Faculty Research Spotlight
Dr. Monica Leppma
Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling, and Counseling Psychology
Many people with and without psychological disorders struggle to cope with the overwhelming stressors and emotions associated with everyday life. One approach to solving that problem that is gaining traction among clinicians is a practice called mindfulness. Rather than change or ignore stressful feelings, counselors teaching mindfulness encourage clients to acknowledge and accept their thoughts and feelings without passing judgement on them.
Dr. Monica Leppma of West Virginia University’s Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling, and Counseling Psychology is an avid proponent of mindfulness, and it has played a key role in both her career as a mental health counselor and as an educator and researcher at WVU.
“Mindfulness is about paying attention and being in the present moment,” Leppma says. “Rather than changing people's thoughts and feelings, it changes their relationships to those thoughts and feelings, so it promotes acceptance instead of negativity.”
She also notes that practicing mindfulness has been proven to increase well-being, empathy, and ability to focus and that research is currently being conducted investigating its effects on everything from our brains to our genes.
Leppma first heard about mindfulness while pursuing her master’s degree in counseling at the University of Central Florida (UCF). After graduating, Leppma opened a private practice in Florida, where she taught mindfulness as a skill to help her clients deal with complicated emotions. Although she was already a licensed mental health counselor, Leppma eventually became so fascinated with the growing research and discovery in the area of mindfulness that she felt compelled to further her education and become part of the movement to educate upcoming counselors about the useful tools associated with it.
Leppma chose to pursue her doctorate at UCF, where she gave her dissertation on a mindfulness intervention she conducted with counseling students. The intervention involved instruction on a compassion-based meditation practice called “loving-kindness meditation,” something that Leppma, who was first taught to meditate by her father at age eight, is no stranger to. Her dissertation research led to publication in the counseling field’s top journal, the Journal of Counseling and Development.
Leppma is passionate about facilitating well-being through the framework of positive psychology.
“My interest in wellness and resilience naturally extends to investigating the development and competence of counselors, whose job it is to facilitate wellness in clients and help them to overcome challenges,” Leppma says.
Thus, her research also encompasses counselor development in areas such as assessment and cultural competence. She has published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice and is completing a manuscript to submit to the Applied Neuropsychology journal. However, the primary focus of her research is on mindfulness and related principles.
Leppma is currently working on a mindfulness and self-compassion study in relation to learning with undergraduate students at WVU who experience math anxiety. This pilot study sets the groundwork for developing a mindfulness-based intervention for math students. She hopes to submit a grant proposal this year to expand understanding and treatment of math anxiety to improve student retention in STEM disciplines. In addition to her work with WVU students, Leppma is also conducting a mindfulness intervention for counseling students entering practicum at Western Michigan University, and she is in the planning stages for a study investigating the use of mindfulness as a protective factor for at-risk and disadvantaged youth.
Of course, as she is aware of its ample benefits, Leppma is a practitioner of mindfulness herself.
“I have practiced various forms of meditation for over 20 years and began practicing mindfulness about nine years ago,” Leppma says. “In order for counselors to be effective, we have to practice what we teach.”