The MFT program at Valdosta State University . . .
- leads to a Master of Science Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and the professional identification as an Marriage and Family Therapist
- prepares students to provide systemic therapy to individuals, couples, families, and groups
- prepares leaders in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy
- prepares students to work clinically with a respect for diversity and difference between people
- provides the coursework required to become licensed in Georgia and many other states
- prepares students for clinical membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)
MFT faculty members work hard to create a program with a predominantly clinical focus. Thus, active, hands-on learning activities start with the very first class when students begin the program. Below you will find details about how learning clinical skills is woven into nearly every aspect of the program through service learning at FamilyWorks, service learning through outreach and community education, active classrooms, and a very exciting year of clinical practice. During the year-long clinical training, students participate in clinical practicum consultation teams, a FamilyWorks Internship, and community internships.
After you've explored the MFT Program, perhaps you would like to take a virtual tour of Valdosta State University.
During the first year, all students participate in weekly service learning at our student-run clinic, FamilyWorks. For a portion of each semester, students work at FamilyWorks as intake coordinators. We think that high quality therapeutic service begins with the very first contact a client has with a service provider; in this case, our clinic. So, right from the start, students are involved in learning important and vital clinical skills on the path to becoming family therapists.
Learning Intake Coordination
The very first contact clients often have with the family therapy world occurs when they call our clinic to inquire about treatment or schedule an appointment. Service learning students learn how to respond to the questions that clients have about family therapy, our approach to therapy, and how to guide clients through the intake process, which can include gathering background and contact information, documenting what prompted the client to seek therapy, matching clients with therapists, and making appointments for that all important first therapy session.
As intake coordinators at FamilyWorks, students are an important part of assuring clients feel welcome and at home in our clinic as they greet new and returning clients. In the process, students gain insight into what it is like for clients to receive services and to participate in family therapy. Service learning students might find themselves keeping a child company while their parents talk about adult issues that have arisen during a therapy session. There is no better way to learn important lessons about how therapy can affect clients than spending half an hour in the waiting room with an adolescent who is really afraid her parents are in the therapy room next door talking about getting a divorce. This is active learning, which places at its center, the provision of a warm and caring environment from which clients can participate in therapy and students can learn to conduct good therapy.
Learning Clinic Management Skills
Service learning at FamilyWorks teaches students in great detail about how a clinic runs. This is important, particularly for those students who aspire to own a private practice or open their own agency. Learning how a clinic runs is vital to their future success as owner-operators and clinicians. During their service learning hours, students coordinate cancellations and rescheduling of appointments, take phone calls from professionals peripheral to the case (lawyers, DFCS, law enforcement, etc.), manage the paperwork and documentation that is a part of therapeutic record keeping, and learn to adhere carefully to the many confidentiality measures that are a part of any ethical therapeutic practice.
Participating in a Community of Clinical Scholars
Service learning at FamilyWorks provides one final and, we think, vitally important, learning opportunity. While first-year students serve as intake coordinators, they are at the center of the clinic activities and often find themselves talking and working closely with advance-standing students who are working as Marriage and Family Interns at the clinic. These conversations often lead to life-long friendships or collegial relationships between students, who, regardless of where they are in the program, become aware that learning to be a family therapist is an exciting and deeply engaging process. Service learning offers a front row seat to the joys and struggles of learning to be a first-rate therapist.
FamilyWorks is a place that clients experience as warm and welcoming. This is, in large part, because our students have such a strong affection and dedication to our student-run clinic. FamilyWorks is a hub of activity. Family Therapy interns are constantly coming and going for scheduled sessions. When therapy sessions are not in progress, students from all classes may gather there to work on research projects or prepare for exams. Students can often be heard debating the merits of different theorists, talking about how different models of therapy translate from theory to practice, or discussing the best way to work with a family.
All of this creates a marvelous environment for learning how to provide excellent, respectful, and thoughtful service to clients and in which students learn from each other as they develop their own unique therapeutic voice.
Another facet of service learning occurs when students serve as ambassadors for FamilyWorks and the field of family therapy. Pairs of service learners go into the community to raise awareness about family therapy and the services Marriage and Family Therapy Interns offer at FamilyWorks. Students learn how to describe family therapy to potential referral sources for the clinic and, simultaneously, how to field the kinds of questions community members have about the nature of family therapy. Students learn about the nature of the needs community members believe family therapy can address, how MFT differs from other kinds of therapeutic treatment, what it offers, and how it can be useful. Our service learning students play a significant role in developing relationships between the community and FamilyWorks, but, perhaps more importantly, our students embody the voice of concerned practitioners who work with people in need of therapeutic intervention. Students learn a great deal about our field by teaching others about who family therapists are and what we do.
To be sure our classes are often filled with lectures, presentations, and spirited discussions, but just as often, classroom activities are designed to teach the myriad skills that each student must master in order to develop his or her unique therapeutic voice. Students practice presenting cases, a skill often needed when therapists work as a member of a treatment team in agency settings. Students learn and practice the conversational skills and questioning techniques that will so often be used in the therapy room. A class popular with many students teaches relaxation techniques and the basics of Ericksonian hypnosis, a collaborative, non-authoritarian style of hypnotherapy. Finally, students often participate in role plays where they learn something about the complexities of being both the therapist and the client.
All students take one continuous year of clinical work. Beginning with their second year in the program and for three contiguous semesters, students register for Clinical Practicum in Marriage & Family Therapy, a six credit direct practice course. A member of the core MFT faculty, all of whom are licensed in the state of Georgia and hold AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy) Approved Supervisor status, works with a team of no more than six students, facilitating and supporting the team in different activities throughout the semester as the students see individuals, couples, families, or groups.
Each week the consultation team meets for one afternoon and evening to work directly with clients at FamilyWorks. Using our specially outfitted therapy rooms, the team and supervisor participate from behind a one-way mirror while a family therapy intern works in the room with a family, a couple, or individuals from VSU, Valdosta, or one of the surrounding communities.
During most sessions, the therapy intern takes a mid-session break to consult with the team, before returning to finish the session, often taking back into the room ideas and perspectives generated during the consultation meeting. Students appreciate the support of their colleagues and supervisor, and graduates of the program often describe the opportunity to get real-time feedback and input into the therapeutic process as an invaluable, once-in-a-life-time experience.
Students and clients alike quickly develop an appreciation for therapy conducted in this format. Warm feelings often develop between the team and clients, and clients often express their appreciation for the opportunity to experience a team and the concentrated attention that a team and supervisor bring to bear on the therapeutic dilemma. Clients often accept the invitation to meet the team (well, except for the occasional shy kid or family member). It is not unusual for the team to switch places with the clients and the therapist intern. This means that the team and supervisor go into the therapy room and the therapist and family go into the observation room behind the mirror from where they “listen in” as the team members share their thoughts about the family, review what has transpired in the therapy, and generate ideas that might be helpful to the clients and the therapist.
When the supervisor determines that a student’s therapeutic skills are sufficiently well developed, usually during the first or second semester of practicum, she gives the student permission to join the rotation list and begin seeing clients on his or her own at FamilyWorks.
FamilyWorks functions as a kind of large group practice with clients being seen by our roster of interns, faculty- or student-run consultation teams. When students are released to work on their own at FamilyWorks, they are assigned clients on a rotating basis, building a small caseload for which they are entirely responsible. Students may choose to work with a co-therapist, a decision left up to the intern assigned to the client.
Interns discuss their cases during practicum with their supervisor and may schedule additional meetings with their supervisor for the purpose of reviewing the progress of a case they are seeing outside the weekly consultation teams. Interns video-tape sessions (with the full knowledge and written permission of the clients, of course!), enabling them to review their work between sessions. This gives the intern the chance to recall the details of each session, to see if he or she missed anything, to watch how his or her talk is shaping the sessions, or to identify topics raised in session that he or she wants to follow up. In some cases, interns will cue the tape to a place that was particularly difficult (or wonderful!) and review it with the faculty supervisor. Faculty supervisors are always working to help interns develop their own therapeutic voice and to work in those ways that best fit their particular style.
Enrollment in Clinical Practicum in Marriage & Family Therapy makes students eligible to participate in an internship through a community agency. Agencies in our area are always eager to have family therapy interns from our program, and we often have more agencies looking for interns than we have interns. Most internships are unpaid positions.
Internships offer an excellent opportunity to work with specific client populations (for example, children, alcohol recovery, women, teenagers, etc.), clinicians from other fields (for example, psychiatry, nursing, and social work), and to gain experience working in agency settings.
The program has internship agreements with a wide range of agencies in our region. Here is a sampling of some of the agencies with which our family therapy students take internships:
Archbold Northside Hospital In-patient psychiatric treatment for adults
Behavioral Health Services Community mental health with children and adults using both individual and group treatment modalities
Florida Sheriff’s Boys’ Ranch Residential treatment for boys in the juvenile justice system
Child & Family Guidance of Georgia Home-based therapy with families at risk of losing a child to state custody
Children’s Advocacy Center Out-patient forensic assessment and treatment of children believed to have been sexually abused
The Pines Family Campus Residential alcohol and drug recovery program for families.
Georgia Pines Community mental health with children and adults using both individual and group treatment modalities
Greenleaf In-patient, day treatment, and out-patient psychiatric services with children and adults
Haven Residential treatment for women and children who have been living in violent homes
Hospice Home-based treatment for individuals and families struggling with terminal illness and agency-based bereavement groups
Kristiansson Roth, Ph.D. Home-based therapy with families at risk of losing a child to state custody
Lowndes County Middle School School-based treatment with adolescents
Methodist Home for Children and Youth Residential treatment for adolescent girls who have been removed from their families
North Point Group Home Residential treatment for youth with cognitive disorders
Raintree Village Residential treatment for children who have been removed from their families
Regional Youth Detention Center Lock down residential treatment with boys and girls in the juvenile justice system
Turning Point Hospital 28-day dual diagnosis inpatient treatment for adultsPartnership For Health Medical clinic for uninsured Lowndes county residents to come talk through the complexities of a diagnosis