Setting Up the On-Site Marriage and Family Therapy Clinical Training Course

By Ratanasiripong, Paul; Ghafoori, Bita | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Setting Up the On-Site Marriage and Family Therapy Clinical Training Course


Ratanasiripong, Paul, Ghafoori, Bita, Journal of Instructional Psychology


The first clinical training experience or practicum for graduate students in a Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT program is one of the most important aspects of the entire training program. After a year-long journey through textbook and classroom knowledge, students have the opportunity to finally apply their skills to real life environments with real counseling clients. A blueprint for setting up an on-site clinical training course is provided along with the rationale for providing initial clinical training in the academic program.

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The practicum experience in a Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) training program offers graduate students pursuing their master's degree in counseling or psychology their first training experiences as clinicians. The practicum initiates a sequence of supervised applied training activities, progressing to the post-master's degree internship and culminating in licensure for independent practice. Surprisingly, little attention has been paid to the practicum experience in the education and training literature for MFTs.

Although the importance of practicum training has not gone unrecognized, to our knowledge no attempt to date has been made to describe the methods of practicum training in an MFT program in the literature. In the following sections, we share our experiences and models for integrating live supervision within our generalist model of MFT training. The initial impetus for this change was feedback received from field supervisors and students indicating that the application of textbook and classroom knowledge to real/live counseling clients was difficult. Moreover, supervision methods field supervisors often used (which usually do not include live supervision) did not allow for immediate intervention that may be necessary to teach the student to adequately assist clients. The purpose of changing the students' initial practicum course from agency-based experiences to in-house clinic-based experiences was to enhance student learning and develop a method of evaluation at the mid-point of the MFT graduate program.

Three supervision models (live, delayed review, and verbal reports) are primarily used in the training of MFTs (West, 1993). Live supervision refers to a type of supervision in which the supervisor is present during the therapy session to make immediate supervisory interventions (West, Bubenzer & Zarski, 1989). The supervisor is present usually by one-way mirrors or video monitors, and if necessary, the supervisor may intervene by having the supervisee take a break to consult with the supervisor, phoning in, having the supervisor use a "bug-in-the-ear" device, or having the supervisor enter the room to conduct co-therapy with the supervisee as needed (Liddle & Schwartz, 1983). Delayed review often involves the use of recordings (i.e. videotapes and audiotapes) as well as supervisee recall (West, 1993). Verbal reports include having the supervisee recall what happened in a clinical session and share it with the supervisor (Young, 1986). Although each of these supervision models may have utility in the training of MFTs, the use of live supervision during an initial practicum seminar may be advantageous in the transition from didactic learning to clinical learning.

The vast majority of MFT training programs do not use live supervision to enhance training (Heppner, Kivlighan & Wampold, 1992; Heppner et al., 1994; West, 1993). Our position is that training in MFT treatment modalities should be integrated into MFT curriculum, and live supervision enhances the ability of students to grasp and apply concepts. For the past two years, the faculty at California State University, Long Beach have been involved in developing an MFT curriculum that incorporates the use of live supervision in the training and evaluation of graduate students. Live supervision includes the following components: an in-session component in which the supervisor observes the counselor-in-training through a one-way mirror and immediate feedback is given; a post-session component in which there is debriefing between the supervisor and supervisee (Heath, 1983; Liddle & Schwartz, 1983; Montalvo, 1973). …

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