Research Topics at Conference Examine Creative Approaches to Counseling

Paul Blisard, from left, Kristi Perryman, Erin Popejoy, Evan Smarinsky, Kendra Shoge, Cameron Houin, Brittany Massengale and Amy Broadwater presented research on counseling.
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Paul Blisard, from left, Kristi Perryman, Erin Popejoy, Evan Smarinsky, Kendra Shoge, Cameron Houin, Brittany Massengale and Amy Broadwater presented research on counseling.

Three faculty members and five doctoral students in the counselor education program at the University of Arkansas presented their research at a national conference recently.

The group attended the Association for Creativity in Counseling Conference in Clearwater, Florida. The counselor education program offers a master's degree in counseling and a doctorate in counselor education.

Two of the topics included research in the area of neuroscience and its implications for the use of creative arts in counseling. One of the presentations covered using sandtray therapy to help military service members deal with trauma.

Kristi Perryman and Erin Popejoy, both assistant professors, gave a research presentation called, "Leaving it in the Sand: Processing Military Combat Trauma Through Sandtray Therapy." This presentation was based on an article the two published in the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. It focused on processing trauma as a way of reducing risk of interpersonal violence.

The neurobiological effects of trauma that military service members may experience reduce the effectiveness of traditional talk therapy, opening the potential for sandtray therapy as a means of processing traumatic events and reducing symptoms of PTSD. Perryman and Popejoy have recently finished data collection for a research study on this topic as well and are in the process of writing up the results for publication.

Popejoy's research focuses on helping military families. Research indicates about one-third of military service members returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan experience symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. The disorder is characterized by symptoms of autonomic nervous system arousal, avoidance of reminders of trauma, negative affect, and intrusive memories.

Sandtray therapy allows for a safe sense of distance from the trauma, creating a therapeutic detachment that permits a client to process through the trauma event without becoming severely overwhelmed or distressed, according to the article. Clients can project emotionally charged issues onto the miniature figures and other props used in the sandtray, creating a safe method of exploring and discussing various issues.

Perryman and Paul Blisard, clinical assistant professor, presented "Creatively Engaging the Brain Through Art and Body," which explored the research in the area of using creative arts with trauma survivors. They offered suggestions for the specific types of art activities to incorporate, depending on the reaction experienced — fight, flight or freeze. They have a research article in press on the topic with the Journal of Mental Health Counseling.

Erin Popejoy made another presentation with Mark Popejoy, senior art director for Omelet LLC, a creative marketing agency based in Los Angeles. It was titled "Exploring Identity Through Personal Logos: A Creative Intervention."

Perryman mentored three other students in their presentations: Kendra Shoge and Evan Smarinsky: "Expressive Art and Creativity in Supervision" and Cameron Houin and Shoge: "Ethical Considerations in Using Expressive Arts to Supervise Play Therapists."

Erin Popejoy mentored Brittany Massengale on her presentation, "Helping the Helpers: Creative Approaches to Self-care."

Student Amy Broadwater presented a poster on her research, "A Million Reasons to Stay: A Passive Program for Residence Halls to Run Concurrent with Suicide Awareness Month."


Heidi S. Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions


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