"ECU Family Therapy Clinic is ideal learning environment"
(Oct. 14, 2003)
Students pursuing a master of science degree in marriage and family therapy at East Carolina University participate in a unique program that provides teaching and learning opportunities in family therapy for graduate students and other professionals, while at the same time offering valuable assistance to members of the surrounding community.
This learning experience takes place at the ECU Family Therapy Clinic, part of ECU's Department of Child Development and Family Relations in the College of Human Ecology. "We believe it is the ideal teaching and learning environment," said David Dosser, Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) professor and former director of the program. "And it provides a blend that fits ECU's mission of education, service, and research."
The clinic has about 144 open cases, with capacity for more, and serves an average of 70 to 100 families at any given time. Assistance is available not just to members of the ECU community, but also to anyone needing family therapy services, with payments arranged on a sliding scale based upon ability to pay.
Families may select from one-on-one therapy, co-therapy with two therapists, or a therapeutic treatment team. The treatment team includes five or six participants, including second-year graduate students in the MFT program. Each team is led by a clinical faculty member, and often includes one or two experienced therapists from public and private agencies in the community.
Team members also include residents and fellows in psychiatric medicine from the Brody School of Medicine. Other team members are professionals with degrees in other disciplines seeking their marriage and family therapy license.
Specially equipped rooms at the clinic are outfitted with video cameras, one-way mirrors and microphones. If clients agree to the arrangement, graduate students conduct primary family therapy in these rooms, while the treatment team observes from behind the mirror. Team members monitor the progress of therapy, discuss family situations, and provide suggestions or interventions to the primary therapist. A telephone connects the rooms so that team members can provide instant feedback to the therapists. Videotaped sessions, conducted only with client permission, can be carefully scrutinized by the team later.
While this input is an excellent learning tool for students, family members profit as well. Their concerns are addressed from the various perspectives of a team diverse in gender, age, life experience, skill levels and in disciplines represented.
"The people served here have access to extraordinary resources," Dosser said. While they may be nervous at first about the arrangement, he said, they quickly grow comfortable and begin to appreciate the access the clinic provides.
Family preservation services are also provided for high-need families in crisis. With these services, students intervene in the family's environment with a brief, but intense effort, to stabilize the family to the point that they can take advantage of more traditional support services. Working under the supervision of clinical faculty members, the students help families identify and negotiate the support systems available to them, tapping into resources available for everything from basic needs like food and shelter to emotional and spiritual support available in outlets like local faith communities.
The family therapy method, according to Program Director Jennifer Hodgson, examines all aspects of the individuals' lives and environment, including psychological, social, spiritual and physical aspects. "We examine family difficulties in terms of the family's 'system,'" she said, "with the belief that the problem does not rest with the individual family members Ð it rests with the system.
"We look for a total understanding of the family experience,&qu