[First posted on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, March 31, 2010.]

At 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, I am taking my first round of comprehensive exams for my couples and family therapy program. The purpose is to make sure we understand all of the theory we’ve been learning before we start seeing clients. If I don’t pass, I will be given another chance at it in the summer–I won’t be able to see clients this summer, but I could start in the fall.  I feel good about it. I am ready.

We will be graded Pass, Fail, or Pass With Distinction. I expect to get a Pass. I know the material quite well, but we’re supposed to write 3-4 single spaced pages on each of three questions, all in five hours. With citations. That’s a lot of typing. I’ve done three dry runs through the test, and the most I’ve been able to type, even with my outlines in front of me, is 7 1/2 pages, total. I’m not a fast typist, and I still have to think some about what I’m going to write. I’m fine with a “Pass.” Part of my learning curve is learning how to stop at “good enough.”

We’re allowed to bring food, drinks, ipods, and our reference lists with the references in any order. (I’ll paste in my list below). I’m also bringing my own keyboard (Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite) and mouse (Logitech TrackMan Wheel). Five hours of fast typing–I need to be comfortable! I’d like to bring my chair, too (Herman Miller Aeron), but it’s difficult to bike with.

Tonight I’m treating myself to some food someone else made and getting into bed early.

Here are the questions. I’ve had them since December. Below them is my reference list. Wish me luck!

Question 1

Describe in detail systems theory, contrasting it with modernism (aka positivism). Be sure to include central concepts of both epistemologies and explain them fully. Also detail the main concepts of communication theory, and the connections between communication theory and system theory. Describe a family problem in detail using a specific model of family therapy (Structural, Strategic, Solution Focused, Experiential, EFT, Bowen) to describe the relevant associated concepts to understand the situation. What are the model specific concepts you will use to understand the family? How will it direct your treatment? What interventions might you utilize to help this family? Why are these interventions systemic? How will you evaluate outcomes based on this model of therapy? How will the common factors research influence your view of intervention with this family?

Question 2

Research ethics includes principles of social justice and dictates competence at each of the following levels: a) conducting research, b) consuming research, and c) utilizing the research literature.

Describe the key social justice considerations when conducting research, when evaluating the merits of a research study, and when utilizing research data as a clinician. In your response include notions of consent, validity, and the characteristics of a well-constructed qualitative and quantitative research designs. Finally, specifically describe how you will incorporate your knowledge of research and its relationship to social justice while a clinician at the CFT.

Question 3

Please describe a process for how you will develop a systemic diagnosis and treatment plan for the client system depicted in the vignette below. Carefully describe how your diagnostic impression and treatment plan are informed by your knowledge of (1) diversity, (2) empirically validated treatments, (3) relational ethics, (4) the diagnostic and statistical manual and (5) CFT theoretical frameworks (systems and communications theories). Finally, based on the vignette below, talk about your treatment approach and how it is informed by the five areas mentioned above. Clearly articulate your systemic diagnosis and treatment plan for this client system.

Kelly (39) and Kris (26) presented for couples therapy. The couple reports they have been together for about two years and are very serious about their future together. Kris reports they have “problems understanding each other. We just can’t communicate.” Kelly agrees and reports it’s been that way for several months. Every time they try to talk with each other about their problems they don’t get along and often engage in escalating verbal arguments. The arguments often lead to Kelly leaving the house very upset and not coming home until the next day. Each partner is hoping for it to get better and want to engage in ongoing couples therapy. Kris reports feeling down and “out of sorts” most of the time and has had difficulty in getting out of bed and making it to work on time the past few months; however, is able to have some good days feeling happy and energetic. After the third session, Kelly discloses to you over the phone that he is thinking of engaging in a sexual relationship with another partner but doesn’t want to bring it up in therapy yet, and doesn’t want you to, either. He states that he feels having another partner will help the relationship because he will “be able to get my needs met.” He further reports to you that they both occasionally seek out partners outside the relationship and feel an open relationship works for them, though made the decision years ago to just not talk about it when it is happening.

Comps References

Becvar, D. S. & Becvar, R. J. (2006). Family therapy: Systemic integration. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Burbatti, G. L. & Formenti, L. (1988). The Milan approach to family therapy. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Fisch, R., Weakland, J. H., & Segal, L. (1982). The tactics of change: Doing therapy briefly. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gehart, D. (2010). Mastering competencies in family therapy: A practical approach to theories and clinical case documentation. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Haley, J. (1993). Jay Haley on Milton H. Erickson. New York, NY: Brunner Mazel.

Madanes, C. (1991). Strategic family therapy. In A. S. Gurman & D. P. Kniskern (Eds.)Handbook of family therapy (pp. 396-416). Madison, WI: Routledge.

Nichols, M. P. & Schwartz, R. C. (2008). Family therapy: Concepts and methods. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Sandberg, J. G., Johnson, L. N., Dermer, S. B., Gfeller-Strouts, L. L., Seibold, J. M., Stringer-Seibold, T. A., Hutchings, Andrews, J. B., & Miller, R. B (1997). Demonstrated efficacy of models of marriage and family therapy: An update of Gurman, Kniskern, and Pinsof’s chart. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 25(2). 121-137.

Sprenkle, D. H. & Blow, A. J. (2004). Common factors and our sacred models. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 30(2), 113-126.

Watzlavick, P., Bavelas, J. B., & Jackson, D. D. (1967). Pragmatics of human communication: A study of interactional patterns, pathologies, and paradoxes. New York, NY: Norton.

Sells, S. P., Smith, T. E., & Newfield, S. N. (1996). A clinical science for the humanities: Ethnographies in family therapy. In S. Moon & D. Sprenkle (Eds.), Research Methods in Family Therapy (pp. 25-63). New York: Guilford.

National Institutes of Health (1979). The Belmont report: Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research. URL

National Institutes of Health (2010). The Nuremberg code: Directives for human experimentation. URL

Sue, S. (1999). Science, ethnicity and bias: Where have we gone wrong? American Psychologist 54(12), 1070-1077. 

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Aronson, E., Ellsworth, P. C., Carlsmith, J. M., & Gonzales, M. H. (1989). Methods of Research in Social Psychology. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Corey, G., Corey, M.S., & Callanan, P. (2011). Issues and ethics in the helping professions(8th Ed.) Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

Fisch, R., Weakland, H., & Segal, L. (1982). The tactics of change. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

American Psychological Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.-TR). Washington, DC: American Psychchological Association.

Bettinger, M. (2006). Polyamory and gay men: A family systems approach. In J. J. Bigner (Ed) An introduction to GLBT family studies (pp. 161-181). New York, NY: Haworth.

LaSala, M. C. (2001). Monogamous or not: Understanding and counseling gay male couples.

Families in Society, 82(6), 605-611.


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