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Marriage and Family Therapy students learn, work in CNY
After eliminating several medical conditions, a doctor refers a patient suffering from chronic headaches to a family therapist for treatment of what he believes is an anxiety-related illness. This is just one of the kinds of cases Syracuse University’s Department of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) Prof. Suzanne Haas-Cunningham manages in her role as clinical director of the Family Medicine/Family Therapy Program at SUNY Upstate Medical University. The collaborative training program brings together four MFT graduate students and residents from St. Joseph’s Hospital to meet weekly with clients who have been referred by physicians at Upstate. “As family therapists, we try to get relationship-oriented cases,” Haas-Cunningham says. “We believe health and stress are related to the family relationships you maintain.”
The purpose of this collaboration, which began in 1988, is to link the two professions by integrating medicine and therapy. “When you’re trained in family therapy, you tend to look at relationships as primary; but when you’re trained in the medical field, you see the physical body as most fundamental,” she says. “We need to consider all aspects of a person’s health-not just their isolated parts.”
Once a doctor makes a referral, Haas-Cunningham invites the client to participate and assigns an MFT student to conduct the therapy session. Haas-Cunningham, the other MFT students, and the residents then observe the session from behind a one-way mirror. Following the session, the client and therapist receive feedback from the students and residents.
The residents aid clients in a variety of ways. “Their input is especially helpful when a patient expresses dissatisfaction with the relationship with his doctor, or is confused about medication,” Haas-Cunningham says. The residents offer informed suggestions from a medical perspective. “But most importantly, they encourage patients to go back and talk with their doctor,” she says.
Tziporah Rosenberg, an MFT doctoral candidate and student therapist, says this collaborative approach between doctors and therapists was one of the reasons she was drawn to the program. “I’ve always believed in the value of that connection,” she says. “The patients genuinely appreciate the doctors’ perspectives.”
Haas-Cunningham, who has run the program since 1990, agrees. “The master’s students learn about observation, therapy, and being part of a team that includes a medical person,” she says. “The program provides a service to the clients and trains professionals to learn from and connect with each other.”