Bowen’s Family Systems Theory

Bowen Family Systems Theory

Bowen’s Family Systems Theory is centrally focused on families as an emotional unit within the context of nature.  Bowen systems theory serves as a guide for family therapy, and is moreover the cornerstone of family systems therapy.  Bowen’s theory is robust; however, there are several key concepts and assumptions that construct its framework.

One such concept is triangulation–the basic arrangement of all existing relationships—which specifies that the initial relationship is between two individuals, then, after an undetermined period of time, a third person is inevitably included.  The relationships between these three individuals will constantly shift, and one will consistently become the “outsider” of the triad and continue to push for change.  De-triangulation occurs when a member of the system is successful at differentiating herself from the emotional system and gains personal control over emotionality and reactivity.  This feat results in a sense of responsibility “to” the system as opposed to a responsibility “for” the system.

The primary focus of Bowen systems theory is the establishment of a differentiated self.  Bowen declares that for one to operate at their highest level of functioning in any relationship system, it is necessary that differentiation from the system be reached and maintained.  To function at a high level of differentiation, one must have well-resolved emotional attachments from previous family systems, not be dependent on reactivity from others in their relationships, and have the ability to remain objective regarding themselves as well as their current system involvement.  This concept is introduced to clients at the beginning of therapy in order for their treatment to be optimally received.

When reviewing such concepts as triangulation and differentiation, it is necessary to understand the fundamentals of relationship systems.  The nuclear family emotional system is the most basic of the relationship systems, and involves the parents and children only.  This is when triangulation and shifts in relationships have the potential to change most frequently, and have the most significant impact on the individuals involved.  The causes for the shifts in this system would most likely be from a persistent escalation of tension and anxiety within the system (i.e. between the parents, between a parent and child, or among the children), or the reactivity to significant events by the members of the system.

Concerning relationship systems, a key concept includes family projection which occurs within the nuclear family emotional system.  Bowen proposes that a parent—most often the mother—projects her emotions onto a child as a result of the tension and anxiety she is currently experiencing and absorbing from her other relationships.  The adaptive parent commonly becomes over-emotionally involved with one of the children, potentially leading to the child having differentiation issues and unresolved emotional attachments to this system as well as being prone to emotional cutoff from family.  This is typically the result of the parent attempting to anticipate any insecurities or issues they may have, wrongly diagnosing these issues, and then “fixing” the dilemma, which ultimately leads to the child developing a strong, unnecessary dependence on the parent for the resolution to the issue.

Furthermore, the ability to function at a high level of differentiation is pivotal when studying the multigenerational transmission process.  The multigenerational relationship patterns (positive and negative) exist when an individual enters new relationships with others who are functioning at a similar level of differentiation.  This behavior perpetuates the cycle of parents attempting to shape the child, the child responding to the parents’ anxiety level, and the establishment of a significant dependency on the emotional reactivity of others in their system.  Understanding the transmission of multigenerational patterns is a concept that Bowen placed at the forefront of his therapeutic approach.  He would have clients construct a genogram depicting not only their nuclear family, but also their extended family system in an attempt for them to objectively see the behavioral patterns among all of the individuals involved, as opposed to simply possessing an emotional response to their family issues.  When the children affected by the tensions of their nuclear family system become adults, and possible anxiety regarding their family of origin begin to surface, it is common to experience a negative emotional reaction and elect to completely separate themselves from the system.  These individuals are functioning at low levels of differentiation so they are unable to de-triangle from the system, and feel they are only left with the option of emotional cutoff.  By cutting themselves off they are leaving all of their emotional attachments unresolved, leaving them more likely to become overly dependent in other relationships; thus increasing the likelihood of significant levels of fusion—considerably lowering their functioning potential in the relationship.

A major factor in determining how each child in a nuclear family system absorbs tension and reacts to their parents’ anxiety is their birth order.  Sibling position is a determinant for certain characteristics that individuals gain during adolescence, and maintain throughout adulthood.  Bowen presented the concept that a first-born child may have a purposeful niche in the family.  It is likely that this child will absorb the most anxiety produced by the parents’ relationship (i.e. the child provides a new focus for the mother’s emotions; the child provides an excuse for the father to spend additional time at work, etc.).  The emotional responsibility of this child is so much more significant than that of his subsequent siblings, that although having been raised in the same household by the same parents, they will develop different personalities and characteristics.  For example, a first-born child will be more likely to develop a stronger leadership role, have more unresolved emotional attachments, and function at a lower level of differentiation; whereas, the middle and youngest children will have been exposed to less anxiety, may function at higher levels of differentiation, and experience less dependency in adult relationships.

In addition to the emotional system that individuals experience with their nuclear and extended family, Bowen suggested that there also exists the presence of a societal emotional process that individuals are involved in as well.  He emphasized that the current and future condition of society can have an effect on emotional systems.  For example, if society’s current state is regression, then additional anxiety is likely to arise in family systems, creating more tensions that may not be present in the system if society was in a more consistent state.

Aside from the major concepts of Bowen’s theory, there are several background concepts and assumptions that must be taken into consideration when studying the theory or applying it to the clinical environment.  The first of which is chronic anxiety.  According to Bowen, one of the primary ways to create a balanced and fulfilling relationship in an emotional system is to regulate chronic anxiety.  Chronic anxiety is a result of one’s emotional reaction to an imagined threat that has become sustained in the relationship, and has to potential to be detrimental to a relationship as one member will begin to disproportionally absorb the anxiety produced by the relationship.  They become the “adaptive” member of the system, which prevents an individual from functioning at a high level of differentiation due to their overfunctioning in the relationship—spending so much of their energy anticipating negative reactivity from the other members of the system that they are incapable of free-thinking or taking a desired objective position on the relationship.  As a result of being adaptive, social, mental, and physical symptoms may surface.  These symptoms can surface in the form of depression, avoidant behavior, and medical ailments ranging from the common cold to cancer, just to name a few.

In addition to chronic anxiety Bowen presents the idea that humans are innately driven by two basic forces in life:  individuality and togetherness.  He suggests that individuals naturally seek to feel a sense of belonging, whether in a general social or working environment, or in a relationship system.  This is his basis for introducing the concept of reactivity dependence, and that one who does not feel the desired belonging that they are searching for will develop an increasing dependency on the affirmation of their partner, and will continuously become more fused to that relationship.  Also, if an individual does not have a clearly defined self, they will consistently be in search of their individuality.  They will also seek relationships that cater to this aspect of themselves that they are lacking; most likely prematurely fleeing from their family of origin to do so.

Additionally, systems theory operates under the assumption that emotional systems are uncontrolled, and typically unconscious, reactions to events and situations experienced by humans.  Bowen makes a distinction between emotions and feelings, insisting that feelings are the conscious reactions that surface when beneath lies a significant emotional issue.  He also specifies that both feelings and emotions should be secondary to an individual’s objective perspective when observing their own relationship systems.  In conjunction, Bowen addresses the concept that one’s family is an emotional unit, inferring that any changes within any of the systems can result in an unconscious emotional reaction affecting the entire multigenerational unit.  This approach also assumes that any symptoms that develop in one individual can be a product of the anxiety absorbed from another part of the system, not just that individual’s nuclear family.

Jordache Williams

 

Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

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Therapy Models That Work

Atlas Concepts LLC_Fields of Knowledge Blog_Therapy ModelsDespite a therapists’ ability to categorize issues, disorders and presenting problems, it is largely agreeable that all clients are unique. There are a plethora of reasons why a therapist may seek to gain familiarity with a specific therapeutic approach. Sometimes that reason is based simply on the therapists’ effort to best serve a local service population.

Herein are a few examples of how various therapeutic models may be used in particular instances. If you find yourself working with clients whose presenting problems are similar to the issues described in the examples, it may be beneficial to take some time to learn a little more about the model presented in that example.

Several approaches to therapy are very broad-based and may be used in a variety of contexts. It is possible for a therapist to become comfortable in such an approach, most likely because it works. Yet it is critical to understand that it is your responsibility as a helping professional to continually educate and professionally develop yourself.

The most basic benefit of researching other approaches is to build your knowledge-base.

However, through new understandings you are actually afforded opportunities to increase your level of experience. This process enables you to become a better therapist…efficiency via competence. While you don’t necessarily need to change your “style”, a new tool or technique may come in handy. Perhaps, take a look at some of the “classics” for inspiration…

A husband and wife are unable to agree on how to discipline their two small children. The wife grew up in a family where there was violence and child abuse. The husband’s father had a very demanding job and his mother was socially engaged.

Due to the distinct family of origin issues described, Bowen Family Therapy may be a viable approach to assist this family.

Using Bowen therapy, both parents should be assessed to discern if they have a healthy level of differentiation. Because they are having difficulty disciplining their children (a process in which the children are likely involved), they may run the risk of perpetuating the lineage of negative multigenerational transmissions. The conflict between the parents in regard to disciplining the children can result in triangulation as well as cutoffs.

In addition, because there are two children involved, therapy may include dealing with sibling position; in the event that this concept is budding while the children are “small” it would be prudent to address the issue in a timely manner.

Having the parents construct a genogram of their respective family of origin may prove helpful in a reasonably short amount of time. Through assisting these clients in dealing with unresolved issues, I believe that they would also find the disciplining of their children more agreeable and, in effect, they would be empowered to control their family’s multigenerational patterns.

An 8-year old girl has been wetting her bed for the last four weeks. Her parents began to argue frequently several months ago concerning the family budget. They are both frustrated by the bed wetting and desire an immediate solution.

Behavioral Family Therapy has its origin in parent’s modification of children’s actions. Not only does it appear at a glance that the parent’s discourse is responsible for the child’s bed wetting, but it seems that they have a problem with it as well. The parents need to know that they harness the ability to foster an environment for change, and, through training and empowering the parents, the therapist can allow the parents to take credit for working together to resolve the bed wetting issue.

By simply defining the problem behavior and then explaining the behavioral patterns to the parents, both the therapist and parents can monitor that behavior and as well monitor the child’s bed wetting habit as a means of marking progress.

It is foremost irrational that the parents believe that their child’s behavior can stop immediately; however, when concentrating on the dyadic parent relationship they will find that the family in its entirety will benefit.

A 12-year-old boy began displaying temper tantrums around the time his divorced mother announced she was going to remarry. She and her new husband are having a difficult time dealing with the situation.

One may lean upon the experiences of Minuchin (Structural Therapy) to assist the family in this scenario. By observing the patterns in this family, the therapist would hope to gain knowledge of the family’s structure. As well, it may be important to determine what may be different about the family structure once the mother remarried.

It is apparent that the divorce and second marriage were stressful times for the child. The child’s outcry could be in part due to the demolition of a coalition with his father. Though the family underwent a marital (or legal) restructuring, it may be necessary to restructure the “living” system in an effort to make the family stronger.

It may be plausible to address any incumbent boundaries caused by the marital shift. Due to the new “executive” system that is in place, it is necessary to evaluate the cohesion of that system and examine any residual effects. Additionally, this parental union may have to be alerted of the signs of triangulation as well as the methods for its avoidance.

The structural approach involves the technique of reframing, which can also be useful in assisting the child with coping with his “fits”. In short, there is a basic need for this family to redefine its boundaries to deal with the relevant stage of development. If appropriately applied, the Structural Approach may prove to be of assistance to this family.

A 34-year old female physician began getting anxious in elevators about 7 months ago. She became progressively more anxious in a variety of situations. Now she cannot cross bridges or go out to crowded places.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, having roots in the social learning theory, would be a solid approach to this scenario. Cognitive restructuring may be a beneficial technique to accomplish modifying the client’s behaviors.

It is plausible that the client is dealing with issues regarding her beliefs and reasoning in a fashion that has affected her behavior. Through desensitization the client may be able to overcome the unnecessary anxiety that is associated with the situations described in the vignette.

By enhancing the client’s problem-solving and behavior-change skills she may be empowered to overcome her anxiety through a self-renown confidence. Additionally, a specific technique such as shaping could be employed, as it appears that the client has reached an extreme level of anxiety. It may require the client to take gradual steps towards such goals as crossing bridges and going into crowded places before she can achieve these feats.

A 43-year old male, recently unhappy with his career, sees himself as a failure and has begun to isolate himself because of a lack of confidence.

In dealing with this man’s career issue, one may employ the Strategic approach. In the vignette there is a clear problem that needs to be resolved or removed. It is beneficial to begin by defining the problem and then moving towards evaluating what the client has done to fix the issue.

By defining the necessary change and implementing a strategy for achieving that change, the client could be propelled to a more virtuous cycle. Additionally, the client could benefit from the reframing techniques practiced in Strategic Therapy.

By emphasizing positives and assisting the client through encouragement and direction, he may also begin to see his career in a different light. It seems the issue is rooted in his malcontent with his employment. In this instance I believe the lack of confidence may be a residual effect of his job situation. However, through combating his isolation through actions, he may be able to perpetuate his own confidence and gain a new awareness of his ability to acquire a job that may be more conducive to his happiness.

Another way the Strategic Approach may prove helpful is by utilizing the ordeals technique; in this instance the client may discard his isolated ways as he realizes that this behavior is not constructive.

A 24-year old male who is high functioning with no obvious diagnosis is confused about his goals in life.

Due to the over-functioning nature of the male depicted in the vignette, I believe that Experiential Therapy may be of most benefit, especially considering that there is no “obvious diagnosis”.

The Experiential approach is helpful because it relies on the personality of the therapist more so than that of the client. In this case, there is not much known about the client thus, the Experiential approach allows for the therapist to guide the therapeutic environment in an effort to learn more about the client. One manner in which the therapist can begin to assess the client is by evaluating the client’s level of individuality. An Experiential therapist can achieve this by fostering a warm climate in which the client feels respected and accepted.

As well, it is important for the client and therapist to work towards determining the nature of the client’s confusion (i.e. what about his life goals is confusing). The therapist has the ability to help the client see his confusion as meaningful. The client should be led to understand that it is productive to have goals and that his confusion pertaining them may only be a result of his personal growth.

By utilizing alternatives to reality, the therapist can allow the client to assess whether or not his goals are feasible, thus eliminating goals that are too vague or nested in improper judgments. The more excitement the therapist shows for the client’s progress, the greater stimulation the client is likely to experience, in turn providing the client opportunity for personal existential encounters.

While I may not be able to teach you more than you already know about these approaches, my effort is simply to remind you of the validity and importance thereof. If graduate school is the last time you encountered one of these models, consider this written for you.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Locating an Internship Site

Fields of Knowledge_Locating an Internship Site

For graduate students who are required to display competency through a clinical experience, you will inevitably undergo an integration process at a site which will facilitate this chapter of your educational journey. If your academic institution has partnered or is contracted with a site (or multiple sites) guaranteed to facilitate your clinical experience, then consider yourself fortunate.

For many graduate students it is not that simple. In some cases, those institutions which do provide sites for students actually require that the student work with the site(s) provisioned. Not one scenario is necessarily better than the other, as all offer advantages as well as disadvantages.

So, if you are a student who has been provided a list of potential sites, been left to figure things out on your own, or are seeking a secondary site to supplement the experience of a site predestined by your school, here are a few thoughts from my experiences.

Review potential sites. If your advisor or other faculty present you with a list of potential sites, it’s probably a great place to start. At some point in time you’ll probably try an internet search engine or attempt to “show up” at a place you’ve heard about.

In this age, technology tends to seemingly ease the burden of learning about potential places to intern; however, the information provided by a computer or smart device is not always inclusive. So after you have tried 50-60 keywords in Google, a few hundred pages of opportunities on websites such as Monster.com, signed up for newsletters, participated in forums, reached out to groups on social media such as LinkedIn and prayed to the internet god for mercy…understand that you will at some point have to remove yourself physically from the comfort of your favorite chair and the soulful sounds of Kenny G.

My academic institution estimates that it takes 66% of its students 3-4 months to locate a suitable site and a willing supervisor, with the remainder having to search for over 6 months. With this said, understand that the effort may take time, so plan to be thorough and deliberate in your search.

Keep a sharp lookout for supervisor candidates. A great choice for a supervisor is a supervisor candidate. These individuals include those who are pursuing the Approved Supervisor designation with an organization such as the AAMFT. They are licensed professionals who are seeking opportunities to train, educate and, in essence, supervise individuals working towards a graduate degree or licensure.

The AAMFT provides a list of Approved Supervisors on its website; however, it is not as easy to locate candidates working towards fulfilling the requirements necessary for approval. Oftentimes by contacting Approved Supervisors you can accomplish a great deal.

You can inquire about opportunities to work with that individual in particular (who is “on paper” the quintessential supervisor), ask about opportunities they are aware of in surrounding communities and also ask them specifically if they are working with any supervisor candidates or are aware of any such candidates who may be of assistance.

Organize your effort. Make a list of potential sites, keep track of the “who, how and when” concerning your contact with each potential site. Keep records of individuals you have networked with including their contact information, how they may be able to assist you, where they work and/or volunteer and any leads they may have referred you to.

Additionally, look for ways to ensure that you stay relevant to individuals in key positions. This may be done by attending programs in which the individual is involved, joining them in volunteer experiences or stopping by to ask if there is anything you can do for them.

Prepare yourself. Yes, you are a student and you are locating a site to assist you with an educational experience, but I can almost guarantee that during the course of your search for a site and supervisor you will be asked questions pertaining to your personal interests and objectives, the models and theories which you plan to utilize with clients, any professional association affiliation and your level of participation with each, as well as inquisition pertaining to your level of experience. Yes, the last one got me too.

The first time I was faced with explaining my experience, I thought…“I’m a student, what experience do you think I have?” Preparing for such questions is critical to your ability to garner the support you need, and at the least can leave a good impression. You can always mention the experiences you have had during your academic coursework with classmates in mock sessions. Additionally, having experience in a counseling setting (even administratively), having personally attended counseling or having held a position (at a job, within an organization, etc.) which included coaching, teaching or mentoring are all great ways to build your credentials.

Liability insurance. From the moment an individual is identified as your supervisor, and throughout the course of that relationship, that individual is ethically and legally responsible for you. Though it is likely required by your academic institution, plan to, at a minimum, obtain liability insurance and keep it current throughout your internship.

One way to accomplish this is to join an association such as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). The AAMFT offers malpractice insurance as a part of the benefits of student membership. Already being insured during the pursuit of your site and supervisor speaks to your level of commitment and proficiency, as well as your knowledge of the field.

Bring something to the table. Understand what you offer in addition to being able to articulate what you need. The sites you visit may not have opportunities posted for an internship or currently have a program specifically for interns. If this is the case, attempt to locate job postings at the organization to understand the type of information (e.g. curriculum vitae versus resume, background checks, etc.) that is required of potential employees. Think about it like this…if you qualify for a job (say minus the graduate degree) then you are in pretty good shape to be a candidate for an internship. Nearly any and everything you would do for a job…do for an internship. That includes over- versus under-dressing, updating your resume, brushing up on your interview skills and mustering up that necessary confidence needed to talk about yourself.

In the pursuit of an internship, oftentimes it’s those who can give that get. As I stated earlier, some potential sites may not have a program in place for interns, and may even find that entertaining such would be more burdensome than beneficial. Through careful consideration of the site, you may be able to present yourself as an individual who can provide a relevant impact to the site. This impact may be through providing support for programs that the site currently sponsors.

You can present ideas for programs that you could organize and maintain, or volunteer to help out administratively. You may even offer to dedicate yourself to establishing an internship program at the site, by charting your experience and through research and evaluation of other programs. You first have to understand your own potential, personal/professional interests, desires and qualifications.

Next, find ways you can be of benefit to the potential site and/or supervisor and articulate these ideas concisely. You must understand that when you approach a clinical internship your presence is not associated with benefits such as free or cheap labor. You are a legal and ethical liability, an administrative burden and ultimately take time away from an individual who is likely otherwise paid for it. Yet and still, they have been in your shoes, so stick your chest out, hold your chin up, shake with a firm grip and present your essence.

Staying afloat. Lastly, have a plan that includes a sustainable income during both your pursuit of a site and your tenure at the site. The reality is that paid internships are not always available, couple that with the fact that your academic clinical experience likely lasts for a year (or more) and the understanding that locating a site may take a significant amount of time as well.

If you are already living on a strict budget, then the worst-case scenario includes having to pay for supervision. In some areas, this may be your only option. In any case, you must evaluate your living situation, means of income and your costs of living and plan ahead. The commitment you are about to embark on will likely change a great deal of your daily routine, absorb a significant amount of your energy and time. Prepare yourself, employers and loved ones and ensure you rally the necessary support from each.

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As mentioned earlier, each journey towards graduation in a helping profession is unique to the individual student, however each academic institution approaches facilitating education and evaluating competency in a specific manner. In this light, my particular experience with locating an internship site has been highly influenced by two facts: I attend an online academic institution which is located approximately 400 miles away and I am a relatively new resident of the area which I am seeking support. Notice that I refer to these two circumstances as “facts,” not disadvantages or excuses.

It is my personal belief that I learn through each of my experiences every day. The experiences I have had during my efforts to locate a site are no different. I have been granted an opportunity to question the very core of my pursuit, asking questions such as, “Why did I choose to pursue a career as a therapist?” and “Is this still really what I want to do?” These questions are warranted, as I actually began pursuit of my M.A. in MFT in the spring of 2007.

So here I am 7 years later, now with a wife, now with a daughter, now out of the Army, now a business owner, now a certified Life Coach, now having been awarded a Human Services graduate degree, still working towards the same goal. Perhaps I made compromises that have elongated this process; there is hardly a time when a person “could have done no more.” Yet and still, the desire exists and a certain priority remains incumbent to the same. In closing, I would like to encourage you to continue your effort at a steadfast and deliberate pace, while continuing to grow through the experience and achieve in other endeavors as well. No matter your course, be holistically prepared for the journey and understand that not all “helping professionals” are interested nor capable of helping you! Moreoverly, none can help you more than you can help yourself!!!

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Understanding the Clinical Training Required for your MFT Degree

That moment you realize that finding an internship site is much more of a daunting process than you imagined…

You feel like you have exhausted all options and the demands of life haven’t slowed down a bit. If you’re like me, you’ve amassed a great deal of lemonade from what seems to be an orchard of lemons. Now, if an opportunity actually does present itself, you’re worried that you’re too involved in other endeavors to attend to the demands of an internship with the necessary zeal. You are continuing to accomplish so many things, but the void left by what you ultimately equate to failure is notwithstanding.

As I continue in my effort to locate a site to complete the clinical requirements of the Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) graduate program I attend, I can’t help but to question my own efforts as I reflect on the experience. It is my hope that in some way the information I present hereafter will prove useful to those wishing to pursue a graduate degree requiring a concomitant residency, others similarly situated and additionally serve as a calling to those positioned to supply the necessities of this demand.

Similar to most careers, becoming a helping professional is possible through a variety of avenues. Despite the source of your motivation, the resources and support you have accumulated and the advantages of your genetics, you can be assured that the licensure process will create challenges that, despite any preparation, will test your fortitude.

The licensure process is the stretch of the pursuit that canalizes candidates to evaluate competency.

In many cases, the consideration of a graduate program is one of the first steps towards garnering the competency necessary to embark on your journey. While you carefully consider your options you may be taking into consideration the programs offered, the institutions proximity to your home or place of employment, tuition and associated costs and even the school’s reputation.

This thought process is normal, and is closely related to the process you went through during undergrad; however, consideration of a graduate program (especially a counseling related program with a clinical training requirement) requires specialized thought.

So, while you’re mapping out the coffee shops on campus, make sure that you take a moment to get your hands on some extremely relevant information.

Clearly understand the following:

The accreditation(s) held by the academic institution. Regional accreditation by one of the regional accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, ensures that specific standards are upheld at the institution, and that credits earned are more likely to be transferrable to another institution. Furthermore, the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) is a specialized accrediting body within the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) which accredits MFT programs at academic institutions. The COAMFTE is purposed with evaluating the level of competence of the graduates of institutions which volunteer for accreditation.

The requirements for internship sites and supervisors as set forth by your institution. You may find that aligning these requirements for a particular site is more difficult than you imagined. You may have to compromise concerning one or the other, or both. For instance, you would ultimately prefer to work with an approved AAMFT Supervisor but may find that there are few, if any, located within a reasonable distance.

Often when you do locate such an individual you find that they cannot take on any more interns or limit their expertise to interns who already possess the requisite degree. Though as a graduate student you are obviously striving for excellence, understanding your academic organizations minimal requirements for both the site and the supervisor is key to complete and careful consideration of potential sites.

If the academic institution has partnered with local organizations to provide clinical sites for its graduate students, you should spend some time learning about those sites and what is offered and expected. Understand that many academic institutions cannot guarantee placement at an internship site even in cases where partnered organizations exist. Also note that it is not farfetched to intern at a qualified site under the supervision of a qualified professional who is not affiliated with the site you are located.

The expectations concerning competency and the academic requirements of the clinical experience. The academic institution likely requires both clinical experience hours and supervision hours for completion of your clinical training. Understand that the site you choose should be able to provide the hours you need for your degree within the confines of your academic semester. During this planning process you must consider the likelihood of the unforeseen such as no-shows, changes in personnel at your site and the stability of specific programs at your site which may affect your ability to accomplish your academic requirements. You may find that, in order to meet your goals and the academic requirements, you may require support from multiple internship sites concurrently.

Your state’s licensure board requirements. In many cases state licensure requirements are similar; however, it is critical that you understand the requirements in the state(s) which you plan to practice. Consider the application process and transferability of licensure in reference to neighboring states and states you may plan to reside in the future.

Don’t save a review of these requirements for a later date, thinking that they only concern those who already possess a degree and are seeking licensure. The reality is that states often have educational requirements that specifically pertain to your graduate work. Through careful consideration, it is possible to align yourself with an organization and/or supervisor which can support you, not only through your graduate experience, but also throughout the post-graduate licensure process as well.

While this information is structured for those seeking a MFT graduate program, the processes and structures are similar to those associated with other helping professions as well. If you have read this and are wondering why such a review and careful consideration is necessary by the student, it may prove helpful to understand that my MFT academic experience has been online.

Thus, in my case, the pursuit of a site and supervisor includes a great deal of footwork, phone calls, emails and, ultimately, networking. I chose to attend an online program during active duty with the military, and this approach was the best (and realistically only) method for continuing my education at the graduate level concurrently with my military obligations. I do not regret taking the time to pursue a higher education while serving in the military.

I will admit that there were challenges during the pursuit; none greater than having left service with only the clinical portion of my degree remaining. Despite the rise in popularity of online courses, certifications and degree programs and the growing acceptance of these forms of education, clinical degrees present specific, unique challenges regardless of the institutions mode of education.

Continue to follow this blog to learn more about finding an internship site, approaching potential supervisors, the advantages provided through innovative technology and the unforeseen challenges of completing the clinical training requirements of your online MFT graduate degree.

 

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache Williams Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.