The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has presented its 2011 Outstanding Dissertation Award to Virginia Tech alumna Susan Perkins for her research on how clients influence the outcome of their counseling.

Perkins, who received her doctoral degree from the Department of Human Development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Science in May 2010, earned the award for her work “Influential client factors: Understanding and organizing therapists’ perceptions of client factors that influence reported outcome of therapy.”

“This is an important study that I believe will have a significant impact on the field of family therapy,” said Fred Piercy, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and chairman of Perkins’ doctoral committee. “It is great to see someone as creative as Susan, who has worked so hard, be recognized for her excellent work.”

Perkins was motivated to do the study and make it the subject of her dissertation in order to see if what she observed in a clinical setting could be confirmed through qualitative and quantitative data.

“In doing couple therapy, I noticed that I approached each couple very differently, based on who they were as individuals, what was happening in their lives, and how they interacted with each other,” she said. “While this seemed to work well clinically, I wanted that aspect of my work to be based on research and not as much on instinct.”

She says she found that among other things, her theory was right and that if one partner acted in a way that created a sense of connection or support, this contributed to the couple having a positive outcome to their therapy.

The association’s recognition of Perkins’ work has inspired her to further look at ways that might result in useful contributions to the field of couple therapy.

“I feel the association has put this beautiful seal of approval on the work I did for the dissertation,” Perkins said, “saying it is not only good quality but also valuable information.”

Piercy and the rest of her committee members were instrumental in her success with the project and the dissertation, she said. The other committee members were Megan Dolbin-MacNab, assistant professor, Department of Human Development; Peter Doolittle, director of the Virginia Tech Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research; and Adrian Blow of Michigan State University.

Perkins currently coordinates the Marriage and Family Counseling track for the Northwest Nazarene University Counselor Education Department and is the clinic director at Families ETC, both in Boise, Idaho. She also is the president of the Idaho Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, a division of the Idaho Counseling Association.




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