Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Incorporating Sexual Orientation into MFT Training Programs: Infusion and Inclusion

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Incorporating Sexual Orientation into MFT Training Programs: Infusion and Inclusion

Article excerpt

Many authors have questioned the preparedness of family therapists to deal with sexual minority clients. Even though the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) has called for the integration of sexual orientation into the curriculum of marriage and family therapy training programs, the subject continues to be marginalized. The purpose of this article is to encourage trainers to examine their programs' curricula for evidence of heterosexist bias and introduce ways that they might integrate issues related to same-sex affectional and sexual orientations into their programs via the classroom and the clinic.

It is estimated that approximately 50 million people in the United States are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT), or are related to someone who is (Patterson, 1995), and therapists report considerable personal and professional contact with gays and lesbians. For example, a survey of 457 clinical members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) indicated that 72% of the respondents reported that one-tenth of their practices consisted of lesbian and gay clients (Green & Bobele, 1994). In addition, 70% of the sample had a personal (nonprofessional) relationship with a gay man or lesbian. Although this survey did not address the extent to which therapists believed they were prepared to work with gay men and lesbians in their clinical practice, Doherty and Simmons (1996) found that a little more than 50% of marriage and family therapists (MFTs; N = 526) in their study felt competent in treating lesbians and gay men. This low level of competency may originate from numerous sources, and clinical training is an ideal place for these issues to be addressed.

In his book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, Palmer (1998) wrote about "a culture of fear" (p. 35) that often grips those of us who teach in the academy. He described this fear as distancing us from our students, our colleagues, our research participants, and ultimately ourselves. Palmer outlined four layers of fear: the threat of a live encounter in which the other is free to speak his or her own truth, which we may not wish to hear because it might challenge us in some way; the fear of conflict that will emerge when two divergent truths meet; the fear of losing our own sense of self; and the fear that we may be challenged to change our lives and thus the way that we teach. Students are also subject to fears: fear of failing or not understanding; fear of being drawn into issues that they would rather avoid; fear of having their lack of knowledge or prejudices exposed; and fear of looking foolish in front of their peers (Palmer, 1998). In addition to Palmer's suggestions, we add to this discussion the fears of both faculty and students that their values may not be respected. Consider, in our heterosexist society, all of the multiple levels of fear that might surround the inclusion of sexual minorities in MFT training programs and the infusion of relevant material in MFT curricula. How will we get beyond our fears? Bellah (1987) stated:

The university is not only a place for specialized research and the acquisition of skills. It is also a community of interpreters ... including both teachers and students as they attempt to understand the past that defines them and engage the past in a critical dialogue about our present problems .... Learning in such a community is not a matter of acquiring skills or accumulating objective knowledge alone. It is also a process of critical self-reflection, about both ourselves and our world, that calls upon our hearts as well as our minds, and that has the capacity to change both ourselves and the society in which we live. (pp. 9-10)

ARE FAMILY THERAPISTS PREPARED TO WORK WITH SEXUAL MINORITY CLIENTS?

The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) has called for the integration of sexual orientation into the curriculum of MFT training programs; however, we argue that the subject continues to be marginalized. …

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