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There was a lot to talk about at the just-concluded 2010 AAMFT Annual Conference in Atlanta, where more than 1,700 clinicians and researchers from around the country gathered to share the latest ideas in treatment. This year’s theme was “Marriage: Social and Relational Perspectives,” and this year’s jump in conference attendance was well-deserved. Hitting some of the high points:* For my money, Stephanie Coontz should be a keynote speaker every year. Last year, she talked about time-use studies and the changing face of American families. This year she gave a lively summation of her great book, Marriage: A history, putting modern marriage into a larger context. Next year’s theme will be “The science of relationships,” and I hope there’s a way to bring her into that, too. The woman could make the history of the paper bag engaging. * The last plenary speaker, John Witte Jr., was not quite as advertised, but started great dinner-table conversation. He had promised a speech on “Marriage, Religion, and the Law,” which could have been wonderful — a more conservative counterpoint to the arguments others made in favor of same-sex marriage. Ultimately, he barely mentioned religion at all. Which was too bad — as I’ve argued before, there is a reasonable debate to be had about the role of religion in marriage (and specifically whether religious therapists should refer out same-sex couples they do not feel they can work with supportively). I really, really wish someone could put together a respectful dialogue on the topic. But for what it turned out to be, Witte’s speech was valuable. His proposals for legal-system remedies to the changes in family formation and dissolution in the US were far-fetched, but started some great conversations. We all want parents to be responsible for their choices, but how do you have a legal system that best balances supporting families in need with punishing those who are irresponsible? I loved the variety of ideas about that just at my own dinner table; I’m sure similar discussions were happening at plenty of others. * We’re making great strides in the effective treatment of military veterans and their families. MFTs are ideally trained to help keep military marriages and relationships strong (or to end them more peacefully when necessary), and there was a whole track at the conference dedicated to just this kind of work. The timing could not have been better: finally, after years of struggle with the implementation process, the Department of Veterans affairs has a job description specifically for marriage and family therapists. It’s always refreshing to renew old connections and make new ones at the conference, and I especially enjoyed the opportunity to present with some of my faculty colleagues from the Alliant MFT program. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who made the conference such a success. I can’t wait for next year!
Susan Johnson stole the show with her plenary presentation at the AAMFT Annual Conference in Sacramento today. Presenting without Powerpoint slides was itself refreshing, but she said several things in a far more eloquent manner than anyone else has this weekend. I’m paraphrasing, but here were a couple of my favorites:
- Therapy needs higher goals than simply reducing conflict. We get better every day at actually creating new love and bonding.
- Emotions have an exquisite logic to them that is not to be ignored or dismissed. For EFT or any other kind of therapy, clients should not expect that they need to leave their intellect at the door.
- Connection with a partner soothes the brain. MRI studies show that an expectancy of shock is mediated when in physical contact with a partner.
- When it comes to sex, research is clear: Practice *and* emotional connection make perfect.
The workshops I attended today were good informationally, but neither was put on by especially dynamic presenters. I learned about marital satisfaction instruments and online education, both of which are eminently practical — one of the things I like most about the conference.
The evening presentation by Dorothy Becvar was a nice review of the history of the field in terms of its concepts and contributions to mental health. A good (and brief) final plenary to a very good conference. I’ve heard that the other workshops were greatly varied this year in terms of quality, but that those that were good were incredibly good. The conference concludes tomorrow with a set of 3-hour workshops, including one I’ll be moderating on the licensing exam development process. More tomorrow.
Today was the first full day of the AAMFT Annual Conference, which is in my former hometown of Sacramento. It’s been great catching up with old friends, colleagues, and students — this event has become as much a reunion for me as an educational experience. Still, I’ve learned a lot. Here’s what I’ve learned last night and today:
- We’ve come a long way. The opening plenary on Thursday night was an appreciation of the history of our field, and a celebration of finally accomplishing licensure in all 50 states. Bruce Kuehl did a great job with it, and I may be adding clips from this to the MFT Theories course next year.
- I need to start a Facebook group. I’ll call it “MFTers for Changing MFTers for Change.” But then a subgroup would probably spring up to try to change my group, and I don’t want that kind of trouble.
- Family systems and psychoanalytic principles are not mutually exclusive. Okay, to be fair I already knew that. But Richard Scwartz’s presentation of Internal Family Systems made me believe this more strongly than I had before.
- COAMFTE accreditation matters. I already knew this too, but now I have more evidence to back it up. Jeff Larson was kind enough to fill in for Russ Crane, and Jeff joined Mary Moline and I in presenting a workshop on the things that set COAMFTE programs apart. Jeff handled curriculum, pointing out that MFTs are required by licensure laws to get far more education and experience in family therapy than any other profession. Mary took on public mental health, reviewing how the COAMFTE programs in California and around the country are uniquely positioned to integrate changes in public mental health approaches like the recovery orientation. And I took on licensure, pointing out that graduates of COAMFTE-accredited programs get further, faster in the licensure process and are more likely to pass their exams than graduates of non-COAMFTE programs.
Overall, the AAMFT Annual Conference has again earned its spot as the most valuable and rewarding continuing education event I attend during the year. More tomorrow.