Former doctoral student TJ Schoonover wins the humanist thesis prize


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TJ Schoonover and Kristi Perryman, associate professor and director of the U of A Office of Play Therapy.

The Association for Humanistic Counseling recently presented TJ Schoonover, a former doctoral student at the University of Arkansas, with the Outstanding Humanistic Dissertation Award.

Schoonover, who successfully defended his thesis on June 15, 2021, will receive the award at the association’s annual conference on May 27 and 28. It honors a graduate student in counseling whose thesis is considered important and “with a central and salient humanistic content”.

“TJ’s thesis has important implications for the field of counseling and especially for those who work with children who have experienced trauma,” said Kristi Perryman, associate professor of counselor education at the College of Education and Health Professions and director of the U of A. Play therapy practice.

She said her research provides evidence that counselors can use child-centered play therapy to effectively address the symptoms of children exposed to ACEs, short for “negative childhood experiences.”

“The study is also the first to reveal that the process of change for children who participated began between 8 and 11 sessions,” she said. “This knowledge can impact advisor expectations.”

Schoonover’s research reveals that children who experience ACEs frequently exhibit maladaptive and even violent behaviors that are difficult for a counselor. This can lead to burnout. Understanding the typical progression can lead to confidence for both counselor and caregiver rather than frustration and a sense of hopelessness, Perryman noted.

Perryman said Schoonover’s findings could even lead to policy change. For example, managed care can extend the number of therapy sessions for a child who has experienced trauma. Additional sessions would be essential to help children who live in Arkansas, as they experience ACE more frequently than those in other states, she noted.

Schoonover was inspired to focus his thesis on ACEs after reading The boy who was raised like a doga book by Dr. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz.

“The book tells stories of their experience working with children who have suffered trauma. It sparked my interest. Then I came to college or Arkansas, and Dr. Perryman encouraged me to explore my interest in working with children who have been exposed to ACEs,” he said. “As I explored the subject, I learned of the prevalence of children who have been exposed to ACEs, particularly in Arkansas.”

He found that there were not many evidence-based practices on how to help children heal from their trauma. “I wanted to do a study that would help fill the research gap,” he said.

Schoonover said it was amazing to receive this consultancy award. “We knew this research was important, and I’m grateful that others recognize that. I’m really grateful,” he said.


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