What I Wish I Would Have Known: A Millenial’s Tale

4 Commentsby   |  02.20.14  |  Uncategorized

By Mathis V. Kennington, Ph.D., LMFTA

And here I was thinking all I needed were some clever tweets, a great website, maybe a Tumblr page, and an active blog, and I’d have clients banging down my door competing with each other to get on my calendar.  After all, this is the way the world communicates now, right?  We have exchanged handshakes for pokes and phone calls for texts.  But for all of our culture’s posturing about the value of social media and search engines, we don’t put a lot of stock into helping professionals we find on Yelp.  After nearly seven years of practice and two degrees later, I’ve just realized that no social media campaign can compare to the power of a friend, relative, or family physician believing in your services enough to refer someone to you.  Unfortunately, my generation (those of us who just got out of college before social media conquered the world) and those younger than us will enter markets saturated with helping professionals under the assumption that the quality of their social media should correlate with the vibrancy of their business. But this is the coldest and limpest of lies.  In my time as an ACU student, I gained the best family therapy education you can receive in the nation. Even after a doctoral education and rubbing elbows with family therapy students from across the country, I still believe this.  Yet, for all my education, I was ignorant about how to start a private practice. The journal articles into which I was immersed were impotent to help me.  Thus, I relied on what I knew: social media, because that is where the people are.  Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Linkedin, and on and on we go.  I was and am still proud of what I crafted, yet all my pride did not change the fact that I received scant little return for my time. What was going wrong? I fashion myself a rather intuitive self-starter, yet all of my ideas and fervor limited my capacity to reach clients. I told my story, but was anybody listening?

It was not until about six months later (I can be quite dense) that I realized that maybe I was going about this whole thing the wrong way.  So, like a good observer, I studied the habits of successful therapists whose practices boomed with clients.  What I discovered was just what I needed to kick-start my millennial mind out of social media complacency. Despite my years of training to become a relational expert, I failed to activate the most basic of therapeutic truths into my marketing plan. Referrals are given where trust is earned.

Warm referrals thrive within the community, from a trusted professional, a health provider, a family attorney, or a local school counselor. Where social media provide introductions, community referrals give depth and safety.  Shocking? Not really.  But it was enough to make me realize that this private practice thing is as much about my integrity outside my office as in it.  To be successful is to proclaim your message authentically, which demands more than social media are equipped to handle.  Because as a person dedicated to the professional care of others, my task is to reach out and touch someone who might be scared to make contact.

This required that I be in the community. Not as a walking billboard, but really IN the community. I had to volunteer, join Meetups, give talks, ask for clients, get rejected, ask again, get rejected again, go somewhere else, ask for clients, get a client, say thank you, and repeat.  People needed to know who I was, which meant that even after years of classroom education, I had to wait a little longer. My generation doesn’t like that. We like now. We like immediate.  And if we stroll into this profession with that attitude, our community members will smile at our clever Facebook posts as they hand their referrals to the computer illiterate professional who has taken the time to make sure you know what she is about.

Now don’t get me wrong, social media are important. Your online presence buffers your credibility.  Social media are trying to catch up by adapting to the need to actually be socially connected, rather than disjointed individuals projecting perfect lives.  But for now, the most valuable way to build a solid clientele is a steady diet of patience, persistence, and authentic connection with community members. If you want to create a business that asks clients to give so much of themselves, then you should expect to be vulnerable enough to be seen, really seen, within the community as a behavioral and relational health expert.  It is an exercise in authentic vulnerability, courage, and persistence. Sound familiar?

Dr. Mathis Kennington is a 2009 graduate of ACU’s MFT Program. He completed his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech in 2013. He is currently a family therapist associate in Austin, TX. Visit his website at www.mathiskennington.com/about.htm

Congratulations Class of 2013!

0 Commentsby   |  08.27.13  |  Uncategorized

On the evening of August 8, 2013, the MFT program honored it’s newest group of alumni. Twenty-one graduating students along with family members, friends, faculty, and staff celebrated the completion of two years of classes, at least 500 hours of client contact, and their personal and professional growth through the course of the program.

Three awards are given to students by the faculty and staff at the banquet each year. This year’s Outstanding First Year Student was Matthew Stephens. Since he began in the program last fall, the faculty have been impressed with Matthew’s maturity, professionalism, and his eagerness to learn. If a faculty member mentions a book that isn’t necessarily required for class, Matthew will read it on his own.

Outstanding Intern award recipient, Zach Austin, with Dr. Sara Blakeslee

Outstanding Intern award recipient, Zach Austin, with Dr. Sara Blakeslee


The Outstanding Intern award goes to the graduating student who performs at an exceptional level in both his academic and clinical work. Zach Austin was selected for this award. Zach was the first student who was selected to complete an internship at CitySquare over the summer, and the faculty have been continually impressed by his cultural competence and sensitivity that go far beyond his level of experience. Additionally, Zach is a gifted therapist, and one of the faculty noted on a number of occasions that as Zach’s supervisor, he had the opportunity to witness some of the best clinical work he had ever observed being done by a student.

Meredith Platt received the Spirit of the Counselor award. This award is reserved for the student who most fully demonstrates the incarnational aspects of the therapeutic relationship. Meredith is also seeking a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry from the Graduate School of Theology at ACU and hopes to spend her career in formal ministry with a local church. Meredith demonstrated the ways in which professional therapy can be ethical and respectful of each client’s values and beliefs while also believing that she is ministering to their spiritual needs, even when not overtly discussed.

Spirit of the Counselor award recipient, Meredith Platt, with Dr. Jaime Goff

Spirit of the Counselor award recipient, Meredith Platt, with Dr. Jaime Goff

Matthew, Zach, and Meredith are just three examples of the outstanding students we are blessed to have in the MFT program at ACU. Each year, as another group of students graduates and goes out into the world in community mental health, private practice, church ministry, or doctoral work, I am filled with a renewed sense of hope for the reconciliation and healing that will come about through their work.

At the end of each banquet, it has become my tradition to share this Franciscan blessing with them, and I hope it will bless you as well:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Prospective Student Weekend

0 Commentsby   |  05.05.13  |  Uncategorized

The prospective student weekend in March was not only an opportunity to look for future MFT’s, it was an opportunity to show future MFT’s what they can expect from our program here at ACU. Even though that weekend is long gone, the importance it holds still resonates and carries on in the heart of this program’s history.

The interview weekend tied it all together for the curious explorer. We offered a student panel, tours of the clinic and the campus, a presentation given by Dr. Goff and Dr. Blakeslee, several opportunities for prospective students to chat with us in a relaxed atmosphere, and of course, great food. First year intern Natalie Villalobos said, “The events of the perspective student weekend were organized in a way for the students to get to know faculty, staff, and current students in a relaxed environment. It reminded me of my experience just a year ago and I am excited for the journey the new students are about to take.”

Another first year, Holley Craft, said “Having the opportunity to speak to perspective students allowed me to reflect on my short time in the program and to remember being in their shoes. I could tell that even though it’s been a year the growth that has happened for me is indescribable.” Holley was also on the student panel and touched on the passion this program imbues, a passion she didn’t know she had until put under the hot seat. “I believe in this program and would choose to do it over and over again. Speaking and sharing the novice amount of wisdom that I have made me very thankful that I was chosen…and I was able to share my weird and fierce passion for the MFT department,” said Craft.

As Dr. Goff stated, “We interviewed an excellent group of prospective students this year from colleges and universities across the country. I’m really excited about finalizing the cohort and getting to know these students better over the next several years.” Soon enough these things will all be so: the second years will graduate and go on to exert their therapeutic prowess, the first years will get a step closer to graduation and become mentors to the incoming class, and the new first years will filter into Abilene and begin an incredible journey of growth and discovery.

Students Present Research at TAMFT

0 Commentsby   |  03.19.13  |  Uncategorized

 The 2013 TAMFT Annual Conference in Austin was a major success. In addition to great presenters, engaging workshops, and wonderful opportunities to network, the MFI class of 2013 presented their research posters on the second to last day of the conference. The research teams consisted of six groups studying various topics related to marriage and family therapy.

Paul Mathis helped conduct research to determine the correlation in attachment to human beings and God, and said presenting with his research team was very encouraging. “The people who came by expressed a lot of interest in our topic. It was affirming to hear that other people thought what we were working on had value,” said Mathis.

Another second year, Jenn Cote, said doing research on sexual and religious attitudes of evangelical college students was a great experience to have. “I really liked the opportunity to help Dr. Goff in her longitudinal study. It’s neat to think that the research we did will be used for an overall product several years from now,” said Cote.

Matthew Hale studied emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and hypnotherapy techniques on distress remittance in couples’ therapy. “It was really beneficial to receive extra training in hypnosis to further our research”, said Hale. According to Jordan Smith, “there were a lot of things we could modify in the future, like moving in the direction of mindfulness instead of hypnosis, and we picked that up here at the conference”.

Overall, the research posters were the result of extensive hard work from all the students involved, and the second years represented ACU with class and professionalism. Coincidentally, their hard work also encouraged the first years, who will be presenting their own research posters at next year’s conference.

The titles of all posters presented included:

  • Hold Me Tight: The Efficacy of an Emotionally Focused Model of Couple Enrichment – Ryane Clayton, Mike Ford, Abigail Hill, and Hannah Burke (mentored by Dr. Sara Blakeslee)
  • Sexual Attitudes of Evangelical College Students – Olivia Keyes, Madison Bishop, McKenzie Goad, and Jenn Cote (mentored by Dr. Jaime Goff)
  • Solution Building and Symptom Distress: A Correlational Analysis – Meredith Platt, Taylor Chambers, and Brenton Kirschner (mentored by Dr. Jaime Goff)
  • Adult Attachment to God and Personal Relationship: A Correlational Study regarding Intimacy and Isolation – Kendra Arsenault, Paul Mathis, Raelle King, and Eleasha Walker (mentored by Dr. Dale Bertram)
  • Hypnotherapy Techniques: Effects on Distress Remittance in Couples Therapy – Matthew Hale, Candace Watson,  Amy Passmore, and Jordan Smith (mentored by Steve Willis and Dr. Sara Blakeslee)
  • I Am What I Am: Comparing the Experiences and Perceptions of Gay and Lesbian University Students at Two Christian College Campuses – Zach Austin, Loren Morcomb, Michelle Overman, and Reagan Smith (mentored by Dr. Sara Blakeslee)

Alum Hal Runkel Speaks to Current Students

1 Commentby   |  02.21.13  |  Uncategorized

Hal Runkel, LMFT, 2000 graduate of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at ACU, was on campus on Monday, February 4, as the featured speaker for the campus-wide Healthy Relationships Week. Hal was recently honored as one of ACU’s Distinguished Alumni. Soon after his graduation from the MFT program, Hal authored the New York Times Bestselling Book, ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool. Hal next created the ScreamFree Institute, a nonprofit organization working to strengthen families and organizations around the world by providing them with the tools they need to build peace-filled homes and societies. Hal recently released a follow-up book, The Self-Centered Marriage: The Revolutionary ScreamFree Approach to Rebuilding Your “We” by Reclaiming Your “I.”

During his time on campus, Hal was able to share his experiences of being entrepreneurial and “creating a space to do the work you love” with current MFT students. Hal encouraged the students to broaden their minds about “getting a job,” focusing instead on their own personal mission to use the skills they’re gaining in the MFT program. He shared a realistic perspective about the hard work necessary to become successful in a world that’s filled with noise. Hal spoke about the sacrifices he made early on, such as providing free seminars on which he lost money and initially self-publishing ScreamFree Parenting. Hal ended his time with the students by saying, “Ninety-nine out of 100 ideas aren’t good. Find an idea you’re willing to die for. That’s living.”


AAMFT Membership

2 Commentsby   |  02.13.13  |  Uncategorized

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) is an association that represents professionals in the field of marriage and family therapy, and supports more than 24,000 marriage and family therapists worldwide. The AAMFT firmly believes in the unity of communication, especially among working professionals who are involved in clinical, educational, and research settings. Connecting the field under a common thread also has many purposes, two of which are to give a unified voice to those of us in the field, and to provide consumers with access to mental health care.

Dr. Dale Bertram is a new faculty member here at ACU and an active member of AAMFT. On the national level Dr. Bertram has served on the COAMFTE Standards Review Committee, The AAMFT Approved Supervision Handbook Revision Task Force, the AAMFT Code of Ethics Revision Task Force, the AAMFT Ethics Committee, and the AAMFT Distance Education Committee. He has also served on a number of state level committees, and currently serves on the TAMFT Legislative Committee.

Dr. Bertram is a proud supporter of the purpose and benefits of membership with AAMFT. According to Bertram, the best advice for students is to check out the AAMFT website (www.aamft.org) and become familiar with member benefits, resources, and student opportunities. “As an associate member, get involved and get on committees, volunteer for tasks”, said Bertram “because you can meet other students and people who are well established, which can lead to important networking and even pave the way for future opportunities”.

Aside from networking and active involvement, AAMFT membership has its benefits far beyond graduation and licensing exams. From a legal and ethical standpoint, “If you are facing a subpoena or court order, or someone files a complaint against you, or you have general questions about ethics, you can call AAMFT as a member and obtain a free consultation with an attorney” said Bertram. Members also benefit from excellent resources, quality research, and up-to-date practice information.

These and many more are just a few of the perks to connecting with professionals across the country, and Dr. Bertram’s final word provides a simple bit of advice with springboard-like potential, “Roll up your sleeves and get involved with committees”.

AAMFT Conference 2012

0 Commentsby   |  10.17.12  |  Uncategorized

This year the annual American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy conference was held in Charlotte, North Carolina! Several faculty and a few second-year students were able to travel and experience the conference and all it had to offer. In addition, Dr. Sara Blakeslee, Dr. Jaime Goff, Austin Brown, and Priscilla Griffin presented a poster about the Efficacy of EFT-Based Relationship Enrichment. In order to hear a little more about the trip, Amy Passmore and Kendra Arsenault were kind enough to write about their experiences.

“I really enjoyed the conference.  There was a wide offering of breakout sessions to attend (much more than at the state conference) on topics such as hoarding, eating disorders in adolescence, incorporating exercise into therapy, and more. It was energizing to see so many professionals in our field coming together to learn about new techniques and research.  I left with a lot of helpful information for treating varied types of clients and creative ideas for implementing new interventions.” -Amy Passmore

“Going to conference was very educational. I went to several different break-out sessions that really impressed me. I went to a session on eating disorders and group therapy, which was incredibly informative and really interesting. The women showed a video that linked eating disorders and lack of intimacy. Another session I went to talked about expectations, hope, and alliance. This session was a great reminder of the importance of connecting with a client well before the first session. You can help clients to know the quality of therapy they will receive by your referrals, website, and first phone call. Finally, I went to the showcase. This was the most exciting part for me. I was able to meet and greet with the PhD programs I am interested in. I really enjoyed talking with these prospective schools and seeing what they had to offer and what I could bring to the table. Overall, it was nice to be in a professional environment where I felt like my career path was validated and developing all at once.”  -Kendra Arsenault

Overall, this AAMFT conference this year was a very educational and energizing to those who were able to attend. All of us here at the Marriage and Family Institute will be anxiously awaiting the AAMFT annual conference next year in Portland, Oregon!

New Year, New Cohort!

0 Commentsby   |  08.30.12  |  Uncategorized

As the Summer comes to an end, the Marriage and Family Therapy program welcomes a new cohort! The incoming class of 2014 is made up of a very diverse and energetic group of 22 students. The second year students were so kind as to throw a welcome party for the new cohort at Play Faire Park here in town. Some of the highlights of the party included a wonderful cookout, a little rivalry in miniature golf, and a great time of fellowship. The second year students were very supportive and offered many words of encouragement as the first class drew near.

After this first week of class, the first years came out with all of the feelings of excitement and  nervousness that go along with a new journey. Many of the first years have eagerly began hours of observation and are becoming acclimated to the clinic. In addition, the first year students have began getting to know each other and building friendships. Highlighted below are a couple students from the new cohort that were willing to share some of their background.

Adam Clement joins the cohort all the way from Overland Park, Kansas! For his undergraduate career, he studied Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University. There are two main experiences that led to his interest in Marriage and Family Therapy. He was a Resident Assistant in his time at KSU, but he also worked as a Peer Financial Counselor in a free student-run financial counseling service for KSU students. He is looking forward to the small private college atmosphere, the clinical emphasis of the program, and the Christian focus.

Holley Craft did not have to travel far because she just finished her undergraduate degree in Family Studies here at Abilene Christian University! Over the past couple of years, she had two different youth group internships at local churches. In addition, Holley has spent her Summers working at two camps. The combination of these experiences gave her direction and reassurance that she would like to work with families and adolescents when done with the Marriage and Family Therapy program.

Introducing Dr. Dale Bertram

8 Commentsby   |  06.01.12  |  Uncategorized

The Marriage and Family Therapy program welcomes Dr. Dale Bertram as a Full Professor beginning in the Fall 2012 semester. Dr. Bertram received his Ph.D. in Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern in 1995. He also holds an M.Ed. in General Counseling from Albertson College of Idaho, an MA in Religion from Eastern New Mexico University, and a BA with a double major in Religion and Communication from Eastern New Mexico University. Dr. Bertram holds MFT licenses in Kentucky, Alabama, and Ohio. He is a Clinical Member and an Approved Supervisor with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

Dr. Bertram most recently served as Dean of the School of Human Services and Program Director for the MFT PhD program at Amridge University in Montgomery, AL. He has previously held faculty positions at Southern Christian University, University of Louisville, and Louisville Bible College. In addition to his academic positions, Dr. Bertram has held a number of clinical positions and been involved in successful private practices.

Dr. Bertram’s primary research interest focuses on the rhetorical aspects of family therapy, and he has published several articles in this area. They include “Joining With All Members of a Family System: The Rhetoric of Antilogic in Family Therapy Dialogue” and “Rhetorical Theory and Family Therapy Practice” both published in Contemporary Family Therapy and “Missing Links: The Enthymeme and its Utility in Systemic Family Therapy Dialogue,” published in Family Process. In addition to these publications, Dr. Bertram has presented his work at numerous conferences, regularly providing workshops and seminars on topics related to ethics, supervision, and Ericksonian therapy.

Dr. Bertram has been highly active at the national level, serving on several committees with the AAMFT. He currently serves as the Chair of the COAMFTE Standards Review Committee and a member of the Approved Supervisor Handbook Review Task Force. Dr. Bertram serves regularly as a COAMFTE Site Visitor and has chaired 21 site visits.

Dr. Bertram’s varied professional experiences will be extremely beneficial as both a colleague and a professor in ACU’s MFT program. We are excited that he has chosen to join our faculty and look forward to our partnership.

Machismo in Therapy

0 Commentsby   |  03.25.12  |  Uncategorized

By: Mike Ford

The popular perception of machismo depicts Latin men as aggressive, abusive, domineering, womanizing alcoholics (Arciniega, Anderson, Tovar-Blank, & Tracey, 2008; Mayo & Resnick, 1996; Baldwin & DeSouza, 2001). Much of the psychological literature endorses this negative conception largely due to a slant in the measures developed in search of the negative components of machismo (Arciniega, et al., 2008). Machismo cannot adequately be analyzed apart from marianismo (or, as it is called in Brazil, Modelo de Maria – Model of Mary). Baldwin and DeSouza (2001) consider marianismo along with machismo as the major influences in the construction of gender roles in Brazil. This holds true of all Latin American countries founded on the influence of Roman law and the Catholic Church (Mayo & Resnick, 1996). Marianismo is characterized by passivity and submissiveness based upon a virgin-like image of Maria, the mother of Jesus (Mayo & Resnick, 1996). This view creates the basis for the development of the core qualities of machismo. But, as research demonstrates, machismo projects various facets of which the popularized negative definition portrays only part of the picture. In a study by Afredo Mirande, only half of Latino men perceive machismo as a negative construct whereas 35% affirm it as a “source of pride and honor” (Arciniega, et al., 2008, p. 19).

Falivcov (2010) indicates that this is demonstrative of the multidimensional qualities of machismo which lie along a continuum of positive to negative attributes. She labels the negative attributes as indicative of a false masculinity called machista whereas; the positive attributes allude to authentic masculinity referred to by the term hombre or, varon (Falicov, 2010). Other delineations specify more extreme positions on the continuum such as caudillo (Mayo & Resnick, 1996) which exemplifies the highest level of masculinity defined by respect, power, rectitude and affection for those under his protection. Caballerismo denotes a masculinity based on a code of chivalry much like that of Don Quixote (Arciniega,et al., 2008). An extreme negative connotation is found in the term macho which is animalistic in nature (Falicov, 2010; Mayo & Resnick, 1996). Though foundational in the development of the gender role for Latin American males and, though employed in a variety of forums both popular and academic, the concept of machismo has yet to be clearly defined (Arciniega, et al., 2008) and the vagueness of the term obscures one’s understanding of Latin masculinity.

Therefore, when a Latin male presents himself for therapy, is machismo perceived as a problem or a component for possible solutions? If attributes from the negative end of the machismo continuum contribute to the presenting problem, rather than attempting to dismantle innate traits of machismo one might better succeed in calling out the more noble facets of machismo in order to redirect the intrinsic nature of Latin masculinity toward positive relational attributes. Calling upon the virtues of familismo (devotion to family) (Falicov, 2010), the chilvary of caballerismo (Arciniego, 2008), along with the innate affection and generosity of the Latin male one may be able to redirect the Latin husband or father toward a path of benevolent machismo (Falicov, 2010), opening up a variety of solutions for the presenting problem.


Arciniega, G. M., Anderson, T. C., Tovar-Blank, Z. G., & Tracey, T. J. G. (2008). Toward a fuller conception of machismo: Development of a traditional machismo and caballerismo scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(1), 19-33.

Baldwin, J., & DeSouza, E. (2001). Modelo de Maria and machismo: The social construction of gender in Brazil. Interamerican Journal of Psychology, 35(1), 9-29.

Falicov, C. J. (2010). Changing constructions of machismo for latino men in therapy: “The devil never sleeps.” Family Process, 49(3), 309-329.

Mayo, Y. Q., & Resnick, R. P. (1996). The impact of machismo on Hispanic women. Affilia, 11(3), 257-277.