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By Garry Cooper
AAMFT Family Feud
Long-simmering dissent about the leadership and direction of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) broke into the open last April, when the New Jersey division sent an impassioned letter to AAMFT division heads, posting it on the national organization's listserv and calling for "organizational transformation to prevent obsolescence." It gave voice to growing concerns that marriage and family therapists (MFTs) have lost their once-prominent position among policymakers, insurers, and the general public as the professionals best equipped to provide couple and family therapy. Furthermore, they claim, AAMFT leadership has become isolated from its members and resistant to open dialogue and fresh ideas. The letter called for long-time AAMFT Executive Director Michael Bowers to resign. At stake, they say, is the viability of the MFT profession.
AAMFT insists it's protecting the profession and has been open to dialogue. It points with pride to the organization's success at establishing MFT licensure in every U.S. state. For well over a year, says Board President Linda Schwallie, "We've been engaged in a comprehensive review of our strategic objectives and have planned for it to extend into 2010."
That response exemplifies the problem, say critics, who insist "the organization has been moving too slowly, focusing on the wrong issues, pursuing stale ideas, and providing only the appearance of listening to its members." Universal state licensure for MFTs, for example, says Maria Seddio, board president of the New Jersey AAMFT division, is a misleading indication of effectiveness when, in the past four years, New Jersey has licensed only one MFT (with one more close to licensure), while losing 56 members last year alone.
AAMFT expresses concern, but not alarm over membership totals. In the past four years, says Schwallie, student membership has increased by 9 percent and associate membership (the level between student and clinical) by 29 percent, while clinical membership "has remained level," and there's been "a modest growth" in licensed MFTs nationwide. Calling that kind of response obfuscation, Seddio says that AAMFT should release raw, year-by-year numbers.