Coffee Talk

Why Getting it Wrong Can be the First Step to Getting it Right in Practicum

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By: Aneesah Muhammad, Irvine Graduate Campus

Practicum, it’s the part of our education experience where any graduate student in a marriage and family therapy program, contends with the most anxiety. We anticipate practicum with hopes that our prerequisite courses will have magically transformed us into experts who can fix our client’s lives. Although Anxiety tells us that this is not even remotely possible, we still hope that it is the case. When we reach practicum, we find that anxiety spoke the truth to us. We have not become experts, and our clients cannot be fixed. This is the bad news. The good news is that not being an expert is fertile ground for lots of wonderful things to blossom such as a curiosity about who our clients really are and a burgeoning of ideas about how we can collaborate with them for their treatment. As a first semester, practicum student, I found it refreshing that I was not the only one to bring wisdom into the therapy room. The responsibility to address problems affecting my clients did not rest solely on my shoulders. Clients bring their wisdom, and hopefully agency, to the treatment process. In light of this new insight, I was able to give myself permission to get things wrong and not be perfect.

As students, we can be so afraid of getting it wrong, especially in front of other people. The fear sometimes creeps up on us, beckons to us, and convinces us that we shouldn’t put ourselves out there. “If you reveal your ignorance, you will look like a fool,” it says. But what better time to appear not to know than when we are expected to know the least? Although we will never know everything— even after becoming licensed—practicum is a time to demonstrate what we don’t know as much as what we do know. Our supervisors need to be made clearly aware of what we are doing in the therapy rooms so that that they can offer us guidance and correction when we need it. Sometimes we are being recorded, and sometimes we simply have to tell our supervisors what makes us unsure when sitting with a client, what makes us uncomfortable, what came up for us and what real questions we have. Otherwise, we will be moving around in the dark with no one to help us to see. Ultimately what we want is to become better therapists. In Practicum, we are no longer just graduate students working towards high GPAs, but student therapists applying theories learned and testing out interventions.

My practicum training is in narrative therapy which requires me to think about problems in a vastly different way that I am accustomed to thinking of them. Having a supervisor who is informed by narrative ideas, and is very empathic and collaborative, is just the nurturing environment that I needed to take calculated risks. My goals as a therapist and my chosen practicum site were a perfect fit. The culture at my site gives me the courage to engage and be vulnerable about what I don’t know. This transparent approach enables my supervisors to assist me with aligning my intentions for interventions with postmodern ideas and approaches to treatment. As therapists, it’s not always what we are doing that matters but how we think about what we are doing. That said, I can think of an instance where one of my fellow therapists, at my practicum site, proposed an intervention to help with a couple in conflict. She asked our supervisors for their thoughts about her assigning reading material to the couple: a pop psychology relationship book. At the time, I was sure that she would be told that this is a bad idea based on my knowledge that there are not a lot of books, of that genre, written from a narrative approach. This is not what she was told. Instead of being advised one way or another, she was questioned about her intentions. She was asked how she thinks that the ideas in the chosen book would inform her work with the couple. I suspect that if my colleague were to say that the intent of the book was to discuss dominant ideas about relationships and to give the clients background for deconstructing those ideas, the proposal would have gotten a green light. The approval would have been in spite of the fact that the proposed literature was not likely to come from our chosen theoretical orientation.

The above anecdote is why many supervisors will not tell their student therapists what is right and what is wrong. This might be a source of frustration for students, just starting out, as it was for me. We want to know the correct way to treat our clients. Conversely, the reality is that there are many right answers or right ways to go about treatment; just as there are many “right” ways for our clients to live their lives. To contend with the frustration, we student therapists need to start trusting ourselves. My practicum site is fantastic in teaching theory and interventions, but the art of therapy is learned through trial and error. Based on my practicum experiences, so far, I have concluded that designing therapeutic questions or exercises, with my client’s well-being in mind, ultimately leads to a favorable result. With these collections of positive outcomes, my anxiety over doing the right thing has gone down tremendously. Subsequently, my confidence as a therapist is steadily on the incline.

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Recap of This Year So Far — See You At Our Fall Events!

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by Kathleen Wenger, M.A., LMFT, LPCC, Manager M.A. Psychology Professional Development and Clinical Training

Summer is relatively slow in the M.A. Psychology Department of Professional Development and Clinical Training as we plan for an exciting series of fall events. So I wanted to take this opportunity to fill you in about some of the enriching events for students in the MAP and MACLP tracks that we’ve had so far this year and encourage you to attend the events that we host this fall! In addition to these events, there are several resources that help guide you through the practicum experience. You can make an appointment for a Quick Meet to receive a personalized explanation of the events and services offered by the department and to have any questions about practicum answered. If you want more information about an agency, you can stop by the GA’s office to read through students’ practicum site reviews (strengths and challenges). We also encourage you to use the Mentor Program, which puts you in contact with a student who has experience at a site you are interested in.

Irvine Graduate Campus

As we do each semester, we welcomed new students to the Irvine Graduate Campus with Quick Meets, our series of one-on-one meetings with new students. These personalized explanations of our departments’ events and services, as well as an overview of practicum basics for MFT students and other subjects of concern for individuals new to the program help our new students to dive right into their program prepared for success.

In February we hosted a Clinical Connections event with George Nalbach, Ph.D. and Connie Saindon, author of The Murder Survivor’s Handbook. Dr. Nalbach introduced a couple whose son was tragically murdered several years ago to share their experience with the grief and loss process. Connie provided clinical strategies for working with clients who have experienced similar tragedies. Attendees felt honored to hear the couple’s story and to receive valuable tips for working with clients who have experienced the violent loss of loved ones. One individual summed up the evening’s event by stating that “While the content and discussion was heavy, saddening, and emotional, I felt most impacted and moved by the display of human resiliency and growth. It was inspiring to hear this couple’s journey through their grief and loss, what they have learned about the process, and what they have learned about themselves.”

In February we also hosted the annual GSEP Career and Practicum Fair: Career Connections. This event gave our current students and alumni an opportunity to meet with potential practicum and internship employers. We had an outstanding turnout in terms of attendees as well as agencies – approximately 50-60 students and alums met with fifteen of the top mental health agencies in Orange County! We followed this event with the annual Practicum Mentor Fair in March. At the Mentor Fair, students ready to begin practicum had an opportunity to hear about the experiences current practicum students have had at their agencies.

Our popular Private Practice and Agency Visit series continued with two events in Orange County in March. I hosted a visit at my practice in Laguna Beach and Chris Hoff, LMFT, hosted one at his agency in Costa Mesa, the California Family Institute. One attendee at my event commented that he felt “put right at ease to ask many questions about the nuts and bolts of starting, managing, and maintaining a private practice such as this. We were also able to discuss other business aspects such as marketing tools, networking, and even google analytics to ensure that we will have enough clients to keep our businesses afloat, yet not so many that we ourselves start to drown and lose our effectiveness.”

As we do every semester, we held a New Student Meeting, the Practicum Tips Meeting, and the Intern Registration Meeting to help MACLP students along their practicum journey. Students have responded to this semester’s series of meetings by telling us things like “it is so great that the program goes the extra mile for us like this” compared to other similar programs! It’s a great vote of confidence to know the impact that we’re having on our current students.

The MFT Consortium of Orange County continues to be held at the Irvine Graduate Campus on the third Wednesday of every other month. The next scheduled meetings are scheduled for September 16 and November 18. For the past 20 years, I have been the host and co-chair of the MFT Consortium. This is a collaborative setting that brings together mental health agencies and universities with MFT graduate programs in an effort to foster community partnerships. The meetings serve as a networking opportunity for agencies to be connected with key personnel to discuss MFT employment and practicum training opportunities, programming and clinical training concerns.

West Los Angeles Graduate Campus

West LA started its spring semester with a Clinical Connections topic that we all need to visit often. Alumna Juanita Frassini Goode, MA, presented, “Self-Love Your Way through Life: The Clinical Value of Practicing Self-Love for Yourself and Clients.” Juanita’s workshop was very fun and interactive. Attendees engaged in a variety of self-love activities with the multitude of art supplies that Juanita provided. Juanita shared her unique approach to practicing with clients, which included her approach from her license in spiritual psychology.  Participants left feeling excited to try out some of these new ideas and approaches with clients.

Following Juanita’s workshop on self-love, premarital counseling guru, Debbi Molnar, MA, LMFT, LPCC, spoke about, “Premarital Counseling versus Couples Therapy: Understanding the Difference and Making it Work in Your Practice.” With a beautiful manual that Debbi put together, she very clearly explained the differences between the two. Debbi shared with the audience how her sessions with couples therapy look, versus how her sessions with premarital counseling look.  She also spoke about the programs for couples that she has put together, which she often holds as weekend workshops. Debbi’s impressive experience and background was very apparent and attendees walked away with an organized and clear-cut way to practice premarital counseling versus couples therapy.

Jody Echegaray, Psy.D, presented the last of the Clinical Connections workshops. Jody’s workshop, entitled “Mass Media—Its Effects, Motivations for Use, and Media-based Clinical Interventions” proved to be a very important topic amongst clinicians. Jody gave a quick historical timeline on the development of media and how it has come to play a part in the practice of psychotherapy. Jody also provided great examples of interventions he has used with his own clients. The workshop addressed some very poignant issues that media can both harm and help in the practice of psychotherapy. Participants were very impressed by the amount of information and were very intrigued by the topic.

West LA’s other professional development events included a Coffee Talk by Alice Richardson, MA, LMFT, LPCC and a Private Practice Visit to alum Curt Widhalm’s practice. For the Coffee Talk, Alice answered questions about pursuing the LPCC. While the development of the license in California is still new, many students and alums struggle with knowing much about it. Alice, who has pursued the license, shared her impressive knowledge about the license and its benefits. Students who attended felt grateful for the clarifications.  Later in March, students and alums visited Curt’s practice to learn about the development and running of a private practice. The room was full as Curt spoke about his process to private practice and laying it out straight for how it goes. Attendees felt very informed and lucky to have attended this private practice field trip.

Encino Graduate Campus

This spring, the Encino Graduate Campus was pleased to have Kent Toussaint, LMFT, LPCC, speak at a Clinical Connections about “The 1-2-3’s for Treating Resistant Teens.” Kent gave attendees a better understanding of how to build rapport, earn trust, and create alliances with teens.  He also spoke about the developmental needs of teens, and how unconditional positive regard helps with this age group.  At the end of Kent’s presentation, the attendees had a hands-on demonstration of the games and toys Kent uses for ice-breakers and rapport building.

In March, Dr. Dennis Lowe graciously gave a 3-hour presentation about “What’s New in the DSM-5” for Pepperdine Alumni who are studying for the licensing exam.  This presentation was held on a Saturday afternoon, and was well received by all attendees.  Many alumni attended and seemed engaged and interested in this presentation, and some alumni even sent emails and notes of appreciation.

March is National Gambling Awareness Month, and the Encino Graduate Campus was fortunate to have an Alumna who specializes in Gambling Addiction. Audrey Johnson, PsyD, LMFT, spoke about the differences between recreational gambling and gambling addictions.  Between 3% and 6% of the general population is impacted by some degree of problem gambling.  Audrey spoke about helpful tools, assessment inventories and treatment plans she uses with her problem gambling clients.

Also in March, Sheila Sayani and Alice Richardson organized a Practicum Mentor Fair “Mixer” where seasoned students who are near graduating spoke with students taking the Pre-Practicum class.  The students enjoyed this event immensely and we plan to continue doing these mixers in future semesters.

Alice Richardson, Clinical Training & Professional Development Coordinator, spoke about the LPCC License at “Coffee Talks” at both Encino and WLA Campuses.  Encino also presented New Student Meetings, Tips for Practicum Meetings and an Intern Registration Meeting, which all three campuses present every semester to keep students as informed as we can.

Irvine Graduate Campus — M.A. Psychology Fall 2014 Recap

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We kicked off the semester at the Irvine Graduate Campus with the latest installment of Quick Meets, our series of one-on-one meetings with new students. Pioneered at the Irvine campus, Quick Meets now takes place at West LA and Encino in addition to Irvine. By providing personalized explanations of our departments’ events and services, as well as an overview of practicum basics for MFT students and other subjects of concern for individuals new to the program, we help new students to dive right into their program with information about many of the tools that will be important to their success.

At the Irvine Graduate Campus, we started off the Fall semester with New MACLP Student Meetings and Practicum meetings. In October, we also had Dennis Lowe, Ph.D. present to students, alumni, and the public about the new DSM-5. Attendees praised the event with positive reviews, saying the presentation was interesting and informative. Dr. Lowe helped make the DSM-5 and its changes easy to understand. Kathleen Wenger also held a Coffee Talk to discuss the LPCC license, which was a helpful event for students to learn the differences between LMFT and LPCC.

In November, we held a Clinical Connections event with Dr. Edward Shafranske where he spoke on Attending to Mentalization in Psychotherapy.  Originally developed for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, Dr. Shafranske focused on the treatment’s expansion to any clients whose self-reflective capacity has been compromised and interventions to re-engage clients in mentalization. As usual, Dr. Shafranske was able to take complicated material and make it accessible to all attendees, whether new graduate students or seasoned therapists. Dr. Shafranske spoke at the very first Clinical Connections back in 2003 and we are grateful for all of his support over the years!

The spring session promises to be as lively as the fall! On February 5, 2014, IGC will host the annual GSEP Career and Practicum Fair: Career Connections. This annual event provides current students and alumni to meet with a number of potential practicum and internships site employers. IGC will have approximately 15 mental health agencies for students to meet with, including some represented by Pepperdine alumni!

In February, IGC will host a Clinical Connections event with Dr. George Nalbach and honored guests focusing on treatment for people who have just lost a loved one through a violent death. Dr. Nalbach and IGC will welcome past clients who have experienced the loss of their son to share their therapy and support group experience, including what was helpful and not helpful in throughout their journey. The program will include a panel discussion as well as a question and answer segment.

The MFT Consortium of Orange County continues to be held at IGC on the third Wednesday of every other month. For the Fall semester, IGC held these meetings in September and November. The next scheduled meetings are scheduled for January 21st and March 18th. For the past 20 years, Kathleen Wenger continues to host and co-chair the MFT consortium in a collaborative setting for mental health agencies and universities with MFT graduate programs, in an effort to foster community partnerships. The meetings serve as a networking opportunity for agencies to be connected with key personnel to discuss MFT employment and practicum training opportunities, programming and clinical training concerns. BBS rules and regulations are also covered.

IGC is also scheduling Coffee Talks, as well as two more Clinical Connections events to be announced at the beginning of the Spring Semester. We will continue to provide our regularly scheduled Clinical Training Meetings at all three campuses (New Student, Preparing for Practicum and Intern Registration Meetings). The department is looking forward to the spring upcoming events!