Students Attend Yarhouse Workshop

2 Commentsby   |  02.11.11  |  Uncategorized

ACU students and faculty were recently given another opportunity to learn from an accomplished researcher and author in the marriage and family therapy field. Dr. Mark Yarhouse presented a workshop for interested MFTs, counselors, and students Wednesday, January 26 entitled Sexual Identity Therapy: A ‘Third Way’ Model for Clinical Services to Sexual Minorities. As the title suggests, Dr. Yarhouse presented a new therapeutic model for addressing the clinical concerns of sexual minorities.

Gay affirmative therapy, a model which emphasizes that a homosexual orientation is reflective of the individual’s whole identity, and Reorientation therapy, also called conversion or reparative therapy, have been the go-to models for mental health professionals responding to client’s distress around sexual orientation issues. However, neither of these models allows room for clients to address the incongruence between their religious sexual identities, an issue that is especially important for many religious clients and Christians in particular.

Dr. Yarhouse presented his and other relevant research on sexual orientation, treatment models, and efficacy in addition to teaching the Sexual Identity Therapy framework. This model attempts to resolve sexual identity conflict by helping the client synthesize a wholistic sexual identity that promotes personal well-being and integration with other aspects of the individual’s personal identity such as cultural, ethnic, relational, and spiritual self.

Students were impressed by Dr. Yarhouse’s presentation as he offered an alternative framework that is respectful of the client’s unique position and viewpoints. Since so much of the research about homosexuality is often inconclusive, contradictory, and confusing, it was refreshing to learn about a model for working with sexual identity concerns that does not polarize sexual identity against religious beliefs, but instead offers clients a way to address this tension and create a holistic and more confident identity for themselves which can include both their religious and sexual identities.

Mark A. Yarhouse, Psy.D., is the Rosemarie Scotti Hughes Endowed Chair of Christian Thought in Mental Health Practice and Professor of Psychology at Regent University. He is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. Dr. Yarhouse has written several books including Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate, Sexual Identity Synthesis: Attributions, Meaning-Making and the Search for Congruence, and Family Therapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. For more information about Sexual Identity Therapy, visit:

ACU Students Shine: AAMFT Minority Fellowship

0 Commentsby   |  12.02.10  |  Uncategorized

For the past 4 years, ACU MFT graduates have been recipients of the AAMFT Minority Fellowship, a program that aims to “expand the delivery of culturally competent mental health and substance abuse services to underserved minority populations.” The AAMFT Minority Fellowship provides financial support and professional guidance to graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy who express commitment to a career in ethnic minority mental health and substance abuse services.

Past ACU fellowship recipients are Sara Blakeslee (’07), and Maria Williams (’08).  Ruqayyah Samia, a 2009 fellowship recipient, and Mathis Kennington,  a 2010 recipient share how the fellowship has affected their professional growth and research and the ways that their time at ACU helped prepare them for doctoral work.

Mathis: The greatest impact the MFP will have on my research career comes from having constant exposure to other fellows who are engaging in research with ethnic minority individuals.  I have no doubt that my questions will continue to take shape as a result of this collaboration and I am convinced that it will enrich my studies.  I now have access to a
lifetime connection with these folks and those who will come after me. Currently, as a result of receiving the fellowship, I have decided to stay an extra year at VA Tech to take more statistics classes in the hope of becoming more qualified with more complex statistical methods.

I am interested in knowing how attachment-oriented clinical interventions on a broad scale can foster more bonded relationships between children of incarcerated Latino and African American fathers.Right now, I’m working on a study that involves nonresident immigrant Latino fathers from Mexico and Central America and how those fathers
conceptualize their fathering roles.  In addition to that, I’m also involved with a study with the Virginia Department of Corrections to learn how incarcerated mothers rehabilitate after release with their children.

I have no doubt that I would not have the MFP were it not for my experience at ACU. Although I am biased, I am certain that I was a part of the best cohort of students to go through the MFT program.  My classmates were engaging, thoughtful, and incredibly supportive to the extent that all our educational experiences were enriched.  I don’t
think I would have the same scholarly developments and interests were it not for them.  I also feel that the program is more rigorous than many in the MFT field.  As a result, I felt better equipped to handle the many challenges of doctoral study and I also felt encouraged to continue the scholarly pursuits, which led to my interest in applying for the MFP program.  It was difficult while I was there, but reflecting on the experience, I’m so thankful for the way the faculty
structure the MFT program.  I feel more equipped as a result of being at ACU, and I know that wouldn’t be the case if I had been somewhere else.  Finally, I feel that the way my faculty encouraged me throughout the process was critical. This was the second time I applied to the MFP program, and I did not receive the fellowship during my first attempt. Dr. Goff, Dr. Hinson, and Dr. Halstead encouraged me to try again and I was especially grateful to Dr. Goff for contributing to my application this year with a recommendation letter.  The relationships I built with my faculty at ACU were a critical component to my application this year.

Ruqayyah: I was awarded the AAMFT Minority Fellowship in 2009, the same year that I entered my PhD program. For that reason, it is difficult for me to imagine what my doctoral experience would be like without being a Fellow. Since becoming a Minority Fellow, my professional goals have continued to expand. Those goals now include not only leaving the door open for someone else to walk through once I have achieved success, but also creating new, more efficient doors for others to walk through to experience a similar sense of accomplishment. The Fellowship continues to increase my awareness of ways in which I can better serve my community. For me, that is what the fellowship is about, community. Collectively, the Minority Fellows, program director, program manager, and our advisory committee create a space where we as a community can develop better ways in which to serve our respective communities. While the Fellowship has heightened my awareness of the significance of building a strong community, this concept was ingrained in me while in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at ACU. Every professor, supervisor, and member of my cohort created a community that worked toward providing the foundation for professionalism, leadership, and service that has propelled me forward in all of my endeavors. I am almost certain that without the MFT program at ACU, I would not be a Minority Fellow and for that, I will eternally be grateful.

Visit the AAMFT Minority Fellowship Program website for more information and to apply.

What are you thankful for?

0 Commentsby   |  11.22.10  |  Uncategorized

Happy Thanksgiving from the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy.

What can be better than the family getting together over a big turkey dinner, celebrating life’s blessings? Whatever you are doing this Thanksgiving, we pray that it is special day for you and your loved ones. What are you thankful for this year?

Find us on Facebook

2 Commentsby   |  11.04.10  |  Uncategorized

The Department if Marriage and Family Therapy is now on Facebook. Become a fan to show your support for the program and maybe even reconnect with old MFT friends.

Become a fan on Facebook

Student Externship Spotlight: Equine Assisted Counseling

0 Commentsby   |  10.18.10  |  Uncategorized

This is the first of a new monthly post featuring current MFT students and the unique opportunities that students have outside of their clinic experience at the Marriage and Family Institute.

Jacqueline Roberts is a second year MFT graduate student who came to ACU from Oklahoma State University where she studied Human Development and Family  Science. In addition to juggling her scholarly responsibilities, Jacque works on campus in the Office for Institutional Effectiveness as Dr. Tom Milholland’s graduate assistant.

Watch the video to hear about Jacqueline’s work at the University Counseling center where she has the opportunity to engage clients in Equine Assisted Therapy:

Externship Spotlight: Jacqueline Roberts

Faculty, Students Participate in Professional Association Events

1 Commentby   |  10.13.10  |  Uncategorized

Two important gathering of MFTs occurred last month. ACU faculty participated in the TAMFT Leadership Retreat as well as the AAMFT Annual Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia where students also attended.

Dr. Jaime Goff and Dr. Sara Blakeslee participated in the TAMFT leadership retreat in September where they joined executive leadership and committee chairs in a weekend focused on trends of the profession and needs of Marriage and Family Therapists in Texas. Included in this was also planning for the annual TAMFT conference which will occur March 3-5, 2011 in Austin. Dr. Goff serves as a co-chair for the Marriage and Family Therapy Educational Committee. She and Dr. Blakeslee are involved in the publication of the MFT national exam prep manual, so part of the weekend was spent planning exam prep courses and discussing updates to the manual. Although Dr. Blakeslee is not a committee chair, she enjoys giving back to the association through her involvement with the exam prep manual, and as a member of both the ethics committee and the conference committee. She feels that it is especially important for her to be involved as a younger member in the profession and as a faculty member at an accredited graduate program.

Dr. Goff cites three reasons why it is important for her to be involved at the professional level. First, the collective strength of the professional organization provides support for individual practitioners. For example, the current suit by the Texas Medical Association against the Texas State Board of Examiners for Marriage and Family Therapist could have a widespread impact on the way that LMFTs practice and receive payment. TAMFT is working to protect licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. Dr. Goff also sees her participation in the  professional organization as a way to bring a Christian voice to TAMFT. Despite recent withdrawal of Christian participats, Dr. Goff encourages Christians become more involved, especially in leadership positions. TAMFT serves its members, so being a part of it gives the Christian professional a way to make their voice heard. Finally, Dr. Goff’s involvement brings recognition and respect for the ACU MFT program. ACU faculty service at the professional level creates a reputation of excellence which ultimately benefits students and graduates by creating future connections.

In addition to the leadership retreat, the ACU faculty members also attended the AAMFT National Conference. Dr. Blakeslee presented a poster on a subset of her dissertation titled, “Relational Components of Women’s Recovery in Aftercare.” Qualitative interviews revealed that from an attachment perspective, women in the criminal justice system view their probation officers as a secure base from which they launch into recovery. Her research generated a lot of interest at the conference and received an overall positive response including advise other experienced professionals on how she can publish the research.

Faculty were not the only ones to attend the AAMFT Annual Conference. Two second year students, Blake Berryhill and Tyson Alexander, were present. Both students used the conference as an opportunity to peruse the many doctoral programs represented from around the nation. Students were impressed by the quality of the conference presenters which included John Gottman, noted researcher on marital relationships and author of The Marriage Clinic.

The 2011 AAMFT Annual Conference will be a little closer to home in Fort Worth which will hopefully allow many more students and graduates to participate in this important professional event.

ACU Student Weighs in on Treating GLBT Clients

6 Commentsby   |  09.27.10  |  Uncategorized

In two recent highly publicized cases, one at Augusta State University in Georgia and the other at Eastern Michigan University, judges ruled in favor of both universities after they dismissed graduate students in their counseling programs who refused to treat homosexual clients. In a recent newsletter, AAMFT summarized the cases and encouraged members to engage in dialogue around this issue. One of our current 2nd year students, Scott Rampy, offered his perspective on this ethical dilemma on AAMFT’s Community Forum. Here’s what he had to say:

To the readers of this forum, I would like to contribute to this conversation as one from a potentially uncommon vantage point. I am a Christian, have an undergraduate degree in youth ministry, am planning a career with dual focus in congregational ministry and MFT, and am a master’s level MFT student at a Christian university. I would like to respond both in terms of my ever-evolving personal theory of practice regarding this issue as well as in terms of the broader realm of practice in our field.

As students training for a profession in which empathy for the other is the highest ideal, this highly charged debate offers an excellent opportunity for us to demonstrate the fruit of our training and our merit as future professionals. It is undeniable that the issue of sexual orientation is a polarizing one in our society. Well intentioned and highly intelligent people come to diverse conclusions on this issue. National and state governments and courts are engaged in a seemingly never-ending struggle to resolve the issue for themselves – and come to differing conclusions. Even within individuals, as Ms. Walker noted herself, the issue raises conflicting questions. Therefore, rather than joining with the polarized rabble, let us have empathy for the diversity of opinions honestly achieved.

My personal theory of practice with LGBTQ clients is no different than for heterosexual clients – the goal is for peace to be present in their lives. My personal belief is that all humans have an obligation towards sexual morality; that is, sexuality expressed within monogamous heterosexual relationships. However, when it comes to practice with clients of an alternative perspective, my goal remains to find how I can allow myself to be used by them to achieve whatever level of peace (shalom) they are seeking in their lives.

In regard to the broader issues broached by these court decisions, I am surprised by the intolerance for the personal beliefs of both clients and therapists alike. My understanding of the LGBTQ community is that a major tenet is honoring diversity of personal belief. This leads me to surprise at the intolerance for the personal beliefs of these two student therapists. It is unfortunately true that Christians are often guilty of this same kind of intolerance for diversity of belief. However, nothing is gained when either group lowers its own practice to the failings of its detractors. If tolerance of the other is a goal, one must be the first to model it towards the other.

Second, in regard to the decisions of the judges in these students’ cases, one’s personal beliefs are not abstract ideals limited to the realm of theoretical thought. What one believes has direct bearing on how one lives. To offer an overly simple example, if one believes the temperature will be below zero and one values warmth, one does not wear flip-flops and shorts. Belief determines action. If not, it is entirely reasonable to question whether it is a belief honestly held. Contrary to the opinions of the judges in their rulings, I submit that to separate belief from action is in fact to deny one their belief. Though it may not have been stated by their university that the students had to give up their personal beliefs, forcing action contrary to beliefs is to force the relinquishment of belief. Specifically, if the students believed they would be living immorally if encouraging the union of homosexual clients, how do they hold onto this belief and practice counter to it as suggested? A good contribution to this discussion would be for someone to operationalize what this proposed separation of belief and action looks like while upholding one’s personal beliefs.

Third, on a similar tone, is it possible to practice therapy devoid of one’s own worldview? How does one leave at the door all the ways they have been shaped by culture, experience, family of origin, education, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc? What is left to bring into the room? These all contribute to the way we relate with our clients, from the way we think, to the questions we ask, to the emotions we feel when we are with them. Doubtless many of us appreciate the contributions of seminal influences in our field – Minuchin, Haley, and Beck to name three. Yet for each of their models of therapy (Structural, Strategic, and CBT respectively), it is the therapist who makes a determination of functional and dysfunctional family structures, hands down paradoxical interventions to facilitate change from dysfunctional to functional behavior, or challenges cognitive distortions, automatic thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and assumptions. In systems such as these, it is impossible for the therapist to fulfill their role devoid of their own worldview.

In regard to our own code of ethics, we can also appreciate the ambiguity present and the possible differences in decisions, such as were enacted by the students under discussion. Specifically, compare 1.1 with 1.10, 1.11, and 3.4 (provided below).

1.1  Marriage and family therapists provide professional assistance to persons without discrimination on the basis of race, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, gender, health status, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.

1.10 Marriage and family therapists assist persons in obtaining other therapeutic services if the                        therapist is unable or unwilling, for appropriate reasons, to provide professional help.

1.11 Marriage and family therapists do not abandon or neglect clients in treatment without making reasonable arrangements for the continuation of such treatment.

3.4 Marriage and family therapists do not provide services that create a conflict of interest that may impair work performance or clinical judgment.

Article 1.1 specifically mentions sexual orientation as a category for non-discrimination. However, in 1.10, if personal values are not appropriate grounds for inability or unwillingness, it needs to be made clear what do in fact qualify as appropriate reasons. In 3.4, the students experienced a conflict of interest with their professional role and their personal beliefs. 3.4 mandates that they not provide services that impair their own performance or clinical judgment, while 1.10 and 1.11 mandate that they do provide their clients with alternative opportunities for care. While it is very likely that some readers may still disagree with the conclusions reached by the students, surely it is understandable how they could have made their decision believing that they were operating within the AAMFT Code of Ethics.

We have before us an opportunity for empathy in the face of a situation which commonly results in polarization, a true test of our mettle as persons and professionals who value deep understanding of the decisions of others. Empathy in a situation such as this will allow those on both sides of the issue to acknowledge the complexities of the issue and promote conversation that builds toward agreement rather than separates towards opposition. It is with such a positive tone, which I appreciate and respect, that Ms. Walker opened this discussion. Is there room for the same valuing of the differing opinions among our colleagues to allow for the differing decisions of practice as exhibited by the two students under consideration?

Students Attend Barry Duncan Workshop

4 Commentsby   |  09.10.10  |  Uncategorized

Friday, September 3, MFT students were privileged to attend a workshop with noted author and researcher Barry Duncan. The workshop, hosted by the ACU Counseling Center, provided an educational opportunity for students and mental health professionals in the Abilene area.

Barry Duncan is the director of The Heart and Soul of Change Project, a practice, training, and evidence-based initiative that applies common factors and feedback research to ensure consumer voice in care, improve outcomes, and make therapists better at what they do. Duncan provided an engaging and informative workshop based on empirically validated and replicated research on the common factors of change in therapy, with specific attention to the therapeutic alliance. Instead of placing emphasis on a specific theory, from which there are hundreds to choose, Duncan urged therapists to draw on client’s resourcefulness, and to use the therapeutic alliance the catalyst for change.

The workshop taught the value of client feedback both as a way to improve client outcomes and therapist effectiveness over time. Duncan introduced the Outcome Ratings Scale (ORS) and Session Ratings Scale (SRS) and gave participants opportunity to practice administering the simple client-based feedback assessments as a way to create a more effective therapeutic alliance. Students now have the opportunity to participate in research on client-based feedback as they see clients at the Marriage and Family Institute.

To obtain copies of the ORS and SRS, as well as more information about the effectiveness of client-based feedback visit

New Beginnings

3 Commentsby   |  09.03.10  |  Uncategorized

The 2010-2011 school year is in full swing after classes began August 23. This Fall, the MFT program welcomed fifteen new students. Before classes even began, the second year class welcomed the first year cohort with an informal back-yard barbecue. The second years got a chance to meet the new students and reconnect with each other after a short summer break. For some of the first years, this was their first time to meet of their classmates.

The first week of classes kept everyone busy. First year students were hard at work going over syllabi, learning about desk duty, and writing up their first observations. Second year students were excited to begin classes with less than a year left until graduation.

There are also a few changes at the MFI. As noted in a previous post, Dr. Jackie Halstead left Abilene for Nashville this Summer, accepting a position at Lipscomb University. Taking her place as Department Chair is Dr. Jaime Goff who has served as the MFI Clinic Director and full time faculty for the past six years. In addition, Dr. Sara Blakeslee, who served as a supervisor and adjunct professor for the 2009-2010 school year, received her PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy from Texas Tech University in August. Dr. Blakeslee is now a full-time faculty for the MFT department.

Congratulations to Dr. Goff and Dr. Blakeslee on their accomplishments! We look forward to more exciting things coming from the MFT department in the coming school year.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Class of 2010

0 Commentsby   |  08.27.10  |  Uncategorized

Friday, August 6 was a special day for the seventeen individuals who walked across the graduation stage proudly receiving their Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. For these graduating students, the event signified not only their academic accomplishments, but the end of two year journey.

These individual’s busy time in the MFT program was filled with classes, papers, projects, numerous client hours, internships, and many other activities which not only challenged them academically, but allowed them to grow in faith, camaraderie, and integrity. Four graduates are continuing their academic work at various PhD programs across the country (Brigham Young University, University Georgia, Texas Women’s University, Texas Tech University), while others are finding jobs in Abilene and beyond. We wish continued blessings for our MFT class of 2010. Stay in touch, friends!