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Alumna DeAnna Harris-McKoy is changing family systems

May 10, 2022

Professional head shot of DeAnna Harris-McKoy, PhD, LMFT

Facilitating a leadership institute for youth in Baltimore, Maryland and witnessing the lack of support from the adolescents’ families for their new leadership skills coupled with taking an undergraduate course in introduction to marriage and family therapy steered DeAnna Harris-McKoy, PhD, LMFT, an alumna of the Master of Family Therapy program at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP), into a passion for changing family systems. “I was introduced to systemic thinking, and I thought, ‘this is it!” This is how I’m going to help—by changing the family system—and my medium is going to be marriage and family therapy,” Harris-McKoy affirmed.

In her search for master’s programs, CNHP’s is the one which stood out. Harris-McKoy was impressed that Drexel walked the talk of social justice. “There are too few places that incorporate this thinking into every single class. Here it becomes part of you,” said Harris-McKoy. The program helped her acknowledge and address oppression through her clinical work, research and community service.

Harris-McKoy is an associate professor in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences and program director for the specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy (SMFT) program at Northern Illinois University. She provides supervision for people with provisional licenses and is the executive program consultant for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Minority Fellowship program. Harris-McKoy conducts research in three general areas: Black mental health, social justice in marriage and family therapy and the influence family processes have on youth outcomes and she has a small, private practice where she sees clients once a week.

She loves watching people realize they already possess talents and skills they need to grow. Her philosophy is that therapy is more than just addressing mental illness, but about wellness and would like to see that more incorporated in the overall understanding of health. Harris-McKoy said it’s the one space people have solely dedicated to their own development — their own wellness. “I believe we will see more people reaching out for services, so we have to make services affordable and more accessible,” Harris-McKoy articulated.

Harris-McKoy sees herself in all her roles as a catalyst for change—for her students and mentees, for the people in the community where she lives and who look like her and for her clients. It’s a way of life for her, not just a profession, and she attributes that, in part, to Drexel. She saw the people around her, including professors in the Counseling and Family Therapy Department, working in and outside of academia, as leaders of change. She credits Marlene Watson, PhD, associate professor emerita, Argie Allen, PhD, former director of clinical training and a two-time CNHP alumna, and Stephanie Brooks, PhD, senior associate dean of Health Professions and Faculty Affairs and clinical professor, with making the biggest impacts. “These were women, who looked like me, in positions of power and making noticeable and important improvements in their communities. I integrated that I into who I am as a person and who I am as a professional. I absolutely love, love, love, what I do.”

Written by Roberta S. Perry