Last week I attended the Georgia College Counseling Association’s 18th Annual Conference in St. Simons Island, Georgia. The event’s theme was “Chart Your Course for Success” which was quite apropos with the conference being right on the water!
The conference started with a bang Wednesday morning with a very informational and thought-provoking presentation on ethics in counseling led by Brian Van Brunt, Ed.D. of Western Kentucky University and M.J. Raleigh, Ph.D. of St. Mary’s College that featured several case studies for group discussion. The difference in both opinion and style between the presenters added to the realism of the topic – there are often no black and white answers in truly ethical dilemmas. As counselors, we can all agree on the basics of beneficence, nonmaleficence, and the like, but life throws curveballs to our clients and to us. After this presentation, we attended lunch with former ACA president Colleen Logan, Ph.D. as our keynote speaker. I had never seen Dr. Logan speak before and she was both humorous and serious in her talk encouraging our profession to do more to help students who are bullied, whether they are LGBTQ or straight. She talked about her own experiences of being bullied in school and as a gay woman in funny and heartwarming anecdotes from her life, bringing up valuable points for us to consider as well as putting a human face to the issues.
After lunch, I attended a workshop that challenged my way of thinking. Melissa Massey, MS of DeKalb Technical College led a session on wellness drumming. This initially called to mind drum circles, flower children, and Woodstock. However, it soon became clear to me that there were indeed innumerable benefits to this sort of group activity. Much of the three hours was spent communicating without words, and the group members fell into unique harmony with each other. Our creativity was expressed through the myriad instruments we had to choose from – everything from bongos and maracas to reformed household products like an old water jug and a cheese grater. I walked away not only feeling more relaxed but seeing how powerful an activity this could be for team-building or in working out group and individual conflicts.
Becky Foster, a Master’s candidate at Mercer University (and my classmate) put on a wonderful presentation highlighting the relationship between female college athletes and eating disorders. Her review of the literature was quite thorough and her passion for this topic was evident throughout her presentation. She was also one of three recipients of the organization’s President’s Grant, along with Elizabeth Meister of Georgia State University and Stefanie Rodriguez of Georgia Southern University. The President’s Grant is open to masters, specialist or doctoral level students who are matriculating in programs that would allow them to become college counselors, such as counseling or social work.
Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend sessions dealing with young adults in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse, the complexity of LGBTQ issues, and the impact of the black family on career choices. Teresa Wren Johnston of Kennesaw State University and Lori Albert-Walker of Ridgeview Institute shared valuable information regarding alcohol and substance abuse trends in college students and what can be done to prevent abuse and aid in the recovery of students. Helping students remain in recovery can be a daunting challenge due to the strong presence of alcohol and drugs amongst college students and sometimes on college campuses. Kelly Moselle, MA, MS and Jana Pearce, MS of HERO House led a presentation on their sober living facility where students come to balance being in school and remaining in recovery. They brought three students from the facility to share their personal experiences with substance abuse and the current successes of their recovery. The three gentlemen had very moving stories and it was evident that the support they received from each other and from HERO House had made quite a difference in their lives.
Rachel Anne Kieran, Psy.D. from Georgia State University took on the complexities of LGBTQ issues and the range of sexual and gender identities. The biological, physical, and social aspects of identity were enumerated as well as the ways we may unintentionally put up walls with our sexual and gender minority clients. Dr. Kieran is well-versed in this specialty and opened up my eyes to issues I had not previously considered.
Cheryl Smith’s presentation was also eye-opening. Smith, a doctoral candidate at Regent University, presented on the impact of the black family on career choice. Her own experiences and those of the attendees made for an intriguing discussion of the plethora of factors that go into how a college student goes about choosing and acting on a career path.
The presentations went strong into Friday morning, the last day of the conference. Pat Mooney, MSSW and Carolyn Garskie, MA of The Savannah College of Art and Design, led a dynamic presentation on counseling college students in the presence of social media. The merits and pitfalls of media such as Facebook, texting, and online counseling were engagingly discussed.
The final presentation I had the honor of attending was on suicide prevention on college campuses. Presenters John Frevert, Ed.S., Angie Wheelus, and Jessica Williams, both graduate interns, used a multimedia approach to tackle this emotionally charged subject, with a prevention video, a group brainstorming activity, and a highly informative lecture. The three presenters are from the University of West Georgia and they shared the activities they use on their campus to increase awareness of the seriousness of student suicide. It was clear that UWG has put a lot of time and energy into their suicide awareness program and it would be a great model for other schools as well.
I also had time to squeeze in a presentation of my own, dealing with reaching out to Asian international students who may benefit from counseling services. GCCA generously provided netbooks and projectors in each of the presentation rooms to facilitate the ease of using PowerPoint and other presentation technologies.
I only wish I could have been in two or three places at once so that I didn’t have to miss any of the presentations. I highly recommend both professionals working with college students and college students studying counseling themselves to become involved with GCCA (www.gacollegecounseling.org), which also offers workshops throughout the year. I had the privilege of being elected student representative of GCCA this year and would be happy to answer any questions you may have!
Tara Overzat is a counselor-in-training at Mercer University in Atlanta. Her interests include multicultural issues and acculturation amongst college students.