Teaching by Practicing
By the time the class of about 20 students in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at PLU graduate, they will have provided 10,000 hours of community service.“Everyone that we see here is from this community,” said Renee Johnson, a second-year MFT student. By community, she means the greater Parkland, Tacoma and East Pierce County area. It’s a welcomed and much-needed service provided by PLU and its master’s level students. And it also provides real life experience for them.
The MFT program extends beyond what some might think. In addition to couples and marital issues, the student therapists help in addressing family, parenting, depression, anxiety, divorce, trauma, communication, anger management, sex and sexuality, grief and loss, and drug and alcohol issues.
Being able to address such a large spectrum of needs over the last two-plus years has been a benefit to more than 500 people who have sought therapy at the program’s East Campus location at the corner of 121st Street S. and Pacific Avenue. In addition to classrooms, the Couples and Family Therapy Center is equipped with numerous consultation rooms, where fellow students and faculty members can observe and advise student therapists.
Every student in the program starts clinical work their first semester. The program is unique because usually the first clinical experience many students in other programs get is when they start interning at an off-campus site.
“We prefer not to do it that way,” said MFT Director Charles York. “By the time they hit the community they have a semester already under their belts.” That experience gets students, as York likes to put it, “past the deer in the headlights stage.”
There’s only so much a student can learn in the classroom, York said. They need to interact with clients to understand that no two cases are exactly the same. And being able to consult with other students and faculty about cases helps provide the best service to the client.
“I like the approach this program has,” Johnson said. “It’s on-site learning in my mind.”
“I think that the close-knit atmosphere of the faculty and students drew me in,” said second year student Alaina Anderson. “It’s probably the most important thing. I would be lost if I didn’t have all these people to talk to and learn from.”
It’s well respected teaching too – all three faculty members of the program have won the Washington State Marriage and Family Therapy Educator’s of the Year Award.
The services the MFT program provides and the preparation the students receive when they go to an off-site location is well recognized, York said.
“There are a lot of good agencies asking for our students,” he said, “actually more than we can provide.”