A Response to the Orlando Tragedy

The Executive Committee of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) joins the Orlando community in mourning. We grieve with the families of the victims of the massacre, and are in solidarity with the LGBTQ and Latino communities. We call for laws and policies that protect the LGBTQ community and people of color, often the target of these heinous crimes.

We are also cognizant that the backlash against the Muslim community is another expression of the racism that is rampant and incites violence.

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Black Lives Matter

We, as members of the American Family Therapy Academy, must be vigilant and mindful of the racist air we breathe and of the residual racism in the far reaches of our unconscious.  Racism is the common denominator of many of the injustices in our society.  Despite civil rights legislation and public discourse, racism persistently intersects with other systems of oppression and domination, ultimately defining our social structure, institutions and culture.

We support the Black Lives Matter movement because we recognize, painfully, that white racial domination and the myth of superiority are deeply embedded at every level of society, even among those of us who are aware and accountable.  This has a direct impact on the safety, health and well being of individuals, families and communities.

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Family therapy in the age of global mental health: Long live Shoufi-Mafi!

*This post is an updated and modified version of an article by the same name, published in the July/August 2015 issue of Family Therapy Magazine. Used here with permission.

Last night was the final meeting of our Shoufi-Mafi: Global Mental Health [1], a student driven task group at my university. The group originated from a confluence of events, one of which was the curiosity of my student Yajaira, who relentlessly quizzed me after our Introduction to Family Therapy course on Thursday nights. “Dr. Laurie, How do you get to travel so much? Who contacts you? What do you do?”

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Could I Be Unintentionally Hijacking My Work with Couples?

Authors: Jessica ChenFeng and Aimee Galick

There were probably many times when we hijacked our therapy with couples.  We are both marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and had been seeing clients for a few years before we joined the Socio-Emotional Relationship Therapy (SERT) research group at Loma Linda University as doctoral students.  Of course, we, like most therapists, were not intentionally hijacking the work, but let us explain.

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New Couples Therapy Approach Centers Societal Context and Mutual Support

Therapists know that sociocultural contexts such as gender, sexual orientation, culture, race, and class are important, but most practice models offer few guidelines for how to actually address these issues. The newly released AFTA Springer Brief Socio-Emotional Relationship Therapy: Bridging Emotion, Societal Context, and Couple Interaction is an exception.

What is SERT?

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The Intertwined Link Between Mental Health and All Aspects of Health

Every Tuesday afternoon, my family therapy trainees and I meet to see clients at our university supported family therapy clinic.  Yesterday, Simone,* a woman in her late 40s who was once a legal professional, talked to us about her struggle with osteoarthritis and other chronic health issues. A lively person once surrounded by many friends, Simone now suffers from loneliness, depression, and, occasionally, what she calls her “demons”—memories of traumatic events she experienced as a child. Isolated from her community, Simone is also adjusting to a disability that prevents her full-time employment. Resourceful, funny, and kind, Simone endeared herself to our therapy team as she talked about the many creative things she does to sustain her spirit. Yet every week, Simone has a different crisis. The crisis is often brought on by economic stress, which severely limits her access to the medications her physician prescribed for her in order to stay healthy.

Our next session as a team was with Marcela and her 16 year old daughter, Juana. The family came to our therapy clinic after Juana had been hospitalized several times recently due to her Type 1 Diabetes. She was diagnosed with it at age 6. Now an adolescent trying to find safe ways to explore her independent and engaged mind, while staying connected to her supportive family, Juana has lately been forgetting to take her insulin. She was close to death last month because of it. Juana’s parents are having a hard time coping with this for many reasons. One of them has to do with Marcela’s brush with mortality a few years ago, and the feelings she re-experienced watching Juana go through something much too similar.

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Four Ways to Change The Culture of #Shame

Shame is so pervasive in our culture. We experience it in personal and professional relationships. As coworkers and partners shaming can become a tool to get what we want. Or as parents it might help to keep our children "in line." Yet the question we need to ask is, "what does shaming create?" How do we create the results without shame?

The Good Men Project (GMP) is an online discourse and discursive space on modern masculinity tagged as "the conversations no one else is having." GMP ran a series of articles on shaming where people reflected on personal and cultural stories of shaming. As part of the GMP's effort my husband, GMP Senior Editor, Mark Greene and I made a video on the shaming culture.

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AFTA’s Position Statement on Immigration

June 2004

We, the American Family Therapy Academy, are alarmed by the impact of United States immigration policy and enforcement. We believe that as a society we all suffer the social, emotional, and psychological costs of the dehumanization of our immigrant population.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies are restrictive and harmful to families, separating family members from one another, limiting access to healthcare, police protection, education, employment, housing and social services. Adults and children are incarcerated in detention centers and are denied adequate care and services. They are denied basic civil rights, including the right to counsel. Asylum seekers who face danger in their countries of origin are subject to mandatory detention and deportation. In addition to expertise in the effects of stress, trauma and marginalization, our membership—researchers, clinicians and educators—has for three decades advocated on behalf of the human rights and humane treatment of children and families.

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What if…? All the children by Joyce Maguire Pavao

What if we filed the federal and Arizona equivalent of a Massachusetts 51A on the government for abuse and neglect of those children who are piled up in warehouses for what seems like months now?

What if we then did as we do when children are removed for abuse and neglect-place them in fostering homes while we seek their kin for evaluation and placement?

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“You can’t manipulate the snake!”

“You can’t manipulate the snake!”

The student I’m speaking with after class keeps coming back to this point, as he tries to get me to understand his thoughts about nature vs. nurture.

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Help AFTA Get The Word Out: Serbia Needs Your Help

From: Sanja Rolovic

Dear Friends, please help AFTA get the word out:

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Flash Boys into the Great Divide

In thinking about how I’ve come to look at Masculinity, I recognize one important location in myself. Looking back over nearly seven decades, I reflect on what it’s been like to be a boy who became a man. This essential perspective has been encouraged by spending half of those years as a psychotherapist. In my field, values are important, and I have spent much time with others, many of them men, actively engaged in figuring out what is the right thing to do. My mother (a country school teacher during the depression) always maintained that “children learn what they live.” Following this precept, I begin my reflection on personal values in the period immediately following the Second World War. A time of great portent in the country of my birth: America.

I can't really remember events in 1950 clearly, at least not in a narrative sense.  I was four. But the scenarios of everyday life, the frames that account for my feeling of being me, that aspect of self is, and always has been there in particular images. I do remember what it’s like to be four. Two fundamental experiences that stand out for that year in particular are: “Daddy’s home!” and “Hi-Yo Silver, Away!”

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A Tale of Two Epistemologies: Part 2

Thinking, Living and Practicing in Two Worldviews

Relational Epistemology informs Justice oriented Clinical Practice

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A Tale of Two Epistemologies: How We Think about Human Suffering, Existential Pain, and Traumatic Injustice

Psychiatric treatments and most forms of psychotherapy (except family systems therapy) have in common that they are focused on the individual. Even very committed opponents of the DSM or any use of psychotropic medication in psychotherapy[1] remain focused on the individual as the unit of attention and treatment. From that point of view, the opposition against the new DSM-5, against the medicalization of psychotherapy, and against the abuse of psychotropic medications remains stuck within the same epistemological paradigm that is underlying psychiatry and individual psychotherapy.

Psychiatrists focus on the bio-physiological organism of an individual and presume a biological, often also genetic etiology[2] for “mental illnesses”, hypothesize measurable brain dysfunctions, such as chemical imbalances, and rely heavily on psychotropic medications. Psychotherapists focus on the intra-psychic dynamics, conflicts, abnormal behaviors, thought disorders, or cognitive and emotional confusions of an individual and treat the client through the power of one-on-one conversations by providing insight, proposing alternative behaviors, clarifying confusions about moral or practical choices, and bringing hidden strengths to bear on a person’s dilemma.

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Community Based Programs for Families Interest Group: The SF VAMC Veterans Outreach Program


2014 AFTA Conference

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The Irony of Earned Security: Reflections on “Breaking Bad”

Walking CoCo on Bernal Hill in this morning's long overdue light rain, Dan Siegel's remarkably soothing and wise voice is reading his new book: Brainstorm: the Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain through the Audible app on my iPhone. He's sort of ticking through the exposition of attachment, and describing the emerging sense of the solid self that many of us think about in couples therapy as we work toward more emotionally attuned and collaborative practices. The wet hillside is a bit slippery as I ascend the crest, distracting me slightly from the narrative, and as I return to it, Dan is talking about "earned security."

The irony of this phrase comes immediately to mind in a way that is linked to this year's Masculinities Special Interest Group.

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Following Our Gifts: Coincidence or Synchronicity

Seven years ago I read an article entitled, “How to Heal Your Family” (Spirituality and Health, Nov/Dec, 2006).  It was the beginning of my fascination and, subsequently, my study of Systemic Constellation Work.  The article appeared to synthesize much of my own thinking, especially about healing trauma—integrating systems theory, spirituality, mindfulness, and somatic and energy work.  Basically, the article described the “family soul” as the powerful unifying energy that connects members of the intergenerational family (in the broadest sense).  It reframed chronic symptoms as an unconscious way of connecting with family members or attempting to create balance in a system blocked because of overwhelming loss, trauma or tragedy in the family history.

The article described how chronic problems that don’t respond to traditional therapeutic interventions may be an “entanglement” in an unresolved issue in the system.  This made sense given my training exploring family “themes” and “invisible loyalties” when constructing genograms.  What was different was how we could create a “field” whereby the root of the problem would become visible.  Representatives for relevant family members or elements could be set up in spacial relationship to each other in the center of the group.  Then, by focusing on the representatives’ reports of their somatic reactions; on systemic ideas, such as “We are all connected” and “Everyone has a right to belong to the family soul” even if they are the “bad guy”; as well as on the facts of the story, the facilitator intuits statements to describe and/or reconfigure the constellation.  This often brings harmony to the system and healing resolution to the client.  It seems part systemic work, part energy or soul work, and part magic.

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“Out beyond ide…

"Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense." Rumi

What Do Interracial Couples, Obama, and Oprah Have in Common?

They’re held up as evidence of a “post-racial” society; but do you buy it?
***Portions originally posted on Intersections at Psychology***

According to the U.S. Census, 18% of heterosexual and 21% of gay and lesbian unmarried couples are of different races. Multiracial families continue to add to the diversity in our society, and of our clinical practices. But are we ready to deliver culturally competent services to this growing population? Considering the salience of skin color in society, it is surprising so little research and training has been devoted to race, and, more specifically, to interracial couples. In addition, clinical approaches usually do not explicitly address intersections of race, gender, and class and hence do not capture the complex and changing nature of clients' social-psychological and political selves, or subjectivities. Recognizing these gaps, my research explores how interracial couples view themselves and the social forces that influence partners’ perceptions and experiences.

Which social forces, you ask? Racism comes to mind. The prevalence of racism in larger social contexts has meant that partners in interracial relationships have experienced rejection, hostility, and criticism, both in the past and today. For example, Lewandowski and Jackson (2001) found that European American men married to African American women were perceived as significantly less competent and as less likely to be professionally successful than were those married to European American women. African American men married to European American women were perceived as less competent, less traditional, as having a weaker racial identity, and as less comfortable with same-race others than were those married to African American women. This is the kind of stuff interracial couples contend with on a daily basis.

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The Joy Of Being An AFTA Member

I just came out from the fall AFTA retreat in Auburndale, Massachusetts, where I found out again why it is such a pleasure to be a member of this family.

The American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) is a non-for-profit organization that was founded in the 70s by leaders of the family therapy field who thought that a space was needed to advance the family systems concept.  Murray Bowen, a legend of our field, was its first president, and AFTA started as a challenge to the traditional psychoanalytic and biological ways of thinking.

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