Click on the image to see the actual letter Murray Bowen sent to AFTA's charter members

History of AFTA

AFTA – The Association that changed its name

Officially founded in 1977, AFTA was a gleam in the eye of the family therapy field as early as 1969 when the leaders of the new “discipline” of meeting with families began discussing the possibility of an organization. Jay Haley, the outgoing editor of Family Process, warned in his last editorial that there were dangers inherent in both discipline and respectability. Especially for a movement that had started as the invention of renegades and mavericks, the inventors of family therapy approached the idea of an organization with great caution. They were, after all, experts in the bad consequences of power and conflict in the family, and did not want to set up an organization that would have any resemblance to the paternalistic traditions of other therapy organizations. Psychoanalysis, as well as “The APAs” of psychiatry and psychology were restricted to those with certain training. They were guilds.

The meetings of the founders of AFTA during the early seventies were focused on two questions – (1) What would be the most productive definition of family therapy? and (2) Who should be recognized as a practitioner – a worker with something to contribute? And behind this loomed the question – should the new Association be, like the others, a credentialing body? Should there be certification in the practice of family therapy? After a few years of meetings and debate, the founders decided on the most open solution, relieved by the news that their colleagues in the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, were ready to be a guild with credentials for membership.

AFTA decided to not be an “Association” at all. It renamed itself the American Family Therapy Academy, to emphasize the importance of discussion between workers with all kinds of experience – including research, even research in apparently unrelated fields. This would keep the way open to the original atmosphere of invention and exploration. Members were welcomed for their interests and experience, and indeed at the first meeting the uniquely “AFTA” kind of meeting, the “interest group” was the main format. If you had an interest, – couples, children, psychosis, training – you were welcome at that group. Or you could propose one of your own.

Research-practice meetings were another invention. Special conferences were organized between practitioners and researchers, aimed at generating new ideas for both. Researchers at these meetings often were not regular members of AFTA.

Finally, each annual meeting ended with a few hours of open general discussion about how to make the next meeting better. This was, after all, our expertise – how to improve communication between members, bringing out the views of the least influential. In this way AFTA dealt early on with issues of race, gender, seniority and power among ourselves, as well as in the families of our clients.

Christian Beels, M.D., M.S.