Saturday, August 16, 2014

Community Engagement: Marriage and Family Therapy Has Left The Office

Marriage and Family Therapists are trained as systems thinkers. What this means is that when an individual presents with symptoms of depression or anxiety, the family and social context of the individual is considered to be at least as important as the thoughts, feelings or biological factors at play. In short, MFTs view the individual through the context in which they are situated.

To push the idea of systems even further, the MFT views the social system as the client, not a collection of clients. MFTs treat families in which someone bears the symptom of depression as opposed to an individual with depressive symptom that also happens to have a family. Context is everything for MFTs.

But what would happen if MFTs engaged on a level one step up from the family system? What if MFTs entered the system at the community level? What does MFT work look like at the community level?

Well, the good news is that it is happening already and it is happening more and more frequently. Here is what I mean: Traditionally when a family comes in with a child with school problems, MFTs think of the family taking their position relative to the school system. That is excellent. But now MFTs are engaging at the school level seeking to help develop systemic processes in the school to help families. When a family comes to therapy because their child is not complying with his diabetes regime we consider the medical community - and that is awesome. But now MFTs are developing ways to collaborate with medical professionals to help families to work in the context of other families with the similar challenges to build supportive communities of families. Healing happens better in community.

As mental health professionals trained in systems thinking, MFTs are taking lead in creative ways to engage at the community level for the benefit of individuals, couples, families, and the overall health of the community.

It is now more common than ever for an MFTs to engage with:

  • Hospitals, medical centers, and clinics
  • Public and privates schools, homeschool co-ops, and school districts
  • Non-profits, service organizations, and agencies that serve specific populations or needs
  • International NGOs, mission groups, and relief organizations
  • Religious congregations, parachurch organizations, and faith-based agencies
  • Neighborhoods and community associations
I am so eager to see the creative collaborations that the new MFTs will develop in the next decade. I believe that the MFTs being trained today are going to be the most creative and innovative MFTs since Minuchin and Whitacker. 

I am excited about the MFT students in the Lipscomb University masters program and the community engagement projects they will develop this Fall. It is going to be a joy to see what they invent and an even greater joy to see them get out in the community and deliver. 

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