As Marriage and Family Therapy students we have two stellar resources in our professional organizations. At the national level there is the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), and at the state level there is the Georgia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (GAMFT). By doing nothing more than joining, you can attend the conferences and luncheons at a discount. You can keep abreast with your access to the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Family Therapy magazine, and various newsletters. Members receive discounts on their liability insurance and as a student you get this insurance just in time for practicum for peanuts. Some of the most important advantages of the GAMFT do not belong to members alone and any therapist working in the state profits from the legislative work of the GAMFT.
With all of this what else is there? Why is it important to be an active member in the organization? And more to the point an active student member?
A significant, but often overlooked, step on the academic path is that of being active in professional organizations. It might be that the very title “professional organization” booms in the ears of students as something requiring experience. Younger scholars might not understand the resources that the GAMFT offers them now; instead considering membership as an acronym for the resume.
As a student reading this, you might also feel that I am flouting one rationale for inactivity in the GAMFT. As students we are mostly trying to keep afloat in the onslaught of readings, papers, volunteer work, and preparation for/practice in practicum. Did I mention trying to have a personal life? Many students are also still working and have families or significant others and time, unlike the song promises, is not on our side.
The challenge of being active in the GAMFT/AAMFT comes in two parts. First of all, you have to learn how to make the organization work for you. This can’t be achieved until you actually know what it does, what it is, who it is, how that can benefit you, and how grasp the brass ring of those resources. Second, you have to learn what you can do for your organization. As burgeoning therapists, I dare say we are all civic-minded people. The GAMFT is our community and service to this community is an important step to becoming a responsible and respected therapist.
One notable way to become active is to volunteer to work at conferences. This is perhaps the best resource for students, which not only allows attendance at conference proceedings for free but it allows a more tangible approach to accessing the GAMFT. I have been fortunate to volunteer at both this past winter and spring GAMFT conferences.
At the winter conference I not only met the postmodern Collaborative therapist, Harlene Anderson PhD; but I took the stage with her to be the ‘client’ while she illustrated her approach to therapy. The value of being able to work with Dr. Anderson goes beyond the academic; however, speaking as a student it allowed me the opportunity to inherently feel what it is to be in session.
While my attendance at the winter conference was inspiring, my attendance at the spring conference was invigorating. I drove to the conference suffering from the drain of finals week and I came back revitalized and more sure about my career path. The effervescent and witty speaker, Frank Thomas PhD, presented The Developing Therapist: Professional and Personal Growth. He covered the topic in a way that included therapists at all stages of their career, and I will admit to feeling a sense of relief when he assured the students that a feeling of mastery took years to develop. However, the most valuable thing I gained during the conference was insight into one of the true meanings of belonging to a professional organization; networking.
I like to think of networking as getting to know and becoming known to others in the field to forge professional connections. That said; I am a non-networker. I like to think it is because I don’t want to be obtrusive, but if I were honest it has more to do with shyness about my inexperience in the profession. Attempting to connect with people at the conference has helped me considerably in honing my networking skills.
While at the conference I met many members of the board, and other warm and open senior clinical members. I was able to meet Michael Dunn, a therapist who specializes in the field I’m most interested in: healthy sexuality. I was better able to connect with some of my fellow student-colleagues, and discovered a rarely found and shared interest in research with one of them. I was also able to encounter therapists who were moving up the rung to the associate status and with that learn a bit about their experiences on the path to licensure.
Students have the singular privilege to sit in on the board meetings; a particularly good way to be more active. While board meetings might not be for everyone, it is a huge opportunity to see your organization in action and to begin to understand the ways in which they work towards the betterment of the profession.
As a student approaching the second year mark with anxiety building and the practicum looming I will admit to feeling a bit bedraggled this April. The circular questions of, “Am I a making the right choices?”, “Do I belong in this field?” were beginning to wear me down. Doing well in class is always nice, but I think the best place to see the validation of your work is outside the academic bubble and in a resource like the GAMFT/AAMFT.