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.

AFTA Board Founding Members. Philadelphia March 12, 1978.

AFTA Board Founding Members. Philadelphia March 12, 1978.

Since its inception, AFTA has attracted a cadre of independent and creative thinkers that continuously challenge mainstream frames, always promoting out of the box ideas.  With this intention, AFTA became a collection of mavericks that constantly explore new frontiers of clinical and non-clinical practices.

Not bounded or handcuffed by billing codes, but committed to the development of expanded paradigms, members of this organization have substantially contributed to the development of more open definitions of families, and have influenced the incorporation of issues of gender, sexual orientation and cultural and economic diversity into the world of clinical practice.

AFTA thinks big, dreaming of a better and just world in which all families can be safe, healthy, happy and fully developed.  Someone could say that this is a very ambitious and unrealistic agenda, but members are ready to make it happen, at least a slice of it.

Coming to an AFTA meeting could feel like being in ancient Greece, a college campus, a fraternity house, or in a low-income neighborhood. And many times it feels as if you are just in the kitchen of someone else’s home drinking juice or coffee.  But be careful when you open your mouth, because, whatever you say could be challenged with new evidences and different ways of thinking.  AFTA members are committed to dangerous and controversial things like:

  • De-constructing any traditional ideas
  • Incorporating expanded paradigms
  • Hearing the voices that have not been heard, or
  • Only supporting concepts that promote the inclusion of all people

In other words, be careful. If you come to an AFTA meeting, you could develop an identity crisis and might feel compelled to start reading materials that you did not considered before.

The following is an example of the type of projects that some AFTA board members are working on:

  • Building resilient communities to help at-risk youth
  • Transforming internal voices to prevent domestic violence
  • Integrating systemic practice with social determinants of health
  • Promoting feelings of comfort and success to fully embrace real identities
  • Incorporating family practice in public school settings
  • Effectively networking and using life coaching to help build middle class
  • Incorporating contextual issues with clinical post-modern practices
  • Helping Parkinson and Alzheimer clients to live extended and productive lives
  • Integrating family practice ideas to conquer family obesity
  • Implementing systemic approaches to help homeless families
  • Building therapeutic and post-modern alternatives to the medical DSM V

In summary, many members don’t think of themselves as academicians that just teach old-fashioned theories.  They get their hands dirty and tackle some of the most difficult problems faced by our communities.

The adventure continues. Next year, thanks to the wonderful work of Roxana Llerena-Quinn and Jerry Gale we will go to Athens, not Greece, but Athens, Georgia, for a magnificent conference. AFTA will be coming back to the deep south to address issues of family health. Awesome topic.

The other refreshing thing I found was a nice collection of new members. I’m a member of the second generation that was recruited in the 90’s trying to make AFTA more diverse and inclusive.  I was delighted to see a thriving third generation. They are a very sophisticated and impressive group of brilliant therapists who have not bought into the medicalization of mental health.  I was moved by the fact that some of them are already calling AFTA their “professional home.” Under the leadership of our brilliant and relentless president, Gonzalo Bacigalupe, they are helping develop e-AFTA.  They are masters of the electronic world. These raising stars have PhDs, write APA style, tweet their doctoral students,  work with disenfranchised communities and raise wonderful families.  Tweeter, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Google docs, no problem. These tools help them be connected 24/7 with their children, or their families by texts or video-chats.  This is a good return on investment of the early 2000’s plan to develop the Early Career membership. Additionally, we also have a quarter of a million-endowment fund that is growing and AFTA books now published by Springer.

I guess we will have AFTA for generations to come. And I am proud to be a member.

Disclaimer: This is just my personal construction of what AFTA is. It may not be the reality, but only my experience. Check it out!