Spotlight: Counseling chair and professor

Spotlight: Counseling chair and professor

Spotlight: Counseling chair and professor
February 16
23:51 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

Behind her common interests of gardening, traveling and photography is a nationally-recognized professor who continues to be awarded for her humanitarian work.

Janice Holden, chair and professor at the department of counseling and higher education in the College of Education, earned the Gilbert and Kathleen Wrenn Award for a Humanitarian and Caring Person this year from the American Counseling Association, the largest professional counseling association in the world.

The award and $1,000 grant is given to an active ACA member, a membership Holden said she has held since the late 1970s. It is aimed specifically at those who devote time and help to people without desire for recognition, save for the personal satisfaction of making a positive impact on the community.

Holden’s professional interest is transpersonal counseling, which she defines as the experiences that transcend the usual personal limits of space and time. It is through this study that she said she received the award.

“I’m very honored,” Holden said. “Sometimes the transpersonal perspective is less recognized, so I’m really pleased that my advocacy work in this field is worthy of being recognized by the ACA.”

Holden was also awarded a research award in 2013 from the Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling, a division of the ACA, and has received honors and recognition for her work annually for the last decade.

Awarding the helpful

Assistant professor of counseling Amanda Giordano nominated Holden, whom she has worked with for almost three years, due to her selfless character, she said.

Giordano said when she read the description of the award, it matched Holden to a tee.

“I asked her if she would be okay with me nominating her for the award, but true to her nature, she was reluctant to tell me about all of the amazing things that she has done in the community and at the university,” Giordano said. “She doesn’t do any of what she does for recognition, so it was actually a little challenging to get the information from her to nominate her for the award.”

Holden’s humility is also seen by her students, including third-year doctoral student Sarah Blalock, who completed her master’s education under Holden’s tutelage 15 years ago and is currently taking one of her transpersonal courses.

Despite their close relationship, Blalock said she found out Holden received the ACA award while reading a newsletter.

“There are so many times I would be researching something and find out she’s written so much of the stuff I’m looking at, but I had no idea because she would never say anything about it,” Blalock said. “She has this certain humble presence that you would never really know she has done all these things.”

Transpersonal experiences

Holden said her interest in the transpersonal perspective of counseling began when she was pursuing her doctoral degree in counselor education.

At Northern Illinois University, she took classes under faculty members whose focus was transpersonal counseling, which encompasses topics like precognition and after-death communication. It took Holden four unfinished dissertation projects with different subjects until she decided to complete her research on near-death experiences.

Although she said she has never had a near-death experience, Holden wrote about her transpersonal experience in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven.” Her story began with her deceased uncle appearing to her in a vision showing her an hourglass without any sand trapped in it.

“There were no words. There was just knowing,” she said. “And what I knew was he wanted me to call my aunt, who was still alive at the time, and tell her that I had seen him and that he showed me this, which was really a message for her.”

Holden said she didn’t talk about the experience for a long time, but when she finally did, she began to understand the meaning of the vision. She said when her aunt’s grandmother had died, the hourglass was the only item her aunt took from the estate because she considered it the most important thing she owned.

Holden said a great amount of research has been conducted on transpersonal experiences, and they can be emotionally healing and reassuring.

“These experiences hold the potential for deeper levels of meaning and reassurance than anything in the physical, material world,” Holden said.

However, Holden said these experiences are typically misunderstood. Because they aren’t rational experiences, it is difficult for those with transpersonal experiences to share their stories with health providers, doctors or even ministers for fear of being labeled as crazy or demonized. Addressing this issue has become her life’s work.

“My research has really been to advocate for people to be able to talk about these experiences in their healthcare settings,” Holden said. “And [to be] responded to in a constructive way really helps them get what’s good out of the experience rather than shuts them down.”

Investing in the next generation

As a member of her dissertation committee, Holden said she poses a considerable presence in Blalock’s doctoral work. She has also taught several classes in which Blalock was a student, including this semester’s transpersonal course.

Blalock said throughout her academic career at UNT, she has taken as many classes as she could with Holden, not only because she admires her teaching methods (which Blalock uses when teaching her own classes), but also because she is an encouraging figure to students.

“I found her very available and supportive, and I know she’s got to be the busiest person on staff,” Blalock said. “So for her to be so available to me has really meant a lot in this whole process.”

Giordano said she noticed students who are mentored by Holden tend to grow at remarkable paces because of the enthusiasm, energy and passion she puts into educating the next generation of counselors.

“She has an utmost respect for students and can oftentimes see their potential maybe even before they can,” Giordano said. “She builds these collaborative working relationships with her students and encourages them and challenges them just enough for them to be able to recognize their own skill set within themselves.”

Featured Image: Counseling Chair Janice Holden. Photo by Riley Stephens – Staff Photographer

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