ACA National Awards

Best Practices Research Award

The Best Practices Research Award recognize Best Practice research projects in three categories – those conducted by a student, a practicing counselor, and a faculty counselor trainer. Nominations for this award will be assessed by the ACA Research and Knowledge Committee.

Presented to Laura Shannonhouse, Ashley J. Blount, Kristie Opiola, Kelly Emelianchik-Key, Rebekah Byrd, Amanda La Guardia

Shannonhouse, LauraLaura Shannonhouse, LPC, NCC, is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services at Georgia State University whose research has been influenced by her clinical experiences working with marginalized populations in the U.S. and in other countries, such as Mexico, Haiti, and South Africa. Laura is particularly interested in finding best practices for maximizing counselors’ acquisition of multicultural counseling competence. Her primary lines of inquiry are culture-centered clinical outreach with disaster-impacted populations; cognitive-emotional-developmental-style processing in beginning counselors; and suicide intervention training, particularly in K–12 schools.

Blount, AshleyAshley J. Blount, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. A past recipient of the American Counseling Association’s Glen E. Hubele National Graduate Student Award, Dr. Blount has been recognized several times for outstanding student work. Her research interests include: wellness, counselor education and supervision, and issues of concern for athletes and former athletes. She has published articles in national refereed journals such as Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development and has presented papers at international, national, and regional counseling conferences. Dr. Blount is an active member of ACA, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, and the Association for Assessment and Research in Counseling.


Opiola, KristieKristie Opiola is assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and assistant director of the Multicultural Play Therapy Center at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC).  She is a licensed professional counselor, registered play therapist, and certified child life specialist. Kristie’s research agenda, publications, and scholarly presentations are focused on effective interventions for children with a history of interpersonal trauma and early childhood adverse experiences, with a particular emphasis on attachment disruption. She has a personal and professional passion for supporting adoptive and foster families. Kristie is an active member of the American Counseling Association, the Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling,  and the Association for Play Therapy, among other organizations. She was named an emerging leader by the Association for Humanistic Counseling in 2015.


Emelianchik-key, KellyKelly Emelianchik-Key, PhD, LMHC, NCC, ACS, is an assistant professor and internship coordinator at Florida Atlantic University in the clinical mental health counseling program. Dr. Emelianchik-Key has over 10 years of experience working with diverse populations, including children, teens, couples, college students, and families, in a variety of capacities and settings. Her research interests include: dating and intimate partner violence, self-injury, clinical supervision, gender issues, career development with marginalized populations, and ethics. She is an active member of many national and state professional organizations and serves on several committees. In addition, she has refereed journal publications, book contributions, and national presentations.


Byrd, RebekahRebekah Byrd, PhD, LPC, NCC, RPT-S, is an associate professor of counseling at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) with over 15 years of experience working with children and adolescents. Dr. Byrd currently maintains a client caseload specializing in children/adolescents and play therapy. Her research interests include: play therapy, school counseling, social justice/multicultural concerns, self-injury, women’s wellness, and Adlerian theory. In addition to serving on national and state committees, she has edited a book on common encounters in school counseling and written many refereed journal articles and multiple book chapters. Since 2010, Dr. Byrd has been a faculty member at ETSU, where she also serves as program coordinator and school counseling concentration coordinator in the Department of Counseling and Human Services.  


LaGuardia, Amanda Amanda La Guardia is an assistant professor of counseling and coordinator of the mental health counseling program in the School of Human Services at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. La Guardia has 15 years of experience working in the mental health field as an in-home case worker, inpatient group recreational therapist, and in-home family counselor and also as a private practitioner counseling adolescents and young adults who are struggling with mixed anxiety and depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and non-suicidal self-injury. Active in various professional organizations, Dr. La Guardia serves as assistant editor of the journal Counselor Education and Supervision. She completed her doctoral degree at Old Dominion University with a concentration in research and women’s studies.