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Marriage and Family Therapy Program Provides Crucial Support

Even as the pandemic begins to recede, many continue to struggle with maintaining relationships, mindfulness, and mental health. Southern’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program provides crucial services to the Greater New Haven community in a bid to alleviate difficulties for area residents and families.

Below is an interview with two faculty members of the program.

Paul Levatino is an associate professor and clinic and program director. Past clinical experience includes clinical faculty member at Yale University’s Child Study Center and senior clinical supervisor at Wheeler Clinic, New Haven.

Sujatha Herne, LMFTA, M.F.T. ‘20, is a clinic manager and co-director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program. She graduated with her master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling from Southern Connecticut State University in 2020.

Q: In addition to serving the university community, Marriage and Family Therapy continues to offer free telehealth services for first responders and their families. How has that been received in the community?

PL: The COVID-19 pandemic is hard for all people in Connecticut and first responders have unique needs. The pandemic required our clinic to move from offering only in-person sessions to only offering online sessions. Now we are going back to a hybrid model of cases in person or online. Our caseload went from 30 to 50 cases, and we learned online telehealth services can be effective and convenient.

We see first-responder clients from corners of the state, from towns including Sharon and Ellington, clients well out of the commuting range of our clinic prior to COVID. The literature is clear that families are most challenged during transitions. We support individuals and families navigating these turbulent changes, regardless of where they are in Connecticut, with free telehealth services. First responders have unique stressors, yes. Fortunately, they also had job security. We learned that other vulnerable people were those working paycheck to paycheck in jobs like food services and hospitality. They lost their jobs and experienced extreme stress.

SH: Offering our services via telehealth took away the stress of commuting and eliminated the need to carve out extra time to get to and from sessions. Telehealth has also allowed us the ability to offer our services to a wider range of residents in Connecticut. Right now, we are serving more clients from parts of the state that were previously out of reach due to accessibility.

Q: The pandemic has brought upon obvious stresses in personal relationships. What have been the main pressures on the modern family unit?

SH: For families with children, remote learning/school seemed to be the biggest pressure for a while. It was tough for working parents to balance their jobs at home while also making sure their children were signing on to class at the right time and weren’t distracted by phones, TV, video games, etc. And that was just during the daytime; things like homework and chores still presented the same challenges families were dealing with pre-pandemic. There was also a reoccurring theme (for all clients, not just families) of adjusting to being at home with the same people basically all day, every day for a prolonged period of time. Self-care and taking time for oneself became a common theme throughout sessions. As schools have reopened and children are back to in-person learning, anxiety seems to be a common challenge for children in these families as well as interpersonal and social skills.

PL: We are seeing parents struggle to balance it all. During the pandemic, parents had to work, become teachers, and monitor the social stressors on their children. Children are adjusting to a new reality of less in-person socialization and more time on electronics. The stressors that children and adolescents experience are numerous and unique to our time. And couples are spending more time than ever together. For some that has brought greater collaboration and understanding, while other couples are confronting the challenging dynamics of their relationships they were able to avoid pre-pandemic.

Q: For those families who are undergoing a crisis, what does your program offer in line with basic providers?

PL: We are part of the web of providers that serve Connecticut residents. All master’s-level mental health training programs (not just MFT) require students to complete an in-person internship. In that internship, students learn the art, science, and practice of mental health care. Students get placed in our clinic and in the field as their internship in our MFT program. Students receive mentorship and clinical supervision by the placement site, and in exchange, they learn in-vivo marriage and family therapy practice skills. Clients benefit from low-cost labor to provide mental health delivery. In the past year, our students provided over 32,000 hours of mental health delivery to Connecticut residents, some of that at our clinic, some of those hours in their placement site. So our students are an intricate part of the mental health system of Connecticut.

SH: Marriage and Family therapists are trained from a systemic lens – we are not just focusing on the client but the various systems (family, work, school, friends, etc.) they exist in and how those systems may be influencing the client and vice versa. Marriage and Family therapists have a deep understanding of all the pieces that come together to create a symptom and are well-versed at looking at the entire picture rather than focusing on just one part of it. We also offer an Anger Management and Parenting Education Program that courts throughout the state are referring clients to on a weekly basis.

Q: What does a week look like for your department?

SH: Our clinic currently has appointments on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Students belong to a supervision group (made up of 5 – 7 students with 1 fully-licensed supervisor) on one of those days and see their clients during this time. We have 24 second-year students actively seeing around 40 clients, many of whom are individuals, families, couples, and folks who are completing anger management or parenting education courses. Most students have two cases at any given time in our clinic.

PL: Sujatha, our clinic manager, is at the eye of the hurricane. Among any number of things, she is also taking intakes, supporting offsite placement agencies, serving as a resource for schools and agencies. Students are seeing those clients, completing case paperwork, reaching out to people in the schools and courts who refer clients to the Family Clinic for services to provide updates. Then you have our clinical faculty supervising the ongoing cases. They foster and promote students learning, while simultaneously advancing treatment outcomes for clients. Behind the scenes, you have Deans Bulmer and Vancour, facilities staff, and me as clinic director. Each of us may need to step in to address a challenge or crisis of the moment. We are blessed with tremendous support from the SCSU campus community.

Our Marriage and Family Therapy program expects their caseload to increase and we see more opportunities for growth and service to Connecticut, and routinely provide customized services. If you have a mental health need, as an individual, agency, or family, call the program at 203-392-6413.

About Our Master’s of Family Therapy Program:

The Master’s of Family Therapy (MFT) program at Southern provides a unique learning environment where students practice skills that elicit systemic change within individuals, relationships, and the larger community. Our approach is hands-on. With a small 15/1 student/core faculty ratio, students are mentored in small supervision groups and go on to be clinicians, leaders and innovators within the field. Graduates work in agencies, schools, and private practice, or go on to complete doctoral studies.


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