Erica Boughfman earned a doctoral degree in counselor education and a master's degree in counseling from the College of Education and Health Professions.
Alumna Helps Ensure Students Engage with Professional Associations
University of Arkansas presentations made up nearly one-third of the offerings for counseling practitioners and students during a three-day state conference last fall, on topics such as self-injury, teen dating violence and dangers of technology use for adolescents.
More than 30 students in the counselor education program in the College of Education and Health Professions along with faculty, staff and alumni of the program were involved in those presentations at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Counseling Association in Hot Springs.
The college offers master's and doctoral degrees in counseling and counselor education. The program's strong presence at the conference illustrates two parts of its mission: to prepare students to work as scholar-practitioners in a variety of service-delivery settings and to enhance the professional development and continuing education of counseling professionals in the field.
"The development of a professional identity is an important component of the counselor education program," said Roy Farley, professor of counselor education who coordinates the program. "Students actively identify with the counseling profession and the counseling specialty for which they are preparing."
He said they do this by participating in professional counseling organizations and by participating in seminars, workshops and other activities that contribute to personal and professional growth.
"A lot of work and collaboration went into these conference presentations, which not only contributed to their professional growth and professional identity but to the advancement of others in the profession as well," Farley continued.
Other faculty members in the program are Dan Kissinger, associate professor, Kristin Higgins, assistant professor, and Judy Stephen, instructor. The counselor education program also shares a federal grant with the rehabilitation counseling program in the college through which faculty members prepare students to work as psychiatric vocational rehabilitation specialists.
Alumna Paves Way
Erica Boughfman, who earned a doctoral degree in counselor education last summer and works as one of two clinical managers of Ozark Guidance's school-based services in Washington County, was involved in the presentations on understanding self-injurious behavior, the hidden epidemic of teen dating violence and when the Internet and other media use becomes problematic for children and adolescents as well as a fourth session on school-based mental health.
When Boughfman entered the master's program in 2001, she was among the few master's students who attended professional conferences, she recalled. In the decade since then, the practice has become common and Boughfman has been a major proponent of it, both in her own involvement and her encouragement of other students.
Boughfman grew up in Fort Smith and when she entered the University of Arkansas after high school, she chose elementary education as her major. It was during her observation of elementary classrooms that she realized counseling was more in line with her interests.
"I remember it distinctly," Boughfman explained. "I was shadowing a teacher and there was one child having behavioral problems, and I thought that's the child I want to help, not necessarily a classroom full of children. That's where the shift happened for me."
So, after receiving her Bachelor of Science in Education, Boughfman entered the Master of Science program in counseling. When she finished that degree, she went to work for Ozark Guidance for 2 1/2 years before returning to the university to enter the doctoral program in counselor education. Boughfman received a Doctoral Academy Fellowship through funding set aside for exceptional graduate students in a gift of $300 million from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation in 2002. After two years, she returned to work full time for Ozark Guidance while finishing her doctorate. For her dissertation, she developed a school-based self-efficacy scale, and she is working on several possible articles from the dissertation and will make a poster presentation on it with Dan Kissinger, associate professor of counselor education, at a national conference this month.
Internships Build Skills
One of Boughfman's responsibilities at Ozark Guidance was to strengthen an internship program for university students in the agency's school-based services division. Ozark Guidance, a community mental health center, offers services to children, adults and families in Washington, Benton, Madison and Carroll counties.
"Ozark Guidance has had internship programs for many years but it wasn't the focus of the school-based area," Boughfman said. "I talked with other students at the university and found strong interest in interning at local schools. I discussed it with my boss, and a team and I revamped the way we do internships, streamlining them so that people get a similar experience across the departments and the level of the experience is high across the board."
Students come from primarily the university's programs in counseling and social work, the latter which is based in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. Boughfman has overseen the work of interns throughout her career with Ozark Guidance and, in her new role, will help to oversee all interns in the future.
She has consistently collaborated with interns on research and presentations at state conferences. Her work with school-age clients suggests many of the topics she and her students delve into.
Boughfman is based at Farmington High School and works with about 20 students there. Often, her clients are referred after making repeated visits to the school's counselor, who must also provide academic guidance at the schools.
"I see typical situations from students adjusting to parents' divorce to others suffering post-traumatic stress disorder caused by years of sexual abuse," Boughfman said. "The economy has affected these kids, too. When their families are struggling to buy gas and meet other essential needs, there's an added level of stress and it's harder to focus on deeper issues. It's hard for me to deal with someone's past abuse issues when they are fearful every day of losing their housing.
"I find new themes from year to year that lead to presentations," she continued. "We have used the Arkansas Counseling Association for years as a way to present research to practitioners who may not have the time to investigate deeper themselves."
Conferences Polish Delivery
When Boughfman collaborates with interns or former interns, she asks what part they would like to play in a team presentation, but she also encourages them to step out of their comfort zone to gain valuable experience.
"I let them decide how much involvement they want to have," she said. "I think it's important to get them engaged in a professional context at this stage. Students are more active in professional organizations than they were 10 years ago. It's less unusual to have students on the master's level presenting at conferences. I think they are not quite as intimidated. In their classes at the university, they are doing amazing presentations, too. They have a wealth of information to share."
Interns are generally more comfortable presenting information and then deferring to Boughfman when it comes time for questions from the practitioners, she said.
"They are presenting this information to people with years of experience so they are not always comfortable talking about specifics," she said.
After the first time she presented information on self-injury, Boughfman received her first referral, and the student completed treatment with her. Boughfman collaborated with Kristin Higgins, assistant professor of counselor education, who later made a presentation on the topic at a national conference. Boughfman has spoken about the topic on campus as well as to a group of Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in Washington County.
The research into challenges posed by technology use added to the awareness Boughfman needed for her own clinical practice, she explained.
"There is a whole generation of kids who has this new way of communicating, new way of talking, that parents don't understand," she said. "There are new social networking sites that parents must monitor and they need to know what questions to ask their kids. This can be a positive thing because it gives kids without social outlets or a lot of friends a way to have them. The challenge is that we all make really stupid mistakes as teens but for the older generations those mistakes weren't on YouTube. There are ramifications that teens are not always equipped to handle."
Another topic from recent years was prescription drug abuse. If a counselor asks a teen about using drugs, neither the teen nor the counselor may think about prescription drug abuse, she said.
"Now, I have become aware that I need to ask specifically if the student is taking prescription drugs prescribed for someone else," Boughfman said. "I may not have asked it that way before."