After losing his mother at age four and his father at 16, Jesse Elijah Roberts (GWU ’11) could easily have given up all hope. Instead, he channeled what he knows of grief—and of grace—into his academic pursuits at Gardner-Webb (more on that below). As an undergrad, Roberts interned as a counselor for Hospice of Rutherford County, where he now works as a Community Grief and Bereavement Counselor. He is also a graduate student in Gardner-Webb’s Mental Health Counseling program, a Graduate Residence Director for GWU’s Royster Residence Hall, a Graduate Assistant for GWU Plant Operations, and the pianist for First Baptist Church, Rutherfordton.
As an undergraduate, you worked on an article that ended up being published, something most students don’t experience until graduate school. Would you tell us a little about that research? Sure. Dr. James Morgan (Gardner-Webb professor of psychology) and I conducted a literature review titled “Helping Bereaved Children and Adolescents: Strategies and Implications for Counselors,” which was published in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling. My largest contribution to the research was dealing with the use of bibliotherapy when working with bereaved children. Bibliotherapy is the therapeutic use of literature to help people with difficult issues.
Based on your study of bibliotherapy, you wrote a book that might be used when counseling grieving children, right? Yes. Bibliotherapy is a topic of great interest to me, so I’ve written a children’s book called “Katie the Ladybug: Explaining Emotions of Grief to a Child” (publishing info?). It serves as a creative way to explain the emotions that come with experiencing the loss of a loved one.
What gives you such a passion for grief counseling? Having lost my mom when I was four, and then my father as a teenager, I’ve had to deal with grief on two completely different levels. Without going into a counseling role, nothing I’ve experienced would make any sense. Instead, every hardship I’ve encountered has played a role in shaping who I am today and what I do professionally, and it’s my hope that I’m becoming the person God wants me to be.
Would you share a little about the influence that Gardner-Webb professors had on your academic journey? Dr. Morgan is the professor who has had the greatest influence on my academic career. More than a professor, he continues to be a mentor and a close friend. He saw something in me that I did not see in myself. He motivated and challenged me academically by asking me to help with his research into helping bereaved children and adolescents. Without his encouragement, support, and faithful mentorship, I would never have had the opportunity to be a part of a national journal publication as an undergraduate student, which was definitely a highlight of my undergraduate career and a tremendously fulfilling experience.
What’s so intriguing and rewarding about conducting research and then sharing it with others, either by presenting it or publishing it? It’s just incredibly humbling to be a part of something bigger than yourself. I think our article is a wonderful illustration of that. More than just completing an assignment, I had the privilege of working on a meaningful project that will hopefully help counselors better serve people who are hurting from losing loved ones.
Did you ever have the chance to present your research in person, either at a conference or in a class? I had the privilege of presenting at Gardner-Webb’s annual Life of the Scholar Multidisciplinary Conference, and received the first place award in my subject area. That presentation related what I’d learned about bibiliotherapy to the children’s book I’d written. That chance to share my research with a group of scholars and professors who were genuinely interested in learning about my work—that was a very fulfilling opportunity.
Has your undergraduate research experience opened doors after graduation? Our research has helped me tremendously in my job at Hospice as a Community Grief and Bereavement Counselor. We have a program called “Rainbows,” which is a support group offered in Rutherford County Schools for children who have experienced a loss. I use what I learned from our research frequently in my work. Many times, children are more comfortable relating to the characters in the books we read than they are simply talking about their feelings.
So you’ve found that your research is still vital and relevant in your day-to-day life as a counselor? Absolutely. That’s the awesome thing about research—the knowledge I gained became a part of me, so it will never really stop. I’ll not only use those lessons as a professional counselor, but I’ll carry them with me for the rest of my life.