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Family systems scholar joins Department of Counseling and Learning Sciences

Family systems and relationships play a significant role in individual growth and development throughout the lifespan, but Jonathon Beckmeyer maintains that these contexts can also play a role in individual health and well-being.

Jonathon Beckmeyer      

Jonathon Beckmeyer 

“Researchers are increasingly understanding that individual health behaviors are really centered on and influenced by the relational systems that we’re part of,” Beckmeyer said.

Beckmeyer, who has joined the Department of Counseling and Learning Sciences as an assistant professor this fall, seeks to understand the ways in which interpersonal relationships and interpersonal relational contexts influence health and well-being with an emphasis on family relationships.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Beckmeyer to CEHS. His research helps shed light on how and why some families are able to adapt to whatever life throws at them—including this pandemic—while other families struggle to do so,” said Melissa Luna, associate dean for research. “He asks some interesting and important questions—the answers to which can impact whether and how individuals within different family systems are supported in our communities. We are fortunate that Dr. Beckmeyer has chosen CEHS and our students as he continues his work in this area, and we look forward to learning from and with him in the years to come.”

Beckmeyer’s most recent research and scholarship focuses on post-divorce families and specifically examines how former spouses work together to support their children as they grow and develop. According to Beckmeyer, these relationships have become increasingly complicated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you are divorced from a spouse and you have a shared custody agreement, it’s going to be much more difficult to carry that agreement out when you aren’t supposed to leave your home,” Beckmeyer said. “And you and your former partner might also have differing ideas about what social distancing means.”

At the beginning of the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were going into effect, Beckmeyer launched a post-divorce families project, which allowed him to capture data about how divorced families were influenced by the unanticipated challenges stay-at-home orders presented. He and his collaborators found that the pandemic had not impacted the co-parenting of most divorced parents, but those who did say that the pandemic had impacted their co-parenting characterized the impact as negative.

“What we think is happening is that some divorced parents are going to weather this just fine because they have already created an adaptive relationship,” Beckmeyer said. “Those who don’t have an adaptive relationship are probably going to have greater conflicts and struggle to carry out things like shared custody and shared parenting.”

Beyond this current work taking place during the pandemic, Beckmeyer examines other relationships such as those between parents and their adolescent children, and parents and their children as they get older and move toward college. He has a particular research interest in the adolescent population and also studies adolescent romantic and sexual relationships.

Prior to joining the CEHS faculty, Beckmeyer served as an assistant professor in the Indiana University School of Public Health, where he was able to connect his research on interpersonal and relational contexts with what are commonly perceived as individual health behaviors.

“For example, the food that children eat in their home is not necessarily the food they want to eat. They’re eating the food because it’s what their family system has provided,” Beckmeyer said.

Beckmeyer also collaborated with his public health colleagues to integrate his work in adolescent and emerging adult relationships with research on adolescent and young adult sexual health.

“You might think that there are a lot of people who are integrating those together, but they're really pretty separate fields,” Beckmeyer said. “It was an interesting and unique opportunity to merge them together.”

As Beckmeyer joins the CEHS faculty, he looks forward to continuing his research while also working with WVU students.

“One of the reasons I wanted to go into academia was to be able to be a mentor for students like I had been mentored throughout my education,” Beckmeyer said. “I want to support other scholars as they are growing in their careers and academic disciplines, whether they’re undergraduate or graduate students.”

According to Amy Root, chair of the Department of Counseling and Learning Sciences, Beckmeyer’s interest in working with students and collaborating with researchers in different disciplines make him an ideal fit for CEHS.

“Jonathon’s research on adolescent and family well-being will contribute to the programs within our department, as well as units across campus, and we are thrilled to welcome him,” Root said. “His current work on the link between romantic relationships and sexual health have direct applications to public health and psychology, and his interest in collaborative projects with students and faculty is in the spirit of the WVU community.”