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Couple and Family Therapy Department

Diversity Thrives Here

Internationally recognized faculty train culturally aware and culturally sensitive therapists dedicated to serving a diverse client base.

Couple and Family Therapy Department

The Couple and Family Therapy Department prepares students to succeed in today's mental health environment through quality education and clinical preparation. 

We train therapists to be both culturally aware and culturally sensitive. Through our programs, students build an excellent foundation on which to build their future careers in couple and family therapy within the context of a highly culturally diverse marketplace.  

Our internationally recognized faculty are highly respected with expertise in areas such as Culture, Trauma, Medical Family Therapy, Health Policy, Supervision and Training, Forensic Family Therapy, Divorce Mediation, Substance Abuse, Youth and Family Violence, Sex Therapy, Interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiatives, LGBT and Mixed Orientation relationships and EFT.

We invite you to explore the degree programs and certificate programs offered through this department that will help you begin or elevate your career in individual, couple and family therapy. Please explore our web pages for a wealth of information about our programs, students, faculty, research and clinical practice.

Selected MFT applicants are eligible for our Dean’s Scholarship. Additional funding opportunities for MFT and PhD applicants can be found at the AAMFT Research & Education Foundation's Minority Fellowship Program webpage.

Programs

Master of Family Therapy Degree Program
Family therapy: from family of origin to the global community.

Post-Master's Certificate Program in Couple and Family Therapy
Continue your education in couple and family therapy with Drexel's innovative professional training programs.

Doctoral Degree Program in Couple and Family Therapy
The PhD Program in Couple and Family Therapy will prepare you for a career in academia, research, and behavioral healthcare.

Couple and Family Therapy Faculty

View Profiles

Department News

 

11/30/17

Sarah Wenger, PT, DPT works with a patient in the gymAccording to the Institute of Medicine, chronic pain is a major health issue affecting approximately 100 million Americans and amounting to a cost of roughly $635 million a year. The healthcare community has a history of poor outcomes for chronic pain that have frustrated both patients and providers. Chronic pain can be very challenging to treat. It is an evolving condition with remodeling of neurological structures and biological, behavioral, environmental and societal influences. The focus is shifting from eliminating pain completely to minimizing the impact of pain on quality of life and building resilience to better cope with chronicity. The opioid crisis has drawn attention to how chronic pain is understood and managed. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that nonpharmacological therapies be the first line treatment of chronic pain. Mental health, physical therapy and a variety of other professions and wellness strategies are fast becoming that first line defense. Interdisciplinary approaches are considered best practice in treating both chronic pain and substance use disorders. Interdisciplinary care that addresses health and wellness across physical, mental, and social domains is most effective. Healthcare providers need to have a good understanding of chronic pain neuroscience, biopsychosocial components of pain management, issues related to substance use disorders and pain management strategies so that they can effectively integrate their expertise within the context of interdisciplinary care and reinforce strategies used by other team members.

Sarah Wenger, PT, DPT works with patient using a exercise ballAt Drexel University’s Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services, we developed a psychoeducational group called Power Over Pain (PoP). Research has indicated that an interdisciplinary approach aids in improving the functional status and quality of life of patients with chronic pain. PoP is an interdisciplinary program that empowers patients through education to self-manage their pain. The group is based on a framework we developed, the Clinical Reasoning Model for Chronic Pain.

 

Power over Pain Plan of Care

The top of the diagram represents the goal of treatment: patients who are using healthcare services appropriately as they self-manage their pain with little or no opioid use. To reach this goal, patients need education, mentorship for behavioral change, help to address cognitive-affective factors and an understanding of the roles various healthcare providers serve in their health and wellness.

Sarah Wenger, PT, DPT in the gymThe middle of the diagram depicts an interdisciplinary team that includes the patient. All members of the interdisciplinary team collaborate to arrive at unified goals and a unified plan of care. This differs from a multidisciplinary approach where patients see different professionals who are not functioning as a cohesive team, each providing different goals and treatment plans leaving the patient to sort through an often overwhelming amount of information and action items. Good communication among professionals, the patient, the patient’s family and other stakeholders is essential in forming the collaboration needed for efficient and effective care management.

Each pillar at the bottom of the model represents a different area of research important for chronic pain management. While each team member specializes in their discipline, everyone should have a broad knowledge of all areas so that they can effectively situate their expertise within the fabric of the whole patient and a holistic treatment approach that will prepare patients for a resilient path forward.

The PoP group will be re-starting at Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services and will be offered for the first time at Parkway Health and Wellness in this spring. Information about the group and its curriculum can be found at http://poweroverpain.sarah.pt/.

*Note: Wenger's article, “Reducing Opioid Use for Patients with Chronic Pain: An Evidence Based Perspective,” is getting published in the Physical Therapy Journal in print in April and on-line early 2018. 

By Sarah Wenger, PT, DPT, OCS

Associate Clinical Professor, Coordinator of Experiential Learning
Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences Department

11/29/17

The IPER Collaborative launched a new series that is available to faculty. During a listening tour last summer, faculty, who gathered to discuss their views on interprofessional practice, education and research, expressed there is a lack of communication among faculty. To facilitate faculty communication that leads to collaboration, we have offered to administratively support any faculty member who would like to form a working group around a passion, focus or research topic.

To date, we have held two brown bag lunches with much success. On November 16, Michael Bruneau, Jr., PhD of the health sciences department hosted “Exercise Science and You.” The meeting was open to all faculty interested in exploring interventions with physical activity and exercise as potential, non-pharmacological lifestyle therapies, as well as, faculty looking to integrate physical activity into their current practice and research. With a great turn out both onsite and online, Bruneau was able to form a working group with peers from many different disciplines. On November 28, Annette Willgens, PT, EdD of the physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences department hosted “Mindfulness for Clinical Practice, Education and Research.” Willgens invited those who were interested in incorporating mindfulness practice into their curricula, courses, clinical rotations and busy schedules. Again, a great group of like-minded professors and instructors including some adjunct faculty formed another collaborative working group.

Next on the schedule is Guy Diamond, PhD and Lisa Chiarello, PT, PhD who are hosting “Family Centered Care” on December 7.  Diamond and Chiarello are looking for collaborators focused on projects that will integrate family-centered care into their clinical practice, classes and/or research. We are sure that they too will experience the same success as Bruneau and Willgens.

If you are a faculty member who has a passion or focus you’d like to share with others, please contact any member of the IPER Collaborative or email iper@drexel.edu. All brown bag lunches are held from 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. on the day of your choice. We will email faculty, create flyers to advertise your topic, book rooms, link to Zoom and support any other administrative needs you may have to ensure your lunch’s success.

Our goal is to assist faculty in finding peers from across the College to foster collaboration which will enrich student experiences, research projects and faculty relationships.

We look forward to hearing from you soon!

IPER Collaborative

 

Join a Group!

For “Exercise Science and You” contact Michael Bruneau.

For “Mindfulness for Clinical Practice, Education and Research” contact Annette Willgens.

To host your own Brown Bag Lunch email iper@drexel.edu.

08/06/17

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation started publishing the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) more than ten years ago as a tool and resource to help healthcare facilities become more inclusive for LGBTQ+ patients and their families. Over the years, many hospitals and facilities have earned high HEI scores for their commitment to and demonstration of policies for non-discrimination and equal visitation raising the bar and also helping LGBTQ+ patients find facilities that provide equitable care. There is much more to be done not only to provide unbiased healthcare services for individuals in the LGBTQ+ communities, but to also understand their specific health needs and that includes mental health.

The number of Americans who experience mental illness in a given year is staggering. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that that number is around 43.8 million adults, nearly 60 percent of whom, for a variety of reasons, didn’t receive any mental health services. When compared to the general population, LGBT individuals are at a much higher risk—three times more likely—to experience mental health conditions. NAMI also cites that suicide is one of the leading causes of death of LGBTQ+ people aged ten to 24; LGBT youth (compared to straight) are four times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts, and engage in self-harm; 38 to 65 percent of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation; and an estimated 20 to 30 percent of LGBT individuals abuse substances (9% of the general population) and 25 percent of LGBT individuals abuse alcohol (5 to 10 percent of the general population). Mental and behavioral health services for those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community are in great demand, but treatment may not be sought. When it comes to mental and behavioral health issues, they are still largely misunderstood and stigmatized making it less likely to be accessed. And for those individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, they face societal and governmental hostility, prejudice and discrimination on top of the intolerance anyone living with depression, anxiety and other conditions feels in this country.

Christian Jordal, PhD, director of the Master of Family Therapy program and assistant clinical professorChristian Jordal, PhD, director of the Master of Family Therapy program and assistant clinical professor and Anthony Pennant, LMFT, adjunct professor, are doing work within the College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP), Drexel Clinical Practices, including the Parkway Health and Wellness clinic, and Drexel University Individual, Couple, and Family Therapy Services clinic and in their own private practices that hopefully will move the needle on these statistics. Both Jordal and Pennant working at specialize in working with LGBT individuals, couples and families. Through their roles at CNHP, they are training the next generation of clinicians in a way that aligns with the historic mission of the department of Behavioral Health Counseling and Couple and Family Therapy, which includes cultural competency, and social justice service. Despite the statistically low number of people currently seeking support, CNHP students recognize and want to address the growing need for mental health services for a myriad of conditions. CNHP’s bachelor’s degree in behavioral health counseling prepares students to start their careers much faster. They’ve had advanced hands-on training and real-world learning experiences letting them walk out of the door as competent addictions treatment and mental health professionals. The master’s degree program in couple and family therapy (MFT) prepares students to build a solid foundation for fulfilling careers within highly diverse communities especially those that are systemically disparaged and unjustly treated.

Jordal and Pennant, both clinical supervisors, are helping their students become practitioners who have the skills and understanding to work with clients regardless of their race, ethnicity, identity, beliefs or values, because they are integrating Person of the Therapist (POTT), cultural competency and social justice, a cornerstone of the MFT program. “We are helping students develop a knowledge of the communities, the people that they are working with and serving those communities,” Jordal stated. “The majority of programs out there, the way in which they think about training their students, is how to be culturally aware and sensitive. We are trying to move beyond awareness to competency,” he added. Pennant thinks that cultural competency dictates that one must have a certain level of curiosity about differences. “When you look at someone, you say ‘Their experience is not my experience.’ Let me figure out how it feels to have a particular experience when it is dissimilar,” reasoned Pennant. When a student is able to think in this way, Pennant contended that his or her mindset is open to change. In Jordal’s words, he believes that students need to develop immersive knowledge about the people with whom one works. He gave an example: “If I’m a grad student who lived in central PA or rural West Virginia or Wyoming, what’s my experience working with or knowing LGBTQ persons and people of color.” The less of a foundation a student has, the more knowledge they must cultivate. “The therapist should be aware of the burden they place on clients to educate them in their identity,” Jordal commented. 

Pennant sees a variety of people for a range of reasons, specifically couples. Anthony Pennant, LMFT, adjunct professor and clinical supervisor Issues around their relationship and what it means to be a couple, how to set up their families and what roles each will play find their way into discussion. It also could be a heterosexual couple navigating their partnership when one feels safe enough and begins to self-express as gender fluid. And if a partner comes out as transgender, Pennant will provide time and space to negotiate the changing relationship.  “There’s such a richness in regards to what’s out there and sometimes it can be confusing,” Pennant suggested. “When people don’t fit in this bilateral world, it’s important to get people to have conversations as to understand that just because normal seems normal to you doesn’t mean that that normal is normal for everyone,” he furthered. He espoused that it is most vital to let people, especially LGBTQ+ individuals, know that they should not be ashamed to talk about what is important to them.
 
Jordal, who works with clients in monogamous, open and polyamorous relationships including those in the LGBT and mixed-orientation communities, looks beyond the presenting issues when people come to see him. “There are therapists out there who are working with LGBT persons of color who may not be having conversations about the intersections of race, culture, gender, and sexual identity because they presume a sameness in the LGBT persons experience, or their training says it’s not relevant to depression, anxiety or issues in their families,” he pointed out. “But I would argue that as a family therapist, as a person who is trained to think about systems, it’s not just about being depressed, it’s about ‘this is a person of color, who may also be transgender, or same-sex attracted, who is navigating the society that marginalized and oppresses him and how do those larger contexts manifest in his feelings of depression?’,” Jordal continued. He concluded that it’s not just due to an organic cause, but also to the fact that he’s living in a society that’s potentially life threatening. “The way our program works is that we train our students to get into those conversations.” Yes, exchanges about differences are crucial in helping one connect with his or her client. But therapists should also look within themselves.
 
POTT—a model created by CNHP clinical professor Harry Aponte*—is part of the MFT mission. “It’s about recognizing that all of us, as clinicians, are wounded healers with our own issues, what Dr. Harry Aponte calls ‘signature themes,’” Jordal remarked. “Harry’s model is about understanding that woundedness and using that as a way to connect with your client. It’s a deepening the understanding of oneself to more deeply understand the client,” he continued. Jordal gave an illustration. “If I am, for example, a gay male working with a lesbian female, how are my experiences of marginalization and oppression something I can use to better understand those of my client.”
 
Jordal made a point in saying that both the undergraduate program in behavioral health counseling and the MFT program are cutting edge due to the fact that students have the skill set to go out and be on the front lines working with clients immediately. The MFT program takes the education further in that these students are being trained to be leaders in the field. “Most programs in my discipline do not train students around issues of social justice,” Jordal shared. “They don’t think about the Person of the Therapist so our students have a level of preparation that really serves them well and sets them apart.”
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How far have we come in healthcare equality for LGBTQ persons? In the 1950s and 1960s, homosexuality and bisexuality were considered mental illnesses and gay men and women were forced into terrible treatments. Attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community have changed over the last 35 years following the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, there are still many instances of unequal access and quality of care. Disparate treatment will dissipate as the helping professions increase their knowledge through better training, higher levels of cultural competency and commitment to social justice. Both Jordal and Pennant see access to treatment growing as well. “Increased funding for research supporting mental health treatments leads to an increase in insurance coverage. And when people can afford treatment, they will seek it out,” Jordal says. And CNHP educated individuals will be ready to work with anyone, especially those in the LGBTQ+ communities because of their knowledge about the specific issues faced by LGBTQ individuals with mental health conditions.

*CNHP is hosting the International Conference onthe Person of the Therapist on April 26, 2018. Harry Aponte is one of the the renown speakers who will be presenting that day. Information and registration for the event is available on the CNHP website.  

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