Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Reflections of Two Trainees: Person-of-the-Therapist Training for Marriage and Family Therapists

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Reflections of Two Trainees: Person-of-the-Therapist Training for Marriage and Family Therapists

Article excerpt

In this article we share our personal and professional experiences, struggles, and growth, as former trainees of the Person-of-the-Therapist Training pilot study, conducted during our master's coursework in the Couple and Family Therapy Department at Drexel University. We include our perceptions of the training process in vivo, the challenges and benefits of doing this work in an academic setting, case examples to convey our journey of personal discovery, and the use of what we learned about ourselves in our development as therapists. This development includes a deepening of awareness of self in our relationship and work with our clients, a greater ability to work with both our personal assets and vulnerabilities, as well as the acquisition of skills to actively and purposefully use our entire person diagnostically and therapeutically in our work with clients.

Person-of-the-Therapist Training (POTT) was introduced to Drexel's MFT program in 2003 via one of its professors, Harry Aponte - who, before this study, specialized in working with seasoned clinicians to integrate the POTT principles into their work during clinical supervision. The pilot study discussed in this article was a new attempt at the systematic training on the use of self in an academic setting with individuals at the beginning of their professional training in MFT. The study targeted first-year students. It was clear that this study was for research purposes to determine whether this model of training on the person of the therapist could be integrated into the existing MFT program at Drexel. Therefore, participating students were first asked to sign an appropriate release for the sharing of their information as they documented their experience - which has allowed the detailed, personal examples throughout this article.

During an orientation to the program it was also explained that this training was voluntary, not graded, and limited in space; only six places were available - meaning only half of our master's class could participate. Names were put into a hat and drawn at random, the first six to be included in the training and the remaining listed as alternates in the order in which they were drawn. For the six participating in the study, a 3-hr block of time per week was dedicated to the training.

The first two POTT sessions were focused on reading basics about this type of work: articles by Harry Aponte on the subject and readings from the Use of Self (2000) by Baldwin. From these readings, we understood that POTT was not a therapy theory per se, but rather a way of conducting oneself as a therapist, aware of personal experiences and feelings, and how they intersect with one's work. With the apparent inadequacies of first-time family therapy interns with no clinical experience, we fretted over our own ability to help anyone given our lack of skill and the history of our respective personal struggles with our own families. However, with the introduction to POTT, we soon experienced a paradigm shift in seeing our own personal issues as less of an impediment and more of an avenue to foster a more effective use of ourselves with clients. Along with the insight, the technical skills we would gain in training seemed to promise to make us better therapists.

The POTT class began in our first year with all our other classes. During the introductory phase, two faculty trainers explained the training process and conveyed expectations: trainees were to journal their experiences of training sessions in a notebook that was collected regularly (these journal entries provided much of the detailed examples in this article); one trainee would present each week along a 6-week rotation. Trainees were to electronically submit their presentations to the two trainers a week in advance, using one of two outlines provided. One outline focused on our personal issues as manifested in our personal or clinical experiences, and the other on our clinical experiences and the role our personal issues played in our clinical work. …

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