing stress in a changing world.

Kovalchick expanded on an original regret therapy model that Eliason created when he was a graduate student that he now teaches in his theories course.

“The original model only deals with grief and loss, but Shannon had the idea that we did not have to limit this to just that but can apply it to any type of regret,” Eliason said.

The two are collaborating on a book about the new model.

“Essentially we are taking an existing approach to therapy and are refining it to be more applicable,” Kovalchick said. “We are trying to take a broad approach and put it into a more concrete model that’s easier for therapists to follow to help people overcome regret.”

Eliason praised Kovalchick for taking the lead in a room of more than 30 professors from others schools and licensed counselors.

“I gave a little bit of the history, but then Shannon taught her whole new model to the attendees and really had the bulk of the education part,” Eliason said.

“It’s so rewarding and an affirmation of our work when we pass on knowledge to our students, who then make a difference themselves in the field with their own creativity.”

Kovalchick, who will graduate in summer 2019, has already been hired as a counselor and intake specialist at SPHS Behavioral Health in Latrobe, Pa., believes presenting at the PCA conference strengthened her repertoire.

“This helped integrate me into the counseling community as well as building my professional credibility and connections,” she said. “I really enjoy this setting and hope to be doing these type of presentations throughout my career.”

Walters also found the conference fulfilling.

Her research looked at stress indicators and different types of stress management solutions such as biofeedback and ecotherapy.

“There are now different ways to manage these type of stressors that we had not seen in the past,” she said. “Every person responds to stress management techniques differently, and some of these techniques such as biofeedback really help to individualize a plan for dealing with stress.”

Mehalik said an interesting aspect of Walters’ research was how professional counselors deal with compassion-fatigue and burnout.

“People are usually in crisis when they see a counselor, and as professional counselors, we take a lot of that on. The changing world involves our changing clientele and how that affects us,” he said.

“Sarah fielded many questions from attendees from all over the state who were fascinated by what she had to offer them.

“This was her first major conference that focused on counseling and was a great tie-in for her.”

Walters, who will graduate in summer 2019, is doing fieldwork at SPHS Behavioral Health in Uniontown, Pa., and also believes the conference experience has made her more effective.

“I love meeting and hearing from others, and this type of dialog really stretches ideas, diversity and perspectives,” she said.

“The feedback from people there has already helped me further develop my work.”

Eliason added that students participating and not just attending conferences can fast-track their careers.

“We include our students in everything we do, especially with presenting and publications, because that’s what will get them into doctoral programs,” he said. “They can even skip their thesis because they can submit their publications from state or national conferences.”