by Claire Miller
Julia Whisenhunt had submitted her application to the College of Education’s Counselor Education and Practice program and had already scheduled her admissions interview when she and other potential doctoral students were invited to a social in their honor.
The event offered prospective students the opportunity to learn more about the COE’s Department of Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), and Whisenhunt’s conversations with CPS faculty solidified her belief that Georgia State University was the right place for her.
“The faculty were so warm and open – it was really moving,” she explained. “When I was looking for a doctoral program, I wanted to find one that would help me learn and grow, and I knew I’d found it at Georgia State.”
While in her doctoral program, Whisenhunt focused her research on self-injury and suicide, conducting a study to determine whether those areas are related and how their connection shapes treatment for people who self-injure.
“I surveyed different kinds of counselors about their experiences with clients who self-injure,” she said. “There’s not a consensus among people who are actually working with these clients – some counselors believe that people who self-injure are inherently at risk for suicide, but some said they didn’t think they were always related.”
She also spent six years volunteering in a partial hospitalization program, which provides short-term mental health treatment as an alternative to a lengthy hospital stay, implementing a technique called expressive therapy to help clients express themselves, develop coping skills, and work towards emotional healing. Expressive therapy incorporates creative activities, such as art and music, and her experiences with this technique helped inform a presentation she gave at the annual Association for Creativity in Counseling (ACC) conference this September on creativity in clinical supervision.
When she wasn’t in classes, conducting research or volunteering, Whisenhunt spent her time serving as the membership chair for Georgia State’s chapter of Chi Sigma Iota (CSI), the international honor society for students, professional counselors and counselor educators. She organized membership and recruitment drives and worked with other CSI members on social justice and advocacy projects, such as the jacket drive they organized for GIVE, an alternative school in Gwinnett County where Whisenhunt worked for two years.
“When you sit down and talk to those students at GIVE, you realize they have so many things going on in their lives. It was hard to leave a place like that, so the jacket drive we did to benefit the kids was a way for me to stay connected with them and give back at the same time,” she said.
Whisenhunt earned her doctorate this summer and began her career this fall as an assistant professor in the counselor education program in the Department of Clinical and Professional Studies at the University of West Georgia, using the lessons she learned from her professors and peers with her own students.
“The faculty in the COE really adapted their supervision and teaching styles to meet their students’ needs, and that is a wonderful gift,” she said. “It was a demanding program, but they gave us the support we needed to succeed. I’d like to do that for my students.”
For more information about the Counselor Education and Practice program, visit http://education.gsu.edu/CPS/4500.html.